The empire dreams in the dark of night

Posted on

Quotes of the weekend:

In Baghdad, just before 10 a.m. on Thursday, a man on foot fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a three-vehicle military convoy moving down Haifa Street, a busy thoroughfare. One Humvee was struck, wounding three soldiers, witnesses and a military spokesman said. The attack suggested that the urban warfare that had so concerned military planners before the fall of the Hussein government was materializing in unexpected forms. The attack against the convoy on Haifa Street was at least the second rocket-propelled grenade assault in Baghdad during daylight hours this week.” (Amy Waldman, U.S. ‘Still at War,’ General Declares; G.I. Dies; 20 Hurt, The New York Times,)

The issue of reinforcements is a politically sensitive one for the administration. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his top aides have refused to back down from their criticism of Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff, who said in February that it could take ‘something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers’ to stabilize Iraq. With General Shinseki, former commander of peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, looking more prophetic each day, and the security situation in Iraq remaining tense, officials have refused to entertain the idea of sending more American forces.

Asked this week if the United States should send reinforcements, Mr. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said they would await a report due later this month from Lt. Gen. John P. Abizaid, who has been designated to take command of American forces in Iraq.
(Eric Schmitt, After Tour, Senators Warn U.S. Is Spread Thin in Iraq, The New York Times,)

Note, though, that L. Paul Bremer, our Viceroy in Baghdad, has already requested more troops and undoubtedly Vietnam-like scenes of gradual “escalation” are playing through various resistant heads in Washington. Over the July 4th weekend, attacks in Iraq increased. The first mortars were used against an American base. American casualties rose. In the last week, ambushes grew more common in and out of urban areas in the northern (but not Kurdish) parts of the country. The first articles have started to appear in the press about uneasy relatives of troops in Iraq. War costs continue to rise. (For an interesting site on war costs, check out: At least seven Iraqi police cadets were murdered yesterday when an explosive went off in Ramadi during graduation ceremonies for these first America-trained policemen.

Let’s be clear. This is not faintly Vietnam or anything like it, despite the parallels in American brains, but it is a developing neocolonial situation in its own right, one that is not likely to improve, given American occupation policies (given, in fact, an American occupation). It’s worth considering at the moment whether this administration has proved right about anything except its military capability to march on Baghdad, while leveling anyplace it cared to from the air.

In the meantime, our President, George II celebrated our great anti-imperial weekend of declaring independence from George III by speaking to reporters at the White House and taunting our latest subjects, the Iraqis, those at least who have expressed their lack of enthusiasm for our presence in their country with weapons: “‘There are some who feel that if they attack us we may decide to leave prematurely. They don’t understand what they’re talking about, if that’s the case. My answer is bring them on. We got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.'”

That’s the bully-boy from Yale America somehow has grown to know and love. (By the way, check out the Independence Day view from the other side of the Atlantic at the end of this dispatch — John O’Farrell’s “The Tyranny of George II” from the July 4th Guardian, which amused me.)

And, of course, over this long Independence Day weekend, we finally posted a $25 million reward for Saddam Hussein. I happen to know, by the way, why we can’t invade any more evil countries in the near future — we can’t afford to have more evil leaders on the loose. (My theory has always been that Osama bin Laden is waiting on tables somewhere in London.) Another missing evil leader added to the three already at large and the U.S. treasury could go broke posting rewards. On the other hand, maybe they’ll never have to pay out any of them. Let’s remember, when we compute the odds of catching any of these guys, that the massed forces of the FBI couldn’t find suspected anti-abortion killer Eric Rudolph for years, not until he stumbled on them while rummaging in a dumpster, although he seems never to have left the neighborhood of the woods they were combing near his North Carolina town.

