Nicolas J S Davies

A collection of published articles and letters to policymakers regarding the crisis in United States foreign policy by Nicolas J S Davies.

Location: North Miami, Florida, United States

Saturday, December 31, 2005

From Nuremberg to Fallujah

A review of current international law regarding wars of aggression, and its implications for U.S. policy in Iraq and elsewhere.

Published in Peace Review 17:427-433
Previously published by Online Journal, December 31st 2004:
Reprinted in Z Magazine, February 2005:

In September 2004, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan told the BBC that the U.S./British invasion of Iraq was illegal under international law.[1] The following week, he dedicated his entire annual address to the U.N. General Assembly to the subject of international law, saying, “We must start from the principle that no one is above the law, and no one should be denied its protection.” So, how was the invasion of Iraq illegal? How does that affect the situation there today? And what are the practical implications of this for U.S. policy going forward, in Iraq and elsewhere?

The Secretary General presumed what the world generally accepts, that international law is legally binding upon all countries. In the United States however, international law is spoken of differently, as a tool that our government can use selectively to enforce its will on other nations, or else circumvent when it conflicts with sufficiently important U.S. interests. For the benefit of readers in the United States, I therefore feel obliged to preface a review of war crime in Iraq with a look at the actual legal status of international law, both in international terms and in terms of our own national framework of constitutional law.

When the President of the United States signs a treaty and it is ratified by the U.S. Senate, he is making a solemn undertaking on behalf of his country. The seriousness of such commitments is exemplified by the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials and subsequent international trials, in which individual national leaders have been held criminally responsible for treaty violations and, when convicted, have been sentenced to long terms of imprisonment or even death by hanging. Inthe U.S. constitutional system, Article VI Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, known as the “supremacy clause”, grants international treaties the same supreme status as federal law and the Constitution itself. It reads:
“This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding”.

You can visit the U.S. State Department web site to find a complete list of the international treaties to which our country is a signatory, under “Treaties in Force”.[2] These treaties are enforceable by national court systems in each country, but, without an international court system to ensure universal enforcement, the real consequences of violating international law are often political, economic and diplomatic rather than judicial. As we are finding in Iraq, these consequences can nevertheless be substantial.

It is important to understand that war crimes fall into two classes: first, war crimes relevant to battlefield conduct; and second, waging a war of aggression. To explain what was at that time an unprecedented focus on the second kind of war crime, war of aggression, the Nuremberg Judgment included the following statement:
“The charges in the indictment that the defendants planned and waged aggressive wars are charges of the utmost gravity. War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone, but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

The treaty that outlawed the waging of aggressive war was the General Treaty for the Renunciation of War, otherwise known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact or the Pact of Paris. It was named for U.S. Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg and the French statesman Aristide Briand, and it was signed by President Coolidge in 1928 and duly ratified by the U.S. Senate. It was the result of a decade of negotiations and lesser diplomatic achievements to prevent war that were motivated by the horror and tragedy of the First World War. In 1932, the new Secretary of State, Henry L. Stimson, made the following statement regarding its significance:
“War between nations was renounced by the signatories of the Kellogg-Briand Treaty. This means that it has become throughout practically the entire world…an illegal thing. Hereafter, when engaged in armed conflict, either one or both of them must be termed violators of this general treaty law…We denounce them as law breakers.”[3]

The convictions of German leaders at Nuremberg for the crime of waging aggressive war were based entirely upon the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the history of lesser treaties that led up to its signing. Once again, I quote from the Nuremberg Judgment:
“The question is, what was the legal effect of this pact? The nations who signed the pact or adhered to it unconditionally condemned recourse to war for the future as an instrument of policy, and expressly renounced it. After the signing of the pact, any nation resorting to war as an instrument of national policy breaks the pact. In the opinion of the Tribunal, the solemn renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy necessarily involves the proposition that such a war is illegal in international law; and that those who plan and wage such a war, with its inevitable and terrible consequences, are committing a crime in so doing.”

In 1945, the United Nations Charter, Article 2 Clause 4, reiterated the principles of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, stating simply, “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”. Article 39 established the authority of the Security Council to ”determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression” and to “decide what measures shall be taken”.

