By Kathleen Christison – CounterPunch
About ten days ago I had a particularly interesting discussion about Israel and its relationship to U.S. policy in the Middle East and to the events swirling there now, in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. My interlocutor is one of the most astute commentators, particularly on U.S. policy, in the alternative media, but he made it clear that, to his mind, Israel does not play a role of any notable relevance to what the United States is doing in the region.
I would say that he has a bit of a blind spot about Israel — a not uncommon phenomenon among progressive thinkers. But perhaps the current turmoil in the region will ultimately open his eyes and those of others who minimize Israel’s centrality to U.S. policy. Recent events unfolding in Egypt and surrounding Wikileaks-released State Department cables and al-Jazeera-released Palestinian papers dealing with Palestinian-Israeli talks are demonstrating graphically, as no other series of events probably ever has, that the United States does what it does in the Middle East in great measure because of Israel — to protect and safeguard Israel from Arab neighbors who object to its treatment of its Palestinian subjects, from Muslims with similar grievances, from criticism of Israel’s military exploits against neighboring states, from the ire of other states still threatened by Israel, from governments in the region that challenge Israel’s nuclear monopoly or attempt to develop their own arsenals to defend against Israel.
It is instructive to remember that Egypt is important to the United States almost entirely because it signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and helps guarantee Israel’s security, guarding its western border, helping its military assaults on other Arab countries, closing the tunnels into Gaza through which Hamas smuggles some weapons and the Gazan population obtains food and other essentials, undermining Hamas’s rule in Gaza. The United States also regards Egypt as an important cog in the machine of its “war on terror” and its war on Islamic radicalism, a collaboration also closely linked to Israel’s security interests.
Egypt is obviously important in the region in its own right. Its size and strategic location guarantee that it will always have considerable influence in Middle East politics, and it has long been the heart of Arab culture, even without U.S. help. The last three weeks of the Egyptian people’s struggle for democracy have further enhanced its importance, capturing the imagination of people around the world (with the exception of many, perhaps the majority, in Israel and among the curmudgeonly right in the United States, including Israel’s U.S. supporters).
But the fundamental reality is that the United States would not have the close military, political, and economic relationship it has had with Egypt for the last thirty-plus years were it not for the fact that Egypt is friendly with Israel and the fact that, in the words of Middle East expert Rashid Khalidi, Egypt has always acquiesced “in Israel’s regional hegemony.” The $1.5 billion annually in military aid, and the $28 billion in economic and development assistance across the last 35 years would not have been given had not Mubarak’s predecessor Anwar Sadat virtually begged for and then finally signed a peace treaty with Israel that removed Egypt, the largest Arab military force, as a threat to Israel, abandoning the Palestinians and the other Arab parties to their own devices. With Egypt out of the picture and indeed often assisting, Israel has been free to launch military assaults on several of its neighbors, including Lebanon twice and Gaza and the West Bank repeatedly, and free to expand settlements, absorb Palestinian territory, and severely oppress Palestinians without fear of retaliation or even significant disagreement from any Arab army.
Israeli commentator Aluf Benn has pointed out furthermore that, with Mubarak in office, Israel could always feel safe about its western flank if it were to attack Iran, but now Israel will not dare attack when it can no longer rely on Egypt’s “tacit agreement to its actions.” Whoever replaces Mubarak would, by this reasoning, be too concerned about popular rage if he were to collaborate with Israel. “Without Mubarak, there is no Israeli attack on Iran.”
For Israel and therefore for the United States, the U.S. investment of billions in Egypt over the years has been well worth the cost. The loss of the “stability” that Egypt provided — meaning Israel’s loss of certainty that it remained the secure regional dominant power — has been a huge game-changer for Israeli and U.S. strategic calculations.
Before the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, the United States never considered that Egypt was quite the strategic asset that it became when it surrendered its military capability in the interests of Israel. The same can be said about the United States’ relations with several other Arab states. Its involvement in Lebanon over the years — including its effort to remove Syrian forces from Lebanon — has been almost entirely linked to Israel’s interests there. The fallout from Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon still reverberates: in response to the invasion, the United States sent a contingent of Marines, which became involved in direct fighting with Lebanese factions, leading in turn to a devastating bombing of Marine headquarters that killed 241 U.S. personnel in 1983; Hizbullah, representing a besieged Shiite population in southern Lebanon, arose as a direct result of Israel’s invasion; the spate of kidnappings of U.S. personnel by Hizbullah throughout the 1980s grew out of hostility to the U.S. because of its support for Israel; Israel withdrew from a two-decade-long occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000, leaving behind a strengthened Hizbullah; continued conflict along the border led to Israel’s brutal assault on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, which failed to defeat the Islamic organization or undermine its popularity; and as a result, the United States has for years pursued efforts to undermine Hizbullah and, essentially, to maintain Lebanon as an Israeli sinecure.
Jordan has been a minor U.S. ally for decades, but its conclusion of a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 enhanced its standing in U.S. eyes and gained the small state on Israel’s eastern border additional U.S. military and economic aid. The State Department’s official profile of Jordan relates the U.S. rationale for its good relationship with Jordan more or less directly to Israel, although without ever mentioning Israel: “U.S. policy seeks to reinforce Jordan’s commitment to peace, stability, and moderation. The peace process and Jordan’s opposition to terrorism parallel and indirectly assist wider U.S. interests. Accordingly, through economic and military assistance and through close political cooperation, the United States has helped Jordan maintain its stability and prosperity.” The allusions to “reinforcing” Jordan’s commitment to “peace, stability, and moderation” and to maintaining Jordan’s “stability and prosperity” are obvious references to helping keep the area, and particularly Israel’s border, quiet. Just as clearly, “indirectly assist[ing] wider U.S. interests” refers to the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security interests. “Moderation” in State Department jargon is a code word for a pro-Israeli stance; “stability” is code for a secure environment that benefits Israel primarily.
