U.S.-British naivete unmasked
Gregory Clark (Honorary President of Tama University)
With the United States bringing out new rules of international relations regularly, it is important to take stock from time to time. One of them, spawned by the Iraq conflict, is the uncertainty doctrine. This says that whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or not does not matter. What is relevant is the fact that they may have existed. Iraq had to be attacked in order to clear up this uncertainty.
The uncertainty doctrine has been kicking round in U.S. neocon literature for some time. It has now been given formal recognition by President George W. Bush. Generations will come to admire its neat simplicity: It allows any nation to attack any other nation at any time.
It also means that you and I can be arrested for murder. True, we have not actually committed the deed. But it possible that we might. So put us away before we can do any harm.
It gets scarier when we come to the doctrine that not only justifies but demands attacks on anyone with WMD, even if it is clear they cannot or will not use them. On this basis many of us would have to be put away as potential rapists.
Another related doctrine to come out of Iraq says that I can insist that you disarm even though you know that I am keen to attack you,. If you hesitate that proves you deserve to be attacked. And even if you do not hesitate I can still attack you since it is only after I attack you that I can be certain that you have completely disarmed.
This doctrine gained life following Iraqi reluctance to allow U.N. inspection teams into some politically sensitive areas. That reluctance was hardly surprising, given that the teams included U.S. and British spies bent on checking out sites for later assassination or bombing attempts.
Interestingly, neither Washington or London has tried to devise a doctrine to justify the other main pretext for attack on Iraq, namely alleged ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda -- particularly now that it is clear that there were no ties, and that it was the attack itself that created whatever ties we see today.
The same veil of silence is beginning to descend over claims the attack would turn Iraq into a hub of Middle Eastern secular democracy, now that it is clear that democratic elections would turn Iraq into a hubbub of nonsecular activity similar to that in that other "Axis of Evil" candidate, Iran.
Then there is the argument that something had to be done to end atrocities by a brutal and aggressive regime. Unfortunately, that is contradicted by the strong U.S.-British support for the regime back in the early 1980s, when it was at its most brutal and aggressive.
Besides, if regime atrocities are the problem, then targeted sanctions are much better than brutal attacks. Most atrocities in dictatorial regimes are committed by hawks or sadists keen to secure their jobs and please leaderships. Sanctions targeted specifically to make those leaderships realize the cost of allowing these people to continue to indulge in their hobbies can be very effective, as we saw, eventually, with South Africa.
Sadly, we see very little move toward such targeted sanctions. One reason is our own hawks and sadists are often in favor of those atrocities, particularly when they are aimed at wiping out progressives or leftwingers. We saw this previously in Iraq, South Africa and Latin America.
The naivete of the arguments over Iraq cries out for explanation. It is hard to imagine a Franklin Roosevelt or a Winston Churchill indulging in the childish nonsense coming from the Bush-Blair combination. Increasingly our leaders are being chosen not for maturity and common sense, but for phony charisma and TV presentability. These people are no match for the powerful, hard-headed hawks around them.
Working on policy matters in Australia's allegedly progressive Whitlam government of the early 1970s, I was appalled at the ease with which the military could get their hawkish views endorsed. One result was approval for Indonesia's criminal occupation of East Timor, which led to atrocities far worse than in Iraq.
Another problem is the religious fundamentalism of the U.S. leadership, well outlined by Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsay of the Brookings Institute in their recent book, "American Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy." It seems that Bush really does believe what he says about the U.S. having a God-given obligation to go around the globe fighting forces of evil.
Yet another factor is the growing power of the U.S. military-intelligence complex, fed by enormous budgets and now virtually out of control. For an insight see another recent book, "The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic," by that former intelligence operative and old Japan hand, Chalmers Johnson. It paints a frightening and meticulous picture of a sinister force that will stop at nothing to expand its power and bases around the globe -- the new imperialism.
But in their contest with Islamic militancy, the military hawks may finally have met their match. Mindless use of the word "terrorist" leaves them ignorant of the causes and deep roots of that militancy. They fail to realize how such things as the mistreatment of Iraqi civilians or Guantanamo prisoners create even deeper militancy. They are chained forever to the treadmill of violence and counter-violence.
Similar mistakes led to the defeat in Vietnam a generation ago. The chances of an eventual defeat in Iraq are high.
(This article originally appeared in the February 17, 2004 issue of The Japan Times)