Cover

CHANGING THE GLOBAL RULES

Washington’s strategy reveals U.S. motives and plans for Iraq’s future, writes ARTHUR KENT

March 31 2003
Cover

CHANGING THE GLOBAL RULES

Washington’s strategy reveals U.S. motives and plans for Iraq’s future, writes ARTHUR KENT

March 31 2003

CHANGING THE GLOBAL RULES

Washington’s strategy reveals U.S. motives and plans for Iraq’s future, writes ARTHUR KENT

Cover

EVEN BEFORE the war machines thundered into action in Iraq, a process of regime change on a global scale—the shifting and fracturing and overthrow of the accepted world order—had been underway for months. The hawks in George W. Bush’s administration, armed with their doctrine of unilateral supremacy, have left behind a debris field of diplomatic disruption, complete with their own figurative ground zero, this one in midtown Manhattan, just a few miles north of its tragic forerunner downtown. For although the United Nations headquarters still stands, behind its stark, monolithic facade the building’s inhabitants must now pick up the pieces of the alliance.

The UN failed to act against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad, U.S. leaders charged, but America wouldn’t. It’s a clear, simple statement, but like most doctrinal contentions it’s essentially misleading: the UN, in fact, failed only to act within a time frame dictated by the Bush administration. A majority of nations on the Security Council resisted the American agenda—and made the President’s day. “The Bush administration wanted war from the start,” says Steven Livingston, senior research fellow at the University of Washington’s Center for American Politics and Public Policy. “This is now just a political culture on steroids. The administration has concluded, perhaps correctly, that when a nation spends more than a billion dollars a day on defence—a budget that equals the defence budgets of more than the next dozen national defence budgets combined—that nation doesn’t have to worry about diplomacy. Or, as President Bush put it after 9/11, you are either for us or against us.”

Which goes double now that guns are doing the talking. Domestically, the White House and Pentagon have sold their war rationale effectively enough to leave critics

typecast as dissenters or protestors; the tactic that evolved in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks of mischaracterizing as unpatriotic points of view contrary to the administration’s is still a winning one. Abroad, meanwhile, having opened fire on Iraq over the objections of enemies and friends alike, the U.S. administration intends to reshape the landscape in its own image. While the President talks of humanitarian assistance, specialists in strategic studies say Washington’s plans for rebuilding Iraq are based on far more practical and self-serving objectives. Paul Rogers, a professor in the department of peace studies at Britain’s University of Bradford, told Maclean’s: “The bottom line essentially is that this is not about short-term profit from oil reserves, but long-term control of what is really the world’s absolute key energy source. The Gulf is now so important that it would be simply unacceptable to the kind of people controlling the Bush administration not to have control of the area.”

That view is shared by many of the world’s leading authorities on the politics of oil. Former Saudi oil minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani points to the Bush administration’s musings about privatizing Iraq’s oil industry as proof that the gift of Americanstyle democracy will cost Iraqis a good share of control over their most valuable raw resource. And not just for a few years, according to Rogers. “I would expect that once the war is over,” he says, “there may well be a U.S. military occupation, though they will endeavour to withdraw as quickly as they reasonably can. But what will certainly be left behind is two or three very sizable permanent American military bases, one on the Kirkuk commercial axis, one near Baghdad, and one near Basra. So you’ll have a client regime in Baghdad which is backed up by a permanent U.S. military

presence, where you have the fifth fleet in the Gulf and a series of bases right up to the Turkish border.”

This scenario appears to be confirmed by the sweeping reconstruction goals detailed in the blueprint distributed to prospective U.S. contractors by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Entitled “Vision for Post-Conflict Iraq,” the plan provides for nothing less, say its critics, than the creation of a U.S. satellite state. Under the supervision of the State and Treasury departments, a “vetted Iraqi financial leadership team” will be moved into post-war Baghdad to revamp Iraq’s finance ministry and develop a new central bank. An 18-month target has been set on privatization of the country’s state-owned companies. Coupled

with a complete overhaul of infrastructure (USAID has been instructed to ensure that half the roads in Iraq are upgraded to top specifications within a year), the scheme would see Saddam’s clunker of a police state transformed into an engine of American-style free-market growth.

All of this has obvious appeal to ideologues in Washington: the interim American military administration will have granted political and economic deliverance for the oppressed people of Iraq, generously draped in the Stars and Stripes. It’s a misconception, says Rogers, that illustrates the dangerous naïveté of the American approach. “All of this will drive the Iranians to near-paranoia, and certainly impel them to get weapons of mass destruction as soon as they can. And

of course it’s an absolute gift in recruiting terms to organizations such as al-Qaeda and their affiliates, because it will be proving what they’ve been claiming all along—that the United States really is in the business of controlling Gulf oil.”

That’s an understatement, according to spokesmen for Islamic groups. Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain, which condemns the U.S.-led campaign as “undermining the United Nations and the rule of law,” says: “I think the Bush administration’s true agenda is the recolonization and the re-mapping of the Middle East. They can’t see that they’re playing into the hands

of the very extremist elements that are waiting for excuses such as this—the invasion by an enormous power of a very small country. Certainly the prestige and influence the United States enjoyed will be dashed in the eyes of the world community, because they were once accepted as a power that respected the UN, that co-operated with the UN.”