It is safe to say that neither Lebanon nor Jordan would be at all as important to the United States if it were not considered necessary to keep each of these bordering countries in a stable, quiescent state for Israel’s security. The same situation does not apply in Saudi Arabia, where the U.S. has vital oil interests quite apart from Israel’s concerns. But at the same time, it is the case that the U.S. has managed to tame any Saudi impulse to speak out on behalf of the Palestinians, or any other Arabs under Israeli siege, and align the Saudis at least implicitly on the Israeli side of most issues, whether this is the 2006 attack on Lebanon or the 2008-2009 assault on Gaza or the supposed threat from Iran. The day when the Saudis were angry enough with United States over its support for Israel to impose an oil embargo, as occurred in 1973, is long over.
The recent Wikileaks releases of State Department cables and particularly al-Jazeera’s release of a raft of Palestinian documents dealing with negotiations over the last decade also demonstrate with striking clarity how hard the United States works, and has always worked, to help Israel in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiating process. U.S. support for Israel has never been a secret, becoming less and less so in recent years, but the leaked documents provide the most dramatic picture yet of the United States’ total disdain for all Palestinian negotiating demands and its complete helplessness in the face of Israeli refusal to make concessions. It is striking to note from these papers that the U.S. role as “Israel’s lawyer” — a description coined by Aaron David Miller after his involvement in negotiations during the Clinton era — is the same whether the administration is Bill Clinton’s or George W. Bush’s or Barack Obama’s. Israel’s interests and demands always prevail.
Beyond the Arab world, U.S. policy on Iran is dictated more or less totally by Israel. The pressure to attack Iran — either a U.S. attack or U.S. support for an Israeli attack — which has been brought to bear for most of the eight years since the start of the war on Iraq, has come entirely from Israel and its supporters in the United States. This pressure is quite open and impossible to deny the way Israel’s pressure for the attack on Iraq has been. If the United States ever does become involved in a military assault on Iran either directly or through backing up Israel, this will be because Israel wanted it; if there is no attack, this will most likely be, as Aluf Benn surmises, because Israel got cold feet in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution.
Israel, and the desire to ensure its regional hegemony, also played a substantial role in leading the United States into war in Iraq, although this view is a harder sell and a much more controversial position among progressives and conservatives alike than is anything else about U.S.-Israel-Arab relationships.
My progressive interlocutor, for instance — who has strongly opposed the U.S. adventure in Iraq, equally strongly opposes any possibility of an attack on Iran, and was undoubtedly uncomfortable with U.S. vacillation about pressing for Mubarak’s departure — disagreed totally with my suggestion that Israel and its neocon supporters were a factor in getting the United States into the Iraq war. Early in our discussion, he talked at length about the neocons, their erstwhile think tank, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), and the overriding neocon-PNAC interest in advancing U.S. global hegemony, and he made the point that when George W. Bush came to power, an entire think tank was moved into the administration. But, despite this recognition of neocon objectives and the success they enjoyed in advancing them, he would not agree that PNAC and the neocons were as much interested in advancing Israel’s regional hegemony as they were in furthering U.S. imperialism.
When, on the other hand, I observed that not only had Bush moved a think tank into the administration, he had also effectively moved the Israel lobby, or its then most active wing, into the highest rungs of his administration’s policymaking councils, my friend readily agreed: oh, of course, he asserted quite vigorously, they — meaning the neocons — “are all Likudniks.” There is some kind of disconnect here, which he seemed not to notice: although, on the one hand, he acknowledged the neocons’ very close connection to Israel, he does not on the other hand agree that the neocons did anything in a policy sense for Israel. As if they had checked their pro-Israel sympathies at the doors of the White House and the Pentagon when they officially became policymakers. As if they had discarded their own long history of pro-Israel advocacy and the policy guidance that many of them had long been giving to Israeli leaders — guidance that included an actual advisory written for the Israeli government in 1996 to move against Iraq.
It has been clear to most analysts for years, even decades, that the United States favors Israel, but this reality has never been revealed so explicitly until recent events laid the relationship bare, and laid bare the fact that Israel is at the center of virtually every move the United States makes in the region. There has long been a taboo on talking about these realities, a taboo that has tied the tongues of people like my interlocutor. People do not mention Israel because they might be called anti-Semitic, they might be attacked as “singling out” Israel for criticism; the media fail to discuss Israel and what it does around the Middle East and, most directly, to the Palestinians who live under its rule because this might provoke angry letters to the editor and cancelled subscriptions by Israel supporters. Congressmen will not endanger campaign funds by talking honestly about Israel. And so Israel is taken off everyone’s radar screen. Progressives may “mention Israel in passing,” as my friend told me, but they do no more. Ultimately, because no one talks about it, everyone stops even thinking about Israel as the prime mover behind so many U.S. policies and actions in the Middle East.
It is time we began noticing. Everyone in the Middle East already notices, as the Egyptian revolution has just made clear. And probably everyone throughout the world also notices. We should begin listening to the world’s people, not to their leaders, who tell us what they think we want to hear.
Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst and the author of several books on the Palestinian situation, including Palestine in Pieces, co-authored with her late husband Bill Christison. She can be reached at email@example.com.
By Frida Berrigan – Common Dreams
On the relatively rare occasions when the media turns its attention to U.S. weapons sales abroad and shines its not-so-bright spotlight on the latest set of facts and figures, it invariably speaks of “the global arms trade.”
Let’s consider that label for a moment, word by word:
*It is global, since there are few places on the planet that lie beyond the reach of the weapons industry.
