Bizarro Imperialism

The US-Iraqi “status of forces” agreement has been months in the making, and today [Thursday] we are told that it’s “almost” ready – but not quite. So what’s the problem? Well, there are a few bones of contention between the “liberators” and the “liberated,” the first being how long US forces will stay, and the second being the terms under which they will essentially continue their occupation. What this increasingly contentious issue between the Americans and the Iraqis reveals and underscores is just how far down the road to empire the US has traveled.

What is becoming readily apparent, even to this administration, is that the Americans are no longer wanted by any of the Iraqi factions: not the Sunnis, who hated us from the beginning, not the Shi’ites, who soon learned to hate us, and not even the Kurds, formerly our trusted compradors in the region and now sullenly resentful at having had their anti-Turkish campaign reined in by a joint effort of US and Iraqi forces.

President Bush has long disdained the very idea of setting a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops, but last month had the rug pulled out from under him – and John McCain – when Barack Obama went to Iraq and was greeted by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who promptly endorsed Obama’s call for a definitive timetable. The status of forces agreement has been demoted to the level of a “memorandum of understanding,” so as not to require a vote by the US Congress, nevertheless it cannot avoid a vote in the Iraqi Parliament. That’s what they mean by “exporting” democracy: It’s the Iraqis who do the voting, while we just get to foot the bill.

That’s how American imperialism works. We’re the only empire on earth where, as Garet Garrett put it, “everything goes out and nothing comes in.” In the olden days, you’ll recall, when Roman legionnaires went a’ conquering, at least they came back with some loot, which they would distribute to the populace whilst keeping some for themselves: however, here in Bizarro Rome, it’s we who are being looted. Not that I’m suggesting the Iraqis ought to pay the costs of their own occupation, but only to point out the irony of our predicament.

The Iraqis reportedly want us to begin withdrawing by the end of next June, with all forces out by 2010. The Bush administration has so far not agreed to any of this, and is insisting on staying until 2011 – and, even then, we’ll still retain bases in the country. This should clear up, once and for all, the question of whether we are creating an empire in the Middle East: Iraq is clearly being treated as a colony of the US, or else there would be no negotiations, certainly not the prolonged song-and-dance performed by the US and Iraqi sides – there would only be the unilateral decision of the Iraqis to politely ask us to leave.

This is an attempt by the White House to give its own policies a life beyond the grave of this administration, and it’s not at all clear how strenuously the Democrats will oppose it. Expecting a victory in November, albeit with less certainty than before, the Obama campaign hasn’t made this is an issue, so far, and the Democrats in Congress are unlikely to take a bold initiative, such as nullifying the most objectionable provisions – including the one that keeps US troops in Iraq until 20011-or-12.

Locked in by a “treaty” obligation that was never put to a vote of the people’s representatives, President Obama will conveniently cite this document – which no ordinary person has yet had the privilege of reading – and intone that the only responsible thing to do is to abide by it. Thus the essential continuity of American foreign policy, a theme extrapolated on in this space before, will be maintained. Change? A Democratic administration would usher in a change of faces, certainly, and we’d hear a rhetorical shift, to be sure – but no real fundamental sea change in the guiding principles and present direction of policy, which amounts to a permanent rationale for a massive overseas projection of US military power.

The battlelines in our endless “war on terrorism” are shifting eastward, away from Iraq – where we’re being pushed out by the Iraqis, and their Iranian allies – and toward Pakistan and Afghanistan. Obama wants thousands more US soldiers sent to the Afghan front, and certainly our reverses in that theater aren’t being publicized as widely as the alleged “success” of the surge. I’ll leave it to Michael Scheuer to explain why the bones of so many empires are buried in those hills: suffice to say that the Democrats’ Afghan adventurism is bound to be just as successful – and involve just as many if not more casualties and other costs – as the conflict in Iraq. The alleged rationale for it is also exactly the same: we’re fighting al Qaeda, the destroyers of the twin towers! The only answer to that is: it’s a little late for that, now isn’t it?

Bin Laden and the leadership of his quasi-organization have long since spread out across the globe: they are in every country, including most likely the United States. To imagine that we can destroy Bin Ladenism militarily is an illusion, and a dangerous one – the danger being that the wars of “liberation” we wage will only succeed in growing and militarizing al Qaeda’s base of support. Al Qaeda cannot be stopped with fighter planes and advanced missile systems, and the more we go around the world playing the regime-change game, the more recruits the terrorists will reap.

The shift to the Afghan-Pakistani front marks a general shift in the nature of the alleged “enemy.” Every American administration must come up with at least one foreign adversary, a credible overseas ‘threat” to our national security interests, and there are many indications that Russia is a favorite for the nomination. The Central Asian ‘stans are lining up on one side or the other, and the West, led by the Americans, is bound to continue the encirclement of Russia no matter which party wins in November.

China, too, is on the enemies list, on account of the labor unions’ Sinophobia, which has always been pronounced and unapologetic: they are a key Democratic constituency, and, given Obama’s victory this November, there will be considerable pressure on him to take up the campaign for “human rights” in China. Never mind that China, like Russia, has come a long way since the Communist era, while in America and the West the trend is in the other direction. This “human rights” hooey is really a protectionist crusade, dressed up in liberal “humanitarian” garb, but just remember that old libertarian maxim: if goods don’t cross borders, then armies soon will.

