Jim Lobe

The coalition of Bush administration hawks that was empowered by the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon agreed on three main strategic objectives. The neo-conservatives and Christian Right wanted to decisively shift the balance of power in the Middle East in favour of Israel, so that it could effectively impose peace terms on the Palestinians and Syria and anyone else that resisted US regional hegemony or Israel’s legitimacy and territorial claims.

The more-globally-oriented strategists wanted to show “rogue states”, particularly those with weapons of mass destruction, like North Korea that the US could and, more importantly, would take pre-emptive military action to either change their regimes or crush them. They also wanted to demonstrate to any possible future rival powers that US could, and would, intervene militarily in the Persian Gulf region to deny them essential energy supplies as a way of reminding nations of the indispensability of friendly ties with the US.

All three objectives, it was swiftly agreed by the ascendant hawks, could be achieved by invading and then “transforming” Iraq into a pro-western, if not democratic, Arab state.

Moreover, the likely acquisition of more or less permanent access to military bases in Iraq that would fit into a larger, global network of scores of military facilities stretching from East Asia through Central Asia, and from Arabia and the Caucasus through the Mediterranean and the Horn all the way to West Africa would make it even clearer to all that breaking “Pax Americana” would risk economic or military ruin.

But in order to achieve these objectives, the US not only had to invade Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power, it also had to occupy the country, and occupy it in a way that would not require many US soldiers, who would be deployed elsewhere along the globe-straddling “arc of crisis” to guard the peace. For reasons that are likely to be debated by historians, political scientists, and possibly psychiatrists, for decades the hawks firmly believed that Iraqis would either be so grateful for their “liberation” from the depredations of Hussein or so awed by the show of US military power that they would support, or at least not actively oppose, a post-war occupation. Hence, they planned to quickly draw down their troops.

Aside from the rising death tolls in clashes between US forces and Iraqi insurgents, the zigzags over US policy on “de-Baathification” and other priority issues, Bush’s steadily falling approval ratings and the increasingly sharp exchanges between impatient lawmakers in Congress and responsible administration officials, the failure of the hawks’ assumptions is most evident in the numbers of US troops in Iraq. Under the original plan, US troop strength should be down below 100,000 at this point in the occupation.

Indeed the stress on the Army has become even more apparent this week. While the Pentagon insisted the shift will not affect Washington’s ability to defend South Korea, the significance of removing troops confronting North Korea was missed by few here. So

far, however, the administration has rejected all three, which is why the imperial strategy. — IPS