Iraq Geopolitics

Part IV: The burden of being a superpower

Henry C K Liu

Other articles in this series:
Part I: Geopolitics in Iraq an old game
Part II: Geopolitical weeds in the cradle of civilization
Part III: A poisonous geopolitical jungle

Iraq Rebuilds, with a little US help

A ceasefire agreement between Iraq and Iran was signed on August 20, 1988. Iraq then rebuilt its military capability with bank credits and technology from Western Europe and the United States, financed mostly by Saudi Arabia. Five days after the ceasefire, Saddam Hussein sent planes and helicopters to northern Iraq to begin massive chemical attacks against Kurd separatists. In September 1988 the US Department of Commerce again approved shipment of weapons-grade anthrax and botulinum to Iraq for use in domestic security operations. In that month assistant secretary of state  Richard Murphy said: "The US-Iraqi relationship is ... important to our long-term political and economic objectives." That December, Dow Chemical sold US$1.5 million in pesticides to Iraq, despite knowledge that these would be used in chemical weapons domestically. Brutal actions against Kurdish separatists were undertaken in 1988 in northern Iraq, where Ali Hassan al-Majid was accused of ordering the gas attack against civilians that killed about 5,000. It took six years and a change in geopolitical conditions before the US shed crocodile's tears for the tragedy.

The US legally and illegally helped build Saddam's military into the most powerful war machine in the Middle East outside of Israel. The US supplied chemical and biological agents and technology to Iraq when it knew Iraq was using chemical weapons against the Iranians. The US supplied intelligence and battle-planning information to Iraq when those battle plans included the use of cyanide, mustard gas and nerve agents. The US blocked UN censure of Iraq's use of chemical weapons. The US continued to supply the materials and technology for these weapons of mass destruction to Iraq at a time when it was known that Saddam was using this technology to kill Kurdish separatists. The US did not act alone in this effort. The Soviet Union and later Russia was the largest weapons supplier, but Britain, France and Germany were also involved in the shipment of arms and technology. All sold weapons to both sides of the war.

Iraq Searches for Identity

Since 1958, when the last persistently pro-West Iraqi government in Baghdad was overthrown, and diplomatic relations between the US and Iraq formally broken nine years later, first-hand knowledge of Iraq and of the successive regimes that had since governed it has been unavailable to senior officials in Washington, whose fixation on global anti-communism left them with little interest on subtleties. The US had largely operated in a policy vacuum without the support of full understanding of Iraq, of its people and most importantly of the concerns that motivated its leaders. Much of US policy on Iraq has been based on advice from biased Iraqi exiles, opportunistic academics and self-serving pro-Israel partisans.

Notwithstanding Washington's penchant to demonize its latest enemies, Iraqi leaders, at least those not having been imposed by foreign powers, not unlike independent leaders anywhere else, are motivated and constrained in their policy deliberation by their perception of popular aspirations which are shaped by a nation's collective self-image, history and cultural tradition. The self-image of the Arabic people is one of a long victimized people, most recently at the hands of Western imperialism and historically of Christian bias, persecuted for their Arabic ethnicity and Islamic heritage. Iraq, like all Middle East nations, aspires to be finally free of foreign intervention in its domestic affairs, to enjoy a high standard of living in peace and harmony consistent with its oil riches as God's gift. These national aspirations have been shaped by a history of wounded national pride, of betrayal by foreign allies who exploited inter-tribal rivalry, of evolving nationalism, of ethnic, religious and linguistic tension, and of demographic pressure from an increasingly youthful and impatient population. In Iraq, as in many other countries in the region, more than half of the population of 25 million is under the age of 25 who have not accumulated any assets that would provide incentive to be politically conservative.

Besides history, Iraqi politics is influenced by its location and geography, climate and the availability of water, which in many ways is more critical than oil. The scarcity of water in the Middle East, heightened by rapid urbanization and industrialization, has placed more importance on Iraq's two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. Even with the ascendance of oil as a source of wealth, agriculture relying on renewable water remains the main source of employment. These factors have influenced settlement patterns, tribalism, resource utilization and the development of diverse regional economics. For example, the fact that these two rivers flood between April and June, too late for winter crops and too early for summer crops, means that agriculture depends on irrigation, which has been under central government control since the creation of the Iraq state, implemented with the cooperation of diverse ethnic, religious and tribal groups. Water was able to unite the Iraqi population more than oil. Baghdad, located in the center of the country, lies in the transitional zone between north and south where the Tigris becomes navigable and large-scale irrigation possible. The capital city is a historical center of trade and communication.