The U.S. Supreme Court was asked in Mora v. McNamara (1967) to rule on the case of a conscientious objector who claimed that the U.S. war against Vietnam was an illegal war of aggression. In this case, the court cited only the Kellogg-Briand Pact, Article 39 of the U.N. Charter and the London Treaty (which established the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal) as the relevant body of international law regarding cases of aggressive war, so it is reasonable to examine the legitimacy of the war in Iraq based on those same treaties.

President Bush has avoided citing legal principles in defense of the war, but he has given three quasi-legal justifications at different times in political speeches, and so these would seem to be his arguments:
1) Preemptive self-defense;
2) Enforcement of Security Council 1441, which threatened “serious consequences” for Iraq’s alleged failure to disarm;
3) Enforcement of past Security Council resolutions, going back to 1990.

A mutable combination of all three has worked well for him with U.S. public opinion as a political justification for war, but does any one of them actually justify the war under international law?

There is actually an internationally accepted standard in international law for “preventive” or “preemptive” military action, known as the Caroline case. In 1837, an insurgency was raging, not in Iraq, but in Canada. A small, American-owned steamer named the Caroline was being used to smuggle anti-British insurgents and shipments of arms across the Niagara River. One night, British forces crossed the river in small boats and attacked the Caroline as it was moored on the American side of the river, killing many of its passengers and crew, and setting the ship on fire. The British then towed the Caroline away from the shore and set it adrift to plunge over Niagara Falls in a fiery spectacle.

This incident raised warlike passions on both sides of the border. Americans regarded it as an act of aggression, while the British argued that it was an act of preemptive self-defense. The matter was eventually resolved peacefully after an exchange of letters between U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster and British Foreign Secretary Lord Ashburton, in which both countries accepted the principle that “Respect for the inviolable character of the territory of independent nations is the most essential foundation of civilization”, and that this can only be legally overridden by “a necessity of self-defense, instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation”, and “the act…must be limited by that necessity, and kept clearly within it”.

This became the accepted international standard for “preemptive” military action, and was cited as such by the judges at Nuremberg using Webster’s precise wording. The German defendants at Nuremberg defended their invasion of Norway on grounds very similar to those cited by President Bush today, claiming a reasonable fear that Norway would become a base for an Allied attack on Germany. The judges rejected this argument, writing that the plans for an attack on Norway “were not made for the purpose of forestalling an imminent Allied landing, but, at the most, that they might prevent an Allied occupation at some future date.” The court likewise rejected German claims that “Germany alone could decide…whether preventive action was a necessity, and that in making her decision her judgment was conclusive”, ruling that this “must ultimately be subject to investigation and adjudication if international law is ever to be enforced”.

Based on the principles established by the Caroline case and cited at Nuremberg, preventive or preemptive self-defense was not a legitimate rationale for invading Iraq, which posed no imminent threat to the United States. The facts that no weapons of mass destruction were found, and that their absence was suspected all along within the U.S. Government, only serve to demonstrate the sound rationale behind these principles.

Resolution 1441 was passed unanimously by the U.N. Security Council in November 2002 precisely because it kept the Security Council firmly in charge of the international response to the U.S.-Iraq crisis, and because it did not authorize the use of force. The resolution recalls previous warnings that Iraq would face serious consequences if it continued to violate its obligations, but it does not threaten “all necessary means”, or any other diplomatic term for military force.

This brings us to the whole history of U.N. Security Council Resolutions dealing with Iraq. Resolution 678 (1990) authorized “Member States co-operating with the Government of Kuwait…to use all necessary means to uphold and implement resolution 660 (1990) and all subsequent resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area”, an explicit authorization for the use of virtually unlimited military force to restore Kuwaiti sovereignty. This sweeping authorization was terminated four months later, when S.C. Resolution 687 (1991) declared a formal cease-fire. Unlike President Bush, British Prime Minister Blair was forced into making a legal justification for the second war on Iraq. While its text has been kept secret, it was apparently based upon the tenuous argument that Iraq’s alleged non-compliance with other provisions of S.C. Resolution 687 (1991) could be viewed as voiding the cease-fire, so that any of the members allied with Kuwait could now use “all necessary means” against Iraq at their own discretion and for a different purpose.