Securing the goods – in this case, oil – is what the maneuvering in the region is all about. Oil from distant Kazakhstan, the gigantic US-allied autocracy rivaled only by neighboring Uzbekistan for the megalomaniacal authoritarianism of its dotty old ruler, Nursultan Nazarbayev. The Kazakh dictator is a sclerotic leftover from the Communist era who has reportedly transferred over one billion dollars worth of the nation’s wealth to his personal bank account. And that’s just one of the advantages of online banking!

One of the beneficiaries of the BTC (Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan) pipeline is Turkmenistan, another neo-Soviet Central Asian “republic” with a one-party system and no liberty in any sphere. With a “human rights” record far worse than the Chinese, you can bet they’ll get a free pass no matter which party takes power in Washington: there’s too much money involved here, and, besides that, it was the Democrats who initiated this “Silk Road” pipeline project, and the Clinton administration that set up a special office to see that it was realized.

And don’t forget Azerbaijan, yet another neo-Soviet dictatorship, whose Maximum Leader, Heydar Aliyev, a former Communist party chieftain, seized power in a coup and established a one-party state, passing on power to his son, in the North Korean style. Azerbaijan is locked in a struggle with Armenia, a Russian ally, over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is inhabited by both Azeris and Armenians, and has been the object of a long intramural conflict. This conflict could easily intersect the route of the BTC pipeline, a tripwire that could lead to a confrontation between the US and Russia, and/or their proxies. The Georgian/Ossetian incident prefigures this coming conflict.

The worst autocracies in the region – these are “democratic” Georgia’s economic partners and diplomatic-military allies in the fight against Putin’s Russia. Standing behind them is the US, and the Western powers, particularly the British, who have a lot invested in the BTC project. The idea is to avoid Iran and Russia completely while reaping the oil bounty to be found in Central Asia. This would undercut Russia’s economic and geopolitical position, and complete the encirclement of the Slavs, which has been the long-range goal of American policy in the post-Soviet era no matter which party is in power. The long ago promise made to Gorbachev by George Herbert Walker Bush – that NATO would not expand to include the former Warsaw Pact nations, never mind Ukraine and Georgia – is conveniently tossed down the Memory Hole. Not only Georgia, but also distant Azerbaijan is on the fast-track for NATO membership.

In the battle for the top of the world, which looks set to take place on the steppes of Central Asia, neither expense nor lives will be spared. It doesn’t matter which party takes the White House, because it’s the same old game played by the same old players. We’re done with Iraq, and it’s time to move on: there are new lands to conquer, fresh crusades to take up, and a whole new set of beneficiaries, laptop bombardiers, and official spokespersons to contend with. If this is “change,” then you can have it. All I know is that Antiwar.com is bound to be busier than usual, no matter who wins in November. That’s why the endless framing of every issue in partisan terms is so irrelevant and just plain boring. Republicans and Democrats, red-state/blue-state, conservative-liberal – it’s just a game show, albeit often an entertaining one, that really decides nothing much of anything.

What decides the course of nations isn’t politics, but ideas – and that’s where Antiwar.com comes in. We’re fighting the battle of ideas every day, 24/7 – against a well-funded and not very well-intentioned enemy. The War Party knows what it wants, and knows how to get it: they’re not only wealthy beyond measure, they’re also organized: they’ve systematically eliminated any and all voices of opposition to our interventionist foreign policy from the councils of government, and only now, from the grassroots, do we hear the sounds of dissent. Why do we have to police the world – and bear the burden of empire? This is the question we’ve been asking since our founding, in 1995, and we have yet to find anyone who has come up with a satisfactory answer. Who benefits from this policy of global meddling? Because it most certainly isn’t the great bulk of the American people, who must pay the costs of empire on top of the tremendous domestic debt we’ve already rung up.

Everything goes out and nothing comes in: that’s how Garrett, in his 1952 pamphlet Ex America, described the then newly-emerging American empire. He was, however, a writer whose specialty was economics, and, being quite a perceptive analyst, he would have instantly understood – had he lived to see it – that, in the year 2008, something does come in. While us ordinary peons pay, certain business concerns profit, namely the investment bankers who are financing the BTC pipeline, the governments of Georgia and the Central Asian axis of anti-Russian autocracies, not to mention the politicians who are feeding at that particular trough.

The beneficiaries of our foreign policy are fighting hard to stay in the saddle, in spite of the awakening of the American people to the racket they’ve been running. Eight years of constant warmongering has surely taken its toll on the support the War Party can generate, but they have new tricks up their sleeves, of that you can be sure. That’s why it’s so important that you help us make our fundraising goal of $70,000: as you may know, we’re in the midst of our summer drive, and we are depending on you to come through.

The summer fundraisers are always the hardest, and I dread their approach. This one I especially dreaded, because of the economic hardship I know many of our readers are going through right now. That’s why it’s so important that those who can afford to give, this time, dig deeper than usual into their pockets to make up for the shortfall. I apologize if I’m sounding a little desperate, here, but, come to think of it, I am feeling pretty desperate: that fundraiser thermometer on our front page needs to be well advanced into the green “optimist” range before we’re out of the woods – that is, before we can guarantee that you’ll continue to get the kind of coverage of world affairs you’ve come to expect from Antiwar.com.

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Read more by Justin Raimondo

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].