Which Country Is Next? The Neoconservative Agenda
Date: Saturday, April 12 @ 22:36:43 UTC
Topic: King Bush
by William Pfaff, TomPaine.com
The Bush administration, determined to remake the Middle East by remaking Iraq, now has the bit between its teeth.
Few had seriously doubted that the military forces of the United States would overcome Iraq's army in fairly short order. It was the administration itself that fueled contrary fantasies of military disaster caused by the supposed threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction -- weapons that might tomorrow be used against the American "homeland" itself.
The balance of conventional forces said that Iraq's defeat was a military inevitability; the single question open to discussion was whether Iraq's population or a part of it might rally to the invaders, or on the other hand support irregular or terrorist resistance.
Quick victory now is taken for granted in Washington, and the debate has moved on to two other matters: Who will govern a conquered Iraq, and which country will be the next American target.
President George W. Bush went to Belfast on Monday to discuss the first of those questions. Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who still believes that he can bridge certain now-unbridgeable Atlantic differences, settled for a common statement that the United Nations will play a "vital" role in conquered Iraq.
That will not satisfy Europeans or others who insist on international law, which holds that military conquest affords only limited authority to alter the political structure and rights of a defeated country -- and limits the disposition of such national assets and resources as Iraq's oil.
But even Secretary of State Colin Powell -- internationalism and multilateralism's bulwark in the Bush government -- has said that the United States has not come all this way in order to let some other authority dominate Iraq.
Given that possession is nine-tenths of the law, the government of Iraq will undoubtedly be taken over by former Gen. Jay Garner -- a protégé of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a unilateralist -- and his shadow cabinet of former diplomats and businessmen named as interim authority for Iraq.
The more important question is what country will be next.
Until now the existence of a "next" has been in some doubt. But unless victory in Iraq is marred by a punishing irregular resistance, or a persisting political breakdown and factional struggle, the Bush administration seems likely to proceed with the neoconservatives' program for remaking, by military means if necessary, the political culture of the Muslim Middle East.
That means building on the political reconstruction of Iraq to cause eventual "regime change," spontaneous or otherwise, in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Egypt and Libya. (North Korea is another problem.)
The neoconservative publicist and Washington columnist Charles Krauthammer says that if Iraq becomes "pro-Western and if it becomes the focus of American influence," an American presence in Iraq "will project power across the region, [suffusing] the rebels in Iran with courage and strength, and [deterring and restraining] Syria." (I am quoting a summary of his views recently published in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz.)
This will "enhance the place of America in the world for the coming generation." The outcome "will shape the world for the next 25 years."
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is generally acknowledged as the man whose determination and bureaucratic skill turned President George W. Bush's reaction to the 9/11 attacks into a decision to overturn Iraq's regime. He calls the neoconservative crusade to change the Arab world an application of "the power of the democratic idea." His critics call him a naive and dangerous ideologue. But his program, at this moment of success in Iraq, seems the most important single influence on Bush administration policy.
This is not good news. There are three things to be said about the neoconservatives and what they want.
The first is that they act out of fear. They are motivated by fear of terrorist bands, armed by Islamic states, wielding weapons of mass destruction, even though this is politically, technologically and militarily highly implausible.
There is an element of hysteria in this fear, as there was a quarter-century ago when Washington convinced itself that a victory by peasant insurgents in Vietnam would lead to world domination by "Asian communism" and to the isolation and destruction of the United States.
Second, they are naive. Krauthammer says it is "racist" to think that "Arabs" can't govern themselves democratically. The problem in the Middle East is not "Arabs." The problem is a powerful historical culture that functions on categories of value absolutes and religious certainties hostile to the pragmatic relativisms of Western democracy. Military conquest and good intentions will not change that.
Finally, the neoconservatives are fanatics. They believe it is worth killing people for unproved ideas. Traditional morality says that war is justified in legitimate defense. Totalitarian morality justifies war to make people or societies better.