When They Attack
We have to do some hard thinking regarding the structure and the circumstances pertaining to several recent international crises. The United States exercises its imperial hegemony by attacking relatively reactionary political forces, which are often enough, with full justification, in considerable disrepute. Saddam Hussein and the Taliban are two examples. Recently the Palestinian Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are another case in point.
The first comment regarding this phenomenon is historical. Saddam, the Taliban and Hamas, despite overwhelming disparities in most respects, have the honor of having served U.S. imperial interests in critical battles of the past. Saddam, very far from any kind of religious fundamentalism, was part of the U.S. network against Iran. Islamic fundamentalism became a major force in the Middle East region on the basis of the sponsorship and financial backing from the pro-U.S. rulers of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia was, of course, greatly strengthened by super profits accumulated during the oil crisis dating from the early seventies. Osama Bin Laden, presently wanted by the US, began his career as one of the CIA operatives in Afghanistan in the battle to eradicate Soviet influence.
The conflicts in the East are basically battles of the United States against political elements, which served it in the past, in one form or another, in the struggle against the Soviet Union. On the more local level, Islamic fundamentalism played an ideological role against ‘atheistic communism’ and then appeared with fat bankrolls to extend material succor to the poor and suffering masses.
The basic pattern is to turn on former underlings. The ideological cover for aggression is supplied by the disreputable status of the victims.One cannot suggest any serious ideological basis for the clash between the U.S. and the victims of its aggression. The metaphor that suggests itself is the Mafia settling accounts with local or regional operatives who wished to challenge the division of spoils one way or another. The exercise of hegemony by U.S. imperialism is thus facilitated by the fact that it can claim to be acting against a repressive and reactionary regime. The shady character of the object of U.S. aggression is an important factor in creating the difficulty experienced by the democratic forces in trying to mount a political and ideological struggle against U.S. actions.
Thus, we argue, there is a distinction between the form in which U.S. hegemony is exercised and its content. The form suggests a battle between a modern, enlightened society and backward, fundamentalist and or dictatorial regimes. This enables the hegemonic power to claim that it is fighting for democratic values and for a free society. It is highly difficult to develop opposition and protest against an aggressor when the victim appears to be ‘just as bad’ or even worse than the aggressor. The content of the battle is a contest between two reactionary forces in which the strong one exercises global hegemony to enforce its standing as the sole super power maintaining the new world order.
Bush Just Loves Sharon
As the United States moved into confrontation with the Islamic world and the Arab countries as a result of its decision to unleash massive force to depose by military force a ruling government in Afghanistan, it was quite logical that it would re-examine its policies on major issues in this part of the world. The basic U.S. position regarding the Israeli-Palestinian (and Israeli-Arab) conflict has been that a peaceful solution must be found that would accommodate the just national demands of both Israelis and the Arab side. It is also true that the United States had an open, special relation with Israel as a trusted and dependable ally. The US tried to bridge the contradiction by assuming the role of an honest broker despite its special relation with Israel. The logic for this policy was very strong. The United States wished to prove that its friendship to Israel was not necessarily an impediment to positively developing and deepening its relations with the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular. The question was how to make peace and in what conditions.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict in its current phase involves the violent repression and mass suffering of more than three million Palestinian Arabs. A very good case can be made for the thesis that it is in the clear and manifest U.S. interest to take immediate steps to ensure that the stark reality and the poignant images of the suffering of the Palestinians would not provide its enemies or detractors of clear evidence that the United States was once again flaunting its indifference to Arab-Moslem feelings and sensitivities. If any thought, in this direction, occurred to the Washington thinking, it was blocked by Sharon’s adamant refusal to assist the United States in this endeavor and decimated when the United States decided that terror was the immediate cause and main challenge to the solution of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict and not one of the results of the long festering, stale-mated peace process. The decision to locate the current obstacle to peace in Arafat’s inability to control Palestinian terror meant that the United States was unreservedly backing Sharon’s policy of applying more and more military pressure against the mainly civilian Palestinian population under occupation.
From a side in the U.S. sponsored peace process, the Palestinian Authority was relegated to Taliban status as a force harboring and encouraging terror. Sharon and Bush were a bit kinder to Arafat in that they gave him a bit more time to surrender his El Kaida.
On A Roll
The immediate reason for Bush’s total support to Sharon stems more than anything else, in this stage of affairs, from the tendency of Washington to believe its own Afghanistan born rhetoric. The current thought process in Washington, bordering on some sort of delirious euphoria, is that the U.S. has found a sure-fire formula to run the globe more efficiently. Countries, one and all, are to be put on notice, that they are going to receive an assignment to eliminate some or other inconvenient political force. If they refuse, they will be designated as countries harboring and abetting terror. They will be tora-bora-ized sooner or later.
