Real Reasons For Iraq War Jay Bookman

The Real Reasons for the Iraq War

Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (9/29/02) argued that the Iraq

war is actually aimed at securing an empire for the United States, and that the

other reasons given are a cover:

I agree with Bookman that the reasons the Bush administration has been

giving for going to war with Iraq do not make much sense, and therefore

the administration must be driven by a less public agenda.

The terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and human rights arguments

with regard to Iraq all have significant flaws and none speaks to why

deterrence is not preferable.

I believe there are two main reasons for the drive to war. One

is to protect Israel (and perhaps Saudi Arabia, as well), from

Iraqi projections of power based on weapons of mass destruction

capabilities. I don’t believe the fear is so much that the WMD would

actually be used, as that Iraqi WMD would necessarily impose certain

constraints on Iraq’s rivals for influence in the Middle East. It is a

fear of the Clausewitzian use of the threat of WMD. Note that the US lost

the Vietnam War because it did not feel it could invade North Vietnam, and

in turn it was Soviet and Chinese WMD capabilities that induced this

caution. The US does not want to be in a similar position in the Middle

East any time in the near future, and nor does it want its allies to be.

The second reason is the power vacuum in the Persian

Gulf. The British withdrew as the colonial power in the Gulf in 1969,

leaving the region defenseless. The old British Trucial States policy,

whereby they entered into treaties with and propped up relatively small

principalities, had bequeathed to the Gulf tiny rich states. (Such small

states were largely swallowed up in 19th century Europe in wars or

projects of national unification, but the British artificially propped

them up in the Gulf). This situation was inherently unstable, especially

with the oil price boom of the 1970s.

Nixon and Kissinger, bogged down in Vietnam, hoped that they could induce

the shah of Iran to replace the British as the policeman of the Gulf for

Western interests. This accounts for the US willingness to sell the shah

the fanciest weapons in its arsenal; the shah ended up with more

hovercraft than the US army had. The shah’s 1975 police action in Dhofar

in Oman, aimed at containing the influence of the Communist People’s

Republic of Yemen, formed part of this new role. Of course, the US had to

abandon this security doctrine in the wake of the Islamic Revolution in

Iran, 1978-79.

The Gulf returned to having a power vacuum. But by now Saddam Hussein had

consolidated his hold on power and he volunteered to succeed the British

as the major power in the Gulf, by attacking Iran. The US was not

initially disturbed by the Iraqi attack on Iran, and I have heard US

sailors refer to the US navy during the Iran-Iraq War as virtually an

adjunct to the Iraqi war effort. By keeping both Iraq and Iran tied down

and weak, the war postponed the time when the US would have to get

involved in a major way. The U.S. had not originally wished to commit to

policing the Gulf, and even initially refused a Kuwaiti request to allow

Kuwaiti tankers to fly the US flag so as to be marked as neutral in the

Iran-Iraq war. Only when the Kuwaitis threatened to turn to the Soviets

for protection did the US relent.

Kuwait later became necessary to Iraqi aspirations because it brought

along with it a deep water port on the Gulf and lots of new wealth to

support military expansion at a time when Iraq was burdened with heavy war


Iraq’s aggressive approach to establishing hegemony over the Gulf

threatened US interests and allies this time, and as a result the US moved

in to push Iraq back in 1991 and then to become the major power in the

Gulf itself. However, it was able to project its power only through its

carrier fleet and the naval base in Bahrain, lacking substantial

land-based military facilities of the sort it enjoys in Japan and Korea.

Saudi Arabia is not really suitable for such facilities because of Muslim

religious sensibilities about unbelievers in the holy land. The Gulf

principalities are small and inappropriate to this purpose.

I believe that the civilian leadership of the Defense Department wants

major US land bases in the Gulf, so as not to be dependent entirely on

carriers. Iraq would be perfect for this purpose, and indeed is the only

really viable site for a large concentrations of US soldiers aside from

Iran and Oman. That is, if the US is to be the major Power in the Gulf,

it needs bases commensurate with that role, and Iraq is among the few

countries that can supply them.

I do not believe this endeavor is exactly imperium. Rather, it is simply

old-style Sphere of Power diplomacy. No colonies are being established in

the classic European sense (and nor are Germany and Japan such colonies).

And, I don’t believe the US really wanted to take it on back in the 1970s

or 1980s. It has been drawn in as the new Gulf Power, willy nilly, by

unstability in the region. Given the dependence of the US and its allies

on Gulf petroleum, that instability is highly undesirable. If it could be

ended simultaneously with the removal of a thorn in the American side like

Saddam, the hawks think, then all to the good. My argument does not

concern Iraqi petroleum. It is Gulf petroleum as a whole that is at

issue. Iraqi petroleum is fungible, like all petroleum, and I cannot

understand why it would matter to the market what regime pumped it.

We have known for some time that Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz

sees the world as a very dangerous place and believes in active

pre-emptive steps to reduce the dangers. He supported Reagan’s aggressive

response to leftist advances in the 1980s, which was a departure from

simple containment of the Soviet Union. Wolfowitz would apparently like

to see India and China, and perhaps the Russian Federation as well, broken

up into smaller and weaker entities. The Middle East is already

politically fragmented in a desirable way from this perspective, but US

and NATO dependence on Gulf petroleum and the dangers of rentier states

aggrandizing themselves through acquiring WMD capacities suggest it as

both a more urgent and an easier target than the others mentioned.

Wolfowitz’s is to my mind a very, very dangerous view of the world, and

his plans will quite likely end up substantially reducing our security

rather than enhancing it, as we have already seen in the case of the

Reagan Afghanistan policy, which helped create blowback in the form of


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