*Arms sounds so old-fashioned and anodyne when what we’re talking about is advanced technology designed to kill and maim.
*And trade suggests a give and take among many parties when, if we’re looking at the figures for that “trade” in a clear-eyed way, there is really just one seller and so many buyers.
How about updating it this way: “the global weapons monopoly.”
In 2008, according to an authoritative report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), $55.2 billion in weapons deals were concluded worldwide. Of that total, the United States was responsible for $37.8 billion in weapons sales agreements, or 68.4% of the total “trade.” Some of these agreements were long-term ones and did not result in 2008 deliveries of weapons systems, but these latest figures are a good gauge of the global appetite for weapons. It doesn’t take a PhD in economics to recognize that, when one nation accounts for nearly 70% of weapons sales, the term “global arms trade” doesn’t quite cut it.
Consider the “competition” and reality comes into focus. Take a guess on which country is the number two weapons exporter on the planet: China? Russia? No, Italy, with a relatively paltry $3.7 billion in agreements with other countries or just 9% of the U.S. market share. Russia, that former Cold War superpower in the “trade,” was close behind Italy, with only $3.5 billion in arms agreements.
U.S. weapons manufacturers have come a long way, baby, since those Cold War days when the United States really did have a major competitor. For instance, the Congressional Research Service’s data for 1990, the last year of the Soviet Union’s existence, shows global weapons sales totaling $32.7 billion, with the United States accounting for $12.1 billion of that or 37% of the market. For its part, the Soviet Union was responsible for a competitive $10.7 billion in deals inked that year. France, China, and the United Kingdom accounted for most of the rest.
Since then, the global appetite for weapons has only grown more voracious, while the number of purveyors has shrunk to the point where the Pentagon could hang out a sign: “We arm the world.” No kidding, it’s true.
Cambodia ($304,000), Comoros ($895,000), Colombia ($256 million), Guinea ($200,000), Greece ($225 million), Great Britain ($1.1 billion), the Philippines ($72.9 million), Poland ($79.8 million), and Peru ($16.4 million) all buy U.S. arms, as does almost every country not in that list. U.S. weapons, and only U.S. weapons, are coveted by presidents and prime ministers, generals and strongmen.
From the Pentagon’s own data (which differs from that in the CRS report), here are the top ten nations which made Foreign Military Sales agreements with the Pentagon, and so with U.S. weapons makers, in 2008:
Saudi Arabia $6.06 billion
Iraq $2.50 billion
Morocco $2.41 billion
Egypt $2.31 billion
Israel $1.32 billion
Australia $1.13 billion
South Korea $1.12 billion
Great Britain $1.10 billion
India $1 billion
Japan $840 million
That’s more than $17 billion in weapons right there. Some of these countries are consistently eager buyers, and some are not. Morocco, for example, is only in that top-ten list because it was green-lighted to buy 24 of Lockheed Martin’s F-16 fighter planes at $360 million (or so) for each aircraft, an expensive one-shot deal. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia (which inked $14.71 billion in weapons agreements between 2001 and 2008), Egypt ($13.25 billion) and Israel ($11.27 billion) are such regular customers that they should have the equivalent of one of those “buy 10, get the 11th free” punch cards doled out by your favorite coffee shop.
To sum up, the U.S. has a virtual global monopoly on exporting tools of force and destruction. Call it market saturation. Call it anything you like, just not the “global arms trade.”
Getting Even More Competitive?
It used to be that the United States exported goods, products, and machinery of all sorts in prodigious quantities: cars and trucks, steel and computers, and high-tech gizmos. But those days are largely over.
The Obama administration now wants to launch a green manufacturing revolution in the U.S., and in February, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced a new “National Export Initiative” with the aim of doubling American exports, a move he said would support the creation of two million new jobs. The U.S. could, of course, lose the renewable-energy race to China and that new exports program may never get off the ground. In one area, however, the U.S. is manufacturing products that are distinctly wanted — things that go boom in the night — and there the Pentagon is working hard to increase market share.
Don’t for a second think that the American global monopoly on weapons sales is accidental or unintentional. The constant and lucrative growth of this market for U.S. weapons makers has been ensured by shrewd strategic planning. Washington is constantly thinking of new and inventive ways to flog its deadly wares throughout the world.
How do you improve on near perfection? In the interest of enhancing that “competitive” edge in weapons sales, the Obama administration is investigating the possibility of revising export laws to make it even easier to sell military technology abroad. As Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morell explained in January, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wants to see “wholesale changes to the rules and regulations on government technology exports” in the name of “competitiveness.”
When he says “government technology exports,” Morell of course means weapons and other military technologies. “Tinkering with our antiquated, bureaucratic, overly cumbersome system is not enough to maintain our competitiveness in the global economy and also help our friends and allies buy the equipment they need to contribute to global security,” he continued, “[Gates] strongly supports the administration’s efforts to completely reform our export control regime, starting ideally with a blank sheet of paper.”
The laws that regulate U.S. weapons exports are a jumbled mess, but in essence they delineate what the United States can sell to whom and through what bureaucratic mechanisms. According to U.S. law, for example, there are actually a few countries that cannot receive U.S. weapons. Myanmar under the military junta and Venezuela while led by Hugo Chavez are two examples. There are also some weapons systems that are not intended for export. Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor jet fighter was — until the Pentagon recently stopped buying the plane — deemed too sophisticated or sensitive to sell abroad. And there are reporting requirements that give members of Congress a window of opportunity within which they can question or oppose proposed weapons exports.