Britain’s Attorney General Lord Goldsmith had initially ruled that a new Security Council resolution that explicitly authorized the invasion of Iraq would be required under international law. When it became clear that there would not be one, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, the Chief of the British Defense Staff, told the Prime Minister that he could not order his troops into Iraq without a written document stating that this was legal under international law. His forces then waited in limbo on the Iraq-Kuwait border for five full days before he received a single paragraph from Lord Goldsmith giving him the green light, and the rest is history.[4]

It is now clear that those were five very strange days for the British Government, as no one within the government, either in the Attorney General’s office or at the Foreign Office, was prepared to reverse the earlier ruling. The impasse was finally broken when Blair turned to a London School of Economics law professor, who was known to favor a war, to write a new opinion that contradicted every legal expert within the government. Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the Deputy Legal Advisor at the Foreign Office, resigned, together with two of her colleagues, and she has since stated publicly that the war is illegal.[5]

A number of court-cases have sought to uncover Blair’s secret rationale for war. In one of them, Katharine Gun, a whistleblower at British intelligence headquarters, had leaked a memo to the press that exposed U.S. National Security Agency wiretapping of Security Council diplomats. She was arrested and tried under Britain’s Official Secrets Act, and could have faced a long term in prison. However, as soon as her lawyers announced their intention to challenge the legality of the war in her defense and to call Lord Goldsmith as a witness, the government dropped its case against her.[6]

A précis of the government’s case was revealed in a specific answer to a question in parliament, and it does indeed seem to hinge on the notion of a breach of the 1991 cease-fire resolution. Crucially, the “breach” in question is the specific allegation that Iraq had not fulfilled “its obligation to disarm”. As former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook wrote in the Guardian on October 15th 2004, “There is a logical, inescapable conclusion from this chain of reasoning. If Iraq had in reality fulfilled its disarmament obligation, there was no legal authority for the invasion”.

Clearly the force of current international law on aggression leaves little doubt that the United States and the United Kingdom are guilty of a serious international crime, and that their citizens are paying for this crime with increasing isolation from the international community and growing opposition to their strategic and economic interests throughout the world.

In the course of waging this illegal war, the United States has also violated specific provisions of other treaties, in particular the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, also called the Fourth Geneva Convention. This treaty was drafted in 1949, recalling the recent German and Japanese occupations of Europe and Southeast Asia, and it very specifically catalogues and outlaws many of the tactics that can be used to bend a hostile civilian population to the will of a military occupation force.

For example, it contains detailed rules to prevent the abuse of detainees and prisoners; and it bans reprisals, intimidation, and collective punishment (Article 33); the destruction of property (Article 53); creating unemployment (Article 52); and the use of “propaganda or persuasion” to recruit local armed and auxiliary forces (Article 51). The United States has nevertheless employed all these methods in Iraq, and President Bush has even cited the recruitment and training of armed forces to fight alongside U.S. forces or in place of them as a centerpiece of his strategy. The illegality of so much of what the U.S. is doing in Iraq is a direct consequence of the illegality of the war itself, and a restoration of legitimacy remains the necessary first step to resolving the crisis.

So, if President Bush were to seek a new, more rational and law-abiding policy, what steps would international law actually require him to take? How could he actually bring legitimacy to this situation?

The U.S. Government has actually already gone through a sort of parody of what would be required in the form of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1546 (2004). But although this resolution represents a good faith effort on the part of the international community to provide for the welfare of the Iraqi people and for their political future in the face of American determination to “stay the course”, it has succeeded only in prolonging the war by failing to address the fundamental illegitimacy of the U.S. and British position.

The “Interim Government of Iraq” endorsed in the resolution has no credibility or popular constituency within Iraq, and is headed by an acknowledged agent of the C.I.A. who was flown in with the invasion forces. The “multinational force” entrusted with “promoting security and stability” is the same force that unleashed this war on Iraq in the first place and continues to wage it today. The condemnation of terrorism in Article 17 does not, and legally cannot, deprive the Iraqi Resistance of the fundamental right to resist the invasion and occupation of their country that is guaranteed by Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. By its refusal to turn over any real power to legitimate representatives of the Iraqi people or to the U.N., the Bush administration has squandered the legitimacy it sought to gain by this resolution as well as precious time and many more lives.

The reality in Iraq is that the United States has now been engaged in an unsuccessful war to gain control of the country for thirty-three months, and that U.S. military operations are killing two or three times as many Iraqi civilians as the Iraqi Resistance and foreign terrorist groups put together.[7] In any case, as the aggressors in this conflict, the United States and the United Kingdom are ultimately responsible for “the accumulated evil of the whole”.

