Republic or Empire? (Comment)

By Wilson, Joseph | The Nation, March 3, 2003 | Go to article overview

Republic or Empire? (Comment)


Wilson, Joseph, The Nation


As the senior American diplomat in Baghdad during Desert Shield, I advocated a muscular US response to Saddam's brutal annexation of Kuwait in flagrant violation of the United Nations charter. Only the credible threat of force could hope to reverse his invasion. Our in-your-face strategy secured the release of the 150 American "human shields"--hostages--but ultimately it took war to drive Iraq from Kuwait. I was disconsolate at the failure of diplomacy, but Desert Storm was necessitated by Saddam's intransigence, it was sanctioned by the UN and it was conducted with a broad internatio military coalition. The goal was explicit and focused; war was the last resort.

The upcoming military operation also has one objective, though different from the several offered by the Bush Administration. This war is not about weapons of mass destruction. The intrusive inspections are disrupting Saddam's programs, as even the Administration has acknowledged. Nor is it about terrorism. Virtually all agree war will spawn more terrorism, not less. It is not even about liberation of an oppressed people. Killing innocent Iraqi civilians in a full frontal assault is hardly the only or best way to liberate a people. The underlying objective of this war is the imposition of a Pax Americana on the region and installation of vassal regimes that will control restive populations.

Without the firing of a single cruise missile, the Administration has already established a massive footprint in the Gulf and Southwest Asia from which to project power. US generals, admirals and diplomats have crisscrossed the region like modern-day proconsuls, cajoling fragile governments to permit American access and operations from their territories.

Bases have been established as stepping stones to Afghanistan and Iraq, but also as tripwires in countries that fear their neighbors. Northern Kuwait has been ceded to American forces and a significant military presence established in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. The over-the-horizon posture of a decade ago has given way to boots on the ground and forward command headquarters. Nations in the region, having contracted with the United States for their security umbrella, will now listen when Washington tells them to tailor policies and curb anti-Western dissent. Hegemony in the Arab nations of the Gulf has been achieved.

Meanwhile, Saddam might well squirm, but even without an invasion, he's finished. He is surrounded, foreigners are swarming through his palaces, and as Colin Powell so compellingly showed at the UN, we are watching and we are listening. International will to disarm Iraq will not wane as it did in the 1990s, for the simple reason that George W. Bush keeps challenging the organization to remain relevant by keeping pressure on Saddam. Nations that worry that, as John le Carre puts it, "America has entered one of its periods of historical madness" will not want to jettison the one institution that, absent a competing military power, might constrain US ambition. …

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