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.

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Location: North Miami, Florida, United States

Monday, December 05, 2005

Killing: No Longer a Practical Instrument of Political Domination?

Published by Online Journal
http://onlinejournal.com/artman/publish/article_295.shtml

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.

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