Given what’s being sold, these export controls are remarkably minimal in nature and are constantly under assault by the weapons industry. Bans on weapons sales to particular countries are regularly lifted through aggressive lobbying. (Indonesia, for example, was offered $50 million in weapons from 2006 to 2008 after an almost decade long congressional arms embargo.) The industry also works to relax controls on new technology exports to allies. Japan and Australia have mounted campaigns to win the ability to buy F-22 Raptors, potential sales that Lockheed Martin is now especially happy to entertain. The reporting window to Congress remains an important export control, but the time frame is shrinking as more countries are being “fast tracked,” making it harder for distracted representatives to react when a controversial sale comes up.
In addition to revising these export controls, the administration is looking at the issue of “dual-use” technologies. These are not weapons. They do not shoot or explode. Included are high-speed computer processors, surveillance and detection networks, and a host of other complex and evolving technologies that could have military as well as civilian applications. This category might also include intangible items like cyber-entities or access to controlled web environments.
Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and other major weapons manufacturers have invested billions of dollars from the Pentagon’s research and development budgets in exploring and perfecting such technologies, and now they are eager to sell them to foreign buyers along with the usual fighter planes, combat ships, and guided missiles. But the rules as they stand make this something less than a slam dunk. So the weapons industry and the Pentagon are arguing for “updating” the rules. If you translate updating as “loosening” the rules, then the United States would indeed be more “competitive,” but who exactly are we trying to beat?
Weapons Sales are Red Hot
“What’s Hot?” is the title of Vice Admiral Jeffrey Wieranga’s blog entry for January 4, 2010. Wieranga is the Director of the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which is charged with overseeing weapons exports, and such pillow talk is evidently more than acceptable — at least when it’s about weapons sales. In fact, Wieranga could barely restrain himself that day, adding: “Afghanistan is really HOT!” Admittedly, on that day the temperature in Kabul was just above freezing, but not at the Pentagon, where arms sales to Afghanistan evidently create a lot of heat.
As Wieranga went on to write, the Obama administration’s new 2010/2011 budget allocates $6 billion in weaponry for Afghan Security Forces. The Afghans will actually get those weapons for free, but U.S. weapons makers will make real money delivering them at taxpayers’ expense and, as the Vice Admiral pointed out, that “means there is a staggering amount of acquisition work to do.”
It’s not just Afghanistan that’s now in the torrid zone. Weapons sales all over the world will be smoking in 2010 and beyond.
The year began with a bang when Wieranga’s Agency announced that the Obama administration had decided to sell a nifty $6 billion in weapons to Taiwan. Even as the United States leans heavily on China for debt servicing, Washington is giving the Mainland a big raspberry by offering the island of 22 million off its coast (which Washington does not formally recognize as an independent nation), a lethal cocktail of weaponry that includes $3 billion in Black Hawk helicopters. This deal comes on top of more than $11 billion in U.S. weapons exports to Taiwan over the last decade, and is certain to set Chinese-U.S. relations back a step or two.
Other bonanzas on the horizon? Brazil wants new fighter planes and Boeing is battling a French company for the contract in a deal that could be worth a whopping $7 billion. India, once a major arms buyer from the Soviet Union, is now another big buy-American customer, with Boeing and Lockheed Martin vying to equip its air force with new fighter planes in deals that Boeing estimates may reach $11 billion.
Such deals are staggering. They contribute more bang and blast to a world already bristling with particularly lethal weaponry. They are a striking American success story in a time filled with failures. Put in the lurid but everyday terms of a nation weaned on reality television, the Pentagon is pimping for the U.S. weapons industry. The weapons industry, for its part, is a pusher for every kind of lethal technology. The two of them together are working to ensure that more of the same will flow out of the U.S. in ever easier and more lucrative ways.
Global arms trade? Send that one back to the Department of Euphemisms. Pimps and pushers with a lucrative global monopoly on a killing drug — maybe that’s the language we need. And maybe, just maybe, it’s time to launch a “war on weapons.”
China’s position on toughened nuclear sanctions against Iran remains a “mystery,” Israel’s UN envoy said Tuesday, and doubted the Security Council would agree new punishments for Tehran this month.
Ambassador Gabriela Shalev also said that should efforts fail to frame a unified range of United Nations sanctions, it would be up to individual world powers to team up outside the Council to punish Iran economically.
And, following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow, Shalev said that it was clear Russia had dropped its earlier reluctance to impose more sanctions on Iran to punish its nuclear drive. “I know that the Russians have turned their position,” Shalev told a small group of reporters.
“I know that the Russians now agree that there must be some kind of limit on the engagement,” she said, referring to Iran’s refusal to agree to a UN-backed deal to end the standoff over its nuclear program. “China is a mystery.”
Shalev said she had hoped that new sanctions would be agreed against Iran by the end of this month, when France hands over the presidency of the Security Council to Gabon, but that now looked unlikely.
“My feeling is that we will not be able to achieve this resolution regarding sanctions within the month of February,” Shalev said, adding that the position of Gabon on the issue was not clear.
President Barack Obama’s national security advisor James Jones told Fox News Sunday that Washington was pushing for very tough new sanctions against Iran “this month.”
Earlier Tuesday, the United States, Russia and France said that Iran’s recent escalation of its uranium enrichment further undermines international trust in its nuclear drive.
The three powers sent a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expressing new concern about Iran’s actions and signaling further pressure on the Islamic state.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki says the US is acting as a military dictatorship in the Middle East by killing countless number of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Iran’s top diplomat made the comments in response to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who said Iran is “moving toward a military dictatorship.
Mottaki described Clinton’s remarks as “modern deceit,” and added that
“We are regretful that the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton … tries to conceal facts about the stance of the US administration trough fake words.
This (Clinton’s remark) is aimed “at diverting the attention of the public in the region (away from their problems) to unreal and incorrect topics,” he added.
