For its consequences, whether foreseen or otherwise, the defining event of 2003 was the United States attack on Iraq.

Unilaterally and in violation of international law, for the first time since World War II the US attacked a sovereign country without the fig-leaf of legal fiction. In the process it not only risked (enthusiastically in some of its ruling circles) marginalizing the United Nations. It also antagonized its European allies and undermined the North Atlantic alliance.

But even more importantly, the attack on Iraq demonstrated the primacy of self-interest and the use of military means—might is right—in furthering those interests. The result is a world far more dangerous and unstable than it has ever been since the end of the Cold War, and where war has become a constant possibility.

On September 19, 2002, almost a year to the day after the 2001 attacks, to set the stage for the invasion of Iraq George W. Bush proclaimed a shift in US strategy from “defensive war” to “pre-emptive war” against those states that have weapons of mass destruction and/or which harbor terrorists.

Although known since then as the Bush doctrine, pre-emptive war including the first use of nuclear weapons is a strategy implicit in the goal of total world dominance contained in the year 2000 (before Bush was “elected”) plan to “rebuild America’s defenses” of the neo-conservative think tank Project for a New American Century (PNAC). That plan among others suggested an attack on Iraq to justify the deployment of a substantial US military force for the remaking of the Middle East.

The United States has intervened in the affairs of other nations before, the last 100 years being a record of its relentless march to empire no matter what the cost in lives and human welfare in general. But Iraq was the first time in recent memory in which a US government had ever attacked another country with such brazenness.

During the one war that today invites comparison with Iraq, the United States occupied Vietnam upon the invitation (which it solicited in the first place) of the South Vietnamese government. In every other instance except in the US backyard, Latin America—in Afghanistan in 2002 and in Serbia in the 1990s for example—a succession of US presidents has used a mandate from a pliant United Nations to remake countries and regions according to US corporate and strategic interests.

Indeed what sets apart George W. Bush and company is not their commitment to the making of a world order consistent with US interests. It is their breathtaking ambitions for total world domination, and, in some instances, their willingness to acknowledge and justify their imperial designs.

Of course they also used the usual US justifications—to bring democracy and freedom to a benighted land, by implication defending the US “right” to decide the fate of other nations—to justify the attack on Iraq. But for the consumption of their own frightened citizens and a violence- weary world they also claimed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was prepared to use them. The irony is that the attack on Iraq that Americans supported in their millions means more war and violence, not less.

Saddam Hussein, Bush implied, had helped plan the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and had to be removed from power, since he would otherwise remain a threat to both the United States and the world. What’s more, Bush said in his March 20 announcement that he had ordered the attack on Iraq, Saddam Hussein was a vicious dictator who had caused his people untold suffering. Iraqis should rejoice, said Bush; their liberation was at hand.

The only truth in Bush’s March 20 statement and in his earlier ones on the subject of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein was indeed a vicious dictator—whom incidentally the US helped arm, and supported in the 1980s. Saddam Hussein had absolutely no connection with the September 11 attacks, and his weapons of mass destruction have not been found. US occupation troops have captured Saddam Hussein, but despite the “transfer of power” to Iraqis by July 2004, are likely to remain in Iraq for some time to come.

The continuing presence of US troops after July 2004—as in Afghanistan where there is a supposedly independent regime heavily reliant on US aid and firepower for its survival—would make Iraqi independence a myth. Though their remaining in Iraq would certainly make a mockery of Iraqi independence, a sizeable military presence is vital to the US goals of controlling sources of oil, and of remaking the Middle East.

The US has identified Iran and North Korea as constituting the “axis of evil.” Despite US overreach because of the occupation of Iraq, the agenda of the partisans of empire still includes an attack on Iran to destroy its nuclear facilities—and quite possibly remake it a la Iraq.

Libya, once labeled an immediate threat to the US by past US administrations including the present one, has from all appearances succumbed to the US threat of force. But there is still Syria, which in the eyes of Bush policy makers remains a danger to US interests. These US “concerns”—on the surface for supposed threats to its security, but driven by the aim of remaking the Middle East in its own, though possibly fractured, image—can mean an even broader war in the Middle East once the US succeeds in stabilizing the Iraqi situation.

Elsewhere in Asia, there is North Korea, an attack on which is very possible, if the ongoing deployment of sophisticated military hardware to South Korea is any sign. On the other hand, of long-term concern to the empire also are China and Russia, which could develop into credible contenders for power with the US.

In the immediate future a war on the Korean peninsula is thus possible. So is some kind of confrontation later with China as its economic and military power grows, and with Russia, which, despite the demise of the Soviet Union, is still a nuclear power with chemical and biological weapons in its vast arsenal.

The paradox is that the United States, while displaying the same blind arrogance every empire in history has reveled in, believes itself besieged on all sides by unfriendly regimes and “rogue states”. But the fundamental question is whether a United States that’s increasingly being isolated from its European allies—a blundering hegemon that has cheapened, undermined and marginalized the United Nations as an instrument of negotiations between states, and which above all has become an object of near-universal distrust if not hatred—can fight several wars at the same time, and what’s more, win them all.

Every indication says no. Despite the ease with which it was occupied, and despite the capture of Saddam Hussein, Iraq is proving difficult to stabilize, much less secure. Any attack on Iran and Syria will likely reap even greater difficulties for the US, and a war on the Korean peninsula will cost it billions as well as more casualties than it can bear.

But there is no sign that the partisans of empire and perpetual war will heed any warning to that effect. Instead they’re likely to insist on pursuing a vision of the world that, despite the US’ undisputed capacity for overwhelming force, is basically unattainable. As the American historian Gabriel Kolko notes, “there is not the slightest indication (the United States) will acknowledge the limits of its aspirations.”

The bad news is that in the process of being proved wrong, there is every possibility that the most dangerous people in the world now in control of the US government and its weapons of mass destruction will leave the world in ruins, and many of its people in agony.

(Today/, December 27, 2004)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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