The Bush Administration is blundering into a global conflagration. There is currently no force within the U.S. likely to stop it. It is up to the rest of the world, and especially America’s friends and allies — both governments and their citizens — to constrain its rush to disaster.
The Bush administration was warned by its European and Arab allies and its friends around the world to avoid:
A long bombing campaign with significant civilian casualties in Afghanistan. –Seizure of Kabul by the Northern Alliance. Bombing Afghanistan during Ramadan. Failure to reestablish the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Each of these warnings was ignored. And the emerging result of these and similar Bush Administration policies is a vast global destabilization that is acquiring a momentum going far beyond the responses to September 11. As The New York Times reports, “new battlegrounds” have opened up “from the Palestinian territories to Kashmir.”
Whether or not the war in Afghanistan was justified, the issue is no longer about destroying Al Qaeda, or removing the repressive Taliban regime, or even whether the U.S. will attack Iraq.
The issue is now an emerging world crisis provoked by a superpower administration that is acting without rational consideration of the effects of its actions. The number of additional civil and international wars it may stir up is simply incalculable — and certainly is not being rationally calculated by the Bush administration.
This represents a new stage in testing what it means to be the world’s only superpower. As a German official put it in The New York Times, in the past Washington determined its national interest in shaping international rules, behavior, and institutions.
“Now Washington seems to want to pursue its national interest in a more narrowly defined way, doing what it wants and forcing others to adapt.”
The Bush Administration has a list of dozens of countries for possible intervention, and it is presently debating who’s next. “Pentagon officials have openly agitated to finish off Mr. [Saddam] Hussein…. Recently an American delegation from the State Department was in northern Iraq, discussing activities in that part of Iraq with Kurdish leaders… [S]ome administration officials say that Pakistan may be where the next phase of the war must unfold.”
Somalia, the Sudan, the Philippines — the shopping list goes on and on.
The Bush administration’s global destabilization is not limited to the war on terrorism. U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty is initiating a new nuclear arms race.
Joseph Biden, Jr., the chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, cites widely reported U.S. intelligence community conclusions that “pulling out of ABM would prompt the Chinese to increase their nuclear arsenal tenfold, beyond the modernization they are doing anyway…. And when they build up, so will the Indians, and when the Indians do, so will the Pakistanis. And for what? A system no one is convinced will work.”
It is an illusion to believe that the U.S. is in any way in control of events. Consider the mid-East peace process. Just as Bush and Powell were rolling out a major peace initiative, the combination of war parties in Israel and Palestine sabotaged it completely.
The U.S. then tilted wildly toward the very forces in Israel that had sabotaged the U.S. initiative. The attack on the Indian parliament — believed by our new friend India to have been organized with the connivance of our old friend Pakistan — threatens to provoke a war that the U.S. will now be in the middle of.
The U.S. justification for its attack on Afghanistan as “harboring terrorists” has already been echoed almost word for word by India, Israel, Russia, and China for their own purposes. The use of the “right of self-defense” as a justification for a unilateral decision to attack any country one accuses of harboring terrorists provides a pretext that any national leader can now use to make war against anyone it chooses in complete disregard of international law.
There is something that peoples and governments around the world need to understand: There are currently no effective internal constraints on what the Bush Administration can or will do. Because of popular response to the September 11 attacks, the Administration feels –correctly, at least for a time — that it can do anything without having to fear dissent or opposition.
It withdrew from the AMB treaty with barely a ripple of public questioning. Its endorsement of Sharon’s attacks on the Palestinian Authority wins overwhelming Congressional support. Open advocacy of a military attack and occupation of Iraq causes no stir.
The peace movement that has challenged Bush administration policies may become a significant restraint in the future, but it isn’t now.
Nor is there any effective institutional constraint. The U.S. Congress has almost unanimously given the Administration a blank check to conduct any military operations it chooses.
Practical concerns of senior military officers at the Pentagon are apparently ignored by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his ubiquitous supporters. Secretary of State Colin Powell, looked to by many as a source of reason and restraint, has been unable to make the Administration heed any of the warnings listed above. It is hard to detect any indication of a business or foreign policy “Establishment” putting any constraints on the unleashing of US power.
