How Osama Got His Way

And to think some of you had less than a high opinion of Mr Rumsfeld. No doubt contrition consumes you, as the United States announces that it\’s, more or less, going to withdraw from the Saudi bases it formally established after the previous Iraq war, and, of course, she\’s not looking to set up new long term ones in Iraq either. So result: American foreign policy has secured the curious goal it set itself – ridding the region of the \’menace\’ of Saddam – and now she can begin to go home. A happy ending all round? Well it could be (even Osama\’s bound to be happy now that one of his chief demands, the removal of the American military presence from inside Saudi Arabia, is well underway), and if it is, we\’ll have to thank the fact that the United States of America practises a sensible and moderate imperialism. That, obviously, being the sort of imperialism she\’ll have to pursue if she wishes to maintain her imperium. The good, or bad, news then is that recent developments, in Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia all tend to one thing: the US isn\’t, under the present administration, either going to engage in reckless over-reach, nor is she going to retrench from the imperial posture adopted more than half a century ago – what she\’s going to try to do is, hold what she has. Lots of people are going to like that, but far, far more people aren\’t to care one way or the other.

Already the command and control structures previously embedded in the Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB) have been transferred from Saudi Arabia to Qatar – where, indeed, the second Gulf War was successfully run from. This giant base will be run down, and by the end of the summer is planned just to be at a \’ready maintenance\’ status; in other words, it\’s exactly the sort of arrangement that Britain used to negotiate in exactly this area of the world. The whole \’empire\’ and \’imperialism\’ about contemporary American foreign policy started essentially as a tease (albeit, as an also entirely accurate descriptive term), but it\’s gone slightly past being a joke now. As the Americans pull out of Saudi and plunge into Qatar, give a thought to this former British dependency. The sheikhdom very reluctantly had independence forced on it thirty years ago as Britain retreated from the remnants of her informal empire in the Persian Gulf, and it\’s been looking to get rid of it ever since. You\’ll have read, from our Vulcan friends, a lot about \’the Kingdom\’, and its multitude of sins, and the need for it to be next on the democracy hit list, etc, etc. Guess what? Qatar: undemocratic.

Whether the neocons intend to bring democracy after the American military occupation is as yet unknown, but we can be reasonably confident that it won\’t be during. Whereas naughty Saudi could and did stand up to the US, and in addition proved herself to be in the premier league of foreign states able to \’influence\’ American politicians (though some way behind, Britain, Israel, and Mexico), we won\’t be seeing that sort of thing from Qatar, No, undemocratic, marginally repressive Qatar will do what she\’s told, and just as importantly, will tell her public what to do. And that, it should have gone without saying, will include: put up with the presence of our new friends (even if it does turn out that there are more of them in the country than there are of us).

Perhaps the US won\’t end up with bases in Iraq, not even just for the relatively quick twelve years that shot by after they got into Saudi. Mind you, earlier I referred to the bases \’formally\’ established in Saudi after the first Iraq War – this, however, is one of those conceits I\’ve never quite understood the prevalence of. For what actually happened was that the US activated a military infrastructure already in place in Saudi Arabia. Neither side much liked to talk about this, but US troops, equipment and bases had all been semi-covert features of the Saudi scene for decades prior to 1990. All of which, including the amount of material comfort the regime afforded the coalition this time, makes the Neocon\’s lack of gratitude to Saudi seem rank and churlish. Given, though, what happened at least in part because of that fateful decision to \’formalise\’ the presence of US military personnel (you know, the whole planes into buildings thing), was this explicit and enhanced deployment a mistake? It\’s difficult to say, unless one actually knows what the point of it was, or is. The Rumsfeldian line (and it\’s echoed by just about every faction of the American foreign policy establishment) is that the US was there, and in such numbers, to help \’bring security to the region\’. Like her presence in Europe, the reasonable thing to ask is, who asked the United States to bring this \’security\’? Who\’s it being brought against? Will the United States ever do a sufficiently competent job that it will one day finally be brung?

There will never be an answer to any of these questions, because, as far as the United States in her present condition is concerned, they are incomprehensible. They are for states the equivalent of \’why am I?\’ questions for human beings. These can of course be argued about until the cows come home, or the coffee runs out, but they won\’t (probably) stop you from being. So too with empires, or hyperpowers, or whatever it is that one enjoys calling the US-in-the-world at the moment. The aspects of rhetoric which momentarily are employed to account for any specific action will not, in aggregate form, justify American hegemony. It\’s American hegemony that justifies all the serried actions required from her foreign and defence policies. In other words, the US governmental machine can\’t really tell you why it has to continue exercising, even after Saddam, paramountcy in the Middle East. At most, at deepest, it\’ll be something about history mandating it that comes out as an answer. But there isn\’t really one. The US today is simply doing what empires have gotta do. More specifically, she\’s got to stay as number one nation because that what\’s number one nations aim to do: what the intrinsic benefit of the being, or of the trying, amounts to, is unexamined. What, after all, is the point of narcissism like that? Being is doing.