Ibrahim Hooper, of the Washingtonbased Council on American-Islamic Relations, claims: “We’re being taken to war by a small, ideologically driven group in America whose primary interest lies in benefiting a foreign nation, namely Israel. Democracy elsewhere in the world is fine as long as it does what America wants. Let’s face it— the average Palestinian’s life is a thousand

times worse than the average Iraqi’s. Your average Palestinian half the time can’t even leave his home, get medical care or food, and yet we’re going to liberate Iraq, and fund Israel?”

History may not view favourably the Israeli subtexts of the Bush administration’s adventure in Iraq. Just days before launching the assault, the President pledged yet again to deliver his long-delayed “road map for peace” between Israel and the Palestinians. Critics slammed the promise as an empty public relations gesture aimed at enabling the embattled Tony Blair to contain rebellion on his backbenches. With visible relief, the British PM brandished the road map to good effect; despite dissenting members of his own party, he held sufficient backing at Westminster to stay the course with Bush. He remains, though, extremely vulnerable should the war go badly.

In Washington, the White House claimed the road map put a clear, attainable peace in sight. Yet when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon launched a pre-emptive strike against the U.S. peace plan, by insisting that references to Palestinian independence be struck from the text, George W. Bush and his team did nothing to rebuke Sharon and instead focussed on Baghdad. Emboldened, Sharon announced that he’ll extend the “security fence” now under construction by Israel along the length of the West Bank, effectively encircling Palestinian territory. Sharon’s opponents claim this is a shameless attempt to establish a de facto border, while encroaching on some of the West Bank’s best agricultural land and taking control of the Palestinian border with Jordan.

So much for American even-handedness, say Muslim spokesmen. European statesmen, too, decry the Bush administration’s readiness to make war in Muslim lands while not insisting that Israel retreat from its encroaching settlements. It’s the kind of accusation finding growing support among Europeans as a whole, according to a new poll by Washington’s Pew Research Center. Only 14 per cent of Spaniards and 34 per cent of Italians view the U.S. positively (in Italy, the U.S. had a 70-per-cent favourable rating just a year ago). These figures were reported before the bombs began to fall; few international affairs specialists expect America’s approval ratings to do anything but continue their precipitous decline.

PAYING THE COSTS AT HOME

First it was the collapse of the stock markets, then came Sept. 11, and now war. Will a quick victory in the desert lift the cloud of uncertainty that has hindered much of the world’s economy since Bush declared his intention to deal with Iraq almost a year ago? Stanley Hartt, a former deputy minister of finance and now a Toronto investment banker, believes a brief, victorious war will fuel an economic boom in the U.S. He spoke with Maclean’s National Business Correspondent Katherine Macklem.

How will the war affect the global economy?

If the war is short and successful it will actually be good for the U.S. and global economies. And if, after Iraq, there can be a settlement that leads to a Palestinian state, and the recognition of Israel by the rest of its neighbours, this will create a boom of pent-up demand. If, however, you get a renewed outbreak of violence in Israel, then I think the economy will have a limited boom.

What about oil prices?

The relief of uncertainty seems to have allowed oil prices to decline modestly, but significantly. The chance of a severe oil shock in the short run is not in the offing.

And the stock markets?

America is dealing with a psychological recession. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the U.S. economy. But 9/11, corporate scandals and the threat of war with Iraq caused people to react by sitting on their hands. Even if you’re against the war, you want a quick victory for America.

The war could cost US$90 billion. Will that hurt a fragile U.S. economy?

I hate to say it, but US$90 billion is chicken feed.

Some observers say America’s unilateral action will hurt U.S. business operations around the world.

Everybody is afraid that their government’s policy will lead to retaliation in the consumption of products. Nobody should be more afraid than Canada. When your neighbour’s house is on fire, you show up with whatever you’ve got, a bucket or a hose. But Prime Minister Jean Chrétien doesn’t get the point that our wealth is created because of our trade with America.

So Canada’s trade with the U.S. will be at risk in the future?

It’s not threatened in a direct way. But International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew pleads for better treatment for some products, like softwood lumber, and he is rebuffed as being “no special leader with any reason to get special treatment.” That’s where it does hurt.

But the growing hostility of the international community, says the University of Washington’s Livingston, isn’t likely to convince Bush to alter his course. “He has framed this war in the name of humanitarianism, removing dictators, righting moral injustices, even when the rest of the world, with a handful of exceptions, thinks he is wrong,” Livingston says. “This rhetoric is anchored in central themes of American political culture, such as American exceptionalism, or the revolutionary era references to ‘a city on the hill,’ a nation free and uncorrupted by the vices and petty concerns of the European powers. This [campaign] may be about oil and regional hegemony of the U.S. and a key ally or two, but the philosophical framework is classic

American idealism of setting the world right—even if it doesn’t agree.”

Clearly much of the world doesn’t. But that spells trouble, too, for countries such as Canada, and even France. Anti-Americanism, particularly within Muslim communities around the world, has a way of spilling over into all western democracies. A deeply resented America—one that provokes ever more poisonous outpourings of anti-western passions—this, too, is a nation crying out for reconstruction. The UN will have to regroup and find a way to bring back into the fold the superpower that repudiated it.

President Bush is right: time is running out for Saddam Hussein. But the backlash from this war could toll the bell, too, for the current occupant of the Oval office.