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The war on Iraq:
Conceived in Israel

Part five

by Stephen J. Sniegoski

Posted February 10, 2003

 

 

Simply a pretext

As is now apparent, the "war on terrorism" was never intended to be a war to apprehend and punish the perpetrators of the September 11 atrocities. September 11 simply provided a pretext for government leaders to implement long-term policy plans. As has been pointed out elsewhere, including in my own writing, oil interests and American imperialists looked upon the war as a way to incorporate oil-rich Central Asia within the American imperial orbit. [81] While that has been achieved, the American-sponsored government of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan is in a perilous situation. Karzai's power seems to be limited to his immediate vicinity, and he must be protected by American bodyguards. The rest of Afghanistan is being fought over by various war lords and even the resurgent Taliban. [82] Instead of putting forth the effort to help consolidate its position in Central Asia, Washington has shifted its focus to gaining control of the Middle East.

It now appears that the primary policymakers in the Bush administration have been the Likudnik neoconservatives all along. Control of Central Asia is secondary to control of the Middle East. In fact, for the leading neocons, the war on Afghanistan may simply have been an opening gambit, necessary for reaching their ultimate and crucial goal: U.S. control of the Middle East in the interests of Israel. That is analogous to what revisionist historians have presented as Franklin D. Roosevelt's "back door to war" approach to World War II. Roosevelt sought war with Japan in order to be able to fight Germany, and he provoked Japan into attacking U.S. colonial possessions in the Far East. Once the United States got into war through the back door, Roosevelt focused the American military effort on Germany. [83]

 

The oil motive

But what about the American desire for controlling Iraqi oil? Iraq possesses the world's second-largest proven oil reserves, next to Saudi Arabia. Moreover, many experts believe that Iraq possesses vast undiscovered oil reserves, making her the near-equal of Saudi Arabia. Most critics of war allege that American oil companies' desire to gain control of Iraqi oil is what motivates U.S. war policy. Some, mostly proponents of war, have also argued that, once in control of Iraqi oil, the United States could inundate the world with cheap oil, thus boosting the American and world economies out of recession. [84]

Although the arguments have a prima facie plausibility, the oil motive for war has a couple of serious flaws. First, oil industry representatives or big economic moguls do not seem to be clamoring for war. According to oil analyst Anthony Sampson, "oil companies have had little influence on U.S. policy-making. Most big American companies, including oil companies, do not see a war as good for business, as falling share prices indicate." [85]

Further, it is not apparent that war would be good for the oil industry or the world economy. Why would Big Oil want to risk a war that could ignite a regional conflagration threatening their existing investments in the Gulf? Iraq does indeed have significant oil reserves, but there is no reason to believe that they would have an immediate impact on the oil market. Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, points out:

In terms of production capacity, Iraq represents just 3 percent of the world's total. Its oil exports are on the same level as Nigeria's. Even if Iraq doubled its capacity, that could take more than a decade. In the meantime, growth elsewhere would limit Iraq's eventual share to perhaps 5 percent, significant but still in the second tier of oil nations. [86]

A war would pose a great risk to the oil industry in the entire Gulf region. As William D. Nordhaus, Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale and a member of the President Carter's Council of Economic Advisers, writes:

War in the Persian Gulf might produce a major upheaval in petroleum markets, either because of physical damage or because political events lead oil producers to restrict production after the war.

A particularly worrisome outcome would be a wholesale destruction of oil facilities in Iraq, and possibly in Kuwait, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. In the first Persian Gulf War, Iraq destroyed much of Kuwait's oil wells and other petroleum infrastructure as it withdrew. The sabotage shut down Kuwaiti oil production for close to a year, and prewar levels of oil production were not reached until 1993 — nearly two years after the end of the war in February 1991.

