Year XLV, 2003, Number 1, Page 3
The Road to Peace
In situations of extreme tension, and particularly in the build-up to a war, the systematic twisting of information is a strategic ploy routinely employed by both parties in the conflict. It is thus easy to lose one’s way in the web of lies and propagandistic statements that results from this, a web that is rendered daily more intricate and less transparent by governments seeking to win consensus and establish alliances and by the mass media channels that, consciously or unconsciously, are at their service.
In particular, it is impossible to establish how many and what weapons of mass destruction Iraq is hiding, not least because it is impossible to prove the non-existence of such weapons. Saddam Hussein is without doubt a dictator. Equally certain is the fact that he attacked Kuwait in 1990, and that he has, in the past, had chemical weapons at his disposal, using them against Iranian troops during the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s, a conflict that he entered into with America’s support. But what is also beyond doubt is that Iraq is a country that has been brought to its knees by war, that has a population split into three branches, over two of which the government has lost practically all control, that has been reduced to a state of poverty and starvation by years of embargo, and that is subjected to continuous reconnaissance flights and inspections on the ground — in short, a country that is not in a position to conceal anything more than a modest arsenal.
That is not to say that the Iraqi regime, which still has a firm grip on the city-dwelling Sunnite part of its population, could not, with its back against the wall, and forced to resort to desperate measures, constitute a real danger to the world’s largest power and to its satellites. And this danger extends both to the stage of the conflict itself, during which the regime could easily resort to urban guerrilla warfare and set fire to its oil wells, and to the territories of the United States and the countries of Europe.
Saddam’s regime enjoys widespread sympathy in the Arab world and in the greater Muslim world, whose diaspora now numbers many millions of people, resident above all in the United States and in Europe. These are, for the most part, people who have emigrated in pursuit of nothing more than work and a decent life. But in their midst there are also militants and highly trained terrorists, individuals whose potential for aggression the United States can do nothing to neutralise, and whose fanaticism would be exacerbated by the wave of anti-Americanism that an attack on Iraq would inevitably trigger. These people are perfectly capable, even with modest means, of sowing panic among the populations of their host countries and of lowering their morale. Leaving aside for a moment the strong opposition and sham consensus it is generating in different quarters, the United States’ venture will, in any case, be extremely difficult. The USA is preparing to wage a war that cannot be won. Iraq can be destroyed, but not transformed into a US satellite. Thanks to the spread of modern means of communication, public opinion has, in Arab countries, taken shape and become a force that the respective regimes are no longer able to control. And this force of public opinion (which thus includes that which has grown up even within formally pro-American regimes, such as those of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and beyond the Arab world, in Pakistan) is already so imbued with rampant anti-Americanism that any American line-towing puppet who might be put, by force, at the helm of the country in place of Saddam Hussein will be considered a traitor, obliging the United States and their satellites to turn Iraq, for a very long time to come, into an out-and-out protectorate (creating a situation similar to that which is currently taking shape in Afghanistan). The region’s pro-American regimes would thus find themselves in great danger, and the task of controlling this area, as it sinks into greater and greater turmoil, would fall exclusively to the military power of America and its satellites.
The prospect facing the Middle East is that of a destructive war, with the enormous sacrifice in terms of human lives and resources that all wars entail, yet without the same being justifiable either as a necessary means of guaranteeing United States’ security, or as an action likely to further hopes of creating a more stable and progressive balance of power in this region, in which, on the contrary, tension and the fragility of political relations would only grow. Now is certainly not the time to be spouting, for the umpteenth time, the tired and abused slogans of a pacifist movement that has always existed but always been defeated. But rejection of naive pacifism certainly does not equate with a willingness to espouse any war. And what we must realise today is that we are faced with the prospect of a senseless war, whose effects will only aggravate the conditions that triggered it in the first place. It is a war that will only render international relations increasingly tense and shaky and deepen the economic crisis, already serious, that the whole world is currently going through.
