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The Rationale for US Military Intervention

After the Cold War

By Naseer Aruri


A number of infractions are cited by Washington officials and policy-oriented intellectuals, as grounds to justify the use of American military force in the world. None of them, of course, is placed in the context of hegemony, but they are all disguised in humanist wrappings. They include human rights (Iraq 1991), democracy (Haiti 1994), starvation (Somalia 1992-1993), and drug trafficking (Panama 1989). The proliferation of pretexts for intervention yields a rather diffuse rationale and a disjointed national security doctrine in the place of anti-communism. President Clinton said during the formative stage of his administration that "we will always be engaged," and "we will lead...we want to enlarge the space for economic well-being." Engagement and leadership are therefore, seen as the necessary preconditions for economic progress. For America's exercise of power and leadership are seen as facilitating the enlargement of space for economic well-being. America is thus endowed with a mission not far from that of the white man's burden.

The new circumstances which propel the US engine on that mission are:

1) The failure of the national bourgeoisie and state capitalism in the 1980's and the corresponding ascendancy of the parasitic and compradore strata had enhanced liberalism and paved the way for globalization.

2) Resurgence of ethnic and national conflicts has been effectively used to invoke the need to protect human rights. Military intervention, therefore, was rationalized as a measure to protect these rights and to advance stability and democracy.

Market Democracy

The mission of US foreign policy in the 1990's was described by Anthony Lake, President Clinton's former National Security advisor as the export of "market democracy." It was undoubtedly regarded as representing a triumph of the US business model of foreign policy, which depicts a fusion of economic and political liberalism--free enterprise and free expression. For Lake, Albright and Clinton, an adjective such as "market," describing the democracy they promote, would provide the economic rationale for the possible use of force. For neither the human rights of the Bosnian Muslims, nor those of the Kuwaiti people provided sufficient U.S. public backing for military intervention. Previously, Bush and Baker had to switch from human rights as rationale for intervention to "jobs," "standard of living," and oil. In Bosnia, where these tangible elements do not exist, US public opinion exhibited earnest misgivings about any U.S. intervention.

Market Democracy is a code phrase for colonized markets, free to US business interests to exploit, with little governmental interference from the local authorities. The humans whose rights are really being promoted and protected are executives of large corporations slated to reap the main benefit of trade legislation and the new foreign policy emphasis on the market, as well as the rights of their wealthy overseas partners who facilitate the marketing of their products.

Globalization As A Source of A New National Security Doctrine

For the Clinton Administration, globalization, and the global trading system represent a catch-all phrase, which could draw the line between when to make war, and when not to: war against "protectionism" to advance American economic interests; war against terrorism, to counter aggression, to defend democracy, to combat famine, drug trafficking and "gross abuses of human rights."

The place of globalization in US foreign policy is not restricted to the economic dimension, as the term implies; it is a comprehensive concept which defines the boundaries between "integration," and "fragmentation." To the extent that the US defines its global responsibilities in terms of the satisfaction of economic needs, breaking the trade barriers is viewed as an "integrative" task which promotes prosperity and greater homogeneity and universalization. Opponents of hegemony and the emerging new brand of international despotism under U.S. auspices are seen as being on the wrong side of history, and they are lumped together in the negative camp of "fragmentation."

Thus the dichotomy--integration v. fragmentation is the new intellectual instrument which separates good and evil, not unlike the mainstream outlook, which separated communism and "democracy" during the cold war. Thus "protectionists," "terrorists,"fundamentalists, ethnic assertionists, certain dictators and drug traffickers constitute the "fragmentary" sector, which must be opposed, sometimes through the application of American military force. Military intervention and economic prosperity for all the forces of "integration" are thus linked. In fact, globalization, and the rhetoric of "new world order," serve to legitimize US interference in the affairs of independent nations.

Clinton's Criteria For The Use of Force:

The diffuse nature of the mission and the haphazard conceptualization, which apparently make scholars like Huntington decry the lack of a sharply focused "purpose" to "guide our power" has meant that implementation of Clinton's criteria for the use of force is an unpredictable exercise. Yet the events of the past five years provide certain clues to ease the complexity. Three different conceptions seem to have emerged as the US, labors to define its role and global responsibilities , a pattern of reconciliation, a second that might be called confrontation, and a third, call it antagonistic collaboration.

