The imperial moment arrives

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Let’s be reasonable for a moment. We have an administration which proved itself eager first to buy an election (of course, who in America isn’t?), raising staggering sums from staggering friends in an orgy of staggeringly undemocratic corruption, and then, as we all remember, to win it by any means at hand, along the way saying anything that needed to be said, most of which bore no relation to the policies these men had long dreamt of and written about putting into place. They are control freaks who deeply believe in secrecy and glory in making policy under cover of darkness, and these are also the model men who will bring “democracy” to Iraq.

Last night, for instance, I heard David Brooks of the Weekly Standard say on Charlie Rose that this administration, with whose officials he assured viewers he was in contact, was indeed in favor of bringing democracy to Iraq, but the process might, he guessed modestly, take 80 years, given the benighted state of that land and the region in which it’s embedded. That leaves a margin for error this administration could happily embrace. Let’s also remember that many of the men of this administration were involved in the decision in 1991 not to let the Shias of southern Iraq, in rebellion, rid their land of Saddam Hussein. Better the rat they knew (who, they felt sure, would fall soon enough to a more pro-American version of the same) than a bunch of potential Islamic rebels in Baghdad. Now, the men who want to extend the security clauses of the USA Patriot Act into eternity are ready to bring their muscular version of “democracy” to Iraq themselves. They followed the path of the Shia rebels north, but without the rebels in tow.
Many critics have referred to the power brokers of this administration as a “cabal,” though that may be a less than accurate description. A cabal is a small group that plots in secret to take power. This group simply plotted in a kind of obscurity for some years — much of the obscuring coming from the fact that their documents, their plans, which sat in plain sight, up on the web no less, were almost completely unreported upon anywhere in the mainstream media. They are perhaps only a cabal in relation to the American people, who were indeed kept in ignorance. In 1998, for instance, some of these men were perfectly happy to write directly and publicly to a president, Bill Clinton, they undoubtedly loathed, calling on him to rid them of Saddam along lines now familiar to us all.

So we are, it seems, at the moment of “liberation” (the word “occupation” having been declared taboo) — really the moment of victory, of triumph, not for the Iraqis but for the men of this administration and for President himself. It’s the moment they have long awaited for beginning the cleansing the Middle East. Syria, as a start, is now like meat in a sandwich, and who plans to take the first bite? Only today, John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security , promptly “warned countries [the U.S.] has accused of pursuing weapons of mass destruction, including Iran, Syria and North Korea, to ‘draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq.'”

For many Iraqis, released from decades of oppression, how could there not be something euphoric in this moment, whatever the state of their homes and their country, however it was brought to them? For them, however, post-liberation tristesse is likely to come soon enough. The problems to be faced in Iraq are monumental, if not insurmountable, under the present circumstances. In fact, as Philip Mattera suggests in a piece below, what the Bush administration may most yearn to create is exactly what they’re already creating in our country — a stripped-down, lean, mean, privatized land when it comes to resources or to social services — and part of that vision undoubtedly involves privatizing crucial parts of Iraq into the hands of FOGs — Friends of George (Dick, Don, Paul, etc.).

As Harold Meyerson of the American Prospect magazine writes in the Washington Post (see below), “Deployment precedes — and damn near obviates — debate.” This has been the secret to Bush administration policy so far, at home and abroad. (See tomorrow’s tomgram for how this works on the domestic “front.”) In all those months of “talk,” they were mobilizing, and then the “facts on the ground” — remember all that onrushing hot weather? — took over. Now, having had a preventive war, we’re evidently about to have a preventive occupation sorry, “liberation.” The Pentagon in the first democratic gesture of the postwar era has moved swiftly and preemptively to insert its candidate for next head of Iraq, the exile Ahmed Chalabi, much hated by the State Department and CIA, into Iraq. As Jim Lobe reports in the Asia Times today ( Pentagon’s favorites get a foot in the door)

“It came as some surprise when, as [Condi] Rice was speaking [out against an all-exile future government], the Pentagon flew some 500 INC activists – plus Chalabi himself – from the northern Iraqi safe haven where they had been cooling their heels into the southern US-occupied city of Nasiriyah, where Chalabi quickly met with local dignitaries, apparently to gain their backing.

“That this took place on the eve of Bush’s Belfast meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair was regarded as particularly significant, since Blair had lined up solidly behind the State Department. ‘Bush agreed that we would not dream of parachuting people from outside Iraq to run Iraq,’ a senior Blair aide had told Newsweek two days before

“That this took place on the eve of Bush’s Belfast meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair was regarded as particularly significant, since Blair had lined up solidly behind the State Department. ‘Bush agreed that we would not dream of parachuting people from outside Iraq to run Iraq,’ a senior Blair aide had told Newsweek two days before

“‘You can call this another aspect of [Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz’s preemption strategy,’ said one administration official. ‘You can call this a coup d’etat.”