Just what is it that is inciting the United States to war? It is certainly not the bellicose character of its leaders, even though there can be no denying that American politicians have adopted a tone and style that, for brusqueness and arrogance, are entirely without precedent in the recent history of the Western world. This is a phenomenon that would certainly have been less marked had the obscure events leading up to the election of Bush had another outcome. Individuals with a make-up different from that of Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Condoleezza Rice would certainly have adopted attitudes that were, superficially at least, more flexible, and America’s predominance would have been presented to the world in a less arrogant fashion. But even Gore, and the personalities he would have chosen as his collaborators, would, before long, have opted for the militaristic and unilateralist road. We have to acknowledge that what we are witnessing is a degeneration of American politics itself, both domestic and foreign. This degeneration, attributable to a series of objective factors and having nothing to do with the political leanings of whoever is leading the country, is effectively relegating to minority status that, albeit still significant, section of the American population (intellectuals, politicians and ordinary citizens) who are alarmed by the current trend.
Neither can it realistically be argued that what really underlies America’s determination to wage war on Iraq is some plan to gain control of the country’s oil: most of this is already sold to US oil companies, and in any case a plan of this kind would never be worth the frightening costs of a war. The United States’ basic concern is actually a different one, i.e., the need to reaffirm its strength, on which the consensus of its citizens depends, and to restore an image that has been profoundly damaged by the attack on the Twin Towers and by its proven inability to capture Osama bin Laden, to dismantle the al-Qaeda network, and to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Iraq, among various possibilities, has emerged as America’s number one target because of its territory, which, flat and prevalently desert land, is best suited to a war that needs to be concluded rapidly and in victory. The United States’ lengthy and costly preparation for this conflict and its objective (the overthrowing and possibly the death of Saddam Hussein) prefigure a campaign that all hope will be brief (if it really cannot be avoided), but that will have to be spectacular, and thus highly destructive — and this is the reason why this reaffirmation of America’s strength is likely to have such terribly serious consequences.
In truth, it is the global power relations of the post-Cold War era that are at the root of the American government’s need of a war. As a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the persistent weakness of the Russian federation, of China’s failure to be, for the moment, anything more than an embryonic world power, and of the total absence of Europe in world affairs, the United States has been left as the only global power on the world stage. Its hegemony covers the globe, and within the sphere of its influence it has had to assume responsibility for guaranteeing some form of order, however precarious.
But, exceptional circumstances apart, a stable and progressive hegemony should not need to have recourse to military intervention. Its main instruments should be economic cooperation and a development policy that has the hegemonic power as its hub, an arrangement that benefits, in terms of production and wealth, both the countries that fall within its sphere of influence, and the hegemonic power itself, given that, with the growth of trade, more wealth for one means more wealth for all. Examples of this kind of hegemony are the British Empire of the nineteenth century and the United States of the post-World War II era. Both of these, thanks to their strong industrial system and balance of payments surplus, were in a position to act as a virtual international central bank and as an engine driving the entire world economy, or a considerable part of it. But in the nineteenth century, as in the middle of the twentieth, the world was a much smaller place than it is now; Great Britain, to a considerable degree, shared its responsibilities with the states of mainland Europe and with the United States, while America had its load lightened by the Soviet Union, even though relations between the two superpowers were hostile. Today, however, the United States is entirely alone, and too weak to fulfil the same role, since the responsibilities it faces are out of all proportion with its size and wealth. One need only think of its current account deficits, which amount to 460 billion dollars (the equivalent of around 4.8% of its GDP), to which can be added a budget deficit of 304 billion dollars (the equivalent of 3.1% of the GDP), which, according to the New York Times, is rapidly rising towards the 400 billion dollar mark, figures that, moreover do not include the enormous extra burden that will be generated by the war and by the estimated costs of a missile defence system.
