Ever since that statue of Saddam was pulled down in Baghdad, the chest thumping from Bush administration flak catchers and assorted talking heads has been deafening. They crow about defying skeptical military predictions and salivate at the prospect of turning the UN into a post-war doorman. According to R. James Woolsey, former CIA director and close friend of both Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and former Defense Policy Board honcho Richard Perle, the US has just won the first phase of “World War IV.”
In this made-for-cable series, the US and Britain battle Islamist and “Wahhabi” extremists, Iranian theocrats, and Baath Party “fascists” in Syria and Iraq. “After two hot world wars and one cold one that all began and were centered in Europe,” says Woolsey, “the fourth world war is going to be for the Middle East.” Sounds like a ratings winner.
Yet constant repetition that “the coalition” (that is, the US, Britain, and their bruised and bought off accomplices) merely seeks to “liberate” Iraq (surely not “conquer” or “occupy” it) can’t conceal the arrogant authoritarian impulse at the heart of this new “crusade.” What pundit George Will called an “optional” war to find and destroy banned weapons (the dreaded yet elusive WMDs), this preemptive strike is now openly described as a bold move to shake up geo-political relations and reallocate resources in the Middle East and Central Asia. It’s a hostile military-corporate take over.
In Iraq, the shape of things soon to come is forming: a colonial administration headed by a viceroy – retired US General Jay Garner (recently a weapons company executive), lucrative reconstruction contracts for old friends, privatization of oil and other sectors, “compassionate” exploitation, and rationalized theft disguised as “humanitarian” charity.
Meanwhile, the administration leverages its military advantage with other Arab regimes and its constantly growing list of “terrorist” enablers. Slipping into messianic mode, George Bush has been recast by his handlers as a latter day Teddy Roosevelt (without the brains, wit, or will of his own), carrying the world’s biggest sticks yet unable to walk softly.
Despite all the victory dancing and overconfident forecasts, however, the domestic US mood is getting darker. The economy is on life support, each week the media or government offers something else to fear, and an emboldened Patriot Thought Police enforces the new right-wing brand of “political correctness.” Most of the world considers a unilateral US as big a threat as terrorism – and most US Americans know it.
Even if “World War IV” is short, clean and efficient – a highly unlikely prospect – it may take a generation to undo the damage. Already, the deft exploitation of mass grief, fear, and barely suppressed xenophobia by the current regime in Washington has ignited a cultural counter-revolution that is overturning decades of social progress.
So, there’s no time to waste, and fortunately no shortage of ways to challenge cowboy imperialism. Now is an ideal time to raise questions about economic justice. Just to start, it cost billions to destroy Iraq, and billions more will go to crony capitalists to rebuild it – unless we force them into the sunlight.
At the same time, we can challenge the DC regime’s attempt to extend and expand the war by exposing its boundless hypocrisy. Each time Bush and company ignore human rights abuses in a “coalition” country, let’s remind them. Each new troop deployment in Colombia or the Philippines can become another opportunity to challenge this Bush league colonialism.
It’s also a good time to bring the war back home. Long before 9/11, there was the “war on drugs” – largely an assault on indigenous peoples and communities of color – and the repression of immigrants. As in the past, a domestic militarization which depends on a racialized internal and external enemy has paved the way for domestic militarism abroad. Our response? To challenge attacks on the human rights and civil liberties of all those deemed “Other.”
Beyond that, we need to project a positive vision of freedom and security rejecting both isolationism and imperialism while strengthening the rule of international law. At a minimum, that includes fighting for true Iraqi self-determination of its future and the use of its resources, dismantling weapons of mass destruction in all countries – including Israel, US and the rest of the WMD Club, supporting institutions like the International Criminal Court, and reducing the risk of more conflict through work toward economic, social, and environmental justice.
Bush’s cowboy imperialists may ride high for a while. But in the end they’re on the wrong side of history. Less than two years after 9/11, they’ve already gambled away the confidence of many US citizens and the sympathy of the world. By asserting the right to reshape the Muslim world (in the guise of self-defense), they are stirring up a nascent global resistance to US supremacy.
Like empires past, this one too will founder and fall. The task at hand is to minimize the damage while accelerating a process of progressive change.