Fran Hazelton, ed. Iraq Since the Gulf War: Prospects for Democracy (London: Zed Books, 1994).

Phyllis Bennis and Michel Moushabeck, eds. Altered States: A Reader in the New World Order (New York: Olive Branch Press, 1993).

John O’Loughlin, Tom Mayer and Edward S. Greenberg, eds. War and Its Consequences: Lessons from the Persian Gulf Conflict (New York: Harper Collins, 1994).

It has become commonplace for critics of US foreign policy to argue that the Gulf war signaled a turning point in the nature of contemporary international relations. Significant though the Gulf war was for the Middle East, and especially for the future of Iraq, it may have little bearing on the future patterns either of the North-South conflict in general or of US intervention in particular.

For the editors of Altered States, George Bush’s “new world order” “amounts to only one thing: US hegemony in what Bush called ‘the new American century.’” In his introduction, Noam Chomsky argues that the Cold War was “scarcely more than a pretext to conceal the standard refusal to tolerate Third World independence, whatever its political cast.” While the editors suggest that “the world is witnessing an intensification of the North-South conflict,” Chomsky notes a number of features which “inhibit the US resort to force to control the South”: past successes in defeating reform nationalist and communist challenges, the erosion of domestic support for foreign intervention, and the rise of competing economic powers in Europe and Japan.

Looking specifically at the Middle East, contributors such as As‘ad AbuKhalil note that the collapse of the Soviet Union leaves the United States with a freer hand to intervene. Joe Stork’s “Dinosaur in the Tar Pit: The US and the Middle East After the Gulf War” emphasizes the increasing reliance of US strategy in the Gulf on military influence and arms sales. More generally, as Michael Klare points out in his contribution, US military strategy is increasingly focused on potential threats in the Third World. These considerations are further underscored by Michio Kaku’s discussion of the development of “third-generation” nuclear weapons designed for use in future Third World conflicts.

These themes are taken up in a more systematic way in some of the contributions to War and Its Consequences. Joel Beinin’s contribution, “Arms Transfers, the New Structure of US Hegemony and Prospects for Democratic Development in the Gulf,” argues that the US military commitment and arms sales to the Gulf both bolster the region’s authoritarian regimes, with their narrow social bases, and satisfy the interests of the US arms industries. US policy thus inhibits the prospects for democratic change in the Gulf and maintains the position of the military-industrial complex within the US economy and political system. Bush’s statements about the purpose and consequences of the Gulf war suggest that he also consciously envisioned it as a way to reap the benefits of the demise of the Soviet Union and consolidate the Reagan-Bush program for sustaining the dominance of US capital in the face of continuing challenges from Japan and Germany and the global South. Beinin concludes that the contradictions and conflicts of global capitalism “are likely to prevent a stable unipolar order.”

Beinin’s analysis is reinforced by Ann Markusen’s more detailed consideration of the effects of the Gulf war and the end of the Cold War on the US military-industrial complex, and by a typically forceful argument from Samir Amin on the attempt by the US to reconstitute hegemony through military adventures. Edward Luttwak contributes a very useful overview of the strictly military aspects of the war, and explains that: “Air power had finally won a war — or as much of it as the United States wanted to win.” Despite the formidable effectiveness of air power in the Gulf war, Luttwak reminds us that “offensive air power is especially situational” and that one cannot draw firm conclusions about its future use and effectiveness, as has since been amply demonstrated in the former Yugoslavia.