1. The Pattern of Reconciliation

The Clinton Administration praises post-cold war settlements based on inter-group tolerance, cooperation and racial harmony (under certain circumstances) in certain areas, but not in others. South Africa was initially hailed as the model of reconciliation by President Clinton during Nelson Mandela's visit to the US in 1994. Terminating apartheid and constructing a multi-racial society based on majority rule and the principle of one person-one vote while respecting international trade agreements and business commitments were cited as the attributes of wise leadership, which forged a linkage between democracy and the market. For Clinton, it was a vindication of his "market democracy."

But Clinton's enthusiastic embrace of South Africa's model had suddenly cooled off when Mandela made a twin state visit to Libya, concluded two finance agreements with Iran, an arms deal with Syria, and when he castigated US sanctions against Cuba all in the latter part of 1997. Mandela had even suggested that Clinton's criticism of his plans to visit Libya was racist.

Surely all of this has led Washington to temper its earlier endorsement of South Africa's conciliationist model. Needless to say, such endorsement was a mere exercise in public relations rather than a serious policy for the Clinton Administration, whose expressed condemnation of apartheid in South Africa stood in sharp contrast to its ratification of Israel's policies, which amount to the establishment of separate legal standards for Arabs and Jews in the West Bank. In fact apartheid and the concept of bantustans were institutionalized and legitimized in the West Bank and Gaza Strip under US auspices and as part and parcel of what Washington calls a "peace process."

With regard to Bosnia, Clinton the candidate made no secret of his intention to halt the genocide. After the elections, the new president did not find the reconciliationist model of South Africa feasible for Bosnia. He said: "The US will pick and choose when it comes to sailing in harm's way." He finally came out in favor of low-risk, low cost peace-keeping instead of the wearisome task of peace-making. When he finally decided to send troops to Bosnia, he pledged to keep them there for one year as part of a cumbersome political formula of power-sharing and without orders to arrest the war criminals. Sometimes, and depending on who is being encountered, America's stick can be flabbier than its threats and sermons. Milosovic and Mohamed Aideed were not as easy targets as Saddam Hussein.

2. The Pattern of Confrontation

The second pattern of US involvement, confrontation, is starkly exhibited in relation to Iraq, Iran. Libya, the Sudan, and Cuba. North Korea, a former pariah-state is currently being removed from that category of troublemakers and embargoed nations. Quite simply, the Arab and Islamic countries, considered by Washington as being afflicted with some of the "fragmentary" diseases of fundamentalism, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, dictatorial tendencies, and gross abuses of human rights, would be subjected to containment and sanctions at will. And whenever they protest or misbehave, military strikes and further restrictions on sovereignty would be added to the list of punishments. Neither the risk /cost factor (Bosnia and Somalia) nor the level of public support factor seem to constitute an insurmountable obstacle to US military strikes in the Arab world.

The policy of dual containment against Iraq and Iran had originated in Israel and its Washington lobby, while the sanctions policy against Cuba emanated from electoral combinations which spurred congressional action spearheaded by the ultra-conservative senator Jesse Helms and Representative Dan Burton. The sanctions against Iran are associated with the name of Senator Alfonse D'Amato, whose interest in the matter was recently described by former Director of Central Intelligence and Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger (1973-1975) as "pleasing New York's Jewish voters." In an article in the fall 1997 issue of The National Interest, Schlesinger expresses distaste for Clinton's sanctions policy:

During President Clinton's first term alone, the United States imposed new unilateral economic sanctions, or threatened legislative actions to do so, sixty times in 35 countries that, taken together, make up a bout 42 percent of the world population.

Schlesinger's commentary on the post-cold war US global role is rather interesting, given that it is expressed by a person with entrenched roots in the security branches and a 1970's hawkish image. The end of the cold war has caused all the big powers to reposition themselves somewhat away from a military posture and increasingly towards an economic mode. America's determination to "lead," however, has not diminished the military dimension of its foreign policy, but kept it reserved for those areas of the world that count, such as the Middle East / Gulf and the Korean Peninsula. Most other areas are now regarded as mere brush fires, which hardly require the large sophisticated fire apparatus reserved for Iraq and other Arabs.