Where\’s the \’India\’ in All This?

\’What if?\’ is generally our friend when it comes to understanding foreign policy. Hence, \’what if the United States progressively withdrew from a permanent military presence in the Middle East?\’ Absolutely the first classical thing that should be noticed in simply posing this question is that, there isn\’t a peer-competitor who would attempt to move in in her absence. Thus that\’s not a reason for inertia. A desire to prevent disagreeable regime change is, manifestly, a reason for the US staying put: it being the formal reason why most of the governments in the region that put up with her, put up with her. The neocons, with their autistic take on international affairs, affect to believe that such change would be a thoroughly good thing, and if it didn\’t in fact turn out that way, then the US should forcibly return to alter \’the facts on the ground\’. This, in terms of applied Hegelianism, is what is known as \’making the facts fit your theory\’. It is also known as making things up. Things the neocons make up about the Middle East are legion (including, most tediously, that Israel is presently a \’democracy\’: I, at any rate, would laugh heartily at the prospect of American neocons, or British wannacons, finding themselves living in a democracy possessed of Israel\’s unique contributions to the genre) so we\’ll only consider a few. There\’s that whole, \’let the people choose\’ thing for a start, containing within it the inevitable Millite freedom only to \’make the right choice\’. Then there\’s the cant – reminiscent of nothing so much as the Eastern bloc\’s desperate regard for \’People\’s\’ or \’Democratic\’ – that says, a Vulcanised US would favour a world of sovereign free states, virtuous precisely because of that freedom. Except, should that freedom lead them to disagree with the United States, well then it would be quite in order for the US to set their governments to one side.

That all this is the scheme many have in mind for an American dominated Middle East is easy to realistically fear. How, otherwise, would one characterise the seeming determination of Washington to remain a European power? There is not one single reason allied to self-interest which explains why the United States thinks she should remain Europe\’s foremost military power, and there is certainly absolutely nothing in the way of a threat in the European theatre that requires she should nobly, bravely, self-sacrificingly (you get the idea) stay here either. Yet she does. Why? Because it\’s what empires do: history has left the US as the dominant military power in Europe, as seemingly history hasn\’t yet seen fit to give her her marching papers. So why on earth should she quit? The reason why she will quit Europe, and at an accelerated rate, has nothing to do with anything the dissident Europeans appear to be doing at the moment.

The United States will not be driven out of Europe because of the \’St Petersburg trio\’, which was never anyway a viable alliance, given how distance Russia\’s interests are from those of the Franco-German project. Nor will jokes like the \’European Security and Defence Union\’ being proposed by France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg as a proper military wing for the EU be the cause. No, what will see America quit Europe is exactly what saw Britain liquidate her presence in the Middle East in the late 60s and early 70s: American resources have to retreat to meet the challenge facing her, and the least important commitments will go first. \’Europe\’, despite everything, (and that chiefly means, her possession of both means and motive) isn\’t mounting a challenge to American hegemony. Overstretch will. What is the point of occupying Europe when European cupidity doesn\’t require troops, but Iraqi or Korean submission will? Longterm NATO sceptics like me delight at the foolish keening of British Atlanticists over the Alliance, but sadly, they are yet again wrong. NATO\’s a long way off being dead and buried in the way it should have been after the Cold War, but it does not contain within it the inevitable seeds of its own destruction. Rather, and sadly for Amerastes here, what\’s going to happen, and with some speed, is that the US will abandon her wards here.

The irony, such as it is, is that just like Britain liquidated the wrong commitment in the late 60s (like the French, we should have liquidated our NATO commitment), America, in terms of staying number one nation, is going to make the crucial error in abandoning an irrelevant Europe to its own devices. Far better would be to divest herself of the supposedly cheap paramountcy in the Middle East (such a redundant imperial habit: they really will sell us their oil, come what may), and to stop attempting to encircle China. But she won\’t, and she\’ll fall accordingly, and then the Franco-Germans will rule the world. Which will be agreeably chaotic, and good for Britain. So there.

– Christopher Montgomery