Who is to run the world?

LAST month we passed the first anniversary of President Bush's "mission accomplished" declaration of victory in Iraq. The invasion was set in motion by the Bush doctrine, the "new imperial grand strategy," as Foreign Affairs called it, which declared that the United States would dominate the world for the indefinite future and destroy any challenge to that domination.

By Noam Chomsky

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Published: Fri 25 Jun 2004, 11:24 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:58 AM

Leaving aside what is happening on the ground in Iraq, perhaps it is useful to focus on how the policies behind the invasion and occupation have made the world a much more dangerous place, and not only from terrorism.

The US State Department has just admitted that its April claim that terrorism dropped - a centrepiece of the current Bush presidential campaign - was completely false. The revised report concedes that "the number of incidents and the toll in victims increased sharply." For government planners, the most important goal was not to fight terrorism but to establish US military bases in a dependent client state at the heart of the world's major energy reserves, and thus to gain an upper hand over their rivals.

Zbigniew Brzezinski writes that "America's security role in the region" - in plain English, its military dominance - "gives it indirect but politically critical leverage on the European and Asian economies that are also dependent on energy exports from the region" (The National Interest, winter 2003/2004). As Brzezinski well knows, the core problem of US global dominance is that Europe and Asia (especially the dynamic Northeast Asia region) might move on an independent course. Control of the Gulf and Central Asia becomes even more significant; analysts expect that the Gulf's enormous role in world energy production will continue to grow. US-UK support for Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and other dictatorships in Central Asia, and the jockeying over where pipelines will go and under whose supervision, are part of the same renewed "great game."

Meanwhile, in Western commentary, it is virtually presupposed that the goal of the invasion was "the president's vision" of establishing democracy in Iraq. By contrast, according to Western polls in Baghdad, a large majority assumed that Washington's motive for the invasion was to take control of Iraq's resources and to reorganise the Middle East in accord with US interests. It is not unusual for those at the wrong end of the club to have a clearer understanding of the world in which they live. There are plenty of other illustrations that Washington regards terrorism as a minor issue as compared to ensuring that the Middle East is under proper control. Just last month, the Bush administration imposed economic sanctions on Syria, implementing the Syria Accountability Act passed by Congress in December - virtually a declaration of war unless Syria follows US commands. Syria remains on the official US list of states sponsoring terrorism, despite US government acknowledgment that Syria has not sponsored terrorism for many years, and that Syria has provided important intelligence to Washington on Al Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups, as Stephen Zunes writes in the spring issue of Middle East Policy.

Thus the United States is deprived of that intelligence source in favour of achieving the higher goal - a regime that will accept US-Israeli demands. To mention just one more instance of clear but imperceptible priorities: The US Treasury Department maintains an Office of Foreign Assets Control, assigned the task of investigating suspicious financial transfers, a crucial component of the "war on terror."

The agency has 120 employees. A few weeks ago, OFAC informed Congress that, as of the end of last year, four of them - only four - were dedicated to tracking the finances of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, while almost two dozen enforced the embargo against Cuba. Why should Treasury devote vastly more energy to strangling Cuba than to the war on terror? Successful defiance of the United States is intolerable, ranked far higher as a priority than combating terror.

To achieve domination, violence can succeed, but at tremendous cost. It can also provoke greater violence in response. Inciting terror is not the most ominous current example. In February, Russia carried out its largest military exercises in two decades, displaying new and more sophisticated weapons of mass destruction. Russian political and military leaders made clear that this arms-race revival was a direct response to Bush administration actions and programmes - especially US development of low-yield nuclear weapons, the so-called bunker busters. As strategic analysts on both sides know, these weapons can target the bunkers, hidden in mountains that control Russian nuclear arsenals. A nuclear ripple effect can follow. The Russians and Chinese react to the United States by building up strategic weapons. India will react to China's actions; Pakistan to India; and perhaps beyond.

Meanwhile Iraq makes its way toward what is called sovereignty. "Handover still on course," reads the headline of a recent article by Anton La Guardia of the London Daily Telegraph. The last paragraph reports that "a senior British official put it delicately: 'The Iraqi government will be fully sovereign, but in practice it will not exercise all its sovereign functions."' Lord Curzon would nod sagely. The steadfast refusal of Iraqis to accept the traditional "constitutional fictions" has compelled Washington to yield step by step, with some assistance from the "second superpower," as Patrick E. Tyler of The New York Times described world opinion after the huge demonstrations of mid-February 2003, the first time in history that mass protests against a war took place before it had been officially launched. That makes a difference.

For example, had the problems of Fallujah arisen during the 1960s, they would have been resolved by B-52s and mass murder operations on the ground. Today, a more civilized society will not tolerate such measures, providing at least some space for the traditional victims to act to gain authentic independence. It is even possible that such impulses may force the Bush administration to abandon its imperial ambitions for Iraq.

Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and author, most recently, of "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance."

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