26 March 2003

America's Endless War: The World is Not Enough

26 March 2003
The Times of India

America's Endless War
The World is Not Enough

By Siddharth Varadarajan

Forget the shock and awe-inspiring pornography of massive explosions filmed from the sky, the plaintive faces of civilians being bombed into liberation or even the plucky resistance of Iraqi partisans. For me, the most compelling image of the US-led aggression against Iraq was what happened in Umm Qasr on the first day of the ground invasion. A spokesman for the invaders declared that the port had been secured. And to emphasise the reality of American conquest, the Iraqi flag was torn down from the docks and the Stars and Stripes hastily hoisted in its place.

For a war officially meant to be about Iraqi Freedom, not occupation, that rudely fluttering American flag was an unsettling intimation of what the future really has in store. Anxious that the illusion of piety surrounding Anglo-American intentions be maintained, British defence secretary Geoff Hoon counselled his US counterpart that the dockyard spectacle not be repeated in a hurry.

The offending flag was removed because it was a naive and unnecessary expression of war aims. The Bush administration knows that once it succeeds in bombing president Saddam Hussein out of power and installing an administrative arrangement of its own choosing — i.e. when it switches from rule by ordnance to rule by ordinance — US interests will be well looked after. Already, reconstruction contracts are being earmarked for politi-cally well-connected American corporations like Halli-burton and Bechtel, and oilmen from Texas have begun making their first forays into Iraq's Rumaila oil field.

Apart from the strategic pay-off in getting to decide how much Iraqi oil is produced and to whom it is sold, there's serious money to be made for American companies. The Iraqi oil industry will need some capital investment but given the high quality of the oil and the relatively low extraction costs, profits will be enormous. Nationalisation of the oil industry in most Arab countries over the years has led to US oil companies being restricted to downstream, i.e. refining and marketing, activities. But the real profits are in upstream, i.e. extraction, operations.

If Saddam Hussein is overthrown, US oil companies would be well placed to gain control of Iraqi reserves from the extraction to marketing stage. The US could also block Russian, French and Chinese oil majors from benefiting. Finally, control over the international oil trade will help to protect the dollar's dominant position vis-a-vis long-term rivals like the euro.

But this war is about more than just oil: It is about cementing the domination of the US in a world that is likely to undergo fundamental economic and strategic changes in the next few decades. This strategy goes back to the 1990s, when the Clinton administration adopted a national security document explicitly built around the objective of preventing the emergence of rival powers. Through a combination of containment, co-optation and IMF condi-tionalities, China, Russia, France-Germany, India, Japan, Korea and Indonesia have all been kept in check thus far.

Faced with the prospects of a multipolar world, the first preoccupation of the Clinton presidency was to ensure that the US remained indispensable for European security. The expansion of NATO, the intervention in Bosnia and, finally, the illegal attack on Yugoslavia in 1999, were all aimed at discouraging Europe from entertaining the idea that it could get by without the US. Washington achieved its objectives, but only in part.

Today, as the Franco-German axis of opposition to the Iraq war demonstrates, the fissures between Europe and the US run deep. It is no mere coincidence that the continent of Asia, whose economy is set to grow the fastest in the coming years, is also where all of America's 'rogue states' or potential 'rogue states' are. The terrorists who executed 9/11 gave the US the opportunity to insert itself militarily into the very heart of Central Asia, where oil and gas reserves rival those of West Asia.

Under the 'axis of evil' thesis and the illegal doctrines of pre-emptive war and regime change, the US is preparing the ground for military intervention elsewhere in Asia. Iran and North Korea have already been given notice, but Syria, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan could also end up feeling the heat. In both the oil surplus regions of West and Central Asia and the oil deficient regions of East and South Asia, the US aim is to use its overwhelming military might to control and manage the flow of energy resources. This is what Mr Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney's promised 'endless war' against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction is all about.

For a country like India, the choice is clear: It must join hands with others in Asia and elsewhere to resist this growing US intervention. Unfortunately, the Vajpayee government is in a myopic mode. A very senior government source told an off-the-record briefing last week that India's policy was not to alienate the US over Iraq for fear of what Washington might do in the UN over Kashmir. But if the US is allowed to get away with aggression in Iraq, this will increase the likelihood of it using Kashmir as a lever to ensure Indian compliance. Security can never be bought by meekly watching the schoolyard bully attack others in the hope that he will forget about you.

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