The Iranian minister raised questions about the US military dictatorship in the region and said that Washington has killed large numbers of Iraqi and Afghan civilians while Iran has accepted and helped millions of refugees from the two countries.
He accused Clinton of trying to advance Washington’s policy in the Middle East through lies, saying that regional countries are well aware of the true nature of such methods.
Mottaki criticized “unsuccessful strategies” of the US government in Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan and said Washington seeks to create crisis for democratic and independent states by waging a soft war.
“The US targets scientific and technological achievements of countries and their independence by interfering [in their internal affairs] and spending vast sums,” he said.
He underlined that the US has adopted “wrong” approach in the Middle East and said that Washington pays no attention to realities in the region and forges military dictatorship by stoking tension and instability.
“We recommend Clinton and other US statesmen to open their eyes to realities in the region even one time… They should respect rights of regional states to development, welfare and modern technologies without enmity,” Mottaki said.
He noted that regional countries would never be deceived by the US policies.
By M. Shahid Alam – Palestine Chronicle
Is the question of parallels between the USA and the USSR idle, even mischievous? Perhaps, it is neither, but, on the contrary, deserves our serious consideration.
During the Cold War, the USA and USSR were arch rivals, each the antipodes of the other. For some four decades, they battled each other for ‘survival’ and global hegemony, staring down at each other with nuclear tipped missiles, ready at the push of a button to consummate mutually assured destruction. What parallels could there possibly exist between such irreconcilable antagonists?
Dismissively, the skeptic might retort that their similarities start and end with the first two letters in their names. The USA won and the USSR lost the Cold War. With all four of the letters in its name, the USSR is dead and gone. Its successor state, Russia, now ranks a distant second behind the USA in military power, a position it retains only by virtue of its nuclear arsenal. Measured in international dollars, the Russian economy ranked eighth in the world in 2009, trailing behind its former client, India.
On the other hand, the USA still believes it can ride roughshod over much of the world like a Colossus. It came close to doing this for a few years after the collapse of communism. In the years since its occupation of Iraq, that image has been deflated quite a bit. Haven’t the events of the last decade – the growing challenge to its hegemony in Latin America, the economic rise of India and China, and the recovery of Russia from its collapse of the previous decade – downsized the Colossus of the 1990s? Indeed, the near collapse of its economy in 2008 appears to have brought the Colossus down on its knees.
Coming back to the question of parallels, we can begin by pointing out that USA is in exactly the same place, quite literally, where the USSR once was. In Afghanistan. The USSR was in Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989: the USA has been there since November 2001.
Isn’t this the oddest of coincidences? And a bit ominous too – since, only a year after it withdrew its 100,000 troops from Afghanistan, the USSR collapsed.
Of course, no one expects the USA to collapse, whether it leaves Afghanistan or stays there. Unlike the Soviets who left Afghanistan after ten years of a bruising occupation, the United States is not in a mood to leave anytime soon. If necessary, claim some American politicians and generals, their troops could stay there for decades.
What is it that has drawn great powers – three over the past two centuries – into Afghanistan, but makes it so hard for them to leave in dignity?
Britain, USSR and USA have gone to Afghanistan for different reasons. Britain went into Afghanistan repeatedly to create a buffer state, to distance its Indian colony from Russia. The Soviet troops entered to shore up a fraternal communist regime, but if things had gone well, they would have walk through Afghanistan into the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. It is hard to say why exactly the USA landed its troops in Afghanistan. Was it to kill or capture Osama bin Laden? Or was that only an excuse for stationing its troops in Iran’s backyard, close to the Caspian oil fields, just south of Russia and China, and looking into Pakistan with an eye to rolling back its nuclear program?
Vital questions, but answering them will take us away from the subject of this essay – the question of parallels between the USA and the USSR.
Afghanistan points us towards a more troubling parallel. Some people have argued that by ramping up the arms race, President Ronald Reagan accelerated the collapse of the Soviet Union. Irresistibly, the Soviet leaders took the bait since their prestige depended on their ability to match the USA militarily. With a smaller economy, and a slowdown in growth that had started in the 1970s, the arms race made matters worse. As growth continued to decline, the ensuing stagnation in living standards bred popular discontent.
When economic reforms failed to spur growth, disillusionment infected the leadership of the communist party. Collapse came quick: the system had lost its defenders.
Is it outlandish to suggest that the USA has been traveling down a similar road since 2001? For sure, no one thinks that the United States is on the road to collapse.
Nevertheless, increasingly one gets the impression that its recent military adventurism is hastening its descent to the second spot – behind China – in the global hierarchy of economic and military power.
The dramatic collapse of the USSR in 1990 gave a new impetus to American ambitions. It encouraged feelings, not only on the right, that this unipolar moment in American history should be made irreversible. In particular, the neoconservatives argued more vigorously than before for a military build-up and a more muscular display of US military power everywhere, but especially in the Middle East.
Since the neoconservatives were embedded in the Republican Party, they had to cool their heels for eight years, from 1992 to 2000, during the presidency of Bill Clinton. When the Republicans returned to power in 2000, the neoconservatives quickly seized key positions in the administration of George W. Bush, especially in the office of the Vice-President and the Department of Defense.
In September 2000, the Neoconservatives had written that they would have to wait for ‘some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor’ to launch their unilateralist policies to deepen their global hegemony. They did not have to wait long. On September 11, 2001, Al-Qaida, a small group of non-state actors – terrorists, in common parlance – obliged by attacking the Twin Towers and Pentagon, killing close to 3000 Americans.
At the press of a button, the well-laid neoconservative plans for endless war were put into motion. They called it the Global War On Terror.