As for Iraq, Paul Rogers, global analyst for the openDemocracy website, had a long, sobering piece on casualties (which you’ll find at the end of this dispatch). On the American side he focuses on a subject barely considered in the U.S. press — not deaths, but the rising number of wounded (out of whack with usual dead-to-wounded ratios in war for reasons he explains). On the Iraqi side, reviewing casualty figures there (a subject seldom considered in the American media), he suggested stunningly that in the area of greatest resistance, the Sunni north, “The great majority of the Sunni population of Iraq would probably have known someone killed or injured in this war. It is an aspect that appears to be entirely ignored by most analysts but may come to be seen as underlying much of the opposition now in evidence.” He also puts the Iraqi “remnants” that the Bush administration is always discounting into context.

Very little attention in the American media by the way has been paid to why the Americans were so eager to run Iraq by themselves when they were perfectly ready to turn large tasks in Afghanistan over to other European forces. Or put another way, what does Iraq have that Afghanistan doesn’t and that, once again, the media seldom mentions — and if you’re not thinking about that tiger in your tank, then think again.

So that’s the Sunni north, major beneficiary of Saddam’s regime favors, likely to be resistant to “regime change” and occupation for obvious reasons. But what of the Shiite south, our obvious allies in Iraq. Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times reports ( Culture shock and awe) that there too we’ve squandered our chances profligately:

“It didn’t have to be this way. But because of heavy-handedness and cultural insensitivity, the American occupation force has now lost the support of the three key Shi’ite leaders in Iraq – allies through circumstance until now.

“The Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani announced last Saturday the issuing of a fatwa against an ‘illegitimate’ constitution ‘if it is not adopted by an Iraqi government elected by the people.’ Young cleric Muqtada al-Sadr – whose religious family is highly influential in Iraq – has denounced American ‘terrorism.’ And Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim, the president of the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI) , has said on the record that an Iraqi administration named by American proconsul L Paul Bremer would be ‘illegal’.

“Just like after the war on Afghanistan, the Americans once again have squandered their accumulated capital of good will in Iraq.”

But Iraq, of course, was only meant by our rulers in Washington as a test case. There’s still the world to deal with and, when it comes to our planet, our leaders have been dreaming hard in the dark. Here are just a few signs of where their dreams are taking us.

I vant to be alone:

Greta Garbo supposedly said it once upon a time. Now the Bush administration agrees. In our imperial dreams and the weapons research that goes with it, Julian Borger of the Guardian reported last week (US-based missiles to have global reach), we imagine ourselves colonizing the heavens with weaponry and being able to fight our wars, without allies, without forward bases, without leaving home. Our “hypersonic drones” — in our dreams at least — will reach anywhere, above or under the ground:

“The Pentagon is planning a new generation of weapons, including huge hypersonic drones and bombs dropped from space, that will allow the US to strike its enemies at lightning speed from its own territory. Over the next 25 years, the new technology would free the US from dependence on forward bases and the cooperation of regional allies, part of the drive towards self-sufficiency spurred by the difficulties of gaining international cooperation for the invasion of Iraq.

“The new weapons are being developed under a programme codenamed Falcon (Force Application and Launch from the Continental US). A US defence website [run by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa] )has invited bids from contractors to develop the technology and the current edition of Jane’s Defence Weekly reports that the first flight tests are scheduled to take place within three years.”

The empire extends to Africa:

As our President prepares to tour Africa in a well-guarded royal processional during which he will undoubtedly touch children’s heads (as the royal Self once touched lepers) and cure AIDS, he is also considering yet another American intervention, this time in Liberia, while, undoubtedly by pure coincidence, various high military types were offering page-one-level quotes to Eric Schmitt of the New York Times (Pentagon Seeking New Access Pacts for Africa Bases) on our plans to but let me leave it to him:

“The United States military is seeking to expand its presence in the Arab countries of northern Africa and in sub-Saharan Africa through new basing agreements and training exercises intended to combat a growing terrorist threat in the region. ‘Africa, as can be seen by recent events, is certainly a growing problem,’ Gen. James L. Jones of the Marine Corps, the head of the European Command, said in an interview this week.

