Bill Totten's Weblog

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Whining Imperialists

by Saul Landau

ZNet Commentary (April 30 2007)

Two kinds of imperial whining have come to pervade foreign policy discussion. One relates to Bush's overextending the military so they cannot deploy to other places desperately needing their lethal capacity.

Others fixate on "American credibility". If we withdraw, an October 22 2006 Washington Post editorial declared, we forego our "moral obligation". After all the US military and Iraqi sacrifices, the US must not allow a collapse, which would occur "without the prop of 140,000 [now 170,000] US troops".

By leaving, this argument posits, we open the door to greater horror in this poor land. Bush might have made a mistake to invade and occupy, but we as a nation owe it to the Iraqis to keep our troops there until the Iraqis themselves can assume security responsibilities.

Some moralist-realists admit that as many as 650,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the March 2003 US invasion. (Lancet, October 11 2006) Nor do they dispute claims by Caritas Internationalis and Caritas Iraq (a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development, and social service organizations), showing that malnutrition rates have risen in Iraq from nineteen percent before the US-led invasion to a national average of 28 percent four years later. (March 16 2007) Caritas also claims that the causes of rising hunger relate to high levels of insecurity, collapsed healthcare and other infrastructure, increased polarization between different sects and tribes, and rising poverty.

They say that over eleven percent of Iraqi babies are born underweight, compared with a figure of four percent in 2003. Before March 2003, Iraq already had significant infant mortality due to malnutrition because of the thirteen years of UN - pushed by Washington - sanctions. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of dead, wounded and displaced, approximately one of every eight Iraqis has fled to Syria, Jordan, Iran and nearby states.

Given these brutal facts of life in Iraq under US occupation, moral responsibility somehow translates into US soldiers continuing to wreak even more havoc. Don't these pious moralists know some liberal equivalent of the old Reverend Billy Graham to pose the question: what the Hell does moral obligation mean for a nation that has destroyed another nation? When does such obligation end so that the remaining Iraqis can begin to deal with their issues without an armed and belligerent occupying force? In non-religious and indeed practical terms, Bush has used the US military as his moral tool. To bring democracy to Iraq, they destroyed the country. Now, according to the President and his "morally responsible" albeit reluctant backers, US forces must train Iraqi military and police who will then take responsibility for security.

The "logical" catch emerges when we learn that US training means Iraqi police and military learn improved methods for using US provided firearms and explosives, so as to better kill their religious and ethnic rivals and US troops. Some security!

Despite such staggering statistics of destruction and despair, Peter W Galbraith declares that "except for a relatively small number of Saddam Hussein's fellow Sunni Arabs who worked for his regime, the peoples of Iraq are much better off today than they were under Saddam Hussein". (New York Review of Books, May 13 2004)

For some who follow the imperial road, the Iraq miasma engenders a different kind of anxiety. Not only do the elite watch the US reputation and treasury being wasted, but as a March 18 Washington Post headline expressed, a more serious imperial complaint has arisen: "Military is Ill-Prepared for Other Conflicts". This banner headline should have brought forth the sound of alarm bells ringing in elite national security and transnational corporate boardrooms.

The questions in Washington's privileged clubs have become: "Has this fool in the White House exposed the weakness of the world's greatest empire with his idiotic adventures in Iraq? Since "shock and awe" didn't subdue Iraqi resistance, nor did the four subsequent years of brutal military occupation, isn't it time to withdraw?"

The media has reported that troops have begun to display signs of demoralization. Suicide rates have grown as have numbers of desertions. (Independent, August 19 2006) Articles featured Colonel Ted Westhusing, a West Point scholar, who left a suicide note for his Iraqi commanders, including General David Petraeus, who heads the current surge. "Reevaluate yourselves", he wrote. "You are not what you think you are and I know it". Westhusing warned of widely spread corruption and profiteering by American contractors in Iraq. He said he had also seen contractors killing Iraqis. (LA Times December 04 2005)

The suicidal Colonel's desperation was reflected in the report of Retired US General Barry McCaffrey. "The [Iraqi] population is in despair", concluded the former US drug czar. (Washington Post, March 27) McCaffrey had made multiple visits to Iraq and conversed with the US military brass there. The active brass shared his concern. They see Iraq as draining US military potential. The Army no longer has a brigade left "to deploy within hours to an overseas hot spot", reported Joint Chiefs boss General Peter Pace. He mentioned Iran, North Korea, or some newly disobedient place like Venezuela. Indeed, Colombia could erupt as could half a dozen unstable states in the Middle East and Africa. Or was Pace implying that "deploying" to China might one day also become an "option"? (Washington Post, March 18)

After raising doubts, Pace reassured Congress that the armed forces could deal with major contingencies. No one asked what distinguished a major contingency from Bush's decision to invade Iraq. But the military establishment had seen enough. On December 16 2005, John Murtha (Democrat, Pennsylvania) made an impassioned anti-Iraq war speech on the House floor. This former and very hawkish marine officer demanded that Bush withdraw US forces from Iraq. One reason he offered was that the un-winnable war was depleting military resources.

Heavens, a fearful citizen might ask, if the expert military command worries and they already have budgets that exceed $650 billion dollars, plus mammoth arsenals and the latest in lethal technology, what will become of us? After all, the United States only has 2.5 million members of its US armed forces, stationed at almost 800 bases in 130 countries around the world. Since the thousands of nuclear and conventional missiles of all sizes could pulverize any attacker, one must inquire: what exactly is the source of Pace's being "not comfortable" with military readiness?

"Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Venezuela, Colombia, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, North Korea, back around to Pakistan, and I probably missed a few", he intoned to Congress. "There's no dearth of challenges out there for our armed forces".

No Member asked Pace if he thought that any of the nations he mentioned might launch a serious attack against the United States or threaten our security. Indeed, such a notion would have sounded like a joke. So, why should a republic possess such a mammoth armed force, one in a constant state of readiness to deploy anywhere - or to several places at once?

US bases, as Chalmers Johnson assures us in Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (Metropolitan Books, 2007), are platforms for attacks on every other nation. That thought should make us all feel very secure in our fight against terrorism. But what use are bases or advanced weapons in fighting an enemy that will not invade or send over its air force? As we recall, the 9/11 enemy warriors used our own commercial fleet to change our lives.

The amassed armory failed to stop communism in two Asian wars; nor did the Pentagon use the weapons against the biggest and baddest commies, the USSR and China. So why do we keep amassing endless enemies? Ask those who profit?

Johnson, once an ardent Cold Warrior, now despairs over what he once saw as defense and now understands as naked imperialism. "History tells us there's no more unstable, critical configuration than the combination of domestic democracy and foreign empire. You can be one or the other. You can be a democratic country, as we have claimed in the past to be, based on our Constitution. Or you can be an empire. But you can't be both ... The causative issue is militarism. Imperialism, by definition, requires military force. It requires huge standing armies. It requires a large military-industrial complex. It requires the willingness to use force regularly. Imperialism is a pure form of tyranny. It never rules through consent, any more than we do in Iraq today." (

The irony of an empire without an imperial charter reveals itself in the whining and moaning of the powerful, those who pray and talk of moral obligations. This concern for "doing the right thing for the Iraqi people" expresses itself by hand wringing. The practical result of such moralizing is that Members of Congress continue to back Bush's occupation of Iraq. Time to pour their imperial whine into their empty bottles and uncork the republican vintage?

Landau's new book, A Bush and Botox World, was just published. His new film, We Don't Play Golf Here and other Stories of Globalization, is available on dvd through

Bill Totten


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