In its contestation with Stalinist Russia (which had imposed direct control over other peoples in the form of the Soviet Union and indirect control in the form of the Soviet Bloc), the US used only the proxy method. This meant that the US had to select potential allies within the competing rivals in a given country. Characteristically this meant supplying arms and political recognition to a political movement that agreed to US penetration of its markets, US access to its mineral and energy resources and support for the US in its battle for world supremacy over the Soviet Union. This resulted in the US tolerating regimes that were often little more than dictatorships or oligarchies operating in flagrant disregard to human rights and economic equality. Examples of these were Apartheid South Africa, Mobutu’s Zaire, Saudi Arabia, Pinochet’s Chile, South Vietnam, Marcos’s Philippines and the Shah’s Iran. As such, the US track record since 1945 as a champion of democracy and political freedom is severely tainted. Moreover, the unrivalled US hegemony occasioned by the collapse in 1990 of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Bloc was short-lived. The rising economic power of China, India, Brazil and South Korea has meant that, in percentage terms, the US share of world economy has declined quite appreciably in a remarkably short time. The precariousness of its financial system, the stripping of its manufacturing base and its enormous debt have also contributed to the US economy’s stuttering performance notwithstanding its IT dominance. A further factor is obviously the energy crisis. All these, taken together, constitute the context in which the latest interventions have to be seen. But what are the specific factors that have given rise to each one?
Taliban rule in Afghanistan was marked by adherence to the narrowest forms of Islamic law, extreme intolerance of other religions, suppression of the human rights of women and gay people and a gross lack of internal democracy/freedom of expression. However, the US, though perhaps irked by the extreme nature of this religious fascism, did not at any stage take active steps to give effect to ‘regime change’ even though Taliban support for Al Qaeda was common knowledge. It was only the 11 September attack on the US mainland that precipitated an outraged and vengeful reaction – on a world wide scale. In this scenario, Afghanistan was to be isolated and invaded so as to drive out Al Qaeda; the overthrow of the Taliban was a collateral act.
As such, the 2001 intervention was directly precipitated by the 11 September terror attack and had to do with assuring the physical security of the US mainland and with reasserting its prestige and influence across the world. And because of universal abhorrence at the deaths of so many civilians (almost 3,000), the invasion in fact enjoyed much global legitimacy.
That US troops are still there over a decade later is testimony to enduring fears of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism and the instability of the new dispensation - not a result of economic imperative.
What then are we to make of the intervention two years later in Iraq?
Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1992 had been universally criticized. US oil interests were affected but could probably have been restored through diplomatic and other non-military means. After all, Saddam Hussein had not threatened to stop sales to the US or any other country or to renege on existing contracts. As such the resulting coalition formed to eject him, led by the US but reflecting wide ranging North-South support, while having underlying resource control motives, could be sanctioned on the basis that Iraq had no more right to annex Kuwait than any other party. A more general concern was the need to show Iraq international displeasure at the use of force to expand its territory and ambit of influence. It goes without saying that the growth of such a regional super power terrified other small Gulf states and Saudi Arabia. As such, having regard to all factors, Iraq was not expelled from Kuwait in order to bring democracy and social justice to that small tribally-led principality. The intervention was primarily about disciplining an expansionist regional dictator. In general then, the coalition enjoyed a global mandate if only to restore the status ante.
The second invasion of Iraq in 2005 was, however, an entirely different matter. Here we had gross distortion and manipulation by oil and military-industrial complex interests of US and British public fears in regard to physical security. An imaginary bogey (weapons of mass destruction) was created and a climate of hysteria to support invasion and regime change was engendered by outright falsification of evidence.
The objective was simple: to impose US/British control over an important energy source. Sanctions imposed on Iraq following the restoration of Kuwaiti sovereignty had crippled the Iraqi economy and severely undermined its military capacity. Secular Nationalist Baathist Iraq had no contact with Al Qaeda and was isolated in the Arab world. The looming shortage of fossil fuel, however, and Iraq’s major reserves were the impetus to an adventure that has grossly back fired on its sponsors and brought untold suffering to the Iraqi people. A civil war sparked by the brutal and politically inept US/British occupation has destroyed the fabric of daily life and devastated the economy. It will take decades for Iraq to recover from the trauma. This was US imperialism at its ugliest – Britain was also responsible, but being a junior partner, to a lesser degree.
What then of the Libyan intervention? This year, following a series of uprisings in several countries of the Middle East and in the Mahgreb, popular demonstrations broke out in Libya against Gaddafi’s forty year dictatorship. This movement was met by bullets and sought regional and then world support, which it received (from the Arab League and the United Nations) in the form of sanctions against the Gadaffi inner circle. Then, on its own, the movement organized an armed response to Gaddaffi’s assault. When this armed response began to founder, the appeal for external armed support became controversial. How far could the outside world go in challenging the existing state?
An interesting way to test the legitimacy of armed external intervention is to ask how would the world have reacted had the New Egyptian army invaded Libya in order to spread the Arab Spring? Would this have been more effective than a US/NATO action?
The answer is undoubtedly ‘yes’ – particularly if other Arab League countries had participated. This would have been unquestionable popular support for democracy and social equality and laid to rest any suspicion that the US/NATO intervention had a hidden agenda: Libya’s oil. Having said this, there are many reasons why this regional intervention did not take place; so the fact that US/NATO firepower was instrumental in toppling Gaddafi was positive. And the likelihood of a hidden agenda being successful is made more difficult by the fact that they are not physically occupying Libya. There is every chance now that Libyans themselves will determine the direction of their society.
In conclusion, the US intervention in Libya was of a very different order to the second invasion of Iraq and can be supported. In fact, one must ask why the democratic forces in Syria are not getting the same regional and global support.
As a random aside from the sometimes drab world of international politics, you may want to venture out and buy lottery tickets online or have a browse at some of the best online casinos in the hope of never having to hear another story about US foreign intervention!
On a personal note, I'm just about at the end of a 6 month sabbatical and looking forward to my next assignment - definitely in a nation not at war this time thankfully!
I have to give a special mention in this post to my personal strategy coach who has helped me discover some pretty amazing things about myself over the last few months. If ever any of you require a personal coach or need to hire a facilitator, then I would highly recommend getting in touch with Pratish through his executive coaching site or directly through Fusionfields.
I leave for South East Asia for a short stint and then I'm back to a dream photographic assignment in Botswana. At some point in this lifetime, I will actually deliver on my promise to post my photos on this blog... Until then, enjoy!