Geopolitica - The Age of Unilateral War - by Gabriel Kolko CounterPunch April 30, 2003

Ralph Johansen michele at
Thu May 1 18:16:22 MDT 2003

May Day May Day

<The reality is that the world is increasingly multipolar,
economically and technologically, and that the U.S.' desire to
maintain absolute military superiority over the world is a chimera.>

<The U.S. has no alternative but to accept the world as it is, or prepare
for doomsday. Unfortunately, there is not the slightest indication America
will acknowledge the limits of its aspirations. >
April 30, 2003

The Age of Unilateral War
Iraq, the United States and the End of the European Coalition

*Gabriel Kolko is the leading historian of modern warfare. He is the
author of the classic Century of War: Politics, Conflicts and Society
Since 1914 and Another Century of War?. He can be reached at:
kolko at

The disintegration of the Soviet bloc permitted American
unilateralism on a scale the modern world has never seen. But with
its war against Iraq the United States for the first time openly
massed its military power and then invaded another nation, justifying
the war in the name of the elimination of weapons of mass destruction
and "regime change." At the same time, it staked the very future of
its existing alliances--NATO above all--but also the United Nations.
NATO's demise is a major outcome of the war against Iraq.

Washington intended to recast its European alliance, especially after
its war against Serbia in the spring of 1999 revealed that the NATO
principle of unanimity among its 19-members was a major inhibition on
its freedom of action, but today its European coalition is
disintegrating prematurely for reasons it both failed to anticipate
and deplores.

Despite its military success, the Afghan war was a political failure
for the U.S. The country is today ruled by warlords, its economy is
in shambles, and even the Taliban is again attracting followers. The
U. S. has never been able to translate its superior arms into
political success, and that decisive failure is inherent in
everything it attempts. Iraq is very likely to confirm this pattern;
its regionalism and internecine ethnic strife will produce years of
instability. Rational assessments of these repeated political
failures would lead America to act far less frequently, and its
vision consciously excludes alliances that will inhibit its actions.

The war with Iraq is only the first step in the United States'
astonishingly ambitious project to recast the world. It has
identified Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as members of an "axis of
evil." Even today there is growing and formidable pressure on the
Bush Administration to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities, thereby
courting an even broader regional war. But as its "Nuclear Posture
Review" to Congress made clear in January 2002, Syria and Libya are
also "immediate" dangers, while China and even Russia "remain a
concern." The Iraq war is the beginning of a cycle.

On September 19, 2002 Bush proclaimed the United States' commitment
to fighting "pre-emptive" wars against "rogue states" that have
weapons of mass destruction or harbor "terrorists." His vision
extends far beyond the constraints inherent in alliances, much less
agreeing to conform to the decisions of the United Nations. This
"new" era in international relations, with momentous implications for
war and world peace, in fact began long before then, but it was
inevitable that the unilateralists now in charge of America's foreign
policy bring it to its logical conclusion.

Washington has decided that its allies must now accept its objectives
and work solely on its terms, and it has no intention whatsoever of
discussing the merits of its actions in NATO conferences. This
applied, above all, to the war against Iraq--a war of choice.

The U. S. submitted the Iraq issue to the UN Security Council only
because of a vain effort by Secretary of State Colin Powell to stem
the unilateralism of the dominant entourage around President Bush,
but the entire crisis revealed the impotence of traditionalists in
the State Department. The Americans based their case for military
action on the alleged existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction
(WMD) as well as Hussein's purported links with Al Qaeda terrorists.
But Israeli intelligence reported to the U.S. that Hussein had no
ties whatsoever to Bin Laden. The CIA concurred, and many of its
analysts complained publicly that the White House was forcing them to
lie on this issue.

As for WMD, the UN inspectors did not find any and the CIA was
convinced that by 1995 Hussein had few, if any, left. Much more
important, he did not use them against the invading American army,
which so far has not found any. The single most important U.S. public
justification for the Iraq war proved to be an utter falsehood. This
catastrophic lie will haunt the U.S. for years to come, because
although it proved in Iraq that it militarily could quickly defeat
what was, at best, a second-rate army, it has no political
credibility whatsoever. France saw the issue as primarily one of the
rule of agreed international law in guiding international affairs of
all nations, and regarded American behavior as both arbitrary and
unilateral. To this extent, the Iraq crisis was broader and impinges
directly on NATO's future. The French and German refusal to support
what was an obvious American obsession to eliminate a regime that it
( and Israel) deplored was vindicated, although the Security Council
could not constrain arbitrary and dangerous American action. But it
embarked on war anyway. Its real goal was political--regime
change--and it is the beginning of a cycle of interventions that may
last years; its ultimate consequences are utterly unpredictable.