The present boundaries of Iraq, undefined until 1926, were drawn in the 20th century by European political and economic interests with little regard for indigenous demographic patterns. There is a tension between the Iraqi state, representing the central authority within its borders, and the Iraqi nation, a tribal society divided by religious schism. As Faisal, the first Hashimite king of Iraq, lamented in the early 1930s: "I say in my heart full of sadness that there is not yet in Iraq an Iraqi people." This is the root argument of pan-Arabism in Iraqi politics. The history of the Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party reflects the evolution of modern Middle East politics, in that it has departed from formal ideology of its original founders to adopt pragmatic measures to solve real problems within an Arabic/Islamic world view. The war with Iran, the most costly and bloody conflict not involving a Western power directly since World War II, and the Iraqi incorporation of Kuwait, were not mere conflicts over borders, or access to the Shatt al-Arab waterway. The Iran-Iraq war was a clash between extremist Islamic fundamentalism espoused by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran and the pan-Arab nationalism of the Ba'athists, both in and out of Iraq.

The irreconcilability of the two opposing ideologies is based on Iranian rejection of limiting radical Islamic fundamentalism within one country, and Ba'athist resistance to a world Islamic revolution, manifesting in Iraq as resistance to Iranian incitement of the large Shi'ite population in Iraq, many of whom are of Iranian descent. The incorporation of Kuwait was a fulfillment of pan-Arab nationalism.

Iraq, situating on the eastern flank of the Arab world, is sandwiched between two historical formidable non-Arab powers which have survived as the modern states of Turkey and Iran, with whom Iraq shares ethnic groups. Propinquity translates into vulnerability. In a speech on November 5, 1980, Saddam said: "Turkey once imposed on us the Turkish language and culture ... They used to take turns on Iraq. Turkey goes and Iran comes; Iran goes and Turkey comes. All this under the guise of Islam. Enough ... We are Iraqis and are part of the Arab homeland and the Arab nation. Iraq belongs to us." He was using the term Iraq the way it was used in the Koran, denoting all of Mesopotamia in a pan-Arab context, not the modern state of Iraq, whose borders were delineated by British imperialism.

It has been suggested that the US deliberately lured Saddam into Kuwait in order to attack an increasingly intransigent Iraq. Saddam's meeting with US ambassador April Glaspie is usually cited as evidence. The records of that meeting indicate that Glaspie did not discourage Saddam, let alone warn him about his highly visible massing of troops along the Kuwait border. But the real purpose was not related to Iraqi aggression or intransigence. It was to exploit the contradiction between Arab regionalism and pan-Arabism to strengthen US control of the region. Saddam told the US that he expected just reward for Iraq's role in helping the US contain a hostile and extremist Iran, in a war that had cost 60,000 Iraqi lives in one single battle, a price Saddam claimed the US would be unable to shoulder itself, given the nature of US society. Iraq was left with a foreign debt of more than  $40 billion after the Iraq-Iran War, and needed higher oil prices of around $40 per barrel to help pay this debt. Kuwait was deliberately keeping oil prices low to destroy Iraq's economy. Glaspie responded that there were people from oil states within the US who would also want to see higher oil prices.

A transcript excerpt of the meeting between Saddam and Glaspie, on July 25, 1990 (eight days before the August 2, 1990, Iraqi invasion of Kuwait), released by British journalists, reads as follows:

July 25, 1990 - Presidential Palace - Baghdad.

Ambassador Glaspie: I have direct instructions from President Bush [Sr] to improve our relations with Iraq. We have considerable sympathy for your quest for higher oil prices, the immediate cause of your confrontation with Kuwait. (pause) As you know, I lived here for years and admire your extraordinary efforts to rebuild your country. We know you need funds. We understand that, and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. (pause) We can see that you have deployed massive numbers of troops in the south. Normally that would be none of our business, but when this happens in the context of your threats against Kuwait, then it would be reasonable for us to be concerned. For this reason, I have received an instruction to ask you, in the spirit of friendship - not confrontation - regarding your intentions: Why are your troops massed so very close to Kuwait's borders?

Saddam Hussein: As you know, for years now I have made every effort to reach a settlement on our dispute with Kuwait. There is to be a meeting in two days; I am prepared to give negotiations only this one more brief chance. (pause) When we [the Iraqis] meet [with the Kuwaitis] and we see there is hope, then nothing will happen. But if we are unable to find a solution, then it will be natural that Iraq will not accept death.

