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Notes on the War

Along with millions of people around the globe, I have marched repeatedly against the war. Along with many of my loved ones, I have walked through the streets of Washington, DC, San Francisco, and most recently, those of New York City. Individually, each of us is but one of the mass at such events. Yet together it is precisely that mass which has achieved something unprecedented in world history: An ongoing global protest against one nation's attempt to dominate the world through military force.

According to our politicians and pundits, it’s now time to put aside our differences and rally behind the flag. Regardless of whether or not there was a compelling need for the war, we are now being told to step back and say nothing as bombs fall on Baghdad. For the bipartisan hawks to say this is one thing, but for those who disagree with the war to do so is quite another. Here, for example, is what the Nation’s Eric Alterman said the other day: “For me, the antiwar movement such as it was, is over. We lost. It’s time to wish the best for our soldiers and the victims of this war and focus on building a better future.”

No. Like the war (and occupation) itself, the antiwar movement has only just begun. The cause of peace doesn’t stop just because bombs have started dropping. “A better future” for all of us would be a world in which war was genuinely the option of last resort, rather than what it is here, a first strike against an already neutralized threat. So why should people of conscience not call for pulling back, rather than endorse the use of “overwhelming force” promised by General Tommy Franks? The safety of our troops on the battlefield is in no way threatened by people calling for them to come home. It is those who want the war to move on to Tehran, Damascus and beyond who really are putting American lives in harm’s way.

Like anyone in or around New York City on 9/11, I watched and smelled the horrors of burning buildings full of lives unnecessarily being extinguished. As the “shock and awe” campaign commences, I can only relive that experience, and wonder what gives us the right to destroy a place not directly connected to the damage done here. But simply watching the current horrors unfold on television is lonely and miserable, with one’s only power being to turn off Wolf Blitzer. On the streets, however, nobody is alone.

Speaking from a Jerry Bruckheimer-designed set the other day, General Franks described a strategy “characterized by shock, by surprise, by flexibility and by the employment of precise munitions on a scale never before seen”—in short, “a campaign unlike any other in history.” Except for the munitions, let’s hope that the antiwar movement will continue to be similarly creative. Each and every time that we protest, we “shock” and “surprise” the world by reminding it that there are plenty of Americans for whom war is not a way of life.

—March 23, 2003

You Don’t Want to Hear
by Williams Cole

You don’t want to hear that Iraq is only the first place Bush plans to attack

You don’t want to hear that use of force is likely to exacerbate terrorism

You don’t want to hear that arrogance has ripped apart US diplomatic credibility

You don’t want to hear that the French should be praised for taking a stand

You don’t want to hear that now the world will shun you as an American

You don’t want to hear that the country is run by fundamentalists spouting platitudes

You don’t want to hear that the NY Post and Fox News are setting the standard

You don’t want to hear that “patriotism” is being used to bludgeon dissent

You don’t want to hear that most teenagers distrust this government

You don’t want to hear that there is a widening schism in this country

You don’t want to hear that security cannot stop all suicide bombers

You don’t want to hear that regardless of the war in Iraq, terrorists will still attack us

You don’t want to hear that war and “security” cost hundreds of billions of dollars

You don’t want to hear that the urgency to war was manufactured

You don’t want to hear that Halliburton already had contracts to rebuild Iraq

You don’t want to hear that democracy cannot be imposed on a country

You don’t want to hear that democracy is as weak as gossamer on a gun

You don’t want to hear that without outrage and action there is only silence

—March 23, 2003

Why Iraq?
Mapping Planet America

by Christian Parenti

What’s that shimmering in the heat above the Iraqi sands? Is it that fuzzy notion called democracy? No. Is it an oasis of oil profits? Sort of. But look closer and something much greater emerges: a vision of total global supremacy, Planet America.

Indeed this war is about much more than getting at oil. Rather it’s part of the ongoing project by American elites to control the entire world by direct and indirect means. More specifically, conquering Iraq is about leveraging the future economic and political directions of the E.U. and East Asia, particularly China, that region’s new economic engine. After the U.S. these are the world’s two most important and developed economic regions with massive labor forces, huge markets, high levels of investment, profitable production, advanced technology and developed infrastructures. If you were a multimillionaire rentier chances are the bulk of your loot would be invested in these core economies, not in Africa, Latin America or hinterland Russia.

During the Cold War, Europe and Asia were beholden to the U.S. for protection against Soviet power and regional communist rebellion. But that’s all gone now, so how does the U.S. leverage these possible “peer competitors”?

The key is oil, or rather American military control and influence over the Persian Gulf and Caspian Basin where most of the world’s oil lies and, crucially, where Europe and East Asia get the majority of their petroleum. Europe imports more than half of its oil mostly from the Middle East and the E.U.’s dependence on foreign petroleum is expected to rise to almost 80 percent by 2020 as North Sea reserves run dry. Economies in Asia are even more dependent: last year China got almost 60 percent of its oil from the Gulf and its energy consumption is expected to double or triple in the next two decades. Japan has only five month’s worth of reserves and 88 percent of its oil is imported from the Gulf. The American economy, on the other hand, only draws about 11 percent of its total consumption from the Middle East. The bulk of our imports come from Canada, Mexico and Venezuela.

Thus, conquering Iraq isn’t about putting more Arab oil into American S.U.V.’s so much as it is about positioning U.S. military might as the sole security arbiter and global energy cop upon which all advanced economies will be dependent. Controlling the Middle East and its oil gives America massively important political leverage over the E.U. and East Asia. As energy gendarme America will “dissuade” friends and foes alike from, say, imposing trade tariffs, or favoring local national firms over U.S.-based multinationals in contracting; it will help open markets to heavily subsidized U.S. agricultural products; it will help line up European and Asian votes when U.S. business elites want to ditch environmental, debt relief, or arms control agreements. It will generally keep the other core economies in the role of junior partners in the Global North’s domination of the Global South.

Such imperial visions are evident in the deeds and words of American political leaders dating back to at least the days of Admiral Alfred Mahan and Teddy Roosevelt at the turn of the last century. FDR also thought this way. But only with the death of the USSR is the project of Planet America actually feasible. And central to this project is preventing “the rise of a great-power competitor.” The two possible candidates for this are an independent E.U. or, down the line, China. This project of dissuading and leveraging friends is even outlined in various public documents including “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” a report from the Project for the New American Century a think tank with massive influence on the current administration. It is also hinted at in President Bush’s published “National Security Strategy of the United States.”

In the short term American control of Iraq (with the second largest oil reserves in the world) will be a boon for U.S. firms like Halliburton, the Carlyle Group and Chevron. It could also break OPEC and drive down oil prices, which in turn could kick off a national or global recovery. That already seems to be happening as markets in the first week of the war regained all their losses from last year. A recovery and relatively clean victory could then help launch Dubya to a second term. But underneath this more immediate level of politics exist that larger project of global supremacy. Clinton too pursued it; only his methods were more multilateral and less overtly aggressive. The Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo interventions were all part of the great game. As was the recent war in Afghanistan which produced a useful string of U.S. bases in Central Asia.

The price of victory in this mad quest is environmental degradation, mass civilian casualties, possible terrorist attacks here, and behemoth deficits to be funded by cutting federal aid to education, transportation and health care. Because this is a sick and unjust war and part of an equally twisted project of empire we must continue to protest and oppose it in all its manifestations no matter who is president or what seemingly plausible “humanitarian” justification is given for the brutality of running occupied Iraq or launching America’s next war.

—March 23, 2003


The Brooklyn Rail

APR-MAY 2003

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