July 26th 2003

  Buy Issue 2662

Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Universities: battleground for next election?

EDITORIAL: Helping the disabled

SPECIAL REPORT: Ethanol: the untold story

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Star Wars / Provocative

AGRICULTURE: Murray River debate hotting up

QUEENSLAND: Values make a comeback

Will Saddam win Phase II of the war? (letter)

Anti-Western animus (letter)

Deflation causes (letter)

Australia's population challenge? (letter)

Christian victims ignored (letter)

COMMENT: Abstinence: the new trend in sex education

GOVERNMENT: Democracy needs a professional public service

COMMENT: Iraq and future US foreign policy

HONG KONG: Mass rally forces back-flip on national security law


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Iraq and future US foreign policy

by Dr Sharif Shuja

News Weekly, July 26, 2003
The war in Iraq heralds the coming of a new international order. At issue are implications for how the world should be run. The United States is bitterly disappointed with the United Nations and the failure of major powers such as France, Germany' Russia and China to support its invasion of Iraq.

This leads to a dramatic shift in the international system between those who identify themselves with Washington's intention to change the international order, including by military pre-emption if necessary, and others who are determined to resist what they see as US hegemony.

Many critics reject Washington's world leadership role because they believe it involves hubris (the presumption that only America can save the world), and it is immoral, since it sanctions interference in the internal affairs of other nations.

The problem is that not all countries, and not even all democratic countries, will agree with the US about how the world should be run. Even the inner US alliance has unravelled.

Canada did not support this war on Iraq, and the fighting was only being done by the US, Britain and Australia.

Given the above context, the basic question that must be asked is this: why did America adopt the pre-emptive interventionist policy? It is also relevant to explore why America, after so many years of multipolar co-operation with major powers as well as working through the UN system, decided on this occasion to act independently?

The intense feeling of anger and humiliation in Washington after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, is the main factor that compelled the US to adopt such a policy. The US fully intends to eliminate the terrorist threat, even if that takes many years, and will also pursue regime change, if necessary through the use of military force, in the "axis of evil" countries.

The second factor is that Washington wants to change the geopolitics of the Middle East. Although unseating the Saddam Hussein regime was at the heart of the military campaign, the US objective appears to go beyond precipitating a "regime change" in Baghdad.

The third factor relates to the United Nations itself. So long as the UN has universal membership and maintains that it is the sole authority that can legitimately authorise violence by one state against another, it presents a problem for the Bush Government.

Put simply, the Bush Administration envisages a world run by the United States, backed by as many states as will sign on to support it but not interfere.

Since the end of the Cold War, theorists, such as Kenneth Waltz, have argued that in the absence of effective countervailing pressures, the United States is likely to become increasingly unilateral in seeking to secure its foreign policy interests, and in so doing rely on its military preponderance to realise its vision of a new world order.

September 11, 2001, and subsequent terrorist attacks in Yemen, Bali, Kenya, Morocco and, more recently, Saudi Arabia, have changed little in this regard. Instead, the effect of September 11 has been "to enhance American power and extend its military presence in the world."

September 11

Did the world change on September 11? Despite the shock, outrage and hyperbole, the answer is no. As London-based leftist, Tariq Ali, suggests, "The notion that September 11 represents a new epoch or a historic turning point is little more than propaganda." However, the course of international politics changed forever on September 11.

The attack on the United States compelled its leaders to undertake a profound assessment of this nation's defence and foreign policies. Following the attacks, Americans quickly received international support and sympathy, while, at the same time, the US Administration and other nations started looking for a global strategy to eliminate terrorism, a new form of war where the enemy is often unidentified.

Osama bin Laden, the Taliban of Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda were identified by the US as partners in conducting terrorist activities. The Bush Administration declared a "war on terrorism", bombed Afghanistan in order to crush terrorist cells and, brought about the downfall of the Taliban.

Some fundamentalist Muslim clergymen called on Muslims to unite against the United States and its allies, to wage a "holy war", but the majority of people in the Muslim world did not listen. The rest of the world was far too ready to equate Islam with terror and radical fundamentalism while, at the same time, the voices of the Muslim mainstream continued to go largely unheard.

The Bush Doctrine

On September 17, 2002, a year after the September 11 attacks, President Bush unveiled a new strategic doctrine, "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America", which foreshadows a first-strike strategy against terrorist organisations and "rogue states". It argues that defending the nation against its enemies is the first and fundamental commitment of the US Government.

The doctrine is the strongest possible indication that the Bush Administration is willing to deploy its power to deal with enemies of the United States before they attack the US or kill Americans.

Washington considers these rogue states a threat to world order. These nations share a siege mentality. In the first place, the leaders of these countries are portrayed not only as undemocratic, but as fanatical or crazy.

In the case of Iraq, a probable clue can be found by questioning the sanity of Saddam Hussein, in the case of Iran, the spectre of Islamic fundamentalism has been invoked to stress the rejectionism and impenetrability of the Iranian leaders and people. The evidence from North Korea in particular suggests that it has indeed embarked on acquiring nuclear weapons. Pyongyang has been criticised also for its missile development and for alleged trading of nuclear technology to several Third World nations.

Mr Bush had repeatedly threatened that if Iraq did not eliminate its weapons of mass destruction, the US would attack Iraq pre-emptively. President Bush has now done that successfully, and North Korea started to change its belligerent tone within days of Saddam's statue coming down in Baghdad.

The US is a power without parallel in world history. It accounts for 32 per cent of world GDP and more than 43 per cent of world military expenditures. It spends more than US$1 billion a day on defence, and dominates more than half of global military production and almost 60 per cent of world military research and development spending. So, it is unlikely to face a peer competitor, or even a combination of the hostile powers, in the foreseeable future.

The unipolar world and America's paramountcy in it possibly rest on two pillars. The first is the US's own strength, militarily and economically, which it has achieved. The second, yet to be achieved, is the willingness of a very large proportion of the society of states to support the US.

Listen back

That willingness, in turn, has depended on an assumption that American foreign policies and purposes are reasonable and prudent, an assumption which was heavily eroded for many important governments on the war in Iraq issue. People listen to the US on issues of weapons of mass destruction or international terrorism, and may well agree with them. And they want the US to listen back, but the US is not in a listening mood.

One important task for America is to mend its relationship with its trans-Atlantic allies. Certain influential sections in the Bush Administration possibly believe that constituents of the old Europe have long outlived their utility and that there is a greater need to build new alliances. This new security doctrine is causing a lot of concern in Euro circles as it espouses universal values but projects limitless supremacy of American power.

America's challenge, therefore, lies now in the recognition of its own pre-eminence but to conduct its policy as if it were still living in a world of many centres of power. In such a world, the United States - especially after its victory in Iraq - will find partners not only by sharing the psychological burdens of leadership, but also by shaping an international order consistent with freedom and democracy.

  • Dr Sharif Shuja teaches at the University of Melbourne

All you need to know about
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TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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