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Contents of http://fbc.binghamton.edu/86en.htm
by Steven Sherman
02 April 2002 01:52 UTC
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The following commentary has been send to you by Steven Sherman.
I'm glad to see that Wallerstein agrees that the current direction of the Bush 
administration is best analyzed in terms of political stupidity, rather than as 
a shrewd geopolitical maneuveur.  Now if only he had some idea about how to 
stop it...


  Fernand Braudel Center, Binghamton University


   Commentary No. 86, Apr. 1, 2002

"Iraq: How Great Powers Bring Themselves Down"

George W. Bush is a geopolitical incompetent. He has allowed a clique of hawks 
to induce him to take a position, an
 invasion of Iraq, from which he cannot 
extract himself and which will have nothing but negative consequences, for
everyone but first of all for the United States. He will find himself badly 
hurt politically, perhaps fatally. He will diminish
 rather rapidly the already 
declining power of the United States in the world. He will contribute 
dramatically to the
 destruction of the state of Israel by furthering the 
suicidal madness of the Israeli hawks. Of course, there will be many
in the world who will be happy to see such negative consequences. The trouble 
is that, in the process, Bush will
 conduct warfare that will destroy many 
lives immediately, lead to a degree of turmoil in the Arab-Islamic world of a 
at a level hitherto unimagined, and perhaps unleash the use of nuclear weapons 
which, once unleashed now, will be
 hard to make illegitimate after that. How 
have we all gotten into such a disastrous cul-de-sac?

It seems reasonably certain that a U.S. military action against Iraq is now not 
a question of maybe but how soon. Why is
 this happening? If one asks the 
spokesmen of the U.S. government, the reason is that Iraq has been defying 
United Nations
 resolutions and represents an imminent danger to the world in 
general, and perhaps the U.S. in particular. 

This explanation of the expected military action is so thin that it cannot be 
taken seriously. Defying U.N. resolutions or
 other international enjoinders 
has been a dime a dozen for the last fifty years. I need hardly remind anyone 
that the U.S.
 refused to defer to a World Court decision about Nicaragua that 
condemned it. And Pres. Bush has made it amply clear that
 he will not honor 
any treaty should he think it dangerous to U.S. national interests. Israel has, 
of course, been defying U.N.
 resolutions for over 30 years, and is doing so 
again as I write this commentary. And the record of other U.N. members is
much better. So, yes, Saddam Hussein has been defying quite explicit U.N. 
resolutions. What else is new?

Is Saddam Hussein an imminent threat to anyone? In August, 1990, Iraq invaded 
Kuwait. That action at least posed an
 imminent threat. The response was the 
so-called Persian Gulf War. In that war, the U.S. pushed the Iraqis out of 
 and then decided to stop there. Saddam Hussein remained in power in 
Iraq. The U.N. passed various resolutions requiring
 Iraq to abandon nuclear, 
chemical, and bacteriological weapons, and mandated inspection teams to verify 
this. The U.N.
 also embargoed Iraq in various ways. As we know, over the 
decade since then, the de facto situation has changed, and the
 system of 
constraints on Iraq put in place by these U.N. resolutions has weakened 
considerably, albeit not totally by any

On Mar. 28, 2002, Iraq and Kuwait signed an agreement in which Iraq agreed to 
respect the sovereignty of Kuwait. The
 Foreign Minister of Kuwait, Sabah 
al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, said his country is now "100% satisfied." Asked by a 
reporter if
 Kuwait was happy with each and every clause in the agreement, 
Kuwait's Foreign Minister replied "I wrote them myself."
 The spokesperson for 
the United States however exhibited skepticism. The U.S. is not about to be 
deterred simply because
 Kuwait is "satisfied." What is Kuwait, that they 
should participate in such a decision?

The U.S. hawks believe, as I have suggested in several previous commentaries, 
that only the use of force, very significant
 force, will restore U.S. 
unquestioned hegemony in the world-system. It is no doubt correct that the use 
of overwhelming
 force does establish hegemony. This occurred in 1945, and the 
U.S. did become the hegemonic power. But the use of such
 force when the 
conditions of hegemony have already been undermined is a sign of weakness 
rather than of strength, and
 weakens the user. It is clear that, at this 
point, no one supports the U.S. invasion of Iraq: not a single Arab state, not 
 or Iran or Pakistan, not a single European power. 

There is to be sure one notable exception: Great Britain, or rather Tony Blair. 
Tony Blair is having however two problems
 at home. There is a brewing revolt 
in the Labor Party. And, more important, The Observer of March 17 reports that
"Britain's military leaders issued a stark warning to Tony Blair last night 
that any war against Iraq is doomed to fail and
 would lead to the loss of 
lives for little political gain." I cannot believe that U.S. military leaders 
are really making a
 different assessment, although they may be perhaps more 
wary of telling it as it is to President Bush. Kenneth Pollack, the
person in Clinton's Security Council, says it requires sending in 2-300,000 
U.S. troops, presumably from bases in
 either Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, and 
sending in some more to defend the Kurds in northern Iraq. These troops would
presumably come from, or fly over, Turkey.

The U.S. seems to be counting on intimidating all its "allies" into going 
along. After the occupation of Ramallah by Sharon,
 the remote hope that Saudi 
(or even Kuwaiti) bases would be available has probably disappeared. Turkey 
clearly does not
 want to defend Iraqi Kurds, when the major consequence on 
this would be to strengthen the Kurdish movement in Turkey,
 against which the 
Turkish government focuses all its efforts. As for Israel, Sharon seems to be 
intent in carrying out as
 rapidly as possible the reoccupation of the West 
Bank and Gaza and the destruction of the Palestinian Authority. And Bush
him 99% support in this.

If this is right, then there will be an invasion, which will be difficult if 
not impossible to win, the loss of many lives (most
 notably U.S. lives), and 
eventually a quasi-withdrawal by the U.S. A second Vietnam. Can no one in the 
 administration see this? A few, but they are not being counted. Why? 
Because Bush is in a self-imposed dilemma. If he
 goes ahead with the Iraq 
invasion, he will bring himself down, like Lyndon Johnson, or be humiliated, 
like Richard Nixon.
 And the U.S. failure will finally give the Europeans the 
courage to be European and not Atlantic. So why do it? Because
 Bush promised 
the U.S. people a "war on terrorism" that "we will certainly win." 

So far, all he's produced is the downfall of the Taliban. He hasn't captured 
Bin Laden. Pakistan is shaky. Saudi Arabia is
 pulling away. If he doesn't 
invade Iraq, he will look foolish where it matters to him most - in the eyes of 
American voters.
 And he is being told this, in no uncertain terms, by his 
advisors on internal U.S. politics. The incredibly high ratings of
 Bush are 
those for a "war president." The minute he becomes a peacetime president, he 
will be in grave trouble, all the
 more so because of failed wartime promises.

So, he has no choice. He will invade Iraq. And we shall all live with the 

Immanuel Wallerstein

[Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein. All rights reserved. Permission is granted 
to download, forward electronically or
 e-mail to others and to post this text 
on non-commercial community Internet sites, provided the essay remains intact 
and the
 copyright note is displayed. To translate this text, publish it in 
printed and/or other forms, including commercial Internet
 sites and excerpts, 
contact the author at iwaller@binghamton.edu; fax: 1-607-777-4315.

These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on 
the contemporary world scene, as seen
 from the perspective not of the 
immediate headlines but of the long term.]

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