The First Year Of The Second Century

Hani Shukrallah

Year one of the “new American century” seemed to end on a propitious note. Saddam Hussein, embodiment of history’s first truly global empire’s demonic other, was captured and, in the best imperial traditions, put on public display. Haggard, dazed and dishevelled, he was the star of the televised medical examination that was made to substitute for the parade of manacled barbarian chieftains and booty that once drew the crowds.
His Imperiel Majesty of the American Empire poses for a portrait to celebrate the twighlight of his reign.
And not just that. One surprise swiftly followed another. The “barbarians”, it appeared, were everywhere on the run. On 20 December, a week after the capture of Saddam, the flamboyant leader of the Libyan Jamhiriyah, Muammar Gaddafi, made a clean breast of it all. Publicly confessing to having daddled in WMDs, he announced his “voluntary” decision to dismantle all such weapons as may be found offensive by the masters of the universe, and to open his arsenal - and anything else that might take their fancy - to direct inspection and supervision. Significantly, perhaps, he revealed that he’d started negotiating this “voluntary” decision with the USA and Britain nine months ago - that is, just about the times the bombs started dropping on Baghdad.

George W Bush may or may not be writing his “war commentaries” these days, but I suspect that fireside reflections on the year’s harvest are bringing a warm glow to his presidential - or is it imperial? - cheeks this Christmas. International law, the United Nations and basic morality be damned. Brute force works. As any Mafia boss can tell you, crime pays.

Examine the balance sheet. In terms of international law, the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 are as illegal as Saddam’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait in 1990/91. Which means that the UN was obliged - by its charter - not just to condemn these actions, but to put a stop to them by resorting (in accordance with Chapter 7 of that charter) to sanctions and/or military intervention. Instead, less than a month after the fall of Baghdad the UN Security Council was laying the mantle of legitimacy on both invasion and occupation through a 22 May resolution to lift the sanctions imposed on Iraq.

And speaking of sanctions, what about Iraq’s WMDs? By the end of the year, as images of the bearded and vanquished Saddam were plastered over the world’s front pages and TV screens, the fundamental justification for the war and the intricate, flagrant web of lies constructed to bolster it seemed all but forgotten. What’s done cannot be undone. So let us debate when and how Iraqis are to regain “sovereignty” and establish democratic government in their indefinitely occupied nation.

Contradictions between obeisance to imperial dictates - backed by open threats to use massive military force - and notions such as sovereignty and democracy are, it seems, dependent on the eye of the beholder. After all Israel - where nearly five million people exercise a brutal and murderous dominion over another people and where, moreover, one-fifth of the citizens of the Jewish State are effectively disenfranchised and systematically discriminated against Palestinian Arabs - is the foremost democracy in the region.

Needless to say, Muammar Gaddafi made a giant stride towards democratising Libya when he “voluntarily” decided to scrap his WMDs and open his country to Anglo- American inspections. The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, makes small steps towards democracy when it replaces its elected president with an un-elected prime minister, and sanctions his appointment by a legislative council that has long exceeded its mandate. And the fact that it enjoys no sovereignty over any kind of territory is not deemed a serious obstacle to political reform.

Glaring inconsistencies, backed by sufficient military hardware, have a remarkable ability to appear clothed in the most profound logic. And as 2003 draws to its pitiful close it is the illusion of logic that prevails.

Not just Gaddafi’s Libya, but other potential targets of the empire’s perpetual war against terror were bending over backwards to show good will. In October of this year Syria displayed remarkable “restraint” in response to the Israeli bombing of an abandoned refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus, the first such attack in three decades. Iran, a member of the Bush-designated axis of evil and the bookmakers favourite as target number three in the war against terror, may have begun 2003 defiant. By the end of the year, however, it was sufficiently reasonable to sign a sweeping additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, giving inspectors freer access to Iranian nuclear facilities.

The fact that Israel is not suspected of, but is known to possess a huge stockpile of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as well as highly advanced delivery systems, is of course beside the point. Meanwhile Sharon is talking unilateral separation, while dispossessing the Palestinians of what is left of their land and livelihoods with his apartheid wall.

The first American century - America’s “age of empire” (as Gore Vidal put it) began early, in February 1898, with the Spanish- American War and the invasions of Cuba and the Philippines. According to my reckoning, it ended a little late, as the bombs and missiles began to rain on Baghdad and Basra in March of this year, a culmination of one century of empire and the beginning of another.

And all in all the last days of 2003, the first year of the second century, appears to have confirmed the delirious imaginings of Washington’s neo-cons and their dream project for the “new American century”. Only at the heart of the logic lies a single flaw: arbitrary power, however massive, is only really effective at destroying things. It is hopeless at building. The 1000-year Reich, after all, barely managed a decade.


Published Friday, December 26th, 2003 - 02:58pm GMT

Article courtesy of Al-Ahram Weekly

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Hani Shukrallah



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