Ambassador Glaspie: What solutions would be acceptable?

Saddam Hussein: If we could keep the whole of the Shatt al-Arab - our strategic goal in our war with Iran - we will make concessions [to the Kuwaitis]. But if we are forced to choose between keeping half of the Shatt and the whole of Iraq [ie, in Saddam's view, including Kuwait] then we will give up all of the Shatt to defend our claims on Kuwait to keep the whole of Iraq in the shape we wish it to be. (pause) What is the United States' opinion on this?

Ambassador Glaspie: We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary [of state James] Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America. (Saddam smiles)

<> While pledging US neutrality on Arab-Arab conflicts, thus not discouraging Iraq from moving against Kuwait, the US at the same time gave Kuwait, through then defense secretary Dick Cheney, assurances that it would defend it against an attack from Iraq, emboldening Kuwait to refuse to negotiate.

The US goes to war in the Gulf

On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait. Four days later, on August 6, the United Nations imposed heavy sanctions on Iraq, on request from the US. Simultaneously, after consulting with US secretary of defense Cheney, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, the head of the Arab regionalist snake, invited US troops on to Saudi soil. The unhappy fate of Kuwait had led the Saudi king to seek protection from the US against the march of pan-Arabism. Iraq's transgression was not so much to repossess Kuwait as an integral part of Iraq, but that it claimed Kuwait as the first step on the march toward pan-Arabism. If Iraq were to be allowed to keep Kuwait on the basis of pan-Arabism, the survival of the Arab regionalist states will be directly threatened.

President George H W Bush quickly announced that the US would launch a "wholly defensive" mission to prevent Iraq from invading Saudi Arabia, and US troops moved into Saudi Arabia on August 7, 1990. Those who thought simplistically that the US moved troops into Saudi Arabia to protect Saudi oil were missing the point. At the time, Iraq was selling a higher percentage of its oil to the US than Saudi Arabia, and there was no reason to expect Iraq to change its oil export strategy. The Iraqi purpose in repossessing Kuwait oil was to sell it, not to hoard it. Yet the idea of a war to protect oil supply enjoyed wide automatic support in US politics, more than obscure geopolitical calculations, especially when greed and power have been celebrated in US society as moral positives since the 1970s. Under the cover of protection of oil supply, the US moved troops into Saudi Arabia to stop the march of pan-Arabism. It was a fateful development, as the al-Qaeda pretext for the attacks on US soil on September 11, 2001, 11 years later was centered on demands for the removal of US troops from Saudi Arabia. The unintended consequences of geopolitical stratagem was being expressed through the iron law of terrorism of what goes around, comes around, known generally as the blowback effect, a term coined by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

On September 25, the UN imposed an interdiction on air traffic to and from Iraq. On November 29, the US got its UN war resolution. John Pilger reported in The Guardian that this was achieved through a campaign of bribery, blackmail and threats. In 1990, Egypt was the most indebted country in Africa. Secretary of state James Baker bribed president Hosni Mubarak with $14 billion in "debt forgiveness" in exchange for Egypt withholding opposition to the pending war on Iraq. Washington gave President Hafez al-Assad the green light to wipe out all opposition to Syrian rule in Lebanon, plus a billion dollars' worth of arms. Iran was bribed with a US promise to drop its opposition to World Bank loans. Bribing the Soviet Union was especially urgent, as Moscow was close to pulling off a deal that would allow Saddam to extricate himself from Kuwait peacefully. However, with its wrecked economy, the Soviet Union was easy prey. Bush sent the Saudi foreign minister to Moscow to offer a billion dollars before the Russian winter set in to compensate for Soviet investment in Iraq. Mikhail Gorbachev, with life-threatening political problems of his own at home, quickly agreed to the war resolution, and another $3 billion from other Gulf oil states was wired to the Soviet government to secure outstanding Iraqi debts to the USSR.

The votes of the non-permanent members of the Security Council were crucial. Zaire, occupying the rotating chair, was offered undisclosed "debt forgiveness" and military equipment in return for silencing Security Council members during the attack. Only Cuba and Yemen held out. Minutes after Yemen voted against the resolution to attack Iraq, a senior US diplomat characterized the vote to the Yemeni ambassador as the most expensive "no" vote he ever cast. Within three days, a US aid program of $70 million to one of the world's poorest countries was suspended. Yemen suddenly had problems with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund; and 800,000 Yemeni workers were abruptly expelled from Saudi Arabia.