The GWOT was insanely ambitious. It was launched with an ultimatum to all weaker non-Western nations: You are with us or against us. To execute this war, the US would mobilize, expand and use its global military forces to threaten, attack and invade ‘unfriendly’ countries. Neither international nor domestic laws would stand in its way.
Various US agencies would kidnap, imprison without trial, torture and assassinate anyone resisting or suspected of resisting its policies. The goal was to immobile resistance to American hegemony with fear – with state terror.
A comprehensive accounting of the costs to the USA of this reckless policy of unilateralism will not be available for a while, but we do have some partial and tentative estimates. At the end of 2008, the direct budgetary costs of the GWOT were expected to reach $758 billion. In March 2008, Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz estimated that the indirect budgetary costs of GWOT – of restoring depleted military hardware and materiel and support for veterans of the wars – would add up to $1.5 trillion. “All told,” they wrote, “the bill for the Iraq war is likely to top $3 trillion. And that is a conservative estimate.” Add to that the rapidly escalating costs of the AfPak War that is being ramped up even now, nine years after the Afghan War was declared to be a success.
The US wars in the Islamicate impose other painful costs, perhaps more debilitating than the budgetary expenses. We are referring to the human toll of these wars, the erosion of liberties it has produced inside the United States, and the manner in which it is undermining the economic leadership of the United States. The United States military has kept its military deaths low, at 5340 in January 2010, with greatly improved body armor, armor plated troop carriers, and a war fought remotely from the air, which saves American lives by sacrificing those of civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan Pakistan and Yemen. In terms of the near-sighted calculus of US politicians, the low US military deaths make these wars attractive. They forget, however, that high civilian deaths in the countries they attack or invade make their wars unwinnable by fuelling resistance.
The figures for Americans wounded and traumatized by wars are much higher. As of July 2009, according to official statistics, 34,592 American soldiers were wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A much greater number of veterans of these wars are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder(PTSD). In November 2007, according to one official source, there were a “minimum of 300,000 psychological casualties” from the war in Iraq alone. The lifetime cost of treating them is estimated at $660 billion.
The economic damage of the wars can be gauged by the speed with which China has been narrowing its lag behind, or even moving ahead of, the United States since 2001.
During much of the last decade, the US has concentrated a huge portion of its resources, policy focus and media attention on fighting multiple wars; it has borrowed from China and Saudi Arabia to finance these wars; its economy suffered a near-collapse in 2008; and it has done little to repair its infrastructure, reduce its dependence on oil, or fix its expensive health-care system. During the same years, China, free form the burden of wars, has directed its policy focus and resources to developing its infrastructure, green energy, manufactures, exports, higher education, and securing access to raw materials globally.
The damage to America’s moral standing is not less worrisome. The United States stands accused before the world of engaging in a war of aggression against Iraq, waging an undeclared war against Pakistan, and sanctioning torture, kidnappings, assassinations, and imprisonment without trial. “Fifteen years ago,” writes Kishore Mahbubani, a former diplomat from Singapore, “if anyone had suggested that Western countries would endorse or allow the use of torture, they would have been dismissed out of hand.” After 2001, torture became routine. In 2005, Irene Khan, the head of Amnesty International, said, “Guantanamo is the gulag of our times.” One year after he took office, Obama has not ended these human rights violations. Indeed, he has chosen assassinations as a major instrument of his war against the Taliban in Pakistan.
What did it cost al-Qaida to produce this avalanche of misdirected and self-damaging actions by the United States? The sum total of investments the leadership of al-Qaida made in its attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon is trifling, as these things go – the lives of 19 men and an investment of between $400,000 and $500,000 in flight training, airline tickets, lodging in Western capitals, box cutters, etc. That is roughly equal to the cost of deploying one US soldier in Iraq for one year.
Had the leaders of al-Qaida anticipated this dramatic payoff from their paltry investment? Was 9-11 part of a strategy to lure the world’s most powerful military machine to place their boots on Muslim lands, where the Jihadists would successively engage and defeat them, and eventually drive the United States out of the Islamicate? Indeed, this was the strategy al-Qaida adopted towards the end of the 1990s. Challenged by their failure to defeat the ‘near enemy,’ the Egyptian and Algerian governments allied to the United States, al-Qaida decided to carry its war to the United States, the ‘far enemy,’ which they saw as the ‘head of the serpent.’
Recently, Eric Margolis offered a succinct account of al-Qaida’s strategy. Osama bin Laden, he writes, “would oust the modern ‘Crusaders’ by luring the US and its allies into a series of small, debilitating, hugely expensive wars to bleed and slowly bankrupt the US economy, which he called America’s Achilles’ heel.”
If this had not been their strategy, al-Qaida would quickly appropriate it as its own, after watching America’s frenetic response to the attacks of 9-11. The neoconservatives had been waiting for the men with box cutters, ready to launch their well-laid plans to redraw the map of the Middle East. If the United States could so easily be provoked into invading Muslim countries, Osama bin Laden – not the US President – would decide when and where the United States would be fighting wars in the Islamicate.
Indeed, al-Qaida has provoked the United States into attacking an ever-lengthening list of Muslim countries.
Nine years after it had been ‘won,’ the United States is escalating its war in Afghanistan. Some eight years after its ‘cakewalk’ through Iraq, it is just beginning to draw down its forces there. In addition, different factions of the US military are “involved in combat operations in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, West Africa, North Africa and the Philippines.
A new US base at Djibouti is launching raids into Yemen, Somalia and northern Kenya. US forces aided the failed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006.” If indeed, it was al-Qaida strategy to lure American troops into the Islamicate, who can deny that they have done quite well. Irresistibly, the US has walked into one al-Qaida trap after another.
