It was not supposed to be like this. The Iraqis were supposed to dance in the streets, and to welcome the Americans with flowers. Democracy was supposed to emerge spontaneously, and Iraq was to become a pro-Western beacon in the heart of the Muslim world. Instead, Iraqis take to the streets almost daily to demonstrate their hatred of the American occupiers, and they welcome the marines not with flowers, but with bullets.
The Pentagon is trying to pretend that there are just a few ‘pockets of resistance’ to the US occupation of Iraq. The truth is that the resistance is actually growing stronger and better organised. Fifty American soldiers have now died in Iraq since President Bush proclaimed the end of hostilities on 1 May. A top British official in Iraq has said that the US-led administration of Iraq is ‘in chaos,’ and that the country?s infrastructure which Saddam repaired in two weeks after the Gulf War in 1991 is on the brink of total collapse. ‘This is the single most chaotic operation I have ever worked in,’ the official said. ‘The operation is chronically under-resourced and suffers from an almost complete absence of strategic direction.’
And yet, having invaded Iraq with little, if any, thought to how they would run the country after the war was won, the Americans are now cranking up their familiar rhetoric and talking of ‘regime change’ in Iran as well. The same discredited talk about weapons of mass destruction, which was used to justify war with Iraq, is already being mobilised against Iran, which President Bush accused on Wednesday of developing nuclear weapons. He has said that the world ‘would not tolerate’ the Iranians getting their hands on the bomb. This is a clear threat that America might attack the Islamic Republic, or at least try to promote regime change by supporting the recent student protests there.
But do the Americans really think that anarchy is preferable to the present Iranian regime? Has the experience in Iraq taught them nothing? By firing thousands of Cruise missiles and dropping 240,000 cluster bombs, they ensured that the country?s infrastructure was reduced to rubble. Now they are regretting their reckless vandalism. When Communism was overthrown in Eastern Europe, the old state structures and the fabric of society were preserved intact, with only the ruling party being thrown out.
America’s current approach is very different. They move in, change the regime and move out leaving chaos and no credible government in their wake. Iraqi exiled businessmen who have returned to their country say that US bureaucracy is actually making reconstruction impossible. Americans love to believe in the old myth of ‘the people’ rising up and spontaneously overthrowing the hated old order. But having actively promoted social collapse in Iraq, they are discovering, like the sorcerer?s apprentice, that they cannot now control the forces they have unleashed. The situation is so out of control, that the civilian administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer, last week passed a decree which forbids any public incitement of anti-American sentiment. This seems a strange way of introducing the Iraqis to democracy.
In May, Bremer even accused Saddam of letting too many people out of prison, and he promptly incarcerated 300 people who had recently been released from gaol by the Iraqi dictator. A newly created newspaper in Baghdad ran an editorial on Wednesday which said, ‘Mr. Bremer, you remind us of Saddam. We?ve waited a long time to be free. Now you want us to be slaves.’ But it is not as if the Americans can claim they didn’t know this would be the result of their intervention. In two previous instances Afghanistan and Kosovo the result has been the same.
In 2001, Tony Blair gave the solemn undertaking that ‘we will not walk away from Afghanistan.’ But that is effectively what is now happening. The only ‘reconstruction’ in that blighted country is that of a gigantic gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to the Indian Ocean. Otherwise, the country seethes in lawlessness and chaos. Opium production is at record levels, now that the Taliban?s ban on the crop is no longer in force. Eight German soldiers were killed on the way to the airport last month. And on Wednesday, the president of neighbouring Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, warned Tony Blair that the country would descend further into anarchy and warlordism unless drastic measures were taken. He said that an extra 35,000 foreign troops needed to be deployed right across the country. The authority of Hamid Karzai, the Western-appointed president of Afghanistan, extends merely to a few streets in Kabul, the rest of the country being under the control of local strongmen.
The same goes for poor old Kosovo, which filled our TV screens for months and which has now been quietly forgotten about. Two weeks ago, an elderly Serb couple and their middle-aged son were tortured and beaten to death by Albanians. Their home was then burned to the ground. The horrific murder was evidently intended to prevent any other Serbs returning to their villages. As in Iraq, there is no reliable electricity supply in Kosovo, even though the province has been administered by Nato and the United Nations for the last four years.
Electricity works only for a few hours a day; the rest of the time, people have to rely on generators. Unemployment is so widespread that many Kosovar Albanians have simply left for Western Europe as asylum seekers. Kosovo under Nato command has descended even further into the banditry and anarchy for which it was always notorious. It is now a major centre for the powerful Balkan gangs who smuggle arms, people and drugs into Western Europe. For that matter, Serbia itself has become totally criminalised in the two and a half years since the Americans engineered a coup d?état which overthrew Slobodan Milosevic. In March, the Western-backed prime minister of Serbia, Zoran Djindjic, was gunned down in the streets of Belgrade like a Mafia don.
Against this background of chaos, it is incredible that the Americans are seriously contemplating overthrowing the Iranian regime. So why are they behaving so recklessly? As with any great historical phenomenon, the construction of the American New World Order over the last decade has different levels of motivation. The first explanation is that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has radically changed the world?s geopolitics. Whereas during the Cold War, both blocs contained each other?s expansionism, nature abhors a vacuum. So when the Russian influence disappeared or was drastically weakened ? in central Asia, for instance, and in Iran ? American power inevitably rushed in to fill the gap.
The second main motivation is undoubtedly oil. Ever since the former National Security Adviser to President Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, wrote in the early 1990s that the USA had to gain control of the world?s key points of energy production and supply in order to survive, the US has concentrated its military might on places where oil and gas are produced, or on the regions through which they are transported. Ever since the Americans uncoupled the dollar from gold in 1971, sending the oil price in dollars through the roof, the Americans have realised that their economy is deeply vulnerable to Arab control of the world?s oil supply. The US occupation of Iraq means that American effectively becomes a member of OPEC; and the control of pipelines across Central Asia and the Balkan peninsula will give America huge geopolitical leverage over the rest of the industrialised world in the coming decades, especially over America?s biggest strategic rival, China.
There is also another similarity between Iran and Iraq. Since the overthrow of the Shah a friend of America in 1979 and the humiliating seizure of the American embassy hostages there are many who believe America has unfinished business with Tehran in the same way as they had with Saddam after the first Gulf War in 1991. The very existence of the Iranian regime has rankled some in Washington for almost 25 years.
Finally, a small clique of highly motivated neo-conservative ideologues has succeeded in gaining control of the Republican Party and the Bush administration. These people are emotionally committed to massive state spending on the American military, and to the export of American values to the whole world. Whereas in the Cold War, people argued that deterrence was the best form of defence, many post 9/11 American strategists sincerely believe that they will not be safe until every country is made ‘democratic’, if necessary by force.
They believe that regimes like those of Iraq, Iran and North Korea pose a threat to America by virtue of their existence alone, and that they must therefore be destroyed, come what may. This is what neo-conservative strategists mean when they say enthusiastically that the war on terror is ‘a total war’. They are so obsessed with their goals of destruction that they cannot see that ‘regime change’ can easily produce a worse regime than the old one. And they cannot see that, throughout human history, all previous attempts to rule the world have ended in terrible failure for the imperial power.
Countries like Iraq, Iran and Yugoslavia are homes to ancient civilisations: the people there should be left to sort out their own problems. Reckless military adventurism, of the sort to which the American administration now seems to be addicted like a drug, can only increase the lot of human misery in a region which is crying out for only one thing to be simply left in peace.