The United States also maintains a robust arsenal to checkmate Arabs, Muslims and Arab-Americans. Not only does the arsenal have weapons and Security Council votes, such as the kind used to destroy Iraq, but it also has Security Council vetoes (more than 40 already used) to shield Israel from international scrutiny. It also includes "anti-terrorist acts, " which infringe upon the civil liberties of Muslims and Arab-Americans, even as America poses as international guardian of human rights, and it also has the diplomatic weapons to impose a pax-Americana-Hebraica on the Arab world in the name of a peace process.

The present US determination to keep Iraq sanctioned and thus devastated, impoverished and subdued, as a way of keeping Iraqi oil from the global market, is nothing less than a campaign of genocide with an international umbrella. And when sectors of the so-called coalition begin to question a policy which has resulted in countless deaths, economic devastation, moral chaos, and the shattering of civil society, even the liberal press in the US begins to attribute sinister motives to the dissent. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times , for example, titled a recent article "With Allies Like These..." i.e. who needs friend? The fact that 4500 Iraqi children are dying every month--one every ten minutes (as estimated by the UN' International Children's Fund), under the sanctions policy, seems irrelevant to Friedman and other liberal defenders of human rights. As long as the United States continues to link the sanctions to the Iraqi regime's stay in power, thus undermining the Security Council's resolutions, the entire Iraqi nation will be held hostage to international political maneuvering.

The obvious question is why should Iraq even cooperate with inspection when U.S. leaders such as Albright, Cohen and Clinton are on record saying that no matter whether Iraq cooperates or not , the sanctions will not be lifted as long as the present regime stays in power. The fact that resolution 687 reaffirms the Security Council's call for a nuclear-free Middle East has never warranted mention by the American self-righteous journalists and opinion leaders. Naturally that would open up a Pandora's box, since Israel's 200 high-density nuclear bombs are conveniently removed from the US definition of weapons of mass destruction. The Clinton Administration released an annual report on November 26, 1997 on the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, affecting 25 countries in the world. Only the capabilities of 12 countries were detailed in the report, but those of Israel and Britain were predictably excluded. The culprits were: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, India, Libya, Syria, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. Iraq, however, which has been cleared by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as having "no remaining infrastructure for nuclear weapons production," was singled out by Clinton's Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, as an example of a "clear and present danger today. Cohen's only message to Iraq was to to be "reasonably assured" that a possible military attack "will not be a pinprick."

Adding to the dilemmas facing Iraq is the lack of definition of the term "compliance." When the Security Council routinely extended sanctions against Iraq on March 3, 1997, ambassadors from France, Russia and Egypt asked former weapons inspector Rolf Ekeus to spell out the steps Iraq must take to achieve compliance. He declined, saying that might help Iraq fool the inspectors. Nor has Iraq gotten any relief from Ekeus' Australian successor, Richard Butler, who also conducts himself as an envoy of Clinton and Albright rather than an official of the United Nations. Butler has recently disgraced the United Nations when he, a U.N. official, stereotyped Arab culture as one in which truth is not objective. The UN has effectively been reduced to an instrument of US foreign policy against the will of many of its members and its new Secretary General, who had to remind his US congressional critics recently that he is accountable to 185 member states, and not to Washington alone.

Rarely does one see dissenting voices in the US mainstream media such as that of columnist Charley Reese, of the Orlando Sentinel , who titled a recent column: "Nothing to do with Weapons...Everything to do with Oil Pries"(November 9, 1997). He wrote:

So far the UN sanctions against Iraq, which remain in place for the seventh year, largely at the behest of the United States, have proven to be the ultimate weapon of mass destruction.

In another article titled" Truth About Iraq Flap Is Hidden In U.S. Government Manure Pile," (Orlando Sentinel, November 30, 1997), Reese Wrote:

There is something about Iraq that makes the moral decadence in American society rise to the surface like pus in an infected wound. Journalists, both conservative and liberal, suddenly advocate murder and, like contemptible cowards, scream for blood. That is despicable behavior.