The concrete expression of the Washingtonian frenzy is this game played in high circles of ‘whose next?’ : The current DC discourse goes something like this: ‘We have unsettled business with Saddam Hussein and Iraq, the Iranians have terrorist networks all over the place, Somalia is a haven for all sorts of terror. The Hezballah should be taken out of the equation. Arafat really isn’t trying hard enough. Yemen won’t fool us with symbolic action. The armed Islamic underground in the Philippines is a danger to the region, etc. This is the mood in D.C. It is dangerous. It is a cause for concern. But despite their success so far in Afghanistan, that caper only proves that the United States does not have the resources or the ability to keep up or execute more than one small fraction of its current scheming. This demands an explanation.
Let us suppose that the hawkish conclave in D.C. convinces George W. to hit Iraq. There are immediate, immense problems in building up the case and plotting the move: a) what about the vaunted international coalition against terror? b) What is the local version of the northern alliance? Who will put down the Kurds? And what do we do about the lack of a clear, open provocation, which would convince everyone that we have no choice? Iraq is a bit complicated.
Let’s take care of Hezballah. Beirut is a friendly capital and let us inform them of the danger of harboring terrorists. What, they do not agree that the Hezballah are terrorists? What, they say that they do not have the political or military option of moving against the Hezballah? Why do the experts say that we cannot bomb Beirut, until they understand that they have no choice in the matter?! Perhaps we can use the Israeli’s who have a score to settle with Hezballah. Sharon, already fighting terror, is preparing mass expulsions of Palestinians. Sharon, you say, is hesitant about going back to Lebanon and is busy preparing for our attack on Iraq… So goes the feverish pitch of anti-terror hysterics.
The United States leadership is convinced that it is on a roll like some university football team smashing the defense to pieces. On this roll, sooner or later, and probable sooner, the United States will come to understand that the world is not composed of standard ‘Taliban controlled Afghanistans.’ And, as this dawns on the U.S. administration, it will be have to recognize that all of its allies in the battle against terrorism are running their own terrorist operation on another front. The world is full of ‘Pakistans’, which, aside from helping in Afghanistan to fight terror, are running their own show in Kashmir. This will make it a bit embarrassing for the U.S. to reply to India’s demands for a common front against terror in Kashmir.
We have said nothing of the difficulties of establishing new governments, administrations and stabilizing them, after the United States has disposed of recalcitrant elements which refuse the call up to mobilize their forces in the war against terror! The famous adage that you can do anything with a bayonet except to sit on it applies here.
Despite the relative easiness of the military victory in Afghanistan (where it is rumored that many a ‘defeated’ Taliban and El-Qaida fighter has simply run off so as to fight another day), the military, political and economic effort to win this battle in the war against terror suggests that it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to maintain momentum and feed the current frenzy with new ‘glorious’ successes.
The contradictions sketched above, in rudimentary form, are even more complex and intractable in real life. It is in order to at least mention that there other sets of nagging problems at the doorstep of the United States in its role of the hegemonic spearhead of the new world order. The world capitalist system is far from having overcome the pressing signs of global recession. Argentina may not be contagious economically (as it seems, so far). But social and political unrest in a central Latin American nation has all the potential of being very contagious. And so on. The war on terror might have seemed as a panacea which might lighten the burden of Bush, so worthy of respite while he is defending civilization. However, the U.S. unilateral cancellation of the ABM is just another bit of evidence that the world did not change completely on September 11.
Even when it granted Sharon a free hand to destroy Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, the U.S. stopped short of translating the green light into an official change in its diplomatic position. Enough fine words and nice phrases are still theoretically in place to enable the United States to re-state their position distancing themselves from Sharon’s policies. When the United States discovers (perhaps slowly and with difficulty) the limits of anti-terrorist hysteria, it may well start its long journey back to international political reality in the Middle East. In Afghanistan, the U.S. could at least claim that it was unifying the country and democratizing it. If the U.S. continues on this dangerous path with Sharon it will be unable to present any reasonable end product. It will be reduced to receiving ‘credit’ for the success of a rampant Sharon’s ‘campaign against Arab terror’ after he succeeds in turning all of Palestine into a canton of the land of Greater Israel and creating millions of additional refugees. Unlimited U.S. support for Sharon is so improbable and so dangerous for the United States as to suggest that it’s reversal may well serve as a first step in the restoration of some sense to U.S. actions and policy in the region and in general.
Tuesday, December 25, 2001
When They Attack