On January 16, 1991, the United States led an international coalition from US bases in Saudi Arabia to invade occupied Kuwait and Iraq. The US established a broad-based international coalition to confront Iraq militarily and diplomatically to defend the international principle of non-aggression. The coalition consisted of Afghanistan*, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh*, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia*, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany*, Greece, Hungary, Honduras*, Israel, Italy, Kuwait, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger*, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania*, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Korea*, Spain, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States (countries marked with * were non-combatants.) The coalition included all Arab regionalist states, such as Syria, Bahrain, Egypt, the UAE, Morocco, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and above all, Saudi Arabia. To crush pan-Arabism by exploiting its conflict with Arab regionalism was the geopolitical purpose for the US attack on Iraq. The war was financed by countries which were unable to send troops. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the rich regionalists, were the main financial donors. More than $53 billion was pledged and received.

Exhaustive remote-controlled precision bombings were followed by blitzkrieg movements of ground troops. Tens of thousands of Iraqis troops were killed by smart-bomb air strikes, never having even come within sight of the enemy, and most of the military infrastructure was destroyed together with much of the civilian infrastructure. On March 3, a ceasefire was reached between US-led coalition forces and Iraq. By April, Iraq suppressed rebellions in the south by Shi'ites, and in the north by Kurds. Millions of Kurds fled to Turkey and Iran. US, British and French troops moved into northern Iraq to set up refugee camps and to protect the Kurds. In May, Iraq was presented with an international claim for compensation of $100 billion, which dwarfed the $23 billion reparation imposed on Germany after World War I that was considered incredibly excessive and as contributing to the rise of Nazism in the defeated nation. But the government of Saddam survived, while the Iraqi population suffered a decade of sanctions that caused the death of 2 million people, 800,000 of whom were children. While pan-Arabism was dealt a setback, the suffering of the Arab people in Iraq boosted Arab solidarity in the region.

Bush Sr and his national security adviser explained their decision on "Why we didn't remove Saddam" in an interview with Time (March 2, 1998):

While we hoped that popular revolt or coup would topple Saddam, neither the US nor the countries of the region wished to see the breakup of the Iraqi state. We were concerned about the long-term balance of power at the head of the Gulf. Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in "mission creep", and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible. We had been unable to find [Manuel] Noriega in Panama, which we knew intimately. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the UN's mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the US could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different - and perhaps barren - outcome."

<> Essentially the same argument was repeated in their book, A World Transformed.

And off to war again ...

Yet a decade later, in response to terrorist attacks of September 11, the second Bush administration launched a regime-changing invasion of Iraq, on a number of drummed-up pretexts that in hindsight proved to be unsubstantiated, ranging from preemptive strike against weapons of mass destruction to spread of democracy, to humanitarian intervention. It is a misnomer to characterize current US policy as preemptive defense. It is more accurate to call it presumptive defense. A legitimate government far away from the US with no credible threat capability against the US was toppled by military force not because it actually possessed weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the US, but that it was presumed to have possessed or at least would seek to possess them in character with its alleged evil constitution as defined by US short-term geopolitical consideration.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, the administration dove who spoke of "regime change" in Iraq for at least 18 months prior to actual beginning of the second war on Iraq, said as the war drew near that the US might not seek to remove Saddam if he would abandoned his weapons of mass destruction. It was the latest in a series of comments by Powell that seemed to back away from the White House goal of deposing the Iraqi president, which remained as steadfast Bush administration policy. "We think the Iraqi people would be a lot better off with a different leader, a different regime," Powell told the UN Security Council. "But the principal offence here is weapons of mass destruction, and that's what this resolution is working on. The major issue before us is disarmament. All we are interested in is getting rid of those weapons of mass destruction." But George W Bush said on October 7 that he was "not willing to stake one American life on trusting Saddam Hussein". Earlier he had told the public: "This man tried to kill my daddy!"

The record shows that Powell, the good cop as opposed to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld the bad cop, was also an early proponent of the regime-change policy. He told the House International Relations Committee on March 7, 2001, that the administration was considering such a policy. In February, he told the same committee that "regime change" was policy, and the US "might have to do it alone". He began backing away in an October 2 interview with USA Today's editorial board. Should Iraq be fully disarmed, he said, "Then, in effect, you have a different kind of regime no matter who's in Baghdad." On ABC, Powell put it this way: "Either Iraq cooperates, and we get this disarmament done through peaceful means; or they do not cooperate, and we will use other means to get the job done."

