“If Saddam had nuclear weapons, Iraq’s geographic location at the head of the Persian Gulf would allow him to threaten the destruction of a number of targets of great importance to the United States. The Saudi oilfields are a particularly worrisome target.” These lines do not come from a pilfered Halliburton notepad doodled upon by Dick Cheney before he was summoned to lend gravitas to George W. Bush’s presidential ticket. Nor are they taken from the breezy manifestoes of the Project for a New American Century, the neo-conservative coterie whose scions now advise Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on foreign policy, despite the proven error of nearly their every prediction about the war in Iraq.
The author of these lines is Kenneth Pollack, a National Security Council staffer in the Clinton administration and former analyst of the Iraq file at the Central Intelligence Agency, who now opines at the centrist Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Pollack’s tome, The Threatening Storm (2002), is a 424-page case for invading Iraq. Untainted by association with the Bush administration, yet seeming to back up Bush’s war drive with an insider’s expertise, the book was instrumental in hatching a flock of liberal hawks in the Democratic Party and the Washington press corps. Dispensing with blather about Iraqi ties to al-Qaeda, Pollack argues forthrightly that Saddam Hussein “is well aware of the importance of Persian Gulf oil production to the entire world, particularly the West. This knowledge, plus his ability to target so many other cities of important US allies, would create opportunities for mischief if he chose to hold the oilfields or those cities hostage to his designs.” In short, the deposed Iraqi dictator was an “inimical power” who, according to the 1978 Joint Chiefs of Staff memo cited by Pollack as articulating “the American interests in the region that have guided US policy ever since,” must be prevented from “establishing hegemony” in the petroleum-rich Persian Gulf. This is one plank of the Carter Doctrine on US Middle East strategy, the other two being “continuous access to petroleum resources” and the security of Israel.
Today, Pollack’s volume is remarkable for displaying how fervently many Iraq hawks, with colleagues still inside the intelligence apparatus, believed that Saddam Hussein was actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. Yet the book also lays bare why Iraq’s supposed quest for the bomb, which we now know to have been interrupted in 1991, merited a bipartisan clamor for invasion, when North Korea’s public acquisition of plutonium in January 2003 was a week-long news story. In addition, it reveals why neither a second Bush administration nor a Democratic successor will “cut and run” from conquered Iraq, as Bush did from Afghanistan.
As the editors of Middle East Report have contended before, the 2003 Iraq war followed the Carter Doctrine, as well as the Bush Doctrine of the preemptive strike. Iraq may very well become a permanent US forward base in the oil patch. Even if not, to withdraw the Marines before a stable and predictable Iraqi government sits in Baghdad would contravene the core geostrategic calculus of both major parties. Should the Bush administration proceed with its plan to dissolve the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) by June 2004, the world can look forward to listening to either Bush or a Democrat as he proffers Syrian-style explanations for why a “presence” is not an “occupation.” An Iraqi vizier can be expected to be standing nearby.
Though the timing appears set by political adviser Karl Rove, for the good of Bush’s chances at the polls rather than the good of Iraq, the CPA’s dissolution cannot come too soon. US proconsul Paul Bremer has promulgated a series of disastrous decrees, beginning with the dispersal of the Iraqi army, components of which appear to be mounting some of the attacks on US, Italian, British, Polish and other soldiers, as well as Iraqis working with the occupation authority — if not on aid organizations and the UN. The apparently spreading insurgency will likely outlast the CPA’s official mandate, as the US commanders whose troops will stay behind increasingly realize. Arguably, even worse than the dismantlement of the army was Order 39 of September 19. This measure placed 200 state-owned Iraqi companies (and their workers) on the auction block, and allowed foreign firms to purchase those companies and repatriate all of their profits. US attachment to neo-liberal orthodoxy, of the sort that pauperized millions of Russians after the fall of the Soviet Union, portends social unrest that will bedevil Iraq long after Bremer returns to retirement. While Congress and the media debated Bush’s request for $20 billion for “reconstruction,” the CPA passed a law that threatens to de-develop Iraq, because profits that could be invested to employ more Iraqis may wind up buying yachts for Western CEOs.
Naomi Klein argued recently in The Nation that Order 39 also dishonors the US obligation under the Hague Regulations of 1907 to respect, as the occupying power, Iraq’s pre-existing laws. Iraq’s constitution forbids foreign ownership of Iraqi companies and the sale of state-owned firms. UN Security Council Resolution 1483, which effectively stamped that body’s approval upon the US-British occupation of Iraq, stipulates that both powers must “comply fully” with their obligations under the Hague Regulations and other relevant international legal conventions. As Klein puts it: “Even if the selloff of Iraq were conducted with full transparency and open bidding, it would still be illegal for the simple reason that Iraq is not America’s to sell.”
Legal experts may debate this point, and anti-occupation critics might think twice before staking their ground in the current Iraqi constitution, a relic of Baathism that can hardly be defended as codifying vox populi. Moreover, any nascent movement to challenge Order 39 will run up against the reality that, generally speaking, international law has force equivalent to the political power pushing for its enforcement. Adherence to the Hague Regulations was not among the items mentioned by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1978, when a Democrat with a much-advertised liking for human rights was president. It is no secret that UN resolutions and international laws are the very pesky nuisances that the Bush administration and its ideological confreres hoped their unilateral war would banish to the dustbin of history — if only that of American history. Richard Perle said it best in London on November 19: “I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing.”
But opposition to Bremer’s decree need not be robed in legal raiment to acquire political impetus in Iraq, where the most important struggles against privatization will transpire — perhaps years down the road, as worries about security postpone an immediate influx of foreign investment. Social dislocation caused by Order 39 will only lengthen the stay of a sizable US praetorian guard for the planned Iraqi provisional government and the sovereign entity that the Bush administration promises will follow in relatively short order. Added to the alienating effect of US counter-insurgency tactics, the consequences of the CPA’s ideological zeal do not bode well for a quick “exit” from the strategic redoubt at the head of the Persian Gulf. Whichever American party inherits the mess the Iraq hawks have created, and whatever the depth of its commitment to neo-liberal orthodoxy, it would weather fierce storms indeed before it would consider abandoning the “American interests” adduced by Pollack to fate.