Legitimacy is not something that can be conjured out of illegality by finding the right political or military strategy. International law actually requires the United States to end its offensive military operations, and to submit the crisis we have created to the U.N. Security Council without prejudice - not to win approval of a new American plan for Iraq, but so that it can withdraw its forces, Iraq can regain true sovereignty, and the U.N. can offer its assistance as needed or requested by the Iraqis. The ongoing role of the United States in this process would be the payment of reparations to enable the Iraqi people to recover from the war and to rebuild their country.

The principal lesson for future U.S. foreign policy is that the many diplomats and lawyers who worked so hard to create the current framework of international law deserve our profoundest deference and respect. Our predecessors bequeathed us an international legal code that embodies great wisdom forged from bitter experience in times at least as difficult and dangerous as our own. America can begin to unwind this spiral of uncontrollable violence by renewing its commitment to international law, by supporting efforts to strengthen judicial enforcement of its provisions in both national and international courts, and by insisting that military and international lawyers be consulted in the formulation of U.S. defense policy.

1. “Iraq war illegal, says Annan”, BBC News, September 16, 2004
3. Quoted in the Nuremberg Judgment
4. “War chief reveals legal crisis”, The Observer, March 7, 2004
5. “This week’s casualty: the legal case for war in Iraq”, The Guardian, October 15, 2004
6. “GCHQ case to be dropped”, The Guardian, February 25, 2004
7. “U.S. attacks, not insurgents, blamed for most Iraqi deaths”, Miami Herald, September 25, 2004

I highly recommend the web site of the Global Policy Forum at the United Nations at for additional reading on the subject of war crimes in Iraq; also, Richard Falk, Crimes of War (1971, Random House).

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Follow-up Letter on MoveOn "Out in '06" Meeting

Anthony Williams
Office of The Hon. Kendrick Meek
111, NW 183rd St. – Suite 315
Miami Gardens, FL 33169

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Dear Mr. Williams,

I am writing to thank you for taking the time to meet with MoveOn members Judy, Grace and myself yesterday. I hope that you will convey our concerns to Congressman Meek, and we will report back to other MoveOn members on our conversation with you.

In particular, I hope you will tell the Congressman that we do not believe that the continuing U.S. military operations in Iraq are contributing to security, stability, democracy or self-determination for the people of Iraq. We therefore would urge him to support the earliest possible end to these operations and the withdrawal of all U.S. forces.

You told us that the Congressman does not support an early end to these operations, but that he is asking the President to present a more detailed plan to Congress and the American people regarding their future conduct. I am afraid that this leaves the President and the Congressman in the same boat, rowing in circles without a rudder, while the most powerful military force in the world methodically destroys a country full of innocent people. This is not acceptable.

The President has compared the American War in Iraq to the Second World War, the “good war”. It has more in common with the First World War or the American War in Vietnam, concentrating massive destructive power on small areas where people live simply because these forces have been unleashed and no one has the will to say “Stop!”

The U.S. armed forces are deploying weapons that were designed to fight the Soviet Army against Iraqi cities and villages, often in violation of our obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is no coincidence that Fallujah now looks like Grozny in Chechnya, where the Russians deployed the weapons they had designed to fight the U.S. Army.

For the past century, the United States has failed to resolve the essential contradiction of “counterinsurgency” in any country – how do you win the hearts and minds of a population while you are killing its sons? In every case, “counterinsurgency” has devolved into a combination of aerial bombardment and “dirty war” – extrajudicial killing, mass detention and torture - against a civilian population.

Reflecting on the American experience in Vietnam, Loren Baritz wrote: “If this nation cannot use its managerial and technological strengths in international conflict, it would be wise to avoid engagement. If our expensive weapon systems will not contribute to victory, it would be wise not to pretend that we have other resources.”

I hope that such wisdom can prevail, and that Kendrick Meek will soon stand up to be counted as one of the wise men of our country in its time of need. We are now on a path that can only lead to greater conflict, international isolation, humiliation and pain. President Bush and his wealthy friends and relations in the armaments and petroleum industries are not the ones who are suffering the consequences of their actions. It is the Congressman’s constituents in the armed services and the people of Iraq who are paying the terrible price for the international crimes of our “leaders”.