The US asserted that Iraq had biological and chemical weapons and could be close to making nuclear arms. Congress had given Bush authority to use military force, after coordinating with the UN to see whether inspections could be made to work. The Security Council maneuver that the US had expected to be smooth sailing turned into a five-week round-robin of talks and a pitched battle of wills with France. The fracas gave rise to criticism by many countries that the US had pressed its case against Iraq too hard, not only straining international law but also causing anxiety about how Washington would play its role as the lone superpower, now faced with the new threat of global terrorism.

President Jacques Chirac of France, traveling in the Middle East, demanded postponing authorizing war against Iraq until after UN weapons inspectors had completed their work. The US was not eager to compromise, but both Washington and Paris recognized that a rift between them could be very damaging and that there were important advantages to widening support for any American action taken against Iraq.

Bush administration officials characterized the protracted talks as an example of UN vacillation. Bush raised question on the UN's relevance. Powell told NBC that he expected the UN Security Council to enact a resolution setting strong guidelines for inspection teams to be sent back into Iraq. But, he added, "The issue right now is not even how tough an inspection regime is or isn't. The question is will Saddam and the Iraqi regime cooperate - really, really cooperate - and let the inspections do their job. All we are interested in is getting rid of those weapons of mass destruction." Rumsfeld began talking about the "New Europe" of former Soviet satellites as against the irrelevant "Old Europe" of France and Germany in the new world order.

On February 5, 2003, Powell presented "proof" to the United Nations Security Council that Iraq still produced and held weapons for mass destruction. Western non-affiliated inspectors to Iraq later declared Powell's proof on mass destruction to be a "lie", while the US officially attributed the untruths to intelligence failure.

Investigative journalist Bob Woodward of Watergate fame provided in his sensational book, Plan of Attack, the first detailed, behind-the-scenes account of how and why the president decided to wage war in Iraq based on conversations with 75 of the key decision-makers, including Bush himself. The president permitted Woodward to quote him directly. Others spoke on the condition that Woodward not identify them as sources. Woodward reports that just five days after September 11, Bush indicated to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that while he had to do Afghanistan first, he was also determined to do something about Saddam. "There's some pressure to go after Saddam Hussein," Woodward quoted Rumsfeld as hearing the president saying: "This is an opportunity to take out Saddam Hussein, perhaps. We should consider it." And Woodward quoted the president saying to Condi Rice head-to-head: "We won't do Iraq now. But it is a question we're gonna have to return to."

Woodward wrote that "there's this low boil on Iraq until the day before Thanksgiving, November 21, 2001. This is 72 days after 9/11." This is part of this secret history. Bush, after a National Security Council meeting, took Rumsfeld aside, "collared him physically, and took him into a little cubbyhole room and closed the door and said: 'What have you got in terms of plans for Iraq? What is the status of the war plan? I want you to get on it. I want you to keep it secret'." Woodward wrote immediately after that, Rumsfeld told General Tommy Franks to develop a war plan to invade Iraq and remove Saddam - and that Rumsfeld gave Franks a blank check. Woodward detailed when and how the decision to invade Iraq was made, but he shed no light on why.

Now what's the plan?

The Bush administration went into Iraq with enormous illusions about how easy the postwar situation would be: it thought the reconstruction would be self-financing, that US forces could draw on a lasting well of gratitude for liberating Iraq from tyranny, and that the US could occupy the country with a small force structure and even draw US forces down significantly within a few months. This illusion is reflected in US policy on force structure. After the Cold War, because of defense budget reduction and popular opposition in the host countries, the US was forced to gradually reduce its troops stationed overseas. US troops abroad had shrunk to 247,000 people before the second Iraq War in April 2002. In 1968, during the height of the Vietnam War, army strength reached 1,570,000; navy 723,600; marine 307,300; and air force 904,900. In 2002, army strength had dropped to 486,500, navy 385,000, marine 173,700 and air force 368,300. The air force, together with navy carrier-based planes, has become the dominant arm of the US military.

At the conclusion of offensive military operations in Iraq, the US Army announced its plan to set up four military bases in occupied territory. Up to now it still has more than 140,000 troops stationed in Iraq and it is expected to keep a considerable scale of forces there for a long time to come. The US occupation authority repeatedly singled out inadequate troop numbers as the main difficulty in carrying out its mission. The US force structure is designed to win short limited wars with smart weapons, but is clearly inadequate for extended occupation of the long list of countries in which US foreign policy aims to effectuate regime changes.

