Tomdispatch Way We Were Veteran

Tomdispatch: The Way we Were

Veteran journalist Tom Engelhardt considers the impact of the past three years on the position of the US in the world. Speaking of the Bush-Cheney national security state, he observes:

‘ They identified an “arc of instability” that stretched east-west from the former Yugoslavia to the borders of China and southward into Africa. (It was sometimes also said to include the Andean parts of Latin America.) This “arc,” covering significant parts of what once was called the Third World, took in most of the planet’s prime, or prospective, oil lands. Even before 9/11 in this vast region, some of which had dropped out of the former Soviet empire, the Bush administration began to plant, or expand, American military bases. The heart of these oil lands lay in the Middle East, a region with — in better times — the world’s five leading oil producers.

‘ Post 9/11, the top strategists of this administration followed their President happily into the “war on terror,” the wilder among them imagining it as World War IV, the equivalent of, if not World War II, at least the Cold War, and so engendering dreams of another half-century twilit struggle to victory. Endless years of war would release them to act exactly as they pleased. The President (and his speechwriters), dreaming “Good War” dreams from his movie-made childhood, then elevated a pathetic “Axis of Evil” (Iran, Iraq and North Korea, none of which previously knew of their close relationship) to the role of the Axis powers (Germany, Japan, Italy) in World War II;

and so, with an enemy of nation states in hand, far more worthy of a world at war than Osama bin Laden and small groups of fanatic Islamists, they announced a policy of global supremacy not over terrorists, but over all the other nations of our planet, swearing that no future bloc of powers would be allowed to interfere with our benevolent hegemony over the Earth — and of preventive war. We would reserve the right to take out anybody we even thought might sooner or later in some way or another challenge us. A list of up to 60 states believed to “harbor” terrorists was also drawn up. This was a list for a lifetime. And finally, declaring weapons of mass destruction evil, they made it our job to decide who exactly shouldn’t have them and to bolster our own nuclear forces in order to prepare for a series of what Jonathan Schell has called anti-proliferation wars. With this trio of policies in their foreign policy quiver, they looked around for some action . . . ‘

I would just add that the pretext of the “weapons of mass destruction” was made more manipulable by the miscategorization of chemical weapons as weapons of mass destruction. They are not. They are battlefield weapons. And, most states have them. Thus, when Iraq fell so easily, the drum beat began on Fox Cable News that Syria has “weapons of mass destruction.” I fell off my chair laughing. No one could imagine a more dilapidated and ramshackle military than Syria’s. And, it is so transparent, who put Fox up to this warmongering, which doesn’t look nearly as funny with over 800 US troops six feet under the ground and thousands severely wounded. It was coming out of Dick Cheney’s little national security team, especially David Wurmser. And it was in the service of the Likud Party, for the expansionist plans of which Syria is inconvenient.

I also would add something to the argument about petroleum resources driving the Bush-Cheney imperial project. Petroleum is fungible and cannot be “controlled.” The question is who gets the profits from refining and distribution, and to what purpose the profits are put. The major new field in recent years is Tengiz in Kazakhstan, but the US hasn’t menaced Astana. Likewise, only the Neocon lunatic fringe has spoken about attacking Saudi Arabia. I think the calculation is more complex. The targets are countries 1) whose regimes are actively hostile to the United States; 2) which practice a form of socialism that limits US corporations’ ability to invest and extract profits from the country; 3) which have valuable resources such as petroleum that can generate foreign exchange and buy powerful weapons, including WMD, and 4) which menace or limit close US military allies in their region. Such states cannot be incorporated easily into US global hegemony.

Iraq and Iran fit the profile perfectly, and if one takes into account strategic rent and state capitalist expropriation of the population, so does North Korea. Libya is more ambiguous, especially given Qaddafi’s change of policies in the late 1990s and into 2004. But Lebanon and Somalia were on the 7-nation hit list drawn up by the neocons, so in their case factor 4 was reinterpreted and given primacy, so that the goal must be establishing control over a key strategic waterway (Somalia & the Red Sea) and aiding and abetting Likud expansionism (versus Lebanon).

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