“‘As we pursue the global war on terrorism,’ the general said, ‘we’re going to have to go where the terrorists are. And we’re seeing some evidence, at least preliminary, that more and more of these large uncontrolled, ungoverned areas are going to be potential havens for that kind of activity.'”

Since the terrorists are everywhere, if we go where they are, well, it’s just logical to add Morocco, Tunisia, and various points south to our structure of imperial forward bases and to get some troops (other than the ones in Djibouti) into Africa soon — logical at least until in 25 years we have those Falcons and no longer need to leave home.

With this in mind you might check out the latest in this practically all-Guardian dispatch from the historian of imperial overstretch Paul Kennedy (The book George Bush should read). Kennedy hews a bit too strongly for my taste to the “reluctance” of imperialists, but in a single phrase he does catch our moment — perhaps the very moment the Bushites thought they wanted — “ever newer frontiers of insecurity.” Recommending an obscure forty-year-old book by two British historians, The Official Mind of Imperialism, for the President’s summer reading list, he says:

“What most impressed the two Cambridge historians was how difficult it was to get out of an overseas operation once in it. Therefore, if President Bush hasn’t enough time to read all of Africa and the Victorians, he and his team might at least read Chapter V, wittily titled Gladstone’s Bondage in Egypt. The British under Prime Minister William Gladstone genuinely thought they were in that country for a short while after 1882, to restore order, suppress the Muslim fundamentalists, train a local army, assist economic development and then withdraw. The withdrawal, announced Gladstone, should be “as early as possible”. It actually took place about 70 years later. And while no one is suggesting that is the length of time the US will be implanted in the Middle East, the evidence of an external great power becoming ‘bondaged’ in different parts of the globe grows week by week.”

I vant to be alone (2), or damn the court (and the rest of you), full speed ahead:

Not surprisingly perhaps, the Bush administration took a leaf from the corporate handbook of the 1990s and went offshore with what passes in its book for justice. Like the corporations that set up dummy outfits on Caribbean islands, the government has managed to make itself legally untouchable by creating a judicial statelet on the only part of Cuba still occupied by the U.S. (from another imperial age) — Guantanamo Bay. There, it has arrogated to itself the right to arrest, transport, hold indefinitely, charge, try, condemn, sentence, and execute non-citizens picked up wherever in whichever wars, raids, or alarums, all of this beyond the reach of the courts or the law. (Oh yes, there is military justice, but we all know that’s an oxymoron.) If this were a cowboy movie, we’d be talking the extremes of vigilante justice here, though the President still likes to think he’s acting out the role of sheriff. (But if he’s Gary Cooper and we’re at a forty-year-long High Noon moment, then the bad guys are being shoved off the train for the showdown on Main Street with their arms pinioned behind their backs and hoods over their heads.)

Now, just to square the circle and make the world a perfect place, our government is also trying with all the muscle at its command to ensure that no American anywhere in the world will ever be brought to justice for crimes, no matter how heinous, in front of the new International Criminal Court (a very faint possibility anyway given the rules and protections of that court). Having tried to establish bilateral agreements with every country on earth, giving us immunity from prosecution, the Bush administration is now cutting off military aid — which in this militarized regime of ours is increasingly our only significant form of aid; in fact, our only significant set of global relations — to all those governments who haven’t done so, many themselves shaky and pathetically aid reliant.

Consider the imperial pathos of this global policy, as described by Harpinder Athwal and Maggie Gardner at the Foreign Policy in Focus website (White House Hobbles International Criminal Court, World Security)

“The administration is compromising security in conflict-ridden countries not only by undermining UN peacekeeping operations, but also by threatening to cut off most military assistance to these countries. Under the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act of 2002, most countries that belong to the ICC but do not conclude an agreement with the United States exempting all U.S. citizens and all government and military employees (past and present, including non-national contractors) lose their military aid on July 1 unless the White House has granted them waivers. Some 44 countries had signed such agreements as of June 25, though very few had ratified them. Almost all of these countries are either poor and small (including Palau, Togo, Nauru, and The Gambia) or struggling to restore order and desperately in need of U.S. assistance (such as Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and East Timor).