Thank you again for taking the time to meet with us.

Yours sincerely

Cc: The Hon. Kendrick Meek
Clarence Williams
Cindy Fetzer (MoveOn Team Leader)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Killing: No Longer a Practical Instrument of Political Domination?

Published by Online Journal

Last week in Annapolis, President Bush touted U.S.-trained Iraqi forces as the key to “victory” in Iraq. In fact, the present campaign of aerial bombardment, extrajudicial execution, mass detention and torture against Sunni Iraqis is a desperate resort to genocide that will further isolate and alienate the United States from allies, trading partners and the people of the world. Can we conclude that killing thousands of people in the Third World is no longer a feasible way for the United States to advance its economic and strategic interests? And can we start to develop alternative policies based on a commitment to peace and legitimacy?

“Just let us have our constitution and election in December and then we will do what Saddam did – start with five people from each neighborhood and kill them in the streets and then go from there.” Sgt. Ahmed Sabri, 1st Brigade, 6th Army Division, Iraq.

“When we are in charge of security, the people will follow a law that says you will be sentenced to prison if you speak against the government, and, for people like Saleh Mutlak (a leading Sunni politician), there will be execution.”
Sgt. Maj. Asad al-Zubaidi, 1st Brigade, 6th Army Division, Iraq.

“These people in Amariyah (a Sunni district of Baghdad) are cowards. I swear, I swear I’ll have revenge.” Brig. General Jaleel Khalif Shwail, 1st Brigade, 6th Army Division, Iraq.

Tom Lasseter of Knight Ridder waited for months for the Green Zone press office to respond to his request for an embedded assignment with the only brigade of the “Iraqi Army” that has been fully trained to operate independently of U.S. forces. Finally, he got tired of waiting and made contact on his own, leading to an eye-opening week on patrol in mostly Sunni areas of Baghdad. The quotes above are taken from his reports, and make it only too clear where the Bush administration’s policy of handing over “security” to U.S.-trained Iraqi forces is leading.

In February I wrote, “The greatest danger facing Iraq today is that the United States will be partially successful in building and arming such a force (that will fight for the government it has set up), and that, with U.S. support, this force will continue to wage war on its own people, gradually destroying what is left of the country.” The stage is now being set for this phase of the conflict, and the best news is that only one army brigade is ready to embark on it. However, it is joining forces with equally murderous Interior Ministry Special Police Commandos, plus Kurdish Peshmerga and Shiite militias operating within or in place of police forces throughout the country.

The present U.S. strategy is to withdraw U.S. forces as the Iraqi forces go into action, training them to call in U.S. air strikes from the “permanent” bases the administration declines to disavow. As in Vietnam, once U.S. ground forces are out of harm’s way, the gloves can come off for heavier and more indiscriminate bombing and greater brutality by Iraqi auxiliaries with even less media coverage or political reaction in the U.S. The continuing hold-up is of course the lack of “fire in the belly” among the Iraqis this strategy depends on, but Lasseter’s report makes it clear that U.S. policy is gradually unleashing genocidal hatred against Sunni Arab Iraqis that is unprecedented in Iraqi history. Sgt. Sabri makes no bones about how the constitution and election will advance this process.

U.S. officials and media cite the referendum and election as constituting “democracy”, clinging to at least one seemingly positive outcome of the invasion for the Iraqi people. However, the only political choices the Americans are offering the Iraqis via this process require them to participate in the attempted takeover of their country by exiles flown in with the invasion forces and to choose between groups of them along ethnic and sectarian lines. This provides a revealing case study of the methods by which the United States has established “democratic” processes in other countries, from post-World War II Europe to the current election process in Haiti, to produce results favorable to U.S. interests. In Iraq, this has failed, and a legitimate political process can now only begin once the United States and Britain relinquish their extensive stake in the country. The choice is not between “Stay the Course” and “Cut and Run”, but between “Dirty War” and “Restore Legitimacy”. It will not be easy with so much blood already shed, but the U.N. and the international community have an extraordinary responsibility to ensure that it is in fact the latter that comes to pass.