Bush has adopted the "transformationalist" agenda embraced by Rice, who in August 2003 set out US ambitions to remake the Middle East along neo-conservative lines by using US military power to impose democracy and free markets on an Islamic tribal culture. It is a policy for political transformation of Arab countries deemed vital to victory in the "war on terrorism". Yet this policy is at odds with the force structure of the US military, which has been designed to prevail in short intense conflicts, not long drawn-out occupations.

Since the events of September 11, the US has looked on Islamic terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as the greatest threats to its national security, thinking the main threat to be coming from the "unstable arc-shaped region" encompassing the coastal areas of the Caribbean Sea, Africa, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East, South Asia and the Korean Peninsula. The US Defense Department has drastically adjusted the disposition of its overseas troops around this "unstable arc-shaped region" in an attempt to cope effectively with a global "preventive" war.

Advance disposition is a deployment concept of positioning in advance a considerable amount of weapons, equipment and supplies in overseas bases, doing the defense and garrison work with very small forces. When a sudden crisis erupts, US forces will be sent by quick transport to the crisis region and, by relying on the advance installed weapons, equipment and supply, quickly generate combat effectiveness in the crisis region and carry out technologically intensive operational tasks. Currently, US forces have deployed equipment and materials for two army divisions in Europe and four marine expeditionary brigades each in Norway, Guam, Diego Garcia and the Atlantic. In addition, US forces have 12 mobile advance-storage ships in the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean regions. This strategy does not take into account the massive troop requirement for pacification of occupied lands after an externally imposed regime change. In imposing this new Pax Americana by widespread regime changes, the US will need to maintain a 3-million-man army. What the neo-conservative hawks at the Bush White House fail to realize is that the very "rogue nations" on which they aim to impose regime changes, have been acting as ironic proxies for the US, albeit unruly in US eyes, in maintaining the rat-tat world order the US has won from winning the Cold War. The dismantling of this world order, however imperfect in US eyes, will threaten the world's sole remaining superpower more than any rogue nation does.

Bush has repeatedly drawn comparisons between the occupation of Iraq to that of post-World War II Germany and Japan, drawing comfort from the alleged success of democratization of these two former enemies. The post-World War II occupation of Germany was a huge and diverse undertaking spanning almost 11 years, conducted in conjunction with three other members of the wartime alliance and involving in various degrees a good number of US governmental departments and agencies. The occupation was for the US Army a mission second only in scope and significance to the war itself.

On V-E (Victory in Europe) Day, General Dwight D Eisenhower had 61 US divisions, 1,622,000 men, in Germany, and a total Allied force in Europe numbering 3,077,000. When the shooting ended, the divisions in the field became occupation troops, charged with maintaining law and order and establishing the Allied military presence in the Western occupied part of the defeated nation. This was a military occupation, the object of which was to control the population and stifle resistance by putting troops into every part of the occupied nation. Divisions were spread out across the countryside, sometimes over great stretches of territory. The 78th Infantry Division, for instance, for a time after V-E day, was responsible for an area of 3,600 square miles, almost twice the size of the state of Delaware, and the 70th Infantry Division for 2,500 square miles. Battalions were deployed separately, and the company was widely viewed as the ideal unit for independent deployment because billets were easy to find and the hauls from the billets to guard posts and checkpoints would not be excessively long. Frequently single platoons and squads were deployed at substantial distances from their company headquarters. There is no indication that the US Defense Department has any such plans or intentions for the occupation of rogue states facing regime change. Iraq with an area of 437,072 square kilometers (168,800 square miles) will take more than 100 divisions to carry out the type of occupation the US devised for Germany. Some 70,000 US troops are assigned to Germany, although the army's 1st Infantry Division and 1st Armored Division are currently in Iraq, leaving about 40,000 US Army troops, the equivalent of two divisions, in Germany.

The Allied occupation of Germany is approaching its sixth decade, and in the eyes of many Germans it has not yet ended. Foreign armies are still based on German soil and Europe's largest and most prosperous "democracy" still does not have a constitution and a peace treaty putting a formal end to World War II. If the German model is applied to Iraq, there may never be a formal end to the war in Iraq. Because there is no formal peace treaty between Germany and the Allies headed by the US, German sovereignty is compromised. On October 20, 1985, John Kornblum of the US State Department told Germany's provisional Reichskanzler Wolfgang Gerhard Geunter Ebel: "Until we have a peace treaty, Germany is a colony of the United States." Ebel headed the provisional government that claims to be the legal successor to the Second German Reich, which was replaced by Adolf Hitler's illegal Third Reich (1933-45).