3. The Pattern of Antagonistic Collaboration

The third pattern of US involvement in the world--antagonistic collaboration--seems to apply to former enemies and recalcitrant forces with whom the US seeks normalization in pursuit of international trade. The prime example, of course, in this category is China. In 1992, Clinton vowed to "deny Most Favored Nation status (MFN) to China and impose trade sanctions," as a punishment for its gross abuses of human rights. No longer does the US link MFN to progress in the human rights arena; instead, Washington is effectively trying to exchange Chinese membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) for greater US access to Chinese markets. As China boasts a war chest of foreign exchange reserves in the amount of $131.6 billion, one of the highest levels in the world, Washington could only wonder about how far the deficit in its balance of trade will grow.

North Korea is another example illustrating Washington's reluctance to sink again in the quagmire despite the protests about that country's development of a nuclear reactor. In 1994, the US and South Korea came rather close to a military confrontation with North Korea during a nuclear inspection stand-off. But unlike Iraq, North Korea is a formidable foe, despite its poverty. The Clinton Administration has been engaged more in diplomacy and less in brinkmanship in the Korean Peninsula since the spring of 1996. North Korea is making no concessions such as arms reduction or improved contacts with South Korea. Clearly, the language of threats and intimidation is now reserved for Arabs and Muslims.

Another former enemy of the US, Vietnam, is being removed from the column of embargoed nations, to be embraced by US corporate leaders, who see a potential for $8 billion in trade by the year 2000. All in all, this pattern exemplifies a balancing of interests, favoring pragmatic policies, while paying lip service to moral principles.. For the Arab world, neither the first pattern (reconciliation) nor the third (antagonistic collaboration) is seen as fitting by America's present leadership.

North Korea, with 46.5 million people and a meager $30 billion GDP, has not only been able to thwart American encroachment on its sovereignty, but has also succeeded in setting the terms for an impending peace treaty. The Arab world with five times the population and more than thirteen times the GDP, should be able to defend its people in Iraq , Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, the Sudan, and Libya from the illegal and inhuman practices perpetrated against them by the U.S. and Israel. The Arab world has failed to effectively oppose the Oslo charade, which offers its people neither peace, nor stolen territory. With seven times the GDP of Israel, the Arab world should be able to defend the basic rights of its people which are guaranteed by international law. More than six million Palestinians have been forced to endure an abnormal existence since 1948, due to Israeli lebensraum, aided and abetted by the United States. They are living either as refugees treated like chattels without residency rights, employment and travel; or civilians under Israeli occupation in fragmented "self-governing" bantustans; or an ethnic minority in a land, in which, until fifty years ago, they constituted the majority of the population.

Moreover, more than 22 million Iraqis have been subjected to ruthless policies that deny them food, medicine, employment, travel, development, sovereignty, trade, and self-defense, among other fundamental rights. Together with another 20 million Sudanese and four million Libyans, they are subjected to a virtual "country arrest." [Iqama Jabriyyeh], a form of a collective punishment imposed in the name of globalization and internationalism.

The situation in the Arab world is not so hopeless as to prevent the Arabs from turning this around in order to restore their rights. There are practical and honorable options, but they must be placed in the context of the structure of costs and benefits. The prevailing structure, which is heavy on benefits and short on costs, would have to be altered; otherwise the free ride would continue. A policy will not change unless the policy-makers in Washington are made to pay a price for it. The Arab governments and people have not only failed to raise the price , but have even failed to signal that a reassessment is imminent. Altering the structure of cost and benefit means that Washington should not be allowed to continue its prejudicial and inhuman policies by default. It means that the Arabs need to restructure their own policies in accordance with the dictates of self-respect, of national interest and reciprocal relations.

.. Early in the next century, Asian need for Gulf oil will far exceed that of the United States and even Europe. It would be unthinkable that the political arrangements in the Gulf/ Peninsula region would remain an exclusive American undertaking.

For the Arab world, globalization is a form of subordination bordering on recolonization. The choices are between delusionary quiescence and calculated reawakening. If China has been able to triple its per-capita income in the last 15 years, there is no reason that the Arab World remains unable or unwilling to free its economy from external control and from a colossal debt, and to marshal its natural and human resources and mobilize the skills and capital of its expatriate population to effect a real transformation. That should bring it economic progress, social development and emancipation from Israeli domination and American hegemony.

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