Whatever Iraq’s problems, Iraq War (II) was also a shot across the bow of the world. A lesson, a demonstration — and not just for Axis of Evil nations either. It was some combination of a watch-out and gotcha message delivered to the world’s doorstep (to mix a few metaphors) by stealth bombers, Abrams tanks, and bunker-busting missiles. The world now knows that it’s facing a monumental enemy, militarily speaking, ready to do what it damn pleases anywhere, any time.

The telephone rang and when the world picked up, it was empire speaking. A military empire, no less. And what it said with its advanced battle tanks put a period on a great historical reversal. It took a relatively brief couple of hundred years to move fully from a don’t-tread-on-me to an I’ll-tread-on-you nation. As Julius the C might have said, we’ve crossed the Euphrates. Only here in these United States is this not self-evident. Today, the Pentagon rules the roost — and Iraq — while our moneys are channeled into future generations of weaponry. In Iraq, the bases come next. Then the oil will be dealt with, the country “privatized,” our “men” in Iraq installed. Those, after all, are the perks of conquest. And sometimes force works. But I doubt that will be the case here.

Below, it might be said, are some markers of the past — in now-forgotten Afghanistan — and the future in a potentially “privatized” Iraq. Along with the two pieces about occupied Iraq, I include a long, cool assessment from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists of the state of Afghanistan today. Written off in this country as a triumphant moment — because we were militarily triumphant there — and now in an anything but triumphant state. Remember, we left Afghanistan in the lurch once — after their war against the Soviets succeeded — and we lived to regret it. I don’t doubt there will be much in Afghanistan and elsewhere that we’re again going to live to regret. As a start, I regret this imperial moment. Tom

Preemptive Peace
By Harold Meyerson
The Washington Post
April 8, 2003

From the folks who brought us preemptive war, here comes preemptive peace.

The Defense Department intellectuals who have emerged as the dominant
force in U.S. foreign policy had it all mapped out. While the debate
raged over whether to go to war in Iraq, they dispatched a couple of
hundred thousand troops to the region, establishing a fact on the
ground that ultimately made the war unstoppable. Now, while the
debate is just beginning over the nature of the interim government in
postwar Iraq, they have dispatched a postwar government of their
choosing to the Kuwait Hilton.

With the assistance of Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, George W.
Bush has emerged as an apt pupil of Nathan Bedford Forrest. In war
and now in peace, he gets there first with the most men. Deployment
precedes — and damn near obviates — debate.

To read more Meyerson click here

Postwar Iraq

A Showcase for Privatization?
By Philip Mattera
Focus on the Global South
April 7, 2003

Earlier this week, US military officials came up with a solution to the chaos surrounding the distribution of water to civilians in the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr: They are providing water free to locals with tanker trucks, who are being allowed to sell the precious liquid for a “reasonable” fee. “This provides them with an incentive to hustle and to work,” an Army commander told a reporter for the New York Daily News.

This transfer of a public good to private hands may be an initial small step in what could be widespread privatization in Iraq after the war is over. A number of conservative think tank denizens and other analysts have been arguing for months that the post-Saddam Hussein economy should be restructured according to the principles of Milton Friedman.

Philip Mattera is the director of the Corporate Research Project Good Jobs First 1311 L Street NW Washington, DC 20005. [email protected], www.corp-research.org

To read more Mattera click here

Afghanistan: The more it changes . . .
Americans like to think the war in Afghanistan is over, but that would be a serious mistake.
By Sohail Abdul Nasir
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
March/April Issue

One might conclude that Hamid Karzai, the interim head of the Afghan government, is doing well. Foreign dignitaries visit frequently, relief work is going on, and streetlights have been installed in Kabul by a German firm. The Japanese are constructing apartment buildings, and the Afghan national army is in the process of being constituted. The Taliban–Al Qaeda network has been broken; its leaders vanished. Nearly 18 months after September 11, Afghanistan could be said to be sailing along.

But there is another side to this picture: Karzai just narrowly escaped an assassination attempt last September; Vice President Haji Abdul Qadir, a prominent Pashtun leader, was killed on July 6, 2002, by unknown assailants; and Aviation Minister Haji Abd-ur-Rehaman was killed on February 14, 2002, by angry pilgrims whose plans to fly to Mecca were crushed when no flight was available. Outside the capital, the rule of warlords prevails.

Sohail Abdul Nasir, a Pakistani journalist in Islamabad, writes on security and foreign policy issues for the Nawa-i-Waqt, an Urdu-language daily.

To read more Nasir click here