In Japan, the US did not engage in any regime change after the war, but built on the existing political culture and regime, including the retaining of the imperial house. Japan has been a successful economy, at least up to the end of the Cold War, but not a particularly successful democracy, with a one-party political system not much different than any communist government. It has also not been a responsible regional citizen, betraying attitudes and policies, especially in respect to its past brutal subjugation of its Asian neighbors that are shameful and geopolitically destabilizing. John Dower argues in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II that the origins of these shortcomings can be traced to US occupation policy. US occupation arrived in 1945 full of New Deal statist zeal and determined to transform Japanese politics and society in its liberal image. Cold War geopolitics quickly curbed this reform zeal. The occupation did purge the military and effectively removed militarists from the Japanese political establishment. But military dictatorships that lose wars tend to lose their innate legitimacy, credibility and power, as Napoleon III found out after the Franco-Prussian war and the Argentine military junta discovered after the Falkland War of 1982 with Britain. Otherwise, Japanese leaders of the prewar and wartime political, business and bureaucratic establishment who had initially been purged and imprisoned were quickly rehabilitated by the US occupation. Leftists and trade union leaders that the US occupation had initially liberated from jail were returned to jail. On the other end of the political spectrum, some of those implicated in Japan's wartime government later served in high positions in post-war governments. Nobusuke Kishi, a prominent member of General Hideki Tojo's wartime cabinet, after a brief jail sentence, became Japan's prime minister a mere decade after the war. Some 100,000 US troops are still in East Asia, including 46,000 in Japan and 37,000 in South Korea.

The Iraq invasion has caused a split within the US political right between the conservatives and neo-conservatives. Conservatives have become increasingly vocal against the decision to invade once the initial Pavlovian conditioning reflex of rallying around the flag in times of war subsided. Neo-conservative hawks continue to insist that the invasion decision was right even if it had been based on the wrong reasons and flawed intelligence. Francis Fukuyama, famed conservative author of the End of History , in an essay titled "Shattered illusions" that first appeared in The Australian on June 29, 2004, since repeated in greater length in The National Interest, a US conservative publication, questioned "the confidence [of neo-conservatives] that the US could transform Iraq into a Western-style democracy and go on from there to democratize the broader Middle East". He put forth the argument that "these same neo-conservatives had spent much of the past generation warning about the dangers of ambitious social engineering and how social planners could never control behavior or deal with unanticipated consequences. If the US cannot eliminate poverty or raise test scores in Washington, DC, how in the world does it expect to bring democracy to a part of the world that has stubbornly resisted it and is virulently anti-American to boot?"

Fukuyama disputes Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer, who has noted how wrong people were after World War II in asserting that Japan could not democratize, echoing an argument made by Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis, who has at several junctures suggested that pessimism about the prospects for a democratic Iraq betrays lack of respect for Arabs. Fukuyama expresses his disbelief that "democracies can be created anywhere and everywhere through simple political will". He pointed out that the overall record of US involvement in approximately 18 nation-building projects between its conquest of the Philippines in 1899 and the current occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq is not a pretty one. The cases of unambiguous success - Germany, Japan and South Korea - were all cases where US forces came and then stayed indefinitely. According to Fukuyama, in Germany and Japan, the US was not nation-building at all, but only re-legitimating societies that had very powerful states. In all of the other cases, the US either left nothing behind in terms of self-sustaining institutions, or else made things worse by creating a modern army and police but no lasting rule of law. Fukuyama asserts that "US dominance is clear cut only along two dimensions of national power, the cultural realm and the ability to fight and win intensive conventional wars. Americans have no particular taste or facility for nation-building; we want exit strategies rather than empires." Fukuyama's insightful observation about the absence of US will for global nation-building is supported by recent reforms of US force structure.

Building an Economic Empire

US force structure is now designed to support an economic empire, not a political empire. The venue for building this economic empire is neo-liberal globalized trade, not military occupation. A geopolitical system has been quietly fashioned out of market fundamentalism to protect this economic empire, with the deceptive slogan of a crusade for democracy, the same way Winston Churchill tried to protect the British economic empire with bogus democracy and market capitalism after having sucked up all the capital from the colonies. The British Empire evolved during the age of waning monarchal absolutism. It was launched to enhance the authority of the Crown by shipping off political dissidents, such as the unruly separatist Scots, to build an empire for the Crown. It was a political empire that transformed into an economic empire only after the Industrial Revolution. The debates in parliament over colonialism were peppered with arguments that the colonies were fruits of monarchal chimera and bottomless pits of economic loss to be shouldered by the aristocracy to prevent them from challenging royal dominance. An economic empire is governed by civilian financial institutions, not military occupation. This explains why US overseas military engagement must be accompanied by quick, workable exit strategies. Wall Street support for the occupation of Iraq is near non-existent. The unexpectedly endless occupation, euphemistically referred to as "catastrophic success" has been Bush's gravest tactic error.

