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    Front Page
     Jul 20, 2006
A proud imperial defeatist
By Michael T Klare

Recently, I was accused by a writer for the ultra-right Washington Times of being a "defeatist" when it comes to America's expansionist military policy abroad. The giveaway, it seems, is that I penned a book for the American Empire Project - a series of critical volumes published by Metropolitan Books. Contributors to the series, the article claimed, want "a retreat from Iraq to be the prelude to a larger collapse of American pre-eminence worldwide".
My initial response on reading this was to insist - like so many anxious liberals - that no, I am not opposed to US pre-eminence in the world, only to continued US involvement in Iraq. But then, considering the charge some more, I thought, well, yes, I am in favor of abandoning the US imperial role worldwide. The United States, I'm convinced, would be a whole lot better off - and its military personnel a whole lot safer - if we repudiated the global-



dominance project of the Bush administration and its neo-conservative boosters.

Supposedly, the US military has expanded its presence and combat role around the world to foster democracy and prevail in President George W Bush's "war on terror"; and, without a doubt, many brave Americans have risked their lives - and some have died - in the pursuit of these noble objectives.

But this is not, I believe, what has motivated Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in their pursuit of global supremacy. Rather, they appear driven by a messianic determination to impose US dominance on large swaths of the planet and to employ this hegemonic presence to gain control over global energy supplies. In attempting to do so, they are bankrupting the nation and exposing US citizens to a higher, not lower, risk of terrorist attack.

Take a look at US policy in the greater Persian Gulf/Caspian Sea region - the main site of US military activism and home to seven-tenths of the world's remaining petroleum reserves. Bush and Cheney have spoken eloquently of their determination to promote democracy in this troubled region, but what they have largely done, in practice, is to continue to prop up the kings, sheikhs and dictators who rule the local petro-states.

Remember Bush's touching moment of hand-holding with Saudi Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud a year ago at the president's ranch in Texas? Abdullah (now king) may be a tad more moderate than his pro-jihadist brothers and cousins, but he is no advocate of democracy. More recently, Bush gave Ilham Aliyev, the dictator of pipeline-cluttered Azerbaijan, a gala White House reception while, at about the same time, Cheney lauded the democratic aspirations of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the dictator of Kazakhstan, during a visit to that energy-rich country. These moves are consistent with a neo-imperial strategy not even faintly aimed at "democracy", but rather at the procurement of energy sources - or the control over the distribution of oil and natural gas to other energy-hungry nations.

What about the US invasion of Iraq? This was not about oil, we were assured at the time. The US invaded to do away with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) said to be controlled by Saddam Hussein, or because of his alleged ties to al-Qaeda, or to spread democracy in Iraq and the surrounding region - in other words, for anything you can name, except oil. But there were no WMD stockpiles in Iraq, no ties to al-Qaeda, and few signs of an incipient democracy.

Why, then, is the US squandering so many lives and so much treasure in a desperate effort to hold on in Iraq? Only one answer makes any sense from a Washington policymaker's point of view: to remain the dominant military power in the Persian Gulf region and thereby control the global flow of oil. This is the only interpretation that fits with the Pentagon's admission that it plans to retain at least some bases in Iraq indefinitely, no matter what sort of future government emerges in Baghdad (or whether such a government approves of a US presence).

The striking expansion of the US military presence in Central Asia, Southwest Asia and Africa in recent months reveals a similar geopolitical impulse. All of these areas are becoming increasingly important to the United States as sources of oil and natural gas, and in none of them can it be said the US is setting up bases to serve as beacons for the further advance of freedom and democracy, not given the nature of most of the governments the US supports in those places. Because many of America's leading energy suppliers in these regions are subject to internal unrest and ethnic conflict - a reaction, in most cases, to despotic regimes that remain in power with Washington's blessing - the United States is becoming ever more deeply involved in their defense, whether through the delivery of arms and military aid (as in Angola, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Nigeria) or via a direct US military presence (as in Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates).

This is not likely to be a passing phenomenon. The United States is becoming ever more dependent on imported energy - most of which will have to come from what the neo-conservatives of the Bush administration term the "arc of instability" - and US military strategy is being reshaped accordingly. Currently, the US obtains nearly 60% of its petroleum from foreign sources; before long, it will be 70% or more. To ensure that these imported supplies safely reach US shores, the Department of Defense is devoting an ever-increasing share of its troops and resources to the defense of foreign pipelines, refineries, loading platforms and tanker routes. In essence, the US military is being converted into a global oil-protection service - at great risk to the lives of American servicemen and women.

In response to all this, I say: repudiate empire, overcome our oil addiction and bring the troops back home. This will save lives, save money and restore America's democratic credentials. Even more significant, it will help us prevail in any long-term struggle with small, stateless groups that employ terror as their weapon of choice.

Let's be very clear: the pursuit of empire and success in what Bush calls "the global war on terrorism" are mutually incompatible. The more the US seeks to dominate the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa, the more it will provoke anti-American fury and the very violent extremism with which the US claims to be at war.

Recent polling data suggest that hostility toward the United States is on the rise in all of these areas and that America's hegemonic policies and hypocritical stance on the spread of democracy are largely responsible for this. Only by repudiating the unilateralist military doctrine of the Bush administration and withdrawing most of the US forces from these areas can we hope to achieve a reduction in militant anti-Americanism. By rejecting unilateralism, moreover, we can secure the assistance of local officials whose help is desperately needed to identify and root out hidden terror cells.

Indeed, success in the global struggle against terrorist movements can only be achieved by a multilateral effort entailing the vigorous application of police-type investigative methods and a moral campaign designed to invalidate the legitimacy of indiscriminate violence against innocent people. The unilateralist, shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach of the Bush administration has demonstrably undermined such efforts. The upshot is bound to be but more terrorism and a greater risk to American lives. Only by cooperating with other countries on an equitable basis can the US diminish this risk.

A retreat from empire would also force Americans to use oil more sparingly, and this, in turn, would enable us to address another critical threat to US security: the danger of catastrophic environmental damage caused by global climate change.

As Hurricane Katrina demonstrated, America's shores are highly vulnerable to powerful storms; and higher ocean temperatures, caused by global warming, are producing increasingly violent ones. Global warming is also contributing to the extreme drought and susceptibility to voracious forest fires in many areas of the US west. By reducing petroleum consumption and relying more on ethanol, bio-diesel, wind power, solar and other domestically produced, alternative sources of energy - but especially by putting money into the development of such alternatives rather than to imperial expansion around the globe - the US can, in the long run, reduce its exposure to violence abroad and to environmental catastrophe at home.

So yes, I'm a "defeatist" when it comes to imperial expansion. But I'm a hawk when it comes to overcoming terrorism, saving American lives, averting environmental collapse and promoting core American values. This is the only truly patriotic course that any of us can espouse.

Michael T Klare is professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependence on Imported Petroleum (Owl Books) as well as Resource Wars, The New Landscape of Global Conflict.

(Copyright 2006 Michael T Klare.)

(Used by permission Tomdispatch )


US hawks smell blood (Jul 19, '06)

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Bush's faith and the Middle East aflame (Jul 18, '06)

The challenge of unilateralism (Jul 1, '06)

 
 



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