Library:Bush's Splendid Little War

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Bush's Splendid Little War was an article written by Michael Parenti and published in CovertAction Magazine (then CovertAction Information Bulletin) in Spring 1991. It is an excerpt from issue No. 36: Racism and the National Security State.


In the summer of 1898 when the Spanish–American War was grinding to a halt, the U.S. ambassador to England, John Hay, wrote to Colonel Theodore Roosevelt of the Rough Riders: "It has been a splendid little war." The war was hardly that. It was a war of aggression against a vastly weaker adversary who did not want to fight. It was "splendid" only in that it provided a quick, decisive win.

Today some Americans, including the President, still retain a taste for "splendid little wars." Grenada and Panama come to mind – and now the assault upon Iraq. But Saddam Hussein is not a Sandinista, a Castro, a Qaddafi, nor even a populist-nationalist like Noriega. Although Saddam has brought a better than average standard of living to his people, he manifests few of the ideological egalitarian impulses that right-wingers like Bush find so loathsome. Saddam has murdered large numbers of communists and other left dissidents – a policy which usually endears a dictator to U.S. leaders. Indeed, until recently, "worse-than-Hitler" Hussein received a good deal of U.S. aid himself. So why has Bush come down so hard on him? Let's look at the reasons given by the White House:

We went into the Middle East to defend Saudi Arabia from an Iraqi invasion. If the Iraqis intended to take Saudi Arabia, why didn't they just walk into that country immediately after grabbing Kuwait and before U.S. troops arrived? In any case, defending Saudi Arabia is obviously no longer – if it ever was – Bush's primary goal.

The President is concerned with protecting human rights in Kuwait and elsewhere in the region. Few rights exist in Kuwait or any of the region's feudal monarchies. Women are still stoned to death on suspicion of adultery; democratic councils are non-existent or instantly crushed, and a few super rich families control the entire politico-economic life of the society.

Mr. Bush is upholding the United Nations commitment to defend its member states from aggression. Why now? Both Syria and Israel invaded Lebanon and still occupy portions of that country, yet the U.S. has never threatened war against either of them. Instead the U.S. gives enormous amounts of aid to Israel and has become kissing cousins with "terrorist Syria." Turkey invaded Cyprus and took half that island, yet the U.S. made no military moves against its NATO ally. Indonesia invaded and annexed East Timor and killed half its population and the U.S. quietly supported the action. The U.S. invaded Grenada on dual false pretexts of saving American medical students and preventing "the establishment of a Cuban-Soviet beachhead." Furthermore, Bush, himself, invaded Panama last year, an action that caused a substantial loss of Panamanian lives and invited the condemnation of U.N. member states. The U.S. Military occupation and political repression of Panama continues.

Saddam would have controlled too much of the world's oil and would have raised prices and threatened our supply. When OPEC – led by the Saudis and controlling vastly more of the oil supply than Iraq does today – drastically raised prices in the 1970s, the United States went along with it. So did the big oil companies, who passed the costs – and then some – along to the consumer. These costs motivated us to develop alternative energy sources and greater efficiency in fuel consumption, eventually helping to drive oil prices down. Furthermore, the 1990 embargo deprived the world of the very Iraqi (and Kuwaiti) oil supply that Bush's action was supposed to preserve. Yet as of January 1991, the world's net oil supply was the same as when Iraq and Kuwait were among the suppliers. All this demonstrates the difficulties faced by any one producer who might try to control the market. The war against Saddam is not about protecting America's oil supply since most of the Middle East oil goes elsewhere. U.S. consumers can get all the oil they want, with or without Iraq.

Iraq poses a nuclear threat. This polemic was tacked on to Bush's litany of horrors months after he had embarked on intervention in the Gulf region, right after opinion polls showed that Americans were concerned that Iraq might develop a nuclear capability. Nuclear weapons in the hands of any nations are something to be opposed. But the President intervened in the Gulf area long before this became an issue. Moreover, with sanctions in place, it was already impossible for Iraq to get the necessary materials to build a bomb.

Iraq threatened to attack and destroy Israel. Iraq never had the ability to destroy Israel, but certainly Saddam has proven he was serious about attacking that nation. Yet, it was only in retaliation for the U.S. attacks against him. Therefore, Bush could have easily prevented the missile firings on Israel by refraining from war against Iraq.

The intervention into the Middle East will protect the U.S. economy and safeguard jobs at home. Secretary of State James Baker uttered words to that effect in November. It is the first time he or anyone else in Bush's national security entourage has evinced any concern for the nation's unemployed. One should note that after five months of intervention in the Middle East, unemployment in this country has only worsened. Anyway, there are more constructive and less costly ways of putting people back to work – with programmes for low cost housing, mass transit, environmental protection, improved education and medical infrastructures, care for the elderly and other basic human services, and the like.

