The United States, Iraq, and International Relations; Part One: The Backdrop to Conflict

By Hamill, James | Contemporary Review, June 2003 | Go to article overview

The United States, Iraq, and International Relations; Part One: The Backdrop to Conflict


Hamill, James, Contemporary Review


THE war in Iraq has revealed with absolute clarity the principal foreign policy dilemma now confronting the United States. Despite--or perhaps because of--its possession of the most powerful military machine in history, and with a post-9/1 1 willingness to deploy that military capability around the world, US behaviour is generating increasing international hostility. Washington's motives are widely distrusted and its various foreign policy postures are viewed suspiciously, even by long-standing allies. For example, according to a Time magazine survey, a staggering 83 per cent of Europeans view the US as the chief threat to world peace. Moreover, those traditionally more antagonistic to the US also harbour a deep animosity, an animosity that may contain within it the seeds of future terrorism. This diplomatic alienation does not appear to be an immediate concern for the combination of realist militarists and neo-conservative ideologues who are currently in the political ascendancy in Washington; indeed, they h ave been emboldened by the US military success in Iraq and the ouster of what was by any standard an odious regime. However, the consequences of that alienation cannot be ignored indefinitely as they are already having a detrimental impact upon American standing and influence in the world where the ingredients of a successful foreign policy have traditionally amounted to much more than the crude application of force majeure.

These two articles attempt to explore the background to the Iraq conflict--including an extended discussion of the legal dimension--and to provide an assessment of its potential geopolitical implications by an academic who was an opponent of the recent conflict for a whole range of reasons.

How We Got Here: the 9/11 Factor

The lasting impact of the events of September 11, 2001 was to legitimise ideas that had long been championed on the ideological right of the American political spectrum. Ideas such as a willingness to deploy overwhelming force pre-emptively, unilaterally, and without any real concern for international legal norms and obligations had long been germinating in the foreign policy think tanks which have proliferated around the Republican Party since the end of the Cold War. The trauma of 9/11 gave these ideas a new respectability, making it easier for the 'neo-conservatives' to press for their rapid translation into government policy, although policy had already been set in a unilateralist direction pre-9/11, as was demonstrated by the Bush Administration's rejection of the Kyoto Treaty on environmental protection, its intention to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and its emphatic rejection of the new International Criminal Court. This policy shift was facilitated by the presence in the Bush A dministration of hawks and ideologues who were themselves graduates from--or were intimately linked to--these neo-conservative think tanks or who hailed from the more conservative sections of American academe: Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Vice-President Richard Cheney, and Assistant Secretary for Arms Control, John Bolton. Those think tanks have provided much of the intellectual input to policy with the more abrasive conservative media polemicists--such as William Safire, Richard Perle, and Charles Krauthammer--serving as cheerleaders for virtually any use of military force by the US.

Afghanistan gave an early indication of things to come as the US began to flex its military muscles in late 2001, but that process would reach its ideological apotheosis in September 2002 with the publication of the National Security Strategy of the United States document--of which Rice was believed to be the principal author - which accepted all of the nostrums long advocated by the neo-conservatives: first, a 'right' of anticipatory self-defence or pre-emptive attack against terrorist groups and 'rogue states' (a necessity, it was argued, in an era of suicidal, and therefore undeterrable, Islamic terrorism). …

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The United States, Iraq, and International Relations; Part One: The Backdrop to Conflict
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