Strategically, Bush also failed to recognize that the invasion and occupation of Iraq as a long-range policy to oppose pan-Arabism will incur the near term price of massive escalation of terrorism. A war against pan-Arabism is a war for terrorism, not on terrorism. Although few in Washington understand this, or are willing to say it if they understood, the invasion of Iraq unwittingly launched a war on pan-Arabism, which would bring about many battles with terrorism. The US may win some battles with terrorism, but the odds of it winning its "war on terrorism" have been reduced with its war on pan-Arabism. Even accepting Bush's declaration that the US after the invasion of Iraq is safer, though still not safe, the price for this controversial claim is a US certainly not freer domestically.

Just as the Arab-Israel War of 1973 restructured the world economy by lifting the market price of oil to $30 a barrel, the invasion of Iraq has ushered in an era of oil above $50, changing the economic calculations of all participants in the global economy. With the US in essence owning most if not all of the world's oil as long as oil is mainly denominated in dollars, a fiat currency the US can print at will with no immediate penalty that has assumed the status of the main reserve currency for trade based on geopolitical factors, a monetary phenomenon known as dollar hegemony, the impact of higher oil prices translates into a sudden expansion of the economy in dollar terms. The same amount of oil now is worth more dollars. Oil inflation, unlike wage inflation, is not a growth stimulant, draining consumer demand from the overcapacity that technological progress has presented to the economy. Oil profits stagnate for lack of investment opportunities because of low consumer demand. It is an inflation that drains money from consumers to the owners of oil who cannot recycle the money through consumption. It produces a shift of economic power from the oil consuming economies to the oil producing and ultimately to the dollar economy. Within the dollar economy (which extends beyond the political borders of the US) higher oil prices produce a shift of economic power from consumer to those who own oil reserves. It leads to a further step toward the top-heavy inverse pyramid structure of wealth distribution in the US economic empire. Unfortunately, inverse pyramids are inherently unstable.

Since September 11, it has been reported that Bush views himself as doing God's work. So did Osama bin Laden after the quartering of US troops in Saudi Arabia, so did Khomeini in overthrowing the Shah. Where was it written that God approved of the global spread of democracy by US invasions? Was the moral authority of the Ten Commandments derived from popular vote? The fact is, God, assuming he exists, is on everyone's side. Bush must know he is paying a high price globally for his unilateral policies and his administration's hounding tone. Judging from overseas reports, Bush may now be the most unpopular US leader ever around the world. Anti-US sentiment has grown so intense that few foreign leaders can cooperate with Bush, on Iraq or any other issue, without taking a severe hit domestically in their own popularity.

The leader of the sole superpower in a world order of sovereign nations is by default also the leader of the world, who cannot lead without the support of all the people of the world. But if Bush should win a second term because of inept Democratic campaigning, or the absence of a clear alternative vision from the challenger, his mandate will be not merely to lead the US out of a false-start quagmire, but to lead the world out of a destructive path of geopolitical insanity, and join the ranks of great statesmen in history. There are those who unrealistically reject the US because they despair over the prospect of the US ever acting progressively as portrayed by its own high-minded self-image. The cruel reality is that the narrow national interests of the US often collide with the ideals of that image. There is much complaint, justified repeatedly by solid evidence, about the government lying to the public. Yet the reality is that US policies basically reflect US public opinion and at times unwittingly at the expense of US long-range national interests.

If US policies are frequently aggressively reactionary, it is because such disposition is part of the American character. Bush's popularity with Americans rests on his authentic American character. Yet there are two sides to that character, made visible by the screen persona of John Wayne: the tough big guy who champions the defenseless little guys. The US has evolved into a superpower in the course of two World Wars and will remain one for the foreseeable future. As such it has earned the privileges associated with the instinctive prerogative of a tough big guy. But the complete American character requires the US to champion the defenseless little guys of the world. The US has a rendezvous with destiny as the forward-looking leader of the world rather the backward-wishing occupier of the world.