Iraq insurgency buries second 'American Century'

By Doug Lorimer

On May 12, the American Broadcasting Corporation reported that US voters’ “disgruntlement neared a record high and George W. Bush slipped to his career low in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. Eighty-two percent of Americans now say the country’s seriously off on the wrong track,up 10 points in the past year to a point from its record high in polls since 1973.” ABC News also noted that Bush had “gone 40 months without majority approval, beating [President Harry] Truman’s record (also during economic discontent and an unpopular war) of 38 months from 1949-52.”

Truman’s presidency, which began in April 1945, “marked the coming of age internationally of the American nation” according to Truman biographer Robert H. Ferrell. Time-Life publisher Henry Luce’s call for an “American century”. In a 1941 Life magazine editorial, Time/Life publisher Henry Luce urged the US rulers “to create the first great American Century”, a world dominated by US military and corporate power. Under Truman, Washington sought to use its initial nuclear weapons monopoly and its military occupation of western Germany and Japan to fulfil this goal. The US rulers dreams in the 1940s of global domination however were frustrated by the simultaneous breaking in late 1940 of the US nuclear monopoly by the Soviet Union and the victory of the Chinese workers and peasants over the US-backed capitalist-landlord Guomintang regime.

From then on, the US rulers found themselves on the defensive — battling insurgent masses in Korea in the early 1950s and then in Vietnam, from the end of the 1950s. In Korea, the US war machine was beaten into a stalemate. In Vietnam, the US war machine was steadily demoralised by fierce and sustained mass resistance over a period 15 years and finally forced to make a humiliating withdrawal. Four years after their defeat in Vietnam, the US rulers were politically unable to use their war machine to block the insurgent masses of Iran booting out the pro-US dictatorship of Shah Mohammed Reza Palhavi in 1979.

Project for a New American Century

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, the Bush administration launched a second attempt to create an “American Century” of global domination, under the cover of the “Global War on Terror”. In the 1990s, key figures in the Bush junior’s administration at the time of the 9/11 attacks — Vice-President Dick Cheney, defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz — had set up the Project for a New American Century. This think-tank aimed to convince the US ruling elite to pursue a strategy of “shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests” (as a PNAC document co-authored by Wolfowitz in 2000 expressed it) in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. This had left the US as the world’s sole military superpower.

By the mid 1990s, the US rulers had also made gains on their main economic rivals. The result was that at the beginning of the 21 century, as Henry Kissinger declared in his 2001 book Does America Need a Foreign Policy? Toward a Diplomacy for the 21st Century, that the US rulers had achieved “a pre-eminence not enjoyed by even the greatest of empires past”. This naturally led to the question, what were the US rulers to do with this imperial “pre-eminence”?

Back in September 1999, Dick Cheney, who was then CEO of Haliburton, the world’s largest oil services company, gave a speech to his oil industry peers at the London Institute of Petroleum, in which he noted that only about one-tenth of the world’s oil reserves were in the hands of the Western oil corporations. He went on to observe that: “While many regions of the world offer great oil opportunities, the Middle East with two-thirds of the world’s oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies. Even though companies are anxious for greater access there, progress continues to be slow. It is true that technology, privatisation and the opening up of a number of countries have created many new opportunities in areas around the world for various oil companies, but looking back to the early 1990s, expectations were that significant amounts of the world’s new resources would come from such areas as the former Soviet Union and from China. Of course, that didn’t turn out quite as expected.”
What Cheney was alluding to was that the oil industries in Russia and China had remained in the hands of state monopolies and thus closed to the Western oil corporations. Furthermore, a considerable part of the oil resources of the Middle East, “where the prize ultimately lies”, were also closed to Big Oil, remaining in the hands of state monopolies controlled by bourgeois nationalist regimes hostile to US political and economic domination, that is the Baathist regime in Iraq and the Islamic republican regime in Iran.

How was this “ultimate prize” to be opened up to Big Oil? Cheney did not say, but in the same year that he gave his speech, Richard Haas, who had been special assistant to the president under George Bush senior and was to become Bush junior’s director of policy planning for the United States State Department until July 2003, published a book entitled Intervention: The Use of American Military Force in the Post-Cold War World.

