The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Evidence, What Evidence?

Is that all there is? - from a Peggy Lee song

Michael Youlton • 10 Febuary 2003, Dublin

I’ve just been watching a real-time joint Press Conference by Presidents Putin of Russia and Chirac of France. “There is no justification for war” stated clearly Chirac. “All possible avenues have not as yet been exhausted” echoed Putin. The Franco-German-Belgian axis having destabilised NATO over the last couple of days forced Robinson to admit earlier this morning that the situation in the Alliance is “difficult…extraordinarily complex”. And in comes Putin, fresh from his talks with Schroeder smiling and thanking the French for their hospitality. Just as Saddam tells the world he will now allow overflights of U-2 spy planes as “Iraq has nothing to hide”! A farce or an insipient tragedy?

Some of the worst tragedies of human history occur when elites are incapable of acting in their own interest. The waning years of ancient Rome, for example, were full of misguided political and military adventures that brought death and destruction to the elites but also to their allies and their enemies alike. Unfortunately we are again facing such a situation with a section of the American elite ready to embark on such an adventure.

Is this one sign that the US is fast adopting the mantle of an imperialist power along the old European model, but on a global scale? Is it not imposing itself as the active and determining centre of the full range of world affairs, military, political, and economic?

The ultimate hubris of the US political leaders is their nationalist belief that they can not only force regime change and name new leaders for various countries, but also actually shape the global environment - a reckless extension of the old imperialist ideology of the civilising mission. Regime change in Iraq is only the first step in an ambitious project to reconstruct the political order of the entire Middle East. And their designs of power extend well beyond that.

Many other political and economic elites around the world, however, do not favour the creation of a new US imperialism. One common view is that European political leaders of independent and sovereign nations generally oppose US unilateralism because it excludes them and prefer instead multilateral political - and if need be military - solutions. What is most significant, however, is not the reality of the conflicting interests that separate US elites from others, but rather their common interests. And it is this convergence that has led me, among many others, to argue in The Blanket for the process of the constitution of the Empire.

The common interests of the global elites are most visible in the economic sphere. Business leaders around the globe recognise that imperialism is bad for business because it sets up barriers that hinder global flows. Putin referred to this in the Press Conference earlier today, highlighting the fact that 90% of Russia’s export/import business takes place with Europe. This is equally true for the captains of capital in the US. Even for the US industrialists drunk on oil and backing Bush, their real interests lie in the potential profits of capitalist globalisation.

The developing European axis is an alternative to US imperialism. It is global power organised in a decentred form. This is not merely a multilateral coalition of leading nation states. Think of it as multilateralism squared. Empire is a network composed of different kinds of powers, including the dominant nation states, supranational organisations, such as the United Nations and the IMF, multinational corporations, NGOs, the media, and others. There are hierarchies among the powers that constitute empire but despite their differences they function together in the network.

This decentred network power of empire corresponds to the interests of global elites because it both facilitates the potential profits of capitalist globalisation and displaces or defuses potential security threats. I am confident that in the long run their real interests will lead global elites to support empire and refuse any project of US imperialism. In the coming months, however, we may indeed face a tragedy that we read about in the darkest periods of human history, when elites are incapable of acting in their own interest.

The evidence - what evidence?

In this respect, let us think of Powell - who came to the United Nations and produced his evidence.

Enough to launch a war? The first and most obvious problem is that it wouldn't be a launch. We must stress that ‘launch’ is the wrong word - but rather an escalation. One that even its lead architect has compared, publicly and approvingly, to Hiroshima. Three US presidents have been waging continuous war against Iraq's government and its people for a dozen years -- from the Gulf War, to economic sanctions, to the unilaterally imposed no-fly zones, to regular bombings, to covert efforts to overthrow or assassinate Iraq's leaders, to the current, steadily increasing bombing runs and psychological pressure on the Iraqis. Powell's presentation was not a case for war; it was part of the war itself.

The question in the minds of what John Le Carre called the Bush junta was less whether war was justified than how to sell it to allies and to the public. The White House's arguments for war all along have been less conclusions based on evidence than evidence based on conclusions. There is still absolutely no evidence that the Iraqi government, now, or at any foreseeable point in the future, poses a security threat even to its immediate neighbours -- let alone to the United States, halfway around the world. There is no evidence that Iraq, a country whose military is a fifth of its size ten years ago, a country crippled militarily (and in many other ways) by the most rigorous sanctions in world history, a country whose every move is closely monitored, a country which knows that any aggressive twitch would be instantly suicidal, now even possesses the capacity to inflict harm on any other country -- let alone is a threat to do so, and let alone that the United States is among those threatened. This is Iraq’s reality and you don’t have to be a Saddam fan to admit that.