Unless the Iraqi leadership is caught completely off-guard in a new war, Iraq's forces would probably be able to destroy Iraq's oil production facilities. The strategic rationale for such destruction is unclear in peacetime, but such an act of self-immolation cannot be ruled out in wartime. Contamination of oil facilities in the Gulf region by biological or chemical means would pose even greater threats to oil markets. [87]

Nordhaus's forecasts may be excessively bleak. However, the point is that the experts simply cannot gauge what will happen. War poses tremendous risk. In his evaluation of the possible economic impact of a war on Iraq, economic analyst Robert J. Samuelson concludes: "If it's peace and prosperity, then war makes no sense. But if fighting now prevents a costlier war later, it makes much sense." [88]

None of this to deny that certain oil companies might benefit from a Middle East war, just as some businesses profit from any war. Particular oil companies could stand to benefit from American control of Iraq, since under a postwar U.S.-sponsored Iraqi government, American companies could be expected to be favored and gain the most lucrative oil deals. However, that particular oil companies could derive some benefits does not undercut the overall argument that war is a great risk for the American oil industry and the American economy as a whole.

An American-imperialist strategic motive might be more plausible than the economic interests of the oil industry and the economy in general. Instead of the current informal influence over the oil producing areas of the Middle East, the United States would move into direct control, either with a puppet government in Iraq providing enough leverage for Washington to dictate to the rest of the Middle East, or actual direct U.S. control of other parts of the Middle East as well as Iraq. Presumably that state of affairs would provide greater security for the oil flow than exists under the current situation, where the client states enjoy some autonomy and face the possibility of being overthrown by anti-American forces. Neoconservative Robert Kagan maintains, "When we have economic problems, it's been caused by disruptions in our oil supply. If we have a force in Iraq, there will be no disruption in oil supplies." [89]

Neoconservatives often try to gloss over this projected American colonialism by claiming that the United States would be simply spreading democracy. They imply that "democratic" Middle East governments would support American policies, including support of Israel and an oil policy oriented toward the welfare of the United States. However, given popular anti-Zionist and anti-American opinion in the region, it seems highly unlikely that governments representative of the popular will would ever pursue such policies. Only a non-representative dictatorship could be pro-American and pro-Israeli. Zionist U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) put it candidly in calming the worries of an Israeli member of the Knesset: "You won't have any problem with Saddam. We'll be rid of the bastard soon enough. And in his place we'll install a pro-Western dictator, who will be good for us and for you." [90]

 

A truly foreign imperialism

Control of the Middle East oil supply would certainly augment U.S. domination of the world. However, American imperialists who are in no way linked to the Likudnik position on Israel — e.g., Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft — are cool to such a Middle East war. [91] If such a war policy would be an obvious boon to American imperialism, why isn't it avidly sought by leading American imperialists?

Direct colonial control of a country's internal affairs would be a significant break with American policy of the past half-century. America might have client states and an informal empire, but the direct imperialism entailed by an occupation of the Middle East would be, as Mark Danner put it in the New York Times, "wholly foreign to the modesty of containment, the ideology of a status-quo power that lay at the heart of American strategy for half a century." [92]

Moreover, a fundamental concern of American global policy has been to maintain peace and stability in the world. Washington preaches probity and restraint to other countries regarding the use of force. Hence, for the United States to launch a preemptive strike on a country would undoubtedly weaken her ability to restrain other countries, which would also see a need to preemptively strike at their foes. In short, the launching of preemptive war would destabilize the very world order that the United States allegedly seeks to preserve in her "war on terrorism." In fact, world stability is often seen as central to the global economic interdependence that is the key to American prosperity. [93]

Since America already exercises considerable power in the oil-producing Persian Gulf region through her client states — Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates — it is difficult to understand why American imperialists would make a radical change from their status-quo policy. Would the benefits to be gained from direct control of the region outweigh the risks involved? War could unleash virulent anti-American forces that could destabilize America's Middle East client states and incite terrorist attacks on the American homeland. Moreover, American military occupation of Iraq, not to mention other Middle Eastern countries, would place a heavy burden on the U.S. government and people. [94]

Would such a burden be acceptable to the American people? Would they support the brutal policies needed to suppress any opposition? In the 1950s the people of France would not support the brutality necessary to retain the colonial empire in Algeria. Even in the totalitarian Soviet Union, popular opinion forced the abandonment of the imperialistic venture in Afghanistan, which contributed to the break-up of the entire Soviet empire. In short, the move from indirect to direct control of the Middle East would strike men who were simply concerned about enhancing American imperial power as the gravest sort of risk-taking, because it could undermine America's entire imperial project.

