January 19, 2004
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., has the distinction of being a super
respectable historian of the United States of America. He served in the
Kennedy administration. He wrote about the Kennedy administration from
the vantage point of an insider. He is regarded as a liberal. His
books are popular bestsellers. He publishes in the mainstream press.
He writes well and clearly. He embodies the thinking of a large segment
of the Establishment. That's why it may be worthwhile to take a critical
look at his recent review article, "Eyeless in Iraq" (The New York
Review of Books, Volume 50, Number 16, October 23, 2003), where
he comments on the Bush administration's doctrine of "preventive war,"
invasion and occupation of Iraq. The article is a review of two books,
Ivo H. Daddler and James M. Lindsay's America Unbounded (Brookings
Institution Press, October 2003) and Fred I. Greenstein The George W.
Bush Presidency: An Early Assessment (Johns Hopkins University Press,
September 2003). The main objective of the article is to analyze the
Bush doctrine of "preventive war" and Mr. Bush's reasons for attacking Iraq.
After a brief analysis of the Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy administrations' respective views on "preventive attacks" on other countries, Schlesinger states:
Where did Mr. Bush find the novel idea of preventive war as the basis of US foreign policy? His conviction apparently is that the unique position of the United States as the planet's supreme military, economic, and cultural power creates an unprecedented opportunity for America to impose its example on other countries and thereby save them from themselves.Later in the same article, Schlesinger evaluates Mr. Bush's rationale for invading and occupying Iraq:
Still why did Mr. Bush and his close advisers decide to go to war against Iraq? I don't think he went to war in order to gratify the Halliburton Company or to please Israel or to avenge the attempted assassination of his father. He is a president who exults in big ideas. "I will seize the opportunity to achieve big goals," he told Bob Woodward. I suspect that he dreams of making his place in history by converting the Arab world to representative democracy.This incredible explanation for the war on Iraq is a feat that only a respectable and liberal historian like Schlesinger could achieve. If only for the sake of retaining one's sanity and re-examining one's intellectual honesty it may be useful to probe the actual reasons for Mr. Bush to go to war to invade and occupy Iraq.
First and foremost, Iraq is an oil-rich country -- but it does not even occur to Schlesinger to mention that Iraq happens to be an oil-rich country! Even a mediocre student of history would know that imperial powers often engage in the invasion and the occupation of countries to gain control over their resources and to demonstrate to the rest of the world that their dictates will reign supreme; and imperial powers need to rationalize their actions to their own populations and the rest of the world. The United States under the Bush administration was not an exception to this rule. The golden opportunity to invade Iraq was created by the events of 9/11 even though Iraq had no connection with the terrorists who carried out the attacks. 9/11 invoked fears of further terrorism among the population of the United States. The Bush administration fully exploited those fears and used this opportunity to plan and to galvanize US public opinion to invade under a wide range of pretexts, including alleged Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and alleged ties between the Iraqi regime and al Qaeda.
Imperial states rarely go to war for the benefit of a specific corporation or a particular set of corporations. Rather, a large segment of the corporate sector of imperialist countries, including the United States, are profiteers from war and militarism; and, more importantly, the corporate sector often backs imperial wars because business leaders believe that war and domination over global resources are essential to the sustenance of the present economic system. No one disputes the fact that US corporations are profiting from the contracts being awarded by the US occupation authorities. In the case of Iraq's "reconstruction" the Center for Public Integrity reported that "[m]ore than 70 American companies and individuals have won up to $8 billion in contracts for work in postwar Iraq and Afghanistan over the last two years." These corporations include KBR/Halliburton, Bechtel, International American Products, Perini Corporation, Contrack International, Fluor, Washington Groups International, Research Triangle Institute, Louis Berger Group and Creative Associates International.