And still Bush talks of a threat.

If Powell is stretching that far to make the case the Bush Administration has been desperate to make for 16 months - that, for example, Saddam Hussein had links to 9/11 -- nothing calls more into question his entire presentation than his use of the wretched evidential document produced by the Blair Government - culled and plagiarised from twelve-year old PhD theses - as they admitted themselves. Any objective reading of the legitimacy of Powell's case must include the question as to whether his "factual" evidence is, in fact, factual. One need not go back to the Gulf of Tonkin, or even the Kuwaiti incubator hoax before the Gulf War, to recall American governments lying to justify aggressive military policies. The Bush Administration has been misrepresenting facts on the ground routinely in its efforts over the last year to justify invasion; it has watched public support steadily erode despite those efforts. It risked a diplomatic uproar to seize the only, unread copy of Iraq's U.N. weapons report less than two months ago. It has had the tools, the time, and the motive to falsify evidence, and there is little or no corroboration for either Powell's satellite intelligence or his "human intelligence." It could all be true; it could also all be a cynical hoax. Nor need it be Bush's team that's doing the lying; that human intelligence is without question coming from people with much to gain by having the Americans put a government in power in Baghdad -- a government likely to be run by Iraqis the Americans already know and have found helpful. And, as with so much of the ridiculous Afghan "intelligence" coming out of Guantanamo Bay these days, whether that information is given willingly or under duress, when the Bush Administration is told something it wants to hear, its bullshit detectors seem permanently glued into the "off" position.

There are, by my count, three major reasons why Bush and his aides are infatuated, at a geopolitical level, with the idea of invading, conquering, and either running or installing a puppet regime in Iraq.

Of these three factors, many anti-war activists abroad and especially here in Ireland tend to harp on only one -- oil. Not surprisingly, Iraq's massive oil riches rated not a mention in Bush's State of the Union address. Even without the personal connections Bush, Cheney, and several members of his high command have with the oil industry, it's impossible in any case to believe that the presence, in Iraq, of enormous quantities of one of the natural resources most essential to the American economy would ever be ignored. And it's not. Iraq's oil, and the opportunity to gain an alternative major oil source to Saudi Arabia and a supply lever against pricing by the Saudis and by controlling the Caspian Sea bonanza are a far more relevant motivator for invading Iraq than Saddam's phantom weapons.

But oil is not the only motivator we should care about. The West, and us in Ireland, tend to take our Right to Use Middle East Oil for granted. But there are two other important motivators for an invasion, and reasons. The first reason is the advancement of the empire. You can include in this category the desire for a new, massive, permanent military presence in the Middle East, a virtual certainty if Saddam's Ba'athists are replaced by a regime directly or indirectly on the western payroll. All that oil would be a boon to any empire. In the short term, so would the money made repairing a dozen years of American damage to Iraq.

But more important is the post-invasion example the empire can then hold up to the rest of the world, of what happens when a recalcitrant government, for any reason, displeases it. What will happen? The Pentagon plan includes simultaneous ground invasions from north and south; Turkey unilaterally reversed course and agreed this week -- amidst billions of dollars in American inducements -- to allow tens of thousands of U.S. troops to use its military bases - annoying no end its European NATO allies. The plan also includes a sudden decimation of Baghdad by raining down on its people, in two days, some 800 Cruise missiles -- more than were used in the entire Gulf War. Harlan Ullman, the military strategist who apparently developed the plan, last week characterized the Baghdad assault thus: "You have this simultaneous effect, rather like the nuclear weapons of Hiroshima, not taking days or weeks but minutes." It would be a firestorm, a Dresden with 60 years of new technology. It would be a war crime of quick and staggering proportions.

And the name of the plan is "Shock and Awe." Ostensibly, the name refers to the demoralizing effect such an attack would have on Iraqis, an effect, presumably, similar to the instant (although already planned) surrender of Japan after the gratuitous bombing of Hiroshima and even more gratuitous bombing of Nagasaki. But those were, both military and diplomatically, demonstration attacks -- suggesting what could be done to the imperial rulers themselves and to Tokyo, a city far more valuable and populous than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

In Iraq, Baghdad is the capital.

