The Logic of Empire

by George Monbiot

The Guardian (liberal), London, England, Aug. 6, 2002

World Press Review, October 2002


The Bush administration's escalating barrage of bellicose rhetoric toward Iraq and its rejection of the international Crimean Court have strained Washington's relations with its European allies and unleashed a new wave of intense anti-American sentiment in the European press.

There is something almost comical about the prospect of George W. Bush waging war on another nation because that nation has defied international law. Since Bush came to office, the U.S. government has torn up more international treaties and disregarded more United Nations' conventions than the rest of the world has in 20 years. It has scuppered the biological weapons convention while experimenting, illegally, with biological weapons of its own. It has refused to grant chemical-weapons inspectors full access to its laboratories and has destroyed attempts to launch chemical inspections in Iraq. It has ripped up the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and appears to be ready to violate the nuclear test-ban treaty.

It has permitted CIA hit squads to recommence covert operations of the kind that included, in the past, the assassination of foreign heads of state. It has sabotaged the small arms treaty, undermined the International Criminal Court, refused to sign the climate-change protocol, and last month, sought to immobilize the U.N. convention against torture so that it could keep foreign observers out of its prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Even its preparedness to go to war with Iraq without a mandate from the U.N. Security Council is a defiance of international law far graver than [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein's noncompliance with U.N. weapons inspectors.

But the U.S. government's declaration of impending war has, in truth, nothing to do with weapons inspections. John Bolton, the U.S. official charged, hilariously, with ''arms control," told the Today show that "our policy...insists on regime change in Baghdad, and that policy will not be altered, whether inspectors go in or not."

The U.S. government's justification for whipping Saddam has now changed twice. At first, Iraq was named as a potential target because it was "assisting Al-Qaeda. "This turned out to be untrue. Then the U.S. government claimed that Iraq had to be attacked because it could be developing weapons of mass destruction and was refusing to allow the weapons inspectors to find out if this were so.

Now, as the promised evidence has failed to materialize, the weapons issue has been dropped. The new reason for war is Saddam Hussein's very existence. This, at least, has the advantage of being verifiable. It should surely be obvious by now that the decision to wage war on Iraq came first, and the justification later.

Other than the age-old issue of oil supply, this is a war without strategic purpose. The U.S. government is not afraid of Saddam Hussein, however hard it tries to scare its own people. There is no evidence that Iraq is sponsoring terrorism against America. Saddam is well aware that if he attacks another nation with weapons of mass destruction, he can expect to be nuked. He presents no more of a threat to the world now than he has done for the past I0 years.

But the U.S. government has several pressing domestic reasons for going to war. The first is that attacking Iraq gives the impression that the flagging "war on terror" is going somewhere. The second is that the people of all superdominant nations love war. As Bush found in Afghanistan, whacking foreigners wins votes. Allied to this concern is the need to distract attention from the financial scandals in which both the president and vice president are enmeshed. Already, in this respect, the impending war seems to be working rather well.

The United States also possesses a vast military-industrial comp]ex that is in constant need of conflict in order to justify its staggeringly expensive existence. Perhaps more importantly than any of these factors, the hawks who control the White House perceive that perpetual war results in the perpetual demand for their services. And there is scarcely a better formula for perpetual war, with both terrorists and other Arab nations, than the invasion of Iraq. The hawks know that they will win, whoever loses. In other words, if the United States was not preparing to attack Iraq, it would be preparing to attack another nation. The United States will go to war with that country because it needs a country with which to go to war.

[British Prime Minister] Tony Blair also has several pressing reasons for supporting an invasion. By appeasing Bush, he placates Britain's right-wing press. Standing on Bush's shoulders, he can assert a claim to global leadership more credible than that of other European leaders, while defending Britain's anomalous position as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Within Europe, his relationship with the president grants him the eminent role of broker and interpreter of power.

By invoking the "special relationship," Blair also avoids the greatest challenge any prime minister has faced since World War II. This challenge is to recognize and act upon the conclusion of any objective analysis of global power: namely, that the greatest threat to world peace is not Saddam Hussein, but George W. Bush. The nation that in the past has been our firmest friend is becoming instead our foremost enemy.

As the U.S. government discovers that it can threaten and attack other nations with impunity, it will surely soon begin to threaten countries that have numbered among its allies. As its insatiable demand for resources prompts ever-bolder colonial adventures, it will come to interfere directly with the strategic interests of other quasi-imperial states.

As it refuses to take responsibility for the consequences of the use of those resources, it threatens the rest of the world with environmental disaster. It has become openly contemptuous of other governments and prepared to dispose of any treaty or agreement that impedes its strategic objectives. It is starting to construct a new generation of nuclear weapons and appears to be ready to use them pre-emptively. It could be about to ignite an inferno in the Middle East, into which the rest of the world would be sucked.

The United States, in other words, behaves like any other imperial power. Imperial powers expand their empires until they meet with overwhelming resistance. For Britain to abandon the special relationship would be to accept that this is happening.

To accept that the United States presents a danger to the rest of the world would be to acknowledge the need to resist it. Resisting the United States would be the most daring reversal of policy a British government has undertaken for over 6() years.

We can resist the United States neither by military nor economic means, but we can resist it diplomatically. The only safe and sensible response to American power is a policy of non-cooperation. Britain and the rest of Europe should impede, at the diplomatic level, all U.S. attempts to act unilaterally.

We should launch independent efforts to resolve the Iraq crisis and the conflict between Israel and Palestine. And we should cross our fingers and hope that a combination of economic mismanagement, gangster capitalism, and excessive military spending will reduce America's power to the extent that it ceases to use the rest of the world as its doormat.

Only when the United States can accept its role as a nation whose interests must be balanced with those of all other nations can we resume a friendship that was once, if briefly, founded upon the principles of justice.

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