The lessons of history loom over Iraq; and, as often occurs, history
contradicts ideology. In this case, the question hinges on the probability
of U.S. imperialism's success in the Arab world The prospects are not good.
The modern world is practically defined by the issues of colonization. The
first was Spain in the New World, but it had a precedent. The Crusades
began in 1095, but the wars between Christendom and Islam went on forever.
Late in the 15th century, European princes were known to attack and enslave
populations of Christians. The Pope found this inappropriate and issued a
papal bull ordering them to cease and desist. Thenceforth, it would be
legal to enslave Muslims or other non-Christians, but not Christians. In
fact, the enslavement of Christians continued for a while, but when
Portuguese explorers found populations of Muslim Africans they had been
empowered by international law to enslave them, to take their property and
so forth. It was the beginning of that peculiar brand of modern racism, of
the slave trade, and of much of the misery of man's inhumanity to man,
especially indigenous people. The doctrine of Terra Nullius - which
continues to be the foundation of much of the case law of such countries as
the United States and Canada - was literally a license to steal, kill,
plunder, rape, torture and murder. The history of civilization in the
modern world is firmly rooted in horror.
The Spanish version of colonization traced its inspiration all the way back
to the behavior of the Roman Empire in Iberia. Spain and others committed
some of the greatest armed robberies of all time, now called the Conquest
of Mexico and Peru. Carried on a sword and at gunpoint, indigenous
treasures were looted, indigenous people enslaved, and atrocities carried
on in the name of the glories of the state and God. These were rationalized
as necessary for the good of the victims; and the original philosopher of
plunder (also known as the father of modern racism), Juan Gines de
Sepulveda, explained that all these abuses were actually in the victims'
own best interest.
Many other countries followed suit, but the British certainly stand out. By
the late 19th century, European flags - especially the Union Jack - flew
over 85 percent of the inhabitable land on the planet, and the British were
eager to explain the superiority of European civilization to the natives
while plundering their countries. India, China, Iran, Iraq, Egypt,
Afghanistan and a long list of others got the treatment.
People will argue about why colonization failed to work, but in the end
there is little doubt that it failed. It was probably too expensive.
England's military was spread across the globe. When she was finally
attacked by Germany, homeland defense was seriously impaired by the
necessities of maintenance of empire. It would be interesting to do an
accounting to see if the adventures of the British Empire benefited the
people of England. So many young lives lost; so much misery. But then,
public benefit and the interest of the nation wasn't the point. Imperialism
concentrated wealth in the hands of a few of Britain's ruling class: that
was the point of empire. Forget civilization. Forget benefiting the
As World War II progressed, Franklin Delano Roosevelt grew increasingly
unhappy with the limitations to American corporations which European
colonization imposed on the Third World, so he proposed a project of
decolonization. The Europeans didn't like the idea and some, like France,
held on to places like Algeria and Vietnam long after the pain of
possession should have caused them to let go. Over time, most of the world
was freed from the grip of colonialism, but a new system took its place.
Unlike the Europeans, who sent armies of occupation and built plantations
overseas, America operated from afar by creating complex alliances with the
military elites of newly-created countries. Foreign aid was directed toward
keeping these people armed, and the flow of aid depended on doing America's
will. When a country like Iran elected someone willing to nationalize her
oil, thus depriving the British and American corporations of limitless
profits, the democratically-elected regime was overturned by a coup.
Democracy was tolerated so long as it produced results that pleased the
international corporations, and was discarded when it did not.
In recent years, U.S. objectives have shifted from controlling the armies
in foreign countries to trying to build international corporate ownership
societies under which multinational corporations would be enabled to
privatize everything that could turn a profit: transportation, water,
sewage, security, etc. Despite what they say, the Bush administration plans
to stay, whether the Iraqis want them or not.
William Blum in "Killing Hope" urges that the Cold War against an
international communist conspiracy was a fiction and that the real enemy
was any person, movement or country that stood in the way of American
expansion. Over the past 60 years the U.S. has bombed about 25 countries,
tried to overthrow 40 governments, and tried to crush 30 nationalist
movements. Through all this mayhem and aggression a string of U.S.
governments claimed that their motives were pure, that they were fighting
against threats to America and for democracy and freedom: but the outcomes
were often demonic regimes.
Most of the world's leadership agrees with Blum's view. In one of the few
moments of reflection by someone in America's war culture, former Defense
Secretary Robert MacNamara, in the recent documentary "The Fog of War,"
admits he never believed the Vietnamese who told him it was nationalism,
not international communism, they fought for. He admits, 30 years and
50,000 American lives later, that maybe it was nationalism. It isn't only
that he didn't tell us the truth, he didn't know the truth.
Last Christmas eve Ahmed Abdullah Abdul-Rahman Alshai survived an explosion
after he drove a wired gas tanker as close as he could get to embassies in
Baghdad. He was blown through a windshield, but he turned and helped locate
some Al-Qaeda' combatants and he provided information that most of the
suicide bombers, like the people who destroyed the World Trade Center and
hit the Pentagon, were middle class religious extremists from Saudi Arabia.
Suicide bombers from throughout the Arab world are the most effective
weapon the insurgency has. Money from Saudi society has been paying the
families of Palestinian suicide bombers, and Saudi madrassas have been
providing the young suicide bombers in Iraq.
Osama bin Laden has stated that he attacked the U.S. because of its foreign
policy. It's a war for hearts and minds, not a battle against some
dead-enders and Baathist washouts. It could go on for a long time, will
prove prohibitively expensive and will benefit mostly the crony
corporations poised to grab the war profits. And the neocons in the Bush
administration don't know the truth, can't handle the truth, and haven't a
clue how to fight this kind of war, just as their predecessors in
MacNamara's time were unable to cope with their war.
John C. Mohawk, Ph.D., is a columnist for Indian Country Today and an
author and professor in the Center for the Americas at the State University
of New York at Buffalo.