Most serious of all is a lack of constraint based on rational evaluation of long-term consequences. As an “exuberant senior aide” put it recently, the Bush administration is “on a roll”; its “biggest concern” is “how to make maximum use of the military as well as the diplomatic momentum he has built up abroad and the political capital he has accumulated at home.”
As an article in The Guardian entitled “Washington hawks get power boost: Rumsfeld is winning the debate” puts it, “For the time being, at least, there is little in Washington to stop Mr. Rumsfeld chasing America’s foes all the way to Baghdad.”
A time for friends to help friends
The U.S. in the Cold War era at least purported to be protecting its allies. But today, as the U.S. projects its power unilaterally, it friends and allies are the ones most likely to feel the blowback from destabilization in the form of terrorism, refugees, recession, and war.
It is up to governments and civil society outside the U.S. to put constraints on what it does — both for their own sake and for America’s.
In the Suez Crisis of 1956, the armies of Britain, France, and Israel invaded Egypt and began advancing on the Suez Canal. The U.S. under President Eisenhower intervened — not to support the invaders but to restrain them. It is time for the world to return the favor. For example:
* A “coalition” in which the U.S. Goliath cuts a separate deal with each “coalition partner” is a formula for U.S. dictation. U.S. coalition partners must insist that the U.S. spell out its intentions for open world discussion before they agree to provide any support.
* U.S. coalition partners with few exceptions oppose U.S. attacks on Iraq, Somalia, the Sudan, or anywhere else. Yet it is no secret that planning for such attacks is under way in Washington. Coalition partners must move from private grumbling to a concerted public united front against such actions.
* The U.N. can serve as an arena for challenging and providing alternatives to superpower supremacy. At the least, the U.S. can be forced to isolate itself by vetoing resolutions that run counter to its unilateralism.
(The Security Council recently voted 12 to 1, with Britain and Norway abstaining, for a resolution calling for international monitors in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The U.S. vetoed the resolution — thereby isolating itself from many of its own “coalition partners.”)
Strong, unified, public endorsement of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s campaign against an attack on Iraq would have a big impact in the U.S. at this point.
* It has been widely reported in the U.S. that foreign critics of the war in Afghanistan have now concluded that they were wrong because the war was short and because it freed Afghans, especially women, from the tyranny of the Taliban.
This is being used in Washington to argue that popular opinion abroad need not be regarded as an impediment to further U.S. attacks elsewhere. Washington needs to hear a clear message that that is not the case.
* There are concrete ways in which people and governments can begin putting the brakes on Washington. The refusal of European countries to extradite suspects who may be subject to military tribunals or the death penalty provides an excellent example.
This is going to be a long struggle, not just about one policy, but about a basic historical tendency of the world’s only superpower. It is sad but true that the rest of the world may not have enough leverage in the short run to stop the U.S. from attacking whomever it chooses to target next. But it is time to begin laying the groundwork for a long-term strategy of containment.
Such international pressure can serve as a deterrent to the craziest actions the Bush administration is considering. For example, press reports suggest that opposition from Russia, Europe, and Arab countries may be leading Bush’s advisors at least to delay an attack on Iraq on the grounds that “there is insufficient international backing.”
If U.S. friends and coalition partners toll the alarm bell, it will begin to evoke different responses in Congress, the Pentagon, corporate elites, and the American public as well, especially as the untoward consequences of the Bush administration juggernaut become apparent.
Without an outside wake-up call, these forces are currently prepared to plunge into the abyss in an empty-minded trance.
Restraining the Bush Administration is anything but anti-American. It is the best thing America’s friends can do for us right now. We have a slogan here: “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.”
PLEASE: America’s friends need to take the car keys away until this power-drunk superpower sobers up.
*Jeremy Brecher is an historian and the author of twelve books, including GLOBALIZATION FROM BELOW, and producer of the video documentary GLOBAL VILLAGE OR GLOBAL PILLAGE? (website: www.villageorpillage.org) Anyone is welcome to forward or reprint this piece.