Direct American control of the Middle East would not only prove burdensome to the American people but would also undoubtedly provoke a backlash from other countries. That almost seems to be a law of international relations — operating since the time of the balance-of-power politics practiced during the Peloponnesian War. As Christopher Layne points out:

The historical record shows that in the real world, hegemony never has been a winning grand strategy. The reason is simple: The primary aim of states in international politics is to survive and maintain their sovereignty. And when one state becomes too powerful — becomes a hegemon — the imbalance of power in its favor is a menace to the security of all other states. So throughout modern international political history, the rise of a would-be hegemon always has triggered the formation of counter-hegemonic alliances by other states. [95]

The British Empire, which might seem an exception to the rule of the inevitable failure of hegemons, achieved its success because of its caution. Owen Harries, editor of the National Interest, has pointed out that England's imperial successes stemmed from her rather cautious approach. "England," observed Harries in the Spring 2001 issue, "was the only hegemon that did not attract a hostile coalition against itself. It avoided that fate by showing great restraint, prudence and discrimination in the use of its power in the main political arena by generally standing aloof and restricting itself to the role of balancer of last resort. In doing so it was heeding the warning given it by Edmund Burke, just as its era of supremacy was beginning: 'I dread our own power and our own ambition. I dread being too much dreaded.'" Notes Harries, "I believe the United States is now in dire need of such a warning." [96]

Obviously, the American takeover of the major oil-producing area of the world would be anything but a cautious move. It would characterize a classic example of what historian Paul Kennedy refers to as "imperial over-stretch." Tied down in the Middle East, the United States would find it more difficult to counter threats to its power in the rest of the world. Even now it is questionable whether the U.S. military has the capability to fight two wars at once, a problem (from the standpoint of the U.S. regime) that has now come to the fore with the bellicosity of North Korea. [97] In essence, it is not apparent that intelligent American imperialists concerned solely about the power status of the United States, which holds preeminence in the world right now, would want to take the risk of a Middle East war and occupation.

 

No American  motive

The previous analysis leads to the conclusion not only that the neoconservatives are obviously in the forefront of the pro-war bandwagon but also that pro-Israeli Likudnik motives are the most logical, probably the only logical, motives for war. As I have noted, Likudniks have always sought to deal in a radical fashion with the Palestinian problem in the occupied territories — a problem that has gotten worse, from their standpoint, as a result of demographic changes. A U.S. war in the Middle East at the present time provides a window of opportunity to permanently solve that problem and augment Israel's dominance in the region. The existing perilous situation, as Likud thinkers see it, would justify the taking of substantial risks. And a look at history shows that countries whose leaders believed they were faced with grave problems pursued risky policies, such as Japan did in 1941. [98]

In contrast, no such dire threats face the United States. American imperialists should be relatively satisfied with the status quo and averse to taking any risks that might jeopardize it.

***

The deductions drawn in this essay seem obvious but are rarely broached in public because Jewish power is a taboo subject. As the intrepid Joseph Sobran puts it: "It's permissible to discuss the power of every other group, from the Black Muslims to the Christian Right, but the much greater power of the Jewish establishment is off-limits." [99]

So in a check for "hate" or "anti-Semitism," let's recapitulate the major points made in this essay. First, the initiation of a Middle East war to solve Israeli security problems has been a long-standing idea among Israeli rightist Likudniks. Next, Likudnik-oriented neoconservatives argued for American involvement in such a war prior to the atrocities of September 11, 2001. Since September 11, neocons have taken the lead in advocating such a war; and they hold influential foreign policy and national security positions in the Bush administration.

If Israel and Jews were not involved, there would be nothing extraordinary about my thesis. In the history of foreign policy, it has frequently been maintained that various leading figures were motivated by ties to business, an ideology, or a foreign country. In his Farewell Address, George Washington expressed the view that the greatest danger to American foreign relations would be the "passionate attachment" of influential Americans to a foreign power, which would orient U.S. foreign policy for the benefit of that power to the detriment of the United States. It is just such a situation that currently exists.

We can only look with trepidation to the near future, for in the ominous words of Robert Fisk, "There is a firestorm coming." [100]

 

February 10, 2003

 

 

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