Haas wrote: “Force can create a context in which political change is more likely, but without extraordinary intelligence and more than a little good fortune, force by itself is unlikely to bring about specific political changes. The only way to increase the likelihood of such change is through highly intrusive forms of intervention, such as nation-building, which involves first eliminating all opposition and then engaging in an occupation that allows for substantial engineering of another society.” Such a “nation-building” occupation, Haas stressed, would require “defeating and disarming any local opposition and establishing a political authority that enjoys a monopoly or near-monopoly of control over the legitimate use of force”. It therefore requires, Haas concluded, a US occupation of “imperial proportions and possibly of endless duration”.

A year later, in November 2000, Haas delivered a paper in Atlanta entitled “Imperial America” in which he argued that “the fundamental question that continues to confront American foreign policy is what to do with a surplus of power and the many and considerable advantages this surplus confers on the United States”. This “surplus of power”, Haas argued, should be used to pursue an “imperial foreign policy … a foreign policy that attempts to organize the world” to meet US interests. This would require convincing the majority of Americans “re-conceive their role from a traditional nation-state to an imperial power”. In the final section of his paper, which was entitled “Imperialism begins at Home”, Haas concluded that “‘the greatest risk facing the United States at this juncture <193> is that it will squander the opportunity to bring about a world supportive of its core interests by doing too little. Imperial understretch, not overstretch, appears to be the greater danger of the two.”

A new Pearl Harbor

In his 2000 PNAC document, Wolfowitz however recognised that winning US public for an unprovoked invasion of Iraq (and after that, Iran) would require “some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor”. Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and Cheney got what they wanted on 9/11. While most people in the US were mourning the deaths of the thousands of victims of al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Bush administration was plotting how to exploit 9/11 to rally support for an invasion of Iraq. While Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted to launch an immediate US attack on Iraq, US Secretary of State Colin Powell persuaded Bush that “public opinion has to be prepared before a move against Iraq is possible”. Instead, it was agreed to first authorise a war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which was providing sanctuary to bin Laden.

The collapse of the Taliban regime after a short US Air Force bombing campaign seemed to demonstrate the invincibility of US military power. However, as Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward revealed in his book Bush at War, published in November 2002, it was due largely to the CIA’s bribing of local Afghan warlords to turn against the Taliban regime. According to Woodward, six CIA paramilitary teams distributed US$70 million to the traditionally mercenary Afghan warlords during the last three months of 2001. With local warlords turning their militias against them, the Taliban leaders and their militia fled to the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. Since then, these warlords, funded by taxes on heroin exports, have reasserted their control over the regions they dominated in the 1990s. The US-installed puppet government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been left in control of little more than the capital, Kabul. And even there it is facing armed attacks by a resurgent Taliban-led anti-occupation insurgency.

Gangsters for capitalism

Buoyed by the apparent easy military victory in Afghanistan, the Bush administration began planning an invasion of Iraq. It also made much of the PNAC’s views official US strategic doctrine. In a National Security Strategy (NSS) document presented to Congress in September 2002, the Bush administration spelt out the real goals of its “war on terror”: Washington would “use its unparalleled military strength . . . to extend the benefits of free markets and free trade to every corner of the world”.

Under corporate capitalism, this is the fundamental role of the US military and the armed forces of its imperialist allies in Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. In his 1933 book War is a Racket, US Major-General Smedley Butler opening acknowledged this writing: “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps... And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscleman for big business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism... I helped make Mexico ... safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long.”

As Smedley Butler’s remarks prove, imperialist America has always used its military muscle to force open countries within its Central American and Caribbean “backyard” to be exploited by US corporations. The new departure in the NSS was that — with post-capitalist Soviet Union, the long-standing obstacle to US global domination, having collapsed — the US rulers felt confident of being able to realise this goal throughout the world.

The Bush administration’s NSS document however sought to justify the use of US military force to remove all the regimes in the world that block US corporations exploiting their human and natural resources — so-called rogue states — all in the name of fighting terrorism. But for the US rulers, the invasion of Iraq was never about preventing Saddam Hussein’s capitalist regime from handing over its (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction to Saudi Arabian millionaire Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network — the public rationale for the invasion. It was about securing US corporate control of Iraq’s huge oil reserves — and at US$1 a barrel to extract out the ground, among the cheapest and therefore most profitable in the world. As the US Business Week magazine explained to its corporate readership in January 2003, “Since the US military would control Iraq’s oil and gas deposits for some time, US companies could be in line for a lucrative slice of the business”, and thus they could “feel just as victorious as the US Special Forces”.
Also, as Michael Klare, a US foreign policy analyst and author of Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict, has observed, “controlling [Persian] Gulf oil, combined with being a decade ahead of everybody else in military technology, will guarantee American supremacy for the next 50 to 100 years”.