The crisis in NATO was both overdue and inevitable, the result of a
decisive American reorientation, and the time and ostensible reason
for it was far less important than the underlying reason it occurred:
the U.S.' growing realization after the early 1990s that while NATO
was militarily a growing liability it still remained a political
asset. The United Nations and Security Council was strained in ways
that proved decisive but the U.S. never assigned the UN the same
crucial role as it did its alliance in Europe. The Iraq war, the casting
aside of political alliances with Europe by the US as no longer
necessary, was the final step in NATO's demise.

Today, NATO's original raison d'être for imposing American
hegemony--which was to prevent the major European nations from
pursuing independent foreign policies--is now the core of the
controversy that is now raging. Washington cannot sustain this
grandiose objective because a reunited Germany is far too powerful to
be treated as it was a half-century ago, and Germany has its own
interests in the Middle East and Asia to protect. Germany and
France's independence was reinforced by wholly inept American
propaganda on the relationship of Iraq to Al-Qaeda (from which the
CIA and British MI6 openly distanced themselves), overwhelming
antiwar public opinion in most nations, and a great deal of
opposition within the U. S. establishment and many senior American
officers to the war with Iraq. The furious American response to
Germany, France, and Belgium's refusal, under article 4 of the NATO
treaty, to protect Turkey from an Iraqi counterattack because that
would prejudge the Security Council's decision on war and peace was
only a contrived reason for confronting fundamental issues that have
simmered for years. The dispute was far more about symbolism than
substance, and the point was made: some NATO members refused to allow
the organization to serve as a rubber stamp for American policy,
whatever it may be.

Turkey's problem was simple: the U. S. pressured it, despite
overwhelmingly antiwar Turkish public and political opinion, to allow
American troops to invade Iraq from Turkey--in effect, to enter the
war on its side. The U.S. wanted NATO to aid Turkey in order to
strengthen the Ankara government's resolve to ignore overwhelmingly
antiwar domestic opinion. The arms it was to receive were
superfluous. But the Turks have always been far more concerned with
Kurdish separatism in Iraq rekindling the civil war that Kurds have
fought in Turkey for much of the past decade, and the conditions they
demanded on these issues put Washington in a very difficult position
from which it could not extricate itself. The U.S. naively took
Turkey for granted, as it has for many decades, tying up its most
modern armor division offshore its coast on the assumption it could
also invade Iraq from the north. An important faction of the
government deliberately protracted negotiations with the U.S. in the
hope of preventing the war altogether.

Turkey's best--and most obvious--defense was to stay out of the war,
which the vast majority of Turks wanted. After incessant haggling, it
ended up doing so, and its relations with the U. S. are now very
strained, perhaps irreparably. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Turkish
troops are massed at the Iraq border and they will march if the Kurds
keep Kirkuk, declare de facto independence, or in some way threaten
Turkish interests. A crisis may not occur in the coming weeks, but it
is a constant threat in the future. For the U.S. it is a nightmare
which can easily become reality.

Geopolitically, the consummately ambitious American plan for
restructuring the Middle East's politics, making it more congenial to
itself as well as to Israel, is very likely to fail. Arab
opinion--even among those once friendly to the U.S.--was
overwhelmingly antiwar and passionately angry, a fact that will only
increase terrorism's appeals and its dangers to Americans and their
allies. The vast majority of Arabs believe that the outcome of the
war on Iraq will be instability for the entire region.

There is no longer an Iraqi balance to Iranian predominance in the
Gulf region, a fact that has untold geopolitical implications. Saudi
Arabia at the end of April asked the United States to abandon its
ultra-modern bases quickly, which it has agreed to do, and the Saudis
have made a grudging move to make peace with the detested Iranian
Shia regime. Washington supported Hussein in his war with Iran
throughout the 1980s, providing him credits, intelligence, and vital
military support, solely to contain Iran, and now Iraq is incapable
of playing that role. Turkey is likely to intervene, in one way or
another, to control the Kurds in northern Iraq--what may occur there
is wholly unpredictable and will be a vital question in the years to
come. But while America will very likely keep a much larger military
presence in the region for many years, using Iran as an
excuse, it cannot oppose the Turks without shattering the illusion of
its alliance with it--and NATO. War with Iraq has created a vast
number of uncontrollable geopolitical dangers throughout the region.

