Pearl Harbour moment

Dr Glen Rangwala is the Cambridge academic who discovered that the Blair dossier on Iraq's 'weapons of mass destruction' was drawn largely from a decade-old plargiarised source. He is also a member of Labour Against the War. Here he outlines his analysis of US motivations behind the conquering of Iraq

Clearly, the Iraq conflict was just the starting point of a much broader and deeper project of the United States to reshape the world post the Cold War. There are three elements to this. In the aftermath of the first Gulf war in the early 1990s, there were a number of US figures "“ particularly in the Pentagon, the department of defence "“ who were determined that the regime of Saddam Hussein had to go and a new regime be installed that would be friendly to Washington. It was the reluctance of the leading members of the Bush senior administration "“ people such as Colin Powell "“ to undertake that which angered many elements in the defence department. In 1992, a man who is now number two in the pentagon "“ he was then number three "“ Paul Wolfowitz, circulated an influential memorandum amongst Pentagon officials, giving birth to what we now call the 'neo-conservative' trend in US ruling class circles. This essentially argued that US strategy in international affairs had to decisively change course. He outlined three policies: First, the end of the idea of 'containment' of enemy states, the policy on Iraq at the time. 'Containment' consisted of sanctions on the country, attempts to isolate it, to essentially 'box it off'. Wolfowitz argued that this was a false strategy "“ hostile regimes needed to be actively overthrown. Pre-emption rather than containment became the keyword. The installation of pro-US governments should become the active and unilateral policy of the American government. The next element of the new policy flows logically from this more aggressive stance. Pursuing an approach like this would inevitably mean that the US would not be able to pull all its allies on board for pre-emptive action. Thus, America would have to make do with whatever allies it could cohere around itself for particular pre-emptive initiatives. Thus, stable, long term alliances would actually hinder the US's ability to take the type of bold, decisive action that Wolfowitz felt was required. For example, if you had to wait for a security council resolution, if you had to wait for your European allies to come on board, you would be cramping your ability to act in your own interests. Thus, you had to take on board whoever would join up for whatever campaign you were undertaking at the time "“ conjunctural alliances rather than stable, institutionalised bodies such as the United Nations. Wolfowitz's 1992 memorandum called them "ad-hoc coalitions" "“ they are now known as "coalitions of the willing". The logic of this has been outlined in written material since. If you put too much emphasis on international alliances and international law, you are in effect de-legitimating your right to take unilateral action. Thus, there is a need to denigrate international institutions, denigrate the very idea of international legitimation and law in order to press this approach through. That has clearly become central to US strategy since the 1990s, with periodic attacks on international institutions in the security realm. In this context, it is clear that Colin Powell does not belong to this neo-conservative trend; he is a traditional realist. He has come to prominence at the same time as many people who are actually his opponents in terms of the direction of foreign policy "“ his number two at the state department is John Bolton, a neo-conservative. Powell still values the idea that US interests are best served by keeping international alliances in some sort of stable format rather than a 'pick-n'-mix' approach. However, this policy has largely been discredited after all the wrangling in the UN security council over Iraq. Yet, even now, he is at pains to emphasise that there were 45 countries on board the coalition for war in Iraq. The US was not alone, he said, and, interestingly, "they do this in the face of public opposition"! This was very revealing. It emphasised that even for the more 'moderate' elements of the US administration, international alliances are essentially deals between political elites; winning the majority of people in a particular country to support the course of action you are embarking on is an irrelevance. The third element is the US's presence internationally. If the country is to undertake pre-emptive actions with nothing more than ad-hoc coalitions, then the US must have military dominance. This applies particularly in the core regions for US interests "“ the Gulf, east Asia, Europe. The US must have such an extent of military muscle in those regions that no country feels it can compete with its might. Thus, we have seen a massive increase in American defence spending. Wolfowitz and the people around him look to the Reagan era as a model in this. So we now have a situation where the US spends more on its military than the nearest ten countries put together. So this three-point strategy not only expresses the reality that America is the world's only superpower in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR. It is also crafted to ensure that the US will remain the only world superpower. The massive military build up is intended as a deterrent to future potential competitors for world hegemony "“ particularly Europe. Thus, US military spending this year will top $400 billion "“ over one billion dollars a day. This is simply without precedent in history. This neo-conservative strategy was developed gradually throughout the 1990s. It was felt that such an interventionist, aggressive foreign policy could not be won all in one go. In a core ideological document of this trend in 2000, it was said that it would take a cataclysmic event to make the US public accept such massive expenditure "“ a sort of 'Pearl Harbour moment'. Obviously, 9/11 gave them that. After the attack on the twin towers, it was felt that they had the justification in popular discourse to be able to argue for this new course. * Project for a New American Century www.newamericancentury.org * Further writing by Glen Rangwala www.middleeastreference.org.uk/writings.html