While most of the contributions to these volumes are concerned with the interests and policies of the North, especially the United States, Marion Farouk-Sluglett’s contribution to the latter volume provides a salutary corrective in reviewing the domestic and regional bases of authoritarianism and violence in the Arab world. She criticizes US policy for its contribution to maintaining the regional order, but judges Arab governments even more harshly, arguing that “responsibility for their actions must be laid primarily at their own doors.” This position is at odds with one widely expressed in these volumes, which, as much by omission as by commission, exaggerates the power and influence of the United States and excuses or obscures the domestic and regional bases of failure and repression within the South. These issues are raised in a particularly acute manner in Iraq Since the Gulf War by the Committee Against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq. While the Committee’s 1986 volume, Saddam’s Iraq: Revolution or Reaction?, was primarily concerned with historical, political and economic analysis of the Iraqi state and the character of Baath rule, the present volume properly gives as much attention to alternative prospects and the question of future political arrangements within Iraq.

The analytical chapters are once again of a very high quality and cover such issues as the nature of Iraqi politics under the Baath (Fatima Mohsen, Isam al-Khafaji, Zuhair al-Jaza’iri and Kamil Abdullah), the position of Iraqi women (Suha Omar), the economic consequences of the Iran-Iraq war and its aftermath (Abbas Alnasrawi) and the failure of the post-Gulf war uprising (Faleh A. Jabar). [1] The most interesting essays consider post-Gulf war internal political developments, examining the role of the Kurdish parliament (Falaq al-Din Kakai), the role of the Shi‘i population (Hussein al-Shahristani and Hamid al-Bayati), the character of the opposition groupings and the founding of the Iraqi National Congress (Rend Rahim Francke), questions of human rights (Laith Kubba), federalism (Ali Allawi) and rule of law (Ahmad Chalabi). The problems in reconstructing a stable and just political order in a post-Saddam Iraq are not minimized. Much will depend on the ability and willingness of the disparate political forces within Iraq and in exile to work toward a peaceful resolution of their differences. Outside interests might be able to play a supportive and constructive role in this process, though they have shown little sign of wanting to do so. Some contributors call for US intervention to topple Saddam (Ahmad Chalabi), while others express skepticism as to whether the West’s agenda will allow a more pluralistic and hence probably federal structure to emerge (Ali Allawi). But all the contributors are clear that, in the end, only Iraqis can remake Iraq. There are no easy answers, but Iraq Since the Gulf War soberly addresses the issue at stake without imposing a spurious unity on the debate.

Underlying many if not most of the contributions to Altered States and War and Its Consequences is the claim that the Gulf war represents a symptomatic intervention, in the sense that it shows the pattern of future North-South relations in general and gives us a guide to the future of US intervention in particular. Taken together, there is much that is valuable in these analyses, but the underlying premise might be questioned.

On many issues, there are, of course, conflicts of interest between the North and the South. But these are rarely all-or-nothing affairs, and they often coexist with underlying common interests. Chomsky’s extraordinary judgment that the United States has refused to tolerate Third World independence “whatever its political cast,” for instance, radically and wrongfully underestimates the importance of formal political independence in the South, for all the reality of continuing Northern intervention and even subversion. It also obscures the positive encouragement given those forms of Third World independence that develop along liberal capitalist lines. This support may be self-interested, but that does not cancel the facts. It is in this context that the Cold War was considerably more than another example of North-South conflict, or a pretext for US intervention, since the existence of the Soviet Union and the model of development it attempted was radically incompatible with the liberal capitalist order — far more so than radical nationalist experiments in the South. The collapse of that model and the state which claimed to promote it is of far greater historical significance than the events in the Gulf in 1990-1991.

The North will continue to encourage liberal capitalist development in the South, even at the cost of rising Southern independence. It will oppose trends incompatible with the liberal capitalist international order, sometimes forcibly, and will be involved in a host of secondary disputes about trade, resources and the environment. At the same time, the search for new pretexts to rationalize intervention will fail, not because their justification is a sham, but because the Soviet threat was never simply a “pretext.” That is the reality facing both those seeking to develop in the South and those formulating policy in Washington.


[1] The essays by Jabar and al-Khafaji initially appeared in Middle East Report 178 (May-June 1992).

How to cite this article:

Simon Bromley "Revisiting the New World Order," Middle East Report 197 (November/December 1995).

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