Iran's role is of overwhelming importance to the U.S.--and to Israel.
It is militarily far more formidable than Iraq and will have nuclear
weapons in due course--the timing is much disputed. Iran's principal
concern is Israel, its nuclear weapons and delivery systems, and Iran
has neither the intention nor the technology to reach beyond it. The
obvious solution is to create a nuclear-free zone enforced by
international inspection, an option Israel is most unlikely to
accept.. "The war in Iraq is just the beginning," former prime
minister Shimon Peres said on Israeli television last February. Will
the U.S. "drain the swamp" in the region, as the neoconservatives
advocate, even including Saudi Arabia among the regimes to be
toppled? Washington is divided on this specific issue but not on the
question of its commitment to an aggressive foreign policy globally.
What inhibits it most is Iraq's political chaos, which it may
increasingly feel obligated to resolve before it confronts more
wayward nations, and the immense costs of the American way of making
war--costs its former allies are unwilling to share.

The End of Alliances

America still desires to regain the mastery over Europe it had during
the peak of the Cold War but it is also determined not to be bound by
European desires--or indeed by the overwhelming European public
opposition to the war with Iraq. Genuine dialogue or consultation
with its NATO allies is out of the question. The Bush Administration,
even more than its predecessors, simply does not believe in it--nor
will it accept NATO's formal veto structure; NATO's division on
Turkey has nothing to do with it. Washington cannot have it both
ways. Its commitment to aggressive unilateralism is the antithesis of
an alliance system that involves real consultation. France and
Germany are now far too powerful to be treated as obsequious
dependents, and the meeting at the end of April between these two
nations and Belgium--although still vague in its implications--is an
important step in the direction of NATO's breakup and the creation of
an autonomous bloc that Washington cannot control. These states also
believe in sovereignty, as does every nation which is strong enough
to exercise it, and they are now able to insist that the United
States both listen to and take their views seriously. It was
precisely this danger that the U.S. sought to forestall when it
created NATO over 50 years ago.

The controversy over NATO's future has been exacerbated by Secretary
of Defense Rumsfeld's attacks on "Old Europe" and the disdain for
Germany and France that he and his close adviser, Richard Perle, have
repeated. But the underlying problems over the alliance's future have
been smoldering for years. Together, the nations that opposed a
preemptive American war in Iraq and the Middle East--an open-ended,
destabilizing adventure that is likely to last indefinitely--will
influence Europe's future development and role in the world
profoundly. Although they do not have armies comparable to the
American, they have great and growing economies. If Russia cooperates
with them, even only occasionally, they will be much more powerful,
and President Putin's support for their position on the war makes
that a real possibility.

Eastern European nations may say what Washington wishes on Iraq, but
economically they are far more dependent on Germany and those allied
with it. When the 15 nations in the European Union met last February 17
their statement on Iraq was far closer to the German-French position
than the American, reflecting the anti-war nations' economic clout as
well as the response of some pro-war political leaders to the massive
antiwar demonstrations that have taken place in Italy, Spain, Britain
and the rest of Europe. There is every likelihood that the U.S. will
emerge from this crisis in NATO more belligerent, and more isolated
and detested, than ever.

The Bush Administration does not believe it needs allies, and this
erroneous presumption is changing the nature of global power and will
lead to the U. S. being isolated. It is folly to guess the next
American move, for the war in Afghanistan also destabilized
Pakistan--a nuclear power--and North Korea is high on the president's
list of evil states. Given its global ambitions and commitments, the
U.S. may very well be drawn elsewhere, and soon. The men who lead it
now are capable of anything.

The world has reached the most dangerous point in recent history, one
full of threats of wars and instability unlike anything which
prevailed when a Soviet-led bloc existed. The war against Iraq and
those very likely to follow it are the logic of United States foreign
and military policies, one that assumes it has a near monopoly of
power, that emerged first after the collapse of Communism. The Bush
Administration has brought them to their inevitable culmination.

There should be no doubt that the Cold War geopolitical legacies are
ending and a new configuration of nations is in the process of being
created. It is a mistake to think that America's quick defeat of the
demoralized, corrupt Iraqi regime reflects its new technological
military prowess rather than Hussein's political weakness. Rumsfeld
wishes to trumpet to strength of the Pentagon's arms but this
conclusion is scarcely justified by the facts. Military triumph, in
any case, can scarcely be equated with political success--and it is
politics that counts most in the long run.

The reality is that the world is increasingly multipolar,
economically and technologically, and that the U.S.' desire to
maintain absolute military superiority over the world is a chimera.
Russia remains a military superpower, China is becoming one, and the
world should have confronted and stopped the proliferation of
destructive weaponry 20 years ago. It can only be done, if it is
still possible, by international accords and bodies--such as the
UN--which the United States rejects as a constraint on its power. The
U.S. has no alternative but to accept the world as it is, or prepare
for doomsday.

Unfortunately, there is not the slightest indication America will
acknowledge the limits of its aspirations. The crisis in NATO and the
dissolution of its dominant role in Europe reflects this diffusion of
all forms of power and the diminution of American hegemony, which
remains far more an unattainable aspiration than a reality.

More information about the Marxism mailing list