“Not all countries reliant on U.S. assistance for basic security, however, have capitulated. Colombia made clear its intention not to sign one of these bilateral immunity agreements, as did Croatia. Six of the seven NATO accession countries are also stalling. (Romania signed one but has not ratified it.) For these countries, it is a matter of principle and of law. Many countries have concluded, in the words of the European Union, that ‘entering into U.S. agreements–as presently drafted–would be inconsistent with ICC States Parties’ obligations in regards to the Rome Statute,’ making such agreements illegal for them. For some countries, there’s also concern about setting a double standard, especially for those being pressured by the U.S. administration to turn their own citizens over to other international courts. As Croatian President Stjepan Mesic put it in a recent interview, ‘It would be very difficult to explain to the Croatian public how we can have one way of treating our own citizens, and another for citizens of another country.'”

Of course, here’s where the imperial dreaming part really comes into play. Our dreams of immunity impunity don’t extend to those fighting “beside” (that is, under) us — the Brits, the Poles, the Hondurans, the Albanians In our dream, while we we’re soaring dramatically off cliffs, they’re just left out. Neither immunity, nor evidently much impunity will be left for them, as sometime Guardian columnist Isabel Hinton writes of a new U.S./UK extradition agreement (Bush has stripped us of protection)

“Until now, the US government had to offer evidence against the suspect before a British court. Thanks to Mr Blunkett, that has gone. All that will be required is that the US provide evidence that Joe Bloggs is who they say and Mr Bloggs is theirs. (Perhaps without Derek Bond, the septuagenarian Brit detained at FBI request in South Africa on the grounds that he was someone else, even that requirement might have gone.)…

“If, on the other hand, the British government should wish to extradite a US citizen, it will have to make its case, as before. The Home Office defence against the charge that its eagerness to please does not seem to be reciprocated is that US citizens are protected by the US constitution from any such measure. Quite so. Mr Blunkett does not seem to think it his duty to protect British citizens at all.”

And just imagine, if you truly want to bring our new world into focus, this is what we offer to our closest ally. Tom

Growing insurgency in Iraq
By Paul Rogers
July 3, 2003

In a speech on 1 July, President Bush acknowledged that US forces would remain in Iraq as a “massive and long-term undertaking”, facing up to the “terrorists, extremists and Saddam loyalists” who have been killing and injuring US forces.

He also implied that the situation was under control. This view is echoed by the head of administration in Iraq, Paul Bremer. “Those few remaining individuals who have refused to fit into the new Iraq are becoming more and more desperate,” Bremer said, also on 1 July. “They are alienating the rest of the population.”

This upbeat assessment contrasts with casualty figures recently released. According to the Washington Post, since the war started on 20 March, 195 US military personnel have died in accidents or combat, but nearly one third of those deaths have happened since President Bush declared the war to be over on 1 May.

To read more Rogers click here

The tyranny of George II
By John O’Farrell
The Guardian
July 4, 2003

Among the brightly coloured bits of plastic at the bottom of a toy box I recently came across a little plastic doll. It was a miniature Barbie that had come free from McDonald’s and in tiny writing on the back it said “Made In Vietnam”. It left me wondering who’d actually won the Vietnam war. One generation endured the heaviest bombardment in history and succeeded in driving out the world’s most powerful army in order that their children could be free to sit in a sweatshop making little Aryan Barbie dolls to be given out free with a Happy Meal.

Today is Independence Day in the United States, when Americans celebrate freedom from Britain. The final straw had been the enforcement of the Penal Acts, which had been passed so that 200 years later teenage boys would giggle in history lessons

To read more O’Farrell click here