It is worth noting that the shrouding of U.S. foreign and defense policy in mystifications like “democracy”, “freedom” and “threats” has two dangerous effects on actual policymaking. One is that it encodes general assumptions regarding overall objectives that are shared by all U.S. policymakers, bypassing any questioning of these general assumptions, however wrong or dangerous they may be. These include unrealistic notions of what military force can and cannot accomplish, which I’ll come to later.

Secondly, these mystifications serve to gloss over differences between the diverse and powerful interests brought to the table by such individuals as Richard Cheney, Colin Powell and William Frist. Thus it is probable that they and others approved the invasion and occupation of Iraq for different reasons relating to the interests they represent within the context of overall U.S. policy, making an absurdity of the idea that the interests of the American or the Iraqi people are somehow served by the resultant chaos.

The reality of Iraq beyond all the mystifications and propaganda is that the invasion has failed, but is carrying on blindly like a wrecking machine out of control because no one has the political guts to press the “Off” button. Away from public scrutiny, U.S. air forces continue to conduct daily aerial bombardments that kill more Iraqis than the “terrorist” violence reported by the U.S. media. The Iraqi “transitional government” has little authority beyond the Green Zone, except to collect and distribute oil revenues from foreign companies and to dispatch its forces to terrorize Sunni neighborhoods. A patchwork of militias and local tribal forces maintain what order there is from one town or neighborhood to the next. The infrastructure of the country is being progressively demolished even as hoodwinked Americans complain that more is being spent “to build schools” in Iraq than in the United States. The first U.S. puppet in Iraq, Iyad Allawi, now claims that the human rights situation is worse than when he worked for the Mukhabarat under Saddam Hussein.

The present U.S. administration has conducted an illegitimate and criminal foreign policy. It has violated the U.N. Charter and every international treaty and customary principle of international law regarding aggression, as well as domestic and international laws regarding torture and numerous articles of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions. Most of these violations are ongoing and systematic rather than being isolated events. It has explicitly declared its intention to continue to threaten and use military force in flagrant violation of international law in the National Defense Strategy of the U.S.A. (2005).

U.S. policymakers seem oblivious to the obvious contradiction between their lip service to democracy and freedom and their illegal actions and threats, and to the predictable ways in which other countries will respond to such behavior. In fact, their institutional worldview is a misreading of the present economic and strategic position of the United States in the world, based on the notion that it was the Soviet Union that was previously responsible for perennial U.S. frustration at the limits of American power. The demise of the Soviet Union therefore appeared as a strategic opportunity to surpass previous limits and expand U.S. dominance into areas that had previously resisted integration into its economic and political sphere. There are some differences between U.S. policymakers regarding how and when to threaten and use military force in service of this goal, but they appear to share a consensus that rejects U.S. compliance with international law as the basis for such decisions.

It does not require a radical interpretation of the Cold War to understand that the popular movements that frustrated U.S. ambitions during that period were neither products of Soviet policy nor dependent on Soviet ideology for their existence, but were local responses to real economic and political conditions, and that they often turned to the Soviets for assistance in response to extraordinary pressure from the United States. U.S. policy since the end of the Cold War has exacerbated such conditions in many countries, giving new impetus to movements for economic and political independence, and American politicians and media no longer have the Soviet Union to blame.

The choice of Iraq as a target for U.S. military action makes it clear that the Bush administration saw even this weak remnant of Pan-Arab socialist nationalism as a greater obstacle to its ambitions in the Middle East than either the Islamist alternative or the terrorists who continued to launch attacks around the world. The current threats against Syria are in spite of its assistance to the United States following September 11th 2001, which was publicly noted by the C.I.A. and prompted a special thank you visit to Damascus by the C.I.A.’s chief of counter-terrorism. The U.S. attack on its former ally, Iraq, and threats against its counter-terrorism partner, Syria, are consistent with past U.S. policy in other parts of the world, where alternative economic systems, independent alliances or, worst of all, a combination of both have consistently resulted in U.S. intervention, sometimes peaceful or covert, but often overt and violent.

In “The Great Evasion” (1964), William Appleman Williams pointed out that the general assumptions of U.S. policymakers regarding military power were formed during the immediate post-World War II period when the United States briefly held a monopoly on nuclear weapons. During this period, the fact that the U.S. could theoretically obliterate any opponent appeared seductively as a source of ultimate power. This vision of potential but elusive supreme power has haunted U.S. defense policy for sixty years in spite of nuclear proliferation and successive defeats at the hands of “chinks”, “gooks”, “skinnies” and “hajis”. Williams wrote that the successful revolutions against U.S.-backed regimes in China and Cuba “provided an excellent illustration of the way in which the mind concerned with commodities discounts the significance of people. The instruments of power were confused with the sources of power”.