The Israeli lobby's role in advancing the cause of the Iraq war is a complicated one. Though several figures in the Bush administration, such as those associated with the New American Century Projects, are closely tied to Israel and have been passionate advocates of violence, the Bush administration went to war for its own reasons: namely, to perpetuate and expand US domination of the Middle East and profit from it. These goals coincided with those of such supporters of Israel. Of course, the Israeli government was pleased with the results of the Gulf War II. Israel benefits directly and indirectly from the Anglo-American occupation. First, it removes whatever insignificant threat that Iraq posed to Israel. Second, it has put the United States in direct control of Iraqi resources. Third, the occupation of another Middle Eastern country reduces the international pressure on Israel's own occupation of Palestinian territories. Fourth, it enables the state of Israel to obtain more funds and assistance from the United States. Fifth, the Anglo-American replication of Israeli-style occupation practices in Iraq serves to effectively legitimize these actions in the Palestinian Territories. There is no evidence to suggest that Bush et al. decided to invade Iraq "to please Israel," but they certainly knew Israel would rejoice at the invasion. Pleasing the pro-occupation segments of Israel and the US supporters of Israeli occupation is highly rewarded in the lopsided political and electoral system in the U.S. It generates favorable campaign contributions, endorsements, and votes. Israel also serves as a forward base for US domination of the Middle East. This is a classic example of quid pro quo.
Contrary to Schlesinger's suggestion, outside of intellectual circles in the United States the allegation that the Iraqi authorities were responsible for the assassination attempt on Bush I is not taken seriously, let alone the belief that Bush II invaded Iraq to avenge for Iraq's role in the attempted assassination. Seymour Hersh ("A Case Not Closed," New Yorker, 1993) showed that there was no independent, credible evidence that Iraqi officials were involved in the alleged plot to assassinate Bush I.
That the pretexts of the invasion and the occupation are false and that Bush et al. are systematic liars does not invoke much thought or reflection in Schlesinger. He is well aware of the facts. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. Despite substantial efforts to show the existence of such weapons, the Bush administration has so far failed to produce any evidence of their existence. The alleged ties between Saddam Hussein's regime and al Qaeda is another fabrication. Schlesinger himself acknowledges: "[A] Washington Post poll, taken this August , reported 69 percent of Americans still believes that Saddam Hussein was 'personally involved' in the attack on the Twin Towers. Where did they get that idea? Perhaps from the administration's rhetoric as filtered through the press. Saddam Hussein is a great villain, but he had nothing to do with the attack on the Twin Towers, as Mr. Bush belatedly admitted on September 17 ."
The interesting thing about Schlesinger is that in spite of his knowledge of the facts, he chooses to distort and to propagate the myth that the Bush administration's goal is "converting the Arab world to representative democracy." If the Bush administration is so eager for democracy why is it so resolutely opposed to elections in Iraq and to handing over power to the representatives of the Iraqi people? Because its goal is to ensure that a subservient puppet regime is installed in Baghdad. Arguably, the commitment to democracy -- or at least democratic elections -- of the Iraqi Shia clergy, such as Grand Ayatollah Sistani, is more credible than the Bush administration's. It is not hard to understand why this may be so. If there are free and fair elections in Iraq, political parties affiliated with, and backed by the Shia clergy are likely to emerge as the dominant political parties, whereas parties affiliated with the quisling Iraq Governing Council are bound to fare extremely poorly. Thus the Bush administration will try to subvert democratic elections and retain its collaborators in power under one guise or the other, so that the U.S. can control Iraq's hydrocarbon resources and maintain its military presence in the country.
Anyone familiar with US history knows that there is a long imperial tradition of the United States enthroning and beefing up regimes favorable to imperial interests, such as Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam, the Shah of Iran, and Papa Doc Duvalier in Haiti. It takes a bold and audacious historian to forget this history and to rather suggest that Bush et al. are devoted to "converting the Arab world to representative democracy" without an iota of evidence. But Schlesinger serves that task well. No wonder he remains a historian of choice as far as the Establishment is concerned.
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References and Related Internal Links
Iraq on Swans
The 1991 Gulf War Rationale - A Swans Dossier
Tanweer Akram is an economist from Bangladesh and a consultant to an international financial institution. His articles and reviews have appeared in many publications such as Applied Economics, Third World Quarterly, Kyklos, Savings and Development, Journal of Emerging Markets, Journal of Bangladesh Studies, Bangladesh Development Studies, Z Magazine, Counterpunch, and Pressaction.
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