But the demonstration effect goes far beyond Iraq. The intended audience in 1945 was as much Stalin as Hirohito; the audience for the Bush invasion of Iraq, in this age of global satellite TV, and the Net, is the entire world. Iraqis, dead or alive, are secondary. The entire world, and the Empire’s dominance of it, is very much the agenda for invading Iraq; Bush's State of the Union address delivered that message emphatically. The U.S. will not wait, for the United Nations or even its allies, before striking. We need not seek their approval or cooperation. It is the United States' judgment that Saddam Hussein, owing to various crimes against humanity and the oil industry, must go. It is also the United States' right to make that judgment, regardless of whether anybody else agrees, and it is also the United States' right to implement it, again, regardless of what others say, think, or do.

Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right

This is a formulation that goes far beyond the role of "global policeman"; this is America as cop, judge, jury, and executioner. It is not intended to serve the cause of human rights, or disarmament. It is a tool of empire, and George Bush and his administration are remarkably naked in their assertion that not only does America intend to rule the world, but it should rule the world, and the world will be better off for it. And if the world is not grateful, it just doesn't understand. Yet.

This leads us to the third major element of the Iraq invasion, also on full and odious display: God. Not just any God, but the God that blesses America, the God that is never more than a paragraph away from George Bush's lips in a major speech, the God that justifies America's glorious crusade.

It was no accident that Bush first blurted out, in the days after 9/11, that his war against terrorism (remember Osama bin Laden?) was a "crusade." It was, in fact, a crusade. So is the invasion of Iraq, in the religious and historical sense of winning coveted land away from the infidels and liberating it to the glory of God.

America must save the brown infidels from themselves; it is only Americans who are wise enough and evolved enough (and saved enough) to decide who is and is not fit to rule their lands. And since only Americans know how to make proper use of the riches beneath the savages/infidels' feet -- gold, land, oil, whatever -- it is their divinely granted right to take ownership for America.

We in the West are, in other words, the Chosen People in the Chosen Land, and those who displease us must die. And if all this sounds a whole lot like the now-forgotten bin Laden and his ilk -- and, for that matter, like Cortez and Pizarro -- you can excuse the rest of the world for being terrified.

With good reason. To all evidence, the religious fervour, and duty, that Bush brings to his leadership of Empire is something he and many of the people around him genuinely believe. That belief, especially if called into doubt, trumps any qualms they may have about killing unthinkable numbers of people, and plunging still more unthinkable numbers into privation, misery, and/or the underground torture chambers of the American-fed dictators plaguing much of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Such ickiness, especially at a distance, is regrettable but necessary. To shirk from such duty would be to disobey God.

Anti-war activists, by and large, have dismissed and tuned out this rhetoric; it comes from a foreign (to most left wingers) culture and isn't taken seriously. Nor is the call to Empire, because progressives are more familiar with the last half-century of American invasions, interventions, and support for despots; Bush's vision is an expansion of American policy, not a wholly new direction. But on both counts, Bush's stark endorsement of what, essentially, amounts to a global theocracy is shocking and troubling.

To conclude, in this theocratic nature of the Empire we can also recognise another historical symptom of similar adventures: the rebirth of the concept of bellum justum or ‘just war’. What this concept does is that it sanitizes war and makes it almost an ethical consideration. War becomes almost a police action - an activity that is justified by itself - an activity that the new Empire can legitimately exercise. The enemy is an absolute threat to our ethical order. It may change faces, it may clone itself, but it is absolute!

Think of how hard modern secularism has tried to expunge humanity from this medieval curse. Putin, asked by a journalist of whether he was worried from this ‘evident difference of opinion among the Allies(?!?)’ responded that uniformity in opinion was how the old Communist Party of Russia operated - ‘with the results that we all know well’ he added with a smirk.

Jokes apart I will conclude by paraphrasing William Morris:

We fight and lose a battle, and the thing that we fought against becomes reality …and then it turns out not to be what we were afraid of, and other people have to fight for what we wanted - but with another name.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
- Thomas J. Watson

Index: Current Articles

16 February 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


A Plan "B" for Tony Blair and Northern Ireland
Paul Fitzsimmons


Evidence, What Evidence?
Michael Youlton


Choices to be Made
Larry Kirwan


Talking Through His Cassock
Bert Ward


Letter to Uncle
Jimmy Sands


Long Kesh Meets Peterhouse
Anthony McIntyre


Socialists, Leadership and the Working Class
Davy Carlin


14 February 2003


Anti War March Tomorrow
Davy Carlin


A Tale of Two Writers
Anthony McIntyre


Phil Berrigan is Dead
Larry Kirwan


8 Mile Worth the Trip
Mick Hall


A Letter of Protest
Orlaith Dillon


London Arrests Update




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