The war is over. (Except for the fighting in much of the country, the riots and lawlessness, and the need to establish and maintain a civil government considered legitimate by Iraqis). Iraq is liberated! The giddiness among the Bush cabal, and its apologists inside and outside Washington, is palpable. Why not "liberate" Syria? Iran? North Korea? And sure enough, the saber- rattling and preparations for the next unprovoked American military invasion are on, citing success in Iraq.
Not so fast.
Before American triumphalism robs us of all our sense, let's take a closer look at what has just happened, and what is being proposed.
Citing 9/11 and the precedent of the invasion of Afghanistan, George Bush has successfully executed a predictable charade in Iraq. To wit:
* Despite reportedly stage-managed media events like the tearing down by U.S. Marines and a few Iraqis of one of Saddam's many statues (most remain standing), the reception given by Iraqis and Kurds throughout the country to American and British "liberators" has been notably chilly. Saddam, the tyrant, will not be missed; neither will the foreign invaders, presuming they ever leave or are forced out.
* Much of Iraq remains out of control, now completely absent of any civil authority. The damage being inflicted -- after Iraq's "liberation" -- to the infrastructure and assets of a country already ravaged by 20 years of war, sanctions, and now invasion is incalculable.
* The war Americans have not seen has featured hopelessly outgunned Iraqis trying desperately (and futilely) to defend their country with small arms, before and after Saddam's fall; dead and badly wounded civilians, often children, in city after city, flooding hospitals that no longer have even aspirin to give them; U.S. Marines standing by and watching as some of humankind's most ancient and precious treasures are looted; British and American soldiers retrieving their wounded in Hazmat outfits not because of Iraqi chemical weapons, but due to a toxic stew including the aftereffects of exploding buildings (think World Trade Center, and multiply); the uranium-coated munitions America has used in this war; and the depleted uranium still lying around because the U.S. denied Iraqis the equipment to clean up their countryside after 1991.
While most Americans have not seen these images, the Arab and Muslim worlds have, non-stop, for a month. And they will remember. And terror groups will field a flood of new volunteers.
Bush and his war-giddy crew know all this. They also know that, using 9/11, they have successfully switched both the target (Iraq) and the rationale (first "evildoers," now weapons of mass destruction) for their militarism. And they have successfully established as a norm, to Americans if not to the rest of the world, the idea of an unprovoked invasion.
Aside from maintaining control of Iraq's oil, they could not care less what now happens in Iraq. Theirs has become a much larger mission.
What Bush and the people around him propose is nothing less than U.S. control of the world. The leverage with which they plan to cement it is the monopolizing of weapons of mass destruction. It is a mission doomed to ultimate failure. They don't care about that, either. But we should.
Bush, in citing the menace of weapons of mass destruction in first Iraq and now Syria, has identified one of the critical issues and needs of our time. Such weapons -- biological, chemical, nuclear, and other forms not yet invented or used -- should, in fact, be banned, and their eradication and banning successfully enforced. But what Bush wants is not a ban, but -- given America's still-enormous nuclear stockpile and overwhelming superiority in military technology research -- to maintain overwhelming American military superiority. And he'll fail.
You can read the goals for yourself in the Bush-crafted Foreign Policy Strategy for the United States, first revealed last fall. It's a radical document, claiming for the first time as policy the idea of "preemptive" military attacks. It lays out, as part of official policy, the inherently anti-democratic goal of controlling at an amazingly detailed level the domestic policies of every country in the world. And it also dedicates U.S. foreign policy, for the first time, to maintaining permanent military superiority not just by controlling what we do (e.g., our budgetary choices), but by trying to control what other countries do as well.
Iraq is the implementation of that policy.
That's why, when confronting such weapons, Bush's crew have focused not on terror groups (the actual, immediate threat to ordinary Americans), but on nation-states. Many nation-states, unlike Iraq, actually do have at least the capability for such weapons. But for any nation-state, regardless of current capabilities, the problem of the United States threat has thus become, along with whatever local realities they face, central to their military planning. Given America's overwhelming superiority in conventional arms -- we spend more on our military than every other country on Earth, combined, and it shows -- the greatest plausible military deterrent to an already- threatened U.S. invasion is these types of weapons.