While the US is engaged in the “sequential destruction of Muslim nations” – to borrow a troubling phrase from Liaquat Ali Khan – China is making economic gains in the very countries that US occupies, attacks or threatens to attack. Over the past decade, China has continued to make economic gains in Iran, Sudan, Venezuela, Syria and Afghanistan, while the United States occupies, sanctions or launches military attacks against these countries.
Two years back, China acquired rights to one of the world’s largest deposits of copper in Afghanistan. In a report in the New York Times in December 2009, Michael Wines writes perceptively about the symbolism of this investment, “While the United States spends hundreds of billions of dollars fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida here, China is securing raw material for its voracious economy. The world’s superpower is focused on security. Its fastest rising competitor concentrates on commerce.”
A similar picture emerges from Iraq. US oil companies are not getting the oil deals they wanted, production-sharing agreements instead of service contracts. In this area too, a partnership between a British and Chinese oil company walked away with a contract to develop Rumaila, one of the world’s largest oil fields. Two US companies signed contract for the much small oil field of West Qurna.
Surely, the Chinese must be saying, al-Qaida is its best ally – although accidental and unacknowledged – in the contest to displace the United States from its leadership of the global economy. It is difficult at this stage to assess the long-term significance of al-Qaida for the Islamicate – its strategy has brought great suffering to Muslim populations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan – but the gains it has brought to China are clear. The siren song of terrorism has lured the United States into one trap after another, to ramp up its military expenditure, to finance its escalating wars by borrowing from its chief economic rival, to deplete its moral capital in the international community, and to shred its own safeguards against state tyranny. China cannot acknowledge the gifts it has received from al-Qaida, but privately, perhaps, the Chinese leadership must be toasting these windfall gains.
Instead of rising up to deal with the economic challenges stemming from the rapid rise of India, China and Brazil; instead of investing in programs to develop alternative energy; instead of developing a network of high-speed trains; instead of reversing the decline in its K-12 schooling; the Christian right and the neoconservative cabal pushed the United States into a vast quagmire, stretching from one end of the Islamicate to another. All this, while China has continued to challenge US dominance in a growing array of economic activities.
In the 1980s, the United States outspent the USSR into economic ruin. Since 2001, al-Qaida with its paltry investments in men and money has been drawing the United States into wars that are accelerating its economic decline. At least for now, China is the chief beneficiary of the perverse mechanism that forces the United States into embracing wars against the Islamicate as the panacea to its problems, when in fact they have been having the opposite effect.
It was Euripides who first wrote, “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.” Is that what happens to the leaders of a country who doggedly follow a course – as the Soviets did during the 1980s and 1990s – that points in the direction of decline or worse, ruin. In principle, democracies have the capacity to replace such ruinous leadership. Yet, it would appear that the disastrous military policies inaugurated under President Bush are not going to be discarded under President Obama, his Democratic successor. Is it likely that both parties in the United States are captives of a political system that – at least on the question of Islam and the Islamicate – are dominated by a powerful conglomerate of pro-Israeli forces, led by Jewish Americans but with a strong following of Christian Zionists?
If Americans wish to see a reversal in their ruinous policy towards the Islamicate they will have to make some honest and courageous efforts to countervail the influence of the pro-Israeli forces in their body politic. The time for this too is running out. This will not happen by electing a candidate who dazzles them with his rhetoric of change. They will also have to elect a President and Congress with the spine to stand up to the pro-Israeli forces in the United States.
 Project for the New American Century, Rebuilding America’s defenses (Washington DC: Project for the New American Century, September 2000): 63. <http://www.newamericancentury.org/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf>
 Anthony Cordesman, The uncertain costs of the global war on terror (Washington DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, August 2007). <http://csis.org/files/media/csis/pubs/080907_thecostsofwar.pdf>
 Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz, “The Iraq war will cost us $3 trillion, and much more,” Washington Post (August 8, 2008). < http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/07/AR2008030702846.html>
 US Department of Defense, Defense casualty report, 2010. <http://www.defense.gov/NEWS/casualty.pdf>
 Anne Leland and Mary-Jana Oboroceanu, American war and military operations casualties: Lists and casualties (Congressional Research Service, September 2009):12. <http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL32492.pdf>
 Bob Roehr, “High rate of PTSD in returning Iraq war veterans,” Medscape Today (November 6, 2007). <http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/565407>
 Kishore Mahbubani, The new Asian hemisphere: The irresistible shift of global power to the East (Public Affairs Books, 2008): 165-66.
 National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States: Executive Summary. <http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report_Exec.htm>
 Tom Engelhardt, “What progress in Iraq really means,” The Nation (April 13, 2007). < http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070827/engelhardt>
 Fawaz Gerges, The far enemy: Why Jihad went global (Cambridge University Press, 2005): 21, 24-26.
 Eric Margolis, “Osama: 10. The US: 0,” LewRockwell.com (January 12, 2010). <http://www.lewrockwell.com/margolis/margolis176.html>
 Eric Margolis.
 Liaquat Ali Khan, “Now Pakistan,” CounterPunch.Org (October 21, 2009). <http://www.counterpunch.org/alikhan10212009.html>
 Michael Wines, “China willing to spend big on Afghanistan commerce,” New York Times (December 30, 2009).
< http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/30/world/asia/30mine.html?_r=1&sq=copper china afghanistan&st=cse&scp=1&pagewanted=print>
 Timothy Williams, “Oil Companies Look to the Future in Iraq,” The New York Times (November 30, 2009). <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/world/middleeast/01iraqoil.html?scp=1&sq=iraq+oil+contracts+%22united+states%22+china&st=nyt
By Michael Parenti – Common Dreams
When I wrote my book Against Empire in 1995, as might be expected, some of my U.S. compatriots thought it was wrong of me to call the United States an empire. It was widely believed that U.S. rulers did not pursue empire; they intervened abroad only out of self-defense or for humanitarian rescue operations or to overthrow tyranny, fight terrorism, and propagate democracy.
