Published on AntiWar.com, by Chalmers Johnson, January 10, 2003.
… part of a chapter of Chalmers Johnson’s new book about American militarism: The Sorrows of Empire, How the Americans Lost Their Country.
… I agree with aspects of each of these explanations. Oil, Israel, and domestic politics have all played a role in the Bush administration’s stance toward Iraq. But I feel the need to put them into a larger historical context. A second American-Iraqi war will also be the culmination of a process that began a half-century ago when the United States for the first time employed its Central Intelligence Agency secretly and illegally to overthrow a democratically elected government. The 1953 CIA-engineered coup d’état against Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq of Iran started a chain of events that included Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution of 1979 against the Shah and his patron, the United States.
This revolution destroyed one of the “twin pillars” of American strategy in the Persian Gulf – cultivation of authoritarian, undemocratic client states in Saudi Arabia and Iran as sources of oil and bulwarks against Soviet influence. The Islamist revolution in Iran demanded a major reorientation of American foreign policy in the area. In that same year, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and the United States covertly began to arm anti-Soviet Afghanis, as well as Osama bin Laden. This set in motion a complex series of realignments that would ultimately lead veterans of the anti-Soviet Afghan resistance to organize the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, against New York and Washington.
After the 1979 revolution in Iran, the United States decided to back the sworn opponent of the Islamic clerics who had come to power there – namely, Iraq’s secular tyrant Saddam Hussein. In September 1980, Saddam invaded Iran. When it looked like Iran might defeat him, the Reagan administration covertly began to supply him with satellite intelligence and weapons, including precursors for development of biological weapons and the basic ingredients for the chemical agents he used, in President Bush’s memorable words, “to gas his own people.” The Iraq-Iran war ended with a ghastly loss of life on both sides. In 1990, the U.S. allowed Saddam to think that it would tolerate his seizure of Kuwait. Every Iraqi leader since the 1920s has vowed to invade Kuwait and reunite it with Iraq, and Saddam was no exception. The U.S. then seized the opportunity posed by Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait to vastly expand its empire of military bases in the Persian Gulf. As the Middle East scholar Stephen Zunes observes, “The United States used Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait as an excuse to advance its long-desired military, political, and economic hegemony in the region.” (15) The attacks of September 11 have, in turn, given the United States a renewed opportunity to expand its power and influence in the region – this time potentially to use its new Persian Gulf bases to establish even more bases in the ancient territories between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq.
In short, I believe the true explanation for the American government’s planned second war with Iraq is the same as for its wars in the Balkans in 1999 and in Afghanistan in 2001-2002 – the inexorable pressures of imperialism and militarism. I agree with Jay Bookman, an editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, when he asks, “Why does the administration seem unconcerned about an exit strategy from Iraq once Saddam is toppled? Because we won’t be leaving. Having conquered Iraq, the United States will create permanent military bases in that country from which to dominate the Middle East, including neighboring Iran.” (full long text).