The evidence that American instruments of power are not decisive as sources of power has now accumulated for another forty years since Williams wrote those words. We have seen the consequences of the same confusion that he observed repeated in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Angola, Iran, Lebanon, Somalia, Central America, Colombia and now Iraq, with only very mixed results in many other places around the world. And yet the United States has now embarked on a global policy that wagers the finite resources of our country on a massive arms build-up and relies more overtly than ever before on the threat of punishment by overwhelming military force to pressure small countries to comply with U.S. demands and interests.

In spite of sixty years of evidence, it is still incomprehensible to bureaucrats like Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld that, no matter how much of our money they spend on them, their instruments of power can still only hurt people and break things, and that people in the Third World can resist terrorism by Mark 77 “improved” napalm and M1A1 tanks as effectively as they did earlier models. In “The Roots of War” (1972), Richard Barnet wrote, “At the very moment that the United States has perfected the science of killing, it has become an impractical instrument of political domination”.

The only more recent cases that might argue against Barnet’s thesis are Grenada, Panama and Kosovo. These are problematic as precedents for successful aggression for multiple reasons, the most obvious being the small scale of those operations relative to the scope of U.S. strategic interests. At best, they may have served as a sort of bluff, a hint at what U.S. military power could accomplish on a larger scale. However, the only people taken in by this bluff were Americans, with tragic consequences.

In fact, I think we can now go one step farther than Barnet and say that we are seeing a cumulative effect by which killing is becoming increasingly counter-productive as an instrument of U.S. policy and generating greater and more effective resistance. The demise of the Soviet Union has in fact contributed to this process, as the United States has been unable to gain wide acceptance of any new narrative to replace the Cold War as a justification for its militarism. The consequences of this for U.S. policy cannot be overstated, and, in any truly rational policy-making apparatus, it would already be prompting a radical rethinking of foreign and defense policy to develop alternatives based on a genuine commitment to peaceful coexistence and compliance with international law.

The refusal to radically reassess its policies leaves the United States Government in a no-win situation. Besides the ongoing crises in Iraq and Afghanistan that are slowly crippling its gold-plated armed forces, it is facing a gradual awakening of political awareness and opposition to its policies among the American public. This should not be a surprise – war is the most powerful catalyst for political and social change, as Gabriel Kolko explained in “Century of War” (1994).

On the economic front, the failed effort to expand the U.S. economic sphere of influence by force has completely backfired, lending urgency to the development of expanded independent trade relations between Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa. U.S. financial imbalances have only been offset by stopgap measures, leaving the U.S. economy saddled with an unsustainable combination of personal, fiscal and external debt that is without precedent in human history.

The continuing U.S. aggression in Iraq and other international crimes have crystallized fears regarding American foreign and defense policy in people and governments all over the world. An Italian court has issued warrants for thirteen CIA agents, including a station chief, for the kidnapping of an Egyptian man in Milan. The European Union is aggressively investigating the presence of extrajudicial U.S. interrogation centers in Europe. Spain’s National Court has issued international arrest warrants for two officers and an NCO in the U.S. 3rd Infantry for the murder of a Spanish journalist in Baghdad on April 8th 2003. In a significant contrast with U.S. war crimes prosecutions, the Spanish warrants bypass the tank-gunner who actually fired the shell that killed Jose Couso and instead name the commander of the tank and his company and battalion commanders. These are surely only the beginning of international efforts to reassert legitimacy and civilized norms.

The American people are gradually seeing through our government’s mystifications and propaganda, partly because its plans are unraveling and partly because we and our children and friends are the ones being recruited as its “instruments of power”. Our challenge is to restrain our government’s propensity for violence and to develop legitimate and effective foreign and defense policies for the 21st century based on the fundamental commitment to peace and civilized behavior that is already explicit in the U.N. Charter and other international treaties. In practice, this will also require a commitment to social justice, human rights and economic reform, which is precisely why our present leaders have failed to honor these commitments. We, the American people, need to become real “sources of power” in order to bring about fundamental change.