In these conditions, the world’s only superpower is, objectively, left with no alternative but to attempt to cover up its political decline with shows of military strength, shows into which it pours all its energies. This strategy is resulting in the replacement, wherever and whenever possible, of a hegemony exercised through development aid and reciprocity of interests with one that is exercised through dominion, which is to say, with imperialism. And this imperialism necessarily brings to the fore arrogant and authoritarian individuals, whose position is boosted by a popular nationalism that is, in turn, fuelled by the growing insecurity of the population. Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, resentment towards the United States is increasing, and it is a sentiment that the supine obedience of leaders who are tied to the USA by economic and power interests, but whose views diverge increasingly from the inclinations and mood of public opinion in their own countries, certainly does nothing to abate.
Who will meet the enormous costs of the war and of the reconstruction that will be necessary in its wake? In part, of course, the United States. And while the United States will no doubt attempt to offload onto its satellites a considerable part of the economic burden generated by the conflict, the problem of how to fund this war is likely to prove far more difficult to solve than at the time of the first Gulf War. On that occasion, the Europeans, the more moderate Arab states, and Japan all played an active role in the military operations, or funded the same through contributions that covered 80% of the overall costs. Given the general unpopularity of this war, however, there is likely to be little, if any, of this kind of cost sharing. The United States will thus be obliged to find more indirect ways of making the Europeans (and the Japanese) pay for the rebuilding of what they themselves will have destroyed. In actual fact, as a result of Wall Street’s pivotal role in the international financial markets, Europe has, for years now (and thus irrespective of this war), been transferring wealth to the United States, and this in payment of a military presence whose purpose is no longer to defend Europe, but rather to guarantee America’s hegemony over it. As long as Wall Street continued to boom, this transfer of wealth came about through the Europeans’ purchase, at higher and higher prices, of American securities, and thus through the injection of fresh money from the Old Continent into the American production system. When Wall Street plummeted, it continued through the Europeans’ selling back, to the Americans, of these same securities, this time at much lower prices. It is possible to put a similar slant on the increasing weakness of the dollar, given that it heavily penalises European (and Japanese) exports, but favours American exports. Thus, the Americans will be able to take advantage of their privileged position as the hub of the world economy in order to pay for the war in paper money, in other words, by exporting inflation. This war is, in any case, bound to be a disaster for the economies of the European nations, which will not be able to duck their obligation to help fund the rebuilding of Iraq.
The problem of Iraq has exposed, more dramatically than ever before, the extreme instability of today’s world equilibrium. It is both a manifestation of the degeneration of current international relations and a factor aggravating the contradictions inherent in the same. By attacking Saddam, the Americans will emphasise the purely military nature of their leadership and reinforce authoritarian tendencies at home, they will boost the number and the strength of their enemies, and they will render more remote any prospect of creating a more stable and peaceful world order. And yet the consequences of the Americans’ backing down now would not be much different. Having made these hefty preparations for war, such a move would seriously undermine the credibility of their government in the eyes both of the rest of the world and of US public opinion. Whichever scenario emerges, it is clear that the United States has no plan that might bring new order to the region, and even if it did have a plan, the fact that it stemmed from a power now universally perceived as the enemy of the Arab world would, from the outset, render it impossible to implement.
The Iraqi crisis has, with equal force, also laid bare the lack of substance of the United Nations. The US government has had the effrontery to declare that the United Nations Organisation enjoys a certain legitimacy only when it complies with American policy, and that it is devoid of all legitimacy when it opposes the American line, and therefore that its resolutions can be safely violated when violation coincides with the interests of the global hegemonic power. It has thus exploded the myth — a myth that did have a degree of symbolic value, commensurate with the extent to which it was believed — that the UN wields might of its own and is not just a reflection of existing global power relations.