What Bush wants, then, is to use overwhelming weaponry, or the threat of it, to deny other countries weaponry that (unlike what we sell them) can deter U.S. attack. And if the U.S. can render countries defenseless -- spiced with an occasional useful example, like Iraq or Syria -- we have ultimate leverage if other forms of economic or political control, such as the IMF, prove inadequate to the goal of domestic control.
It's a fool's errand, for two reasons -- both, ironically, fueled in large part by model of the United States itself. The first is peoples' desire for self-determination and freedom. It has been the dominant, and still- accelerating, political trend of the last half-century -- from the anti- colonial struggles of Asia and Africa to the nonviolent revolutions that defeated tyrants of every stripe in the Philippines, Chile, Indonesia, and the entire Soviet bloc, among others. It has repeatedly toppled, sometimes without a shot, despotic regimes with incredible amounts of force at their disposal. Modern attempts by the U.S. to control peoples who don't want us are no more immune to this force than the Soviet commissars, enforcers of apartheid, or death squad juntas. It is an unstoppable force often inspired in part by the U.S., at times encouraged by the U.S., but impervious to U.S. as well as any other foreign control. Meanwhile, the stretch from North Africa to Pakistan and Central Asia -- largely Muslim, and largely populated by U.S.-backed dictators -- contains the world's last remaining large cluster of non-democracies.
People like Richard Perle are right in assessing that many people in that world yearn for a voice in their governance. But Perle does not want that eventuality -- America wants control, not self-governance -- and furthermore he is wrong to assert that America can create it, or even that an American model will work. The examples of both Israel and now America have so tainted the reputation of Western-style democracies that freedoms must find their own, Islamic context -- as moderates in Iran are gradually creating.
The second problem with the Bush mission is specific to weapons of mass destruction: the spread of technology. It cannot possibly be stemmed by force. Nuclear technology is now 60 years old; it has been limited to eight countries by international controls and by the requirement, for its successful use, of a fairly rare natural resource. Consider what computers could do 15, 10, even 5 years ago, and what they can do today -- and project out what will be possible in 20 years, or 60, with microchips, with DNA manipulation, with nanotechnology, with technologies barely imagined.
Destroying the international structure that prevented nuclear proliferation, and then dedicating the U.S. to unilaterally enforcing the eradication of such technologies by military invasion -- or even the threat of it -- is on its face preposterous. International cooperation, in some fashion, is the only remotely effective solution for that and a host of other pressing global problems. Bush's alternative, the rule of unilateral force, is more than illegal, immoral, and deadly. It is an errand of fools.
The people in George Bush's administration -- many of whom have been in and around Republican administrations for 30 years -- are not fools. We are. For in tilting at this windmill, and selling it to Americans as sound policy, enormous fortunes can be made. Enormous fortunes are already being made -- in Third World privatization made possible by IMF bullying, in newly minted military boondoggles, in the scramble for the contracts to "rebuild" Iraq and/or control its oil.
These fortunes, like George Bush's tax cuts, will be manna for the corporate patrons that have propelled George Bush to the White House, just as they are innately harmful to the rest of us. In this case, they're even more harmful to the rest of the world -- witness the aftermath of what U.S. "liberation" has brought to Afghans, or the privation and widening income gap caused by the infliction of U.S.-style globalization on much of the world's poor.
The Bush crew is hoping for a much longer run, of course, but even if their crusade is cut short, put on hold, or handed over to Democratic patrons with next year's election, in the space of the next 18 months great fortunes will have been secured. The rest of us will be left to bear the costs. The fools, in this case, are ordinary Americans -- the people who believe Iraqis now love America, the people who think the world will be grateful for American empire, the people who think Bush's team cares about them between elections. The people who can only see menaces to freedom at a distance. And the question of our time is whether fooling some of the people, some of the time, will be enough to allow this criminal crusade to go on.