With the US military in control of Iraq, the way would be open for the installation of a pro-US puppet government in Baghdad that would sell off Iraq’s nationalised oil industry to US oil corporations. US military bases in Iraq would also provide staging posts for an invasion of Iran and for carrying out a similar process of stealing its oil wealth.

The Pentagon had planned campaign of relentless aerial bombardment of Iraq’s cities so as to terrorise (“shock and awe”) the Iraqi people into not resisting the US ground invasion with urban guerrilla warfare. However, this plan had to be abandoned in the face of massive anti-war protests around the world, motivated in large part by widespread public concern that the invasion would cause huge Iraqi civilian casualties. While tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed during the US-led invasion, US troop casualties were only a few hundred. This seemed to confirm the White House’s propaganda that occupying Iraq would be as easy as a “cakewalk”.

Iraqi insurgency

The US-led invaders encountered little serious armed resistance during their invasion. This was because, despite much bluster to the contrary, Saddam Hussein’s corrupt and unpopular regime failed to organise any mass resistance to the invaders — preferring instead to try to save their own skins going into hiding. However, year after the US invasion of Iraq, growing hostility to the occupation has, as the April 11, 2004 New York Times reported, “exploded into a popular uprising” that has since fuelled a sustained guerrilla war against the US and allied occupation forces.

The September 27, 2006 Washington Post reported that, according to a US State Department survey, in Baghdad “nearly three-quarters of residents polled said they would feel safer if US and other foreign forces left Iraq, with 65% of those asked favouring an immediate pull-out”. The Post’s report added that interviews with “Baghdad residents in recent weeks suggest one central cause for Iraqi distrust of the Americans: They believe the US government has deliberately thrown the country into chaos ... to create an excuse to keep its forces here.”

This was confirmed by a survey conducted around the same time by University of Maryland’s Program for International Policy Attitudes. It found that an “overwhelming majority” of Iraqis “believe that the US military presence in Iraq is provoking more conflict than it is preventing”. This view was held by 78% of Iraqis — by 82% of Shiites and a near-unanimous 97% of Sunnis. The PIPA poll also found that 61% of Iraqis approved of insurgent attacks on US forces — up from 47% eight months earlier.
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Bush’s national security adviser, former Chevron director Condoleezza Rice, reportedly told her staff: “I really think this period is analogous to 1945 to 1947 in that the events ... started shifting the tectonic plates in international politics. And it’s important to try to seize on that and position American interests and institutions before they harden again.” The sustained resistance by the Iraqi people since Washington’s invasion of their country has frustrated this goal.

Five years after the Iraq invasion, the euphoric feeling of impending victory has been replaced by a desperate sense of frustration and despair within US ruling circles. Sustained Iraqi resistance to Washington’s imperialist occupation has produced openly acknowledged “imperial overstretch” for the US military machine and public divisions over the war among ruling-class policy makers and advisers. Both of the leading presidential candidates, Barak Obama and John McCain, are desperately trying to give the impression to US voters that they each have a “plan” to quickly end the war.

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Bush’s then national security adviser, former Chevron director Condoleezza Rice, reportedly told her staff: “I really think this period is analogous to 1945 to 1947 in that the events ... started shifting the tectonic plates in international politics. And it’s important to try to seize on that and position American interests and institutions before they harden again.” This goal however has been buried by the insurgent people of Iraq. As with its first attempt to create an “American Century” of US global domination, the second attempt has been derailed by the most powerful force in the world — insurgent masses of ordinary men and women determined to risk their lives to fight for freedom.

[Doug Lorimer joined the Socialist Workers League (predecessor of the Democratic Socialist Party) in 1972. A former editor and staff writer for Green Left Weekly, is now a member of the national executive of the Revolutionary Socialist Party.]