Finally, the American position, despite encountering the almost total opposition of public opinion in Europe, has revealed, in the Old Continent, a clear contraposition between the governments that have accepted unreservedly their subordination to the United States and those that have sought to retain a measure of independence. It is, in this regard, important to note that France and Germany (around which are clustered a small nucleus of other countries) are, in fact, carrying out, albeit in a still imperfect and ineffective manner, what might be deemed a virtual European foreign policy. But there are two conditions that must be fulfilled before this virtual policy can be transformed into a real policy: first, this nucleus, or core, of countries striving for European independence must do more than just say no to war; they must develop, since they have the means to do it, a development programme for the whole of the Middle East, whose main aim is to promote unity in the region — an endeavour along the lines of the United States’ promotion of the Marshall Plan and encouragement of European unity after the end of the Second World War. Second, the countries making up this core will have to be bound together by a tie stronger than a weak and ineffective relationship of cooperation; what is needed is an out-and-out federal tie, that is to say, the creation of a new state at the heart of Europe, which has the capacity to take decisions and mobilise resources. If these countries do indeed prove able to take this step, then the arrogance of the American government will ultimately have served a useful purpose. If, on the other hand, they fail to take it, then their policy will amount to nothing more than a series of declarations of intent issued by a weak and impotent alliance destined quickly to crumble, and the deplorable position of the 8+10, faced with the uncomfortable friendship of a huge power and the false positions of a wavering alliance, will gain strength within the political class and public opinion alike. If this happens, the process of European unification will have come to its end.
The states that form the heart of Europe today are unable to rise to their responsibilities because they lack the power they need to do so. On the other hand, the United States is a power in decline, not strong enough to take sole responsibility for the world order. We find ourselves, moreover, in a situation in which, with Russia still having a long way to go before it recovers, and China before it acquires, the capacity to play a pivotal role in the global equilibrium, and Europe rendered powerless by division, only the United States is broaching the problem of guaranteeing the world some order, albeit a precarious order and one for which the price is repeated conflicts and regional crises
Blame for this American imperialism, and indeed for the very degeneration of domestic American politics, should not be laid at the door of the United States, which is merely exercising its hegemony, but rather at that of the Europeans who, despite having the capacity, through political union, to break free from the shackles of American domination, remain divided and thus fail to do so. There is after all, in the whole history of mankind, no instance of a hegemonic power deciding voluntarily to reduce the sphere of its dominion, even though it might, in the medium term, have been in its interests to do so. Throughout history, hegemonic powers have reduced their sphere of influence only when forced to do so by the emergence of a rival force, which, by taking away a share of their influence, has relieved them of some of their responsibilities, and allowed them to exercise the influence that is left to them in a manner more coherent with their interests and with those of their allies.
European political unity — which today means the birth, around France and Germany, of a genuine federal core, made up initially of the six founder members of the European Community together with any other countries that may wish to follow their lead — is now the only direction that can be followed if the world is to be set on the road towards a new, more peaceful and more stable global equilibrium. It is only through political unity of their continent that the Europeans can be allowed to know again the dignity that derives from feeling part of a state that has the capacity, entirely independently, to take decisions in its own interests, while also respecting and promoting those of the rest of the world, and the Americans to recover the dignity that derives from their membership of a great democratic state, whose vocation is to spread, beyond its own confines and through peaceful means, its belief in the free coexistence of peoples. It is out of the question that this objective might be reached soon enough to prevent the folly of this imminent war. But it is important to note that the hesitant first step that, thanks to the position of the French, German and Belgian governments, has now been taken in this direction has at least caused the American government some embarrassment and given encouragement to the overwhelming majority of European public opinion that is opposed to the war. Thanks to their close geographical proximity and economic interdependence, Europe and the Arab world tend to be pushed towards the establishment of closer cooperation, a cooperation that will come about by degrees and that will take time to achieve a mature balance. But the present crisis has made it imperative, without further delay and through a courageous initiative that might serve as an important beacon of unity and independence for the whole of Europe and for the Arab world, to move in this direction.