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[casi] The last refuge of an imperialist: History made me do it

What's Left

July 18, 2003

The last refuge of an imperialist: History made me do it

By Stephen Gowans

When you're in trouble on the specifics, fall back on high-sounding
ambiguities. Good advise if you've just led your country into war on dubious
grounds, and people are awakening to the possibility that they've been

So it is that when embattled British Prime Minister Tony Blair addressed the
United States Congress (after having picked up the Congressional Gold Medal
for--one would guess--unstinting service to the Empire) he never did address
the dodgy dossiers and phony stories about Saddam picking up uranium yellow
cake in Niger that everyone had been talking about for weeks. Instead, he
talked about the danger of terrorists getting weapons of mass destruction
from rogue states.

This, of course, was nothing new. The possibility of a terrorist-WMD nexus
was trotted out often as a pretext for war in the months leading up to the
assault on Iraq by US and British troops, an assault amply adumbrated by
Washington in numerous public record documents, from the Bush-connected The
Project for a New American Century's "Rebuilding America's Defenses" ("While
the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the
need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the
issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein") {1} to the president's own National
Security Strategy.

But Blair had also got a whole lot more specific on the reasons Britain
needed to join the US in a war to oust Saddam Hussein, presenting "sexed up"
intelligence in a now infamous dossier. When public opinion remained
stubbornly skeptical, despite his best efforts to scare up support (both
literally and figuratively), Blair simply said he'd work all the harder to
persuade Britons that premeditated, politically motivated violence
perpetrated against the innocents of Iraq was the right thing to do {2}.

There was never any question that he would bend to the will of the public,
which, until troops were deployed, remained opposed to war on Iraq. But
there was a dictator to oust, one who did what he wanted over the objections
of his people, and Blair wasn't going to let anything as trifling as the
objections of his own people stop him from doing what he wanted; what, he
would later say, history had compelled him to do. And so British troops
backed up Washington's rank imperialism run amok.

That Blair's stated reasons for pressing the British military into service
to join in the conquering of an oil rich and strategically vital country
were false, was clear from the start. What made the deception plain was that
Blair kept changing his reasons for going to war, which fit nicely with the
US administration's practice of openly searching for a casus belli, as if
they were saying, "We're not going to come right out and say in uncertain
terms why we're going to go to war, but once we find something to hang this
thing on, we're going to nail the bastard."

The British media watchdog MediaLens, pointed out that Blair had changed his
justification for waging war six times. Initially, he said Iraq would have
to be shown to have been complicit in the September 11 attacks. When
complicity couldn't be shown (despite a concerted effort to do so), he cited
Iraqi refusal to readmit UN weapons inspectors as a tripwire for an attack.
When Saddam Hussein agreed to readmit inspectors, Blair said the discovery
of undeclared Iraqi WMDs by weapons inspectors would justify war. When no
evidence of banned weapons was found, Blair decided Iraq would have to be
bombed because it had links to terrorist organizations. When the alleged
links were called into question, Blair said Iraq had failed to be
sufficiently proactive in co-operating with UN weapons inspectors. When
weapons inspectors pointed to Iraq's growing cooperativeness, Blair declared
Saddam Hussein to be an evil monster who needed to be ousted for moral
reasons. Now, he says the attack was the right thing to do because…well,
because he believes it was right the right thing to do, and, what's more, he
believes this "with every fiber of instinct and conviction." Which means
that in the end, when every reason you've trotted out to justify war
crumbles, you can shrug your shoulders and say, "I thought it was the right
thing to." And, with the conquest now a fait accompli, who cares if some
malcontents think you've paltered with the truth? The job's done.

Still, Blair is staying away from specifics, concentrating instead on making
the case that the threat of some countries outfitting terrorists with WMDs
(even if it's only a sexed-up, contrived threat, and never real) is all the
justification he needs – or ever needed -- to join Washington in whatever
imperialist takeover is on the agenda. Few people seemed to have noticed the
warning Blair issued in his address to Congress. "September the 11th was not
an isolated event, but a tragic prologue, Iraq another act, and many further
struggles will be set upon this stage before it's over." Yes, many further
acts, which, one would guess, will have many different scenes: Iran, Syria,
North Korea, Cuba.  Stars and Stripes, the US military's newspaper, says the
US Army alone has over 350,000 soldiers deployed in 120 countries. {3} That
number may, before the decade is out, be increased by at least four, the
number of countries remaining on Washington's hit list (less Cuba, which
already has US soldiers stationed on its territory, at Guantanamo Bay.) A
curious person might wonder why it is that the US has stationed troops in so
many countries, though the country's history, and its economic system,
furnishes answers.

"I firmly believe," remarked Connecticut's Senator Orville Platt in 1894,
"that when any territory outside the present territorial limits of the
United States becomes necessary for our defense or essential for our
commercial development, we ought to lose no time in acquiring it." {4}
Platt's importunities were largely superfluous. The United States would have
lost no time anyway in acquiring what has come to be known as "America's
vital interests," be it tin and tungsten in Indochina or oil in the Middle
East. Capitalism, like a shark, must keep moving, and American capitalism
has been very successful in moving across the face of the globe.