The reasons given to justify this country's murderous assault against the Iraqi people sound terribly contrived. Once the war began they were largely replaced by the call to arms and a rallying 'round the flag. For too many people the war became its own justification, demanding our unquestioning support because of its very existence. But this mindless jingoism does not mean that real reasons for the Gulf War do not exist, ones that Bush might prefer to keep quiet.

How About The Real Reasons?

First, for decades the United States has maintained a global military machine, with some 300 major military bases in every region of the world. Its major function is to prevent politico-economic change, specifically the emergence of revolutionary or populist nationalist governments that would use the land, labour, capital, and natural resources of their society in ways that might be inimical to transnational corporate interests.

Our leaders long have sold this global machine – with its gargantuan military budget – to the American public by claiming it was needed to defend us from "the Soviet Menace." The Warsaw Pact nations are transforming themselves into right-wing capitalist regimes and the Soviet Union seems to have fallen into line. What will now serve as justification for the mammoth budget that supports global counterinsurgency? New demons and threats must be conjured up; narco-terrorists, nuclear madmen, Middle East Hitlers, and the like.

The U.S. invasion of the Middle East is an emergency rescue operation for a near $290 billion military budget, the military-industrial complex, and the policy of global interventionism. In July 1990 for the first time in years, the Democratic leadership in Congress was talking about real cuts in arms spending and "peace dividends." Enter the Gulf crisis and major cuts are put on hold. In a world of evil adversaries, who dares deprive our soldiers of a single hand grenade or Stealth bomber?

The Middle East crisis also allows U.S. leaders to do what they have wanted to do for decades, establish a long-term military presence in that region: not a gingerly toehold in Lebanon as Eisenhower and Reagan attempted, but a massive occupation in an area rich in oil and potentially unstable regimes. While Bush is not protecting the oil that comes to the U.S., he is protecting the oil supplies and reserves of the giant cartels that sell and distribute it elsewhere at great profit.

A Saudi professor in this country, who wishes to remain anonymous, informs me that large contingents of U.S. troops are stationed in eight cities in Saudi Arabia. They are there not to protect the Saudis from the Iraqis but to protect the royal family from its own restive populace – which threatened to grow more restive with the events in Kuwait.

Fear of revolutionary ferment is what is behind Bush's desire to remain indefinitely in the Middle East, to build another NATO, that would "stabilise" the region. He wants to make sure that the existing economic structure is not tampered with by populist troublemakers who might give the people ideas about who should control the resources of their respective countries. With the dissolution of Soviet power, Moscow's reaction to events is no longer a restraining consideration. Ultimately the goal is to open every region of the world to direct U.S. military intervention – if such is needed.

There is another compelling reason why Bush pursues an interventionist policy. Many wars are begun, noted Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers, Number 6, because of the political interests of leaders. By plunging into conflicts abroad, they seek to diminish the impact of burning issues at home, thereby securing their political fortunes. Margaret Thatcher well understood this when she leaped into the Falklands/Malvinas Islands fray – and won reelection.

C.T.Wemple/Impact Visuals

President Bush understands it also. Like any politician, his first concern is his own political survival. Last July his popularity was slumping badly because of the savings and loan scandal. Every evening, TV news programmes were peeling off another layer of corruption, thievery, bribery, and plunder of the public treasury. That process of exposure was virtually obliterated by the Gulf crisis and the ensuing war.

Mr. Bush is playing for big stakes. If he pulls off a "splendid little war," his political fortunes will be better secured at home. In 1992, he may weather the recession, the savings and loan scandal and silence the military-budget cutters and anti-interventionists. There are also new disclosures regarding the Iran–Contra scandal that implicate him. These will be harder for prosecutors to pursue if he is enjoying the untouchable popularity that comes with a national superpatriotic orgy and a strong leadership image.

But if the war gets really messy and involves too many American casualties – the only ones the media will count – then Bush's popularity is likely to plunge and he will become increasingly vulnerable of domestic issues. As I write this after more than a month of bombardment, the activation of hundreds of thousands of peace activists and the launching of the ground war the conflict is already something other than "quick and decisive."

Even after "liberating" Kuwait for the benefit of the Emir and his filthy rich family, Bush will still face serious problems. Will "Hitler Hussein" remain in power? Will Kuwait become another occupied Panama? The U.S. will be keeping troops in that region indefinitely. The morning after victory, more of the American public may begin to wonder if the bloodshed and the more than $80 billion bill was worth it. They might recall that the only war worth supporting is what Benjamin Franklin called "the best war," the one that is never fought.