But by the year 2000, everyone started talking about the United States as an empire and writing books with titles like Sorrows of Empire, Follies of Empire, Twilight of Empire, or Empire of Illusions— all referring to the United States when they spoke of empire.
Even conservatives started using the word. Amazing. One could hear right-wing pundits announcing on U.S. television, “We’re an empire, with all the responsibilities and opportunities of empire and we better get used to it”; and “We are the strongest nation in the world and have every right to act as such”—as if having the power gives U.S. leaders an inherent entitlement to exercise it upon others as they might wish.
“What is going on here?” I asked myself at the time. How is it that so many people feel free to talk about empire when they mean a United States empire? The ideological orthodoxy had always been that, unlike other countries, the USA did not indulge in colonization and conquest.
The answer, I realized, is that the word has been divested of its full meaning. “Empire” seems nowadays to mean simply dominion and control. Empire—for most of these late-coming critics— is concerned almost exclusively with power and prestige. What is usually missing from the public discourse is the process of empire and its politico-economic content. In other words, while we hear a lot about empire, we hear very little about imperialism.
Now that is strange, for imperialism is what empires are all about. Imperialism is what empires do. And by imperialism I do not mean the process of extending power and dominion without regard to material and financial interests. Indeed “imperialism” has been used by some authors in the same empty way that they use the word “empire,” to simply denote dominion and control with little attention given to political economic realities.
But I define imperialism as follows: the process whereby the dominant investor interests in one country bring to bear their economic and military power upon another nation or region in order to expropriate its land, labor, natural resources, capital, and markets-in such a manner as to enrich the investor interests. In a word, empires do not just pursue “power for power’s sake.” There are real and enormous material interests at stake, fortunes to be made many times over.
So for centuries the ruling interests of Western Europe and later on North America and Japan went forth with their financiers—and when necessary their armies—to lay claim to most of planet Earth, including the labor of indigenous peoples, their markets, their incomes (through colonial taxation or debt control or other means), and the abundant treasures of their lands: their gold, silver, diamonds, copper, rum, molasses, hemp, flax, ebony, timber, sugar, tobacco, ivory, iron, tin, nickel, coal, cotton, corn, and more recently: uranium, manganese, titanium, bauxite, oil, and–say it again–oil. (Hardly a complete listing.)
Empires are enormously profitable for the dominant economic interests of the imperial nation but enormously costly to the people of the colonized country. In addition to suffering the pillage of their lands and natural resources, the people of these targeted countries are frequently killed in large numbers by the intruders.
This is another thing that empires do which too often goes unmentioned in the historical and political literature of countries like the United States, Britain, and France. Empires impoverish whole populations and kill lots and lots of innocent people. As I write this, President Obama and the national security state for which he works are waging two and a half wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, and northern Pakistan), and leveling military threats against Yemen, Iran, and, on a slow day, North Korea. Instead of sending medical and rescue aid to Haiti, Our Bomber sent in the Marines, the same Marines who engaged in years of mass murder in Haiti decades ago and supported more recent massacres by proxy forces.
The purpose of all this killing is to prevent alternative, independent, self-defining nations from emerging. So the empire uses its state power to gather private wealth for its investor class. And it uses its public wealth to shore up its state power and prevent other nations from self-developing.
Sooner or later this arrangement begins to wilt under the weight of its own contradictions. As the empire grows more menacing and more murderous toward others, it grows sick and impoverished within itself.
From ancient times to today, empires have always been involved in the bloody accumulation of wealth. If you don’t think this is true of the United States then stop calling it “Empire.” And when you write a book about how it wraps its arms around the planet, entitle it “Global Bully” or “Bossy Busybody,” but be aware that you’re not telling us much about imperialism.
China has warned that Washington’s announcement of arms sales to Taiwan would badly hurt ties between the two global powers, widening rifts in their far-reaching relationship.
The swift and sharp protest came from Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei, who said his government was “strongly indignant” about the proposed US sale of weapons to Taiwan, which China considers an illegitimate breakaway province.
The Obama administration told the US Congress yesterday of the proposed sales to Taiwan, a potential $6.4 billion (£4bn) package including Black Hawk helicopters, Patriot “Advanced Capability-3” anti-missile missiles, and two refurbished Osprey-class mine-hunting ships.
Beijing responded with He’s warning delivered to the US ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, that the arms deal could jeopardise bonds with Washington, which has looked to China for help in surmounting the financial crisis, dealing with Iran and North Korea, and fighting climate change.
The US arms sales to Taiwan have joined trade imbalances, currency disputes, human rights, the Internet, and Tibet among rifts dividing the world’s biggest and third-biggest economies.
Washington and Beijing have also recently traded angry words about Internet policy after the search engine giant Google Inc earlier this month threatened to shut its Chinese google.cn portal and pull out of China, citing censorship problems and hacking attacks.
In coming months Obama may meet the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader China calls a dangerous separatist, adding to Beijing’s ire with Washington.
Vice Minister He did not spell out what reprisals Beijing may mete out against Washington over the weapons sales. But he hinted the anger would be felt in a number of areas.
“The United States’ announcement of the planned weapons sales to Taiwan will have a seriously negative impact on many important areas of exchanges and cooperation between the two countries,” said He in the remarks, published on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website.
He said the arms sales were “crude interference in China’s domestic affairs and seriously harm China’s national security”, words notably tougher than Beijing’s recent statements on the issue.
“This will lead to repercussions that neither side wishes to see,” said He. He urged the US to halt the planned sales.