Thirteen years later, Woodrow Wilson, soon to become president, would utter
the shark-keeper's credo. "Since trade ignores national boundaries," he
said, "and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the
flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are
closed against him must be battered down. Concessions obtained by financiers
must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of
unwilling nations be outraged in the process. Colonies must be obtained or
planted in order that no useful corner of the world may be overlooked or
left unused." {5}

Wilson, like most presidents, was an unwitting Marxist. Compare his remarks
to this, from the Communist Manifesto: "The need of a constantly expanding
market for [their] products chases the [manufacturer] over the whole surface
of the globe. [They] must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish
connections everywhere." {6} The difference, of course, was that Wilson was
a willing servant, and beneficiary of, the capitalist exploitation Marx and
Engels deplored. But they were all pretty well agreed on the imperative that
drove capitalists to batter down the doors of nations closed against them.
And much of the battering, in the American case, was being done by the
United States military.

Major General Smedley Butler, a 33-year veteran of the US Marine Corps.
would have perceived nothing unusual in his country having troops deployed
throughout the world –or of his country's governments finding reasons to
launch strikes on countries whose economies had remained stubbornly
resistant to becoming appendages of America's own economy. That's because
Butler came to perceive his role in the country' military establishment,
which nominally exists to protect the security of Americans from attack, as
one of securing access to foreign markets and resources on behalf of US
firms, a necessary part of the imperative that drove capitalists to "nestle
everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere," even if it
meant outraging the sovereignty of unwilling nations. It was perfectly true
that the US military protected Americans, if by Americans you meant "some
Americans" and you were speaking of their business opportunities and
investments overseas.

"I spent most of my time [in the Marines] as a high-class muscle man for Big
Business, for Wall Street and the bankers," {7} Butler recalled. "In short,
I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism." {8}

"I helped make for American oil interests," he explained. "I
helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank." And
he added that he "helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American
republics for the benefit of Wall Street." {9}

Call it rape, or call it enforcing stability and security. It's all the
same. Clinton's Defense Secretary William Cohen preferred the higher
sounding "stability." "Business follows the flag," he explained, when asked
why 100,000 US troops were stationed in Europe, 40,000 were in South Korea,
and tens of thousands were in the Persian Gulf region. "Where there is
stability and security, there is likely to be investment." {10}

But Cohen was simply echoing Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State, and former
Supreme Commander of NATO's forces in Europe, Alexander Haig. "A lot of
people forget [the presence of US troops in Europe] is also the bona fide of
our economic success," Haig explained. "[I]t keeps European markets open to
us. If those troops weren't there, those markets would probably be more
difficult to access." {11}

And Haig was simply echoing another former General, Dwight Eisenhower. "A
serious and explicit purpose of our foreign policy [is] the encouragement of
a hospitable climate for [private] investment in foreign nations." {12}

Blair, however, is never going to be so open about why he backed up
Washington's resource grab in Iraq, preferring to cycle through
high-sounding ambiguities to justify the striking off of renitent countries
from the list of states that have yet to willingly turn over their markets,
resources, and labor to American (and as a perk of toadying to Washington,
British) capital. So he carries on about a new virus in the world:
terrorism, whose spread must be arrested; and the "sense of justice that
makes moral the love of liberty," which the United States must force on the
rest on the world because "destiny put [the US] in this place in history, in
this moment in time, and the task is [America's] to do." History, it seems,
is something Blair knows well, for he says that hesitating to wage war on
Iraq, as well as on future targets (and therefore, hesitating to blow away
thousands of Iraqis for no reason other than crass commercial gain and
conquest) "is something history will not forgive."

History is indeed a stern taskmaster. Especially when it goes by the name

1. "Rebuilding America's Defense: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New
Century," September, 2000.

2. Premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against
innocents -- an apt description of the US and British invasion of Iraq; also
of the attacks on Afghanistan and Yugoslavia. The description is the
definition of "terrorism" from the President's National Security Strategy.

3. "Military won't be overextended, says Bush, but some troops beg to
differ," Stars And Stripes, July 15, 2003.

4. David Healy, U.S. Expansionism: The Imperialist Urge in the 1890's,
Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, 1970, p. 173, cited in Joel Andreas,
Addicted to War, AK Press, 2002.

5. Micheal Parenti, Against Empire, City Light Books, San Francisco, 1995,

6. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, "The Communist Manifesto," in Leo Panitch
and Colin Leys, Eds., "The Socialist Register, 1998," Monthly Review Press,
1998, p. 243.

7. Major General Smedley Butler, "War is a Racket,"

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. "Cohen: No 'Superpower Fatigue' Secretary Says U.S. Military Presence
Promotes Stability,", May 24, 2000, cited in Joel Andreas,
Addicted to War, AK Press, 2002.

11. UPI, January 7, 2002.

12. New York Times, February 3, 1953, cited in Michael Parenti, The
Terrorism Trap, City Light Books, San Francisco 2002, p.88.

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