29 July 2003
By Tapani Lausti
Gabriel Kolko, Another Century of War? The New Press 2002.
We are living in an age of big lies. The US and UK have just occupied Iraq using the language of liberating angels. There is no more noble cause for them than bringing people "democracy". In this Orwellian nightmare world it is extremely important to go beyond the bland reporting of mainstream media to understand what is going on.
Gabriel Kolko, the author of the seminal Century of War: Politics, Conflict, and Society Since 1914 (The New Press 1994), is undoubtedly one of the best analysts of US foreign policy. In Century of War of war he showed how governments who start wars can hardly ever foresee the consequences of their actions. Wars thus become catalysts of unexpected turn of events. In this new small book, Kolko writes: "At no time has the United States entered a war aware of the time, material, and tragic human costs it would have to pay or demand of others." (p. 53)
This applies also to US foreign policy aims. Kolko argues that the rise of fundamentalist Islam is the result of US myopia. Washington's unquestioning support for Israel has been its "single most important error" in the Middle East. (p. 42) Another was to help to make Saddam Hussein into one of the strongest dictators in the region, not foreseeing that he could use his power in unexpected ways.
Kolko explains how US policies have helped the reactionary mullahs to become powerful operators in the region. He writes that "by encouraging fundamentalist Islam and traditionalism as an alternative to nationalism, and then profoundly alienating the reactionary and repressive regimes that fostered them, the United States has now become involved in a conflict which temporary military successes notwithstanding it will only lose." (p. 44)
The book was written before the US-led attack against Iraq, so it uses the examples of Afghanistan and the Balkans, among others, to show how the use of force has only further destabilised conditions in many regions of the world. According to Kolko, the neoconservatives in the Bush camp consider it important to use US power to maintain its credibility. Yet, despite all military bluster "the basic strategic problems the United States has inherited over a half century still remain. Indeed, they are far greater than ever. Is it possible for it to operate effectively in all places? Are its goals clarified? Do its priorities and national interest really match its virtually unlimited but vague military commitments?" (pp. 123-124)
The neoconservatives' error is the same as that of every US government since the Second World War: the inability to understand the limits of US power. Consequently, most military adventures have in the end failed in their declared aims and created ever more conflicts and dangers which now also threaten US citizens in an unprecedented way.
The attack against Iraq has hardly changed the truth of Kolko's observation of the post-September 11 world: "The Bush administration does not have a coherent foreign policy strategy. It is confused and has lost its bearings, and while its crusade against terrorism is politically very popular for the moment, even ignoring entirely the fickleness of voters, the real question is whether its new departure solves any meaningful foreign policy problems. Can the United States continue to take it upon itself to intervene everywhere in the hope of shaping the world to conform to both to its vague ideals and, much more tangibly, to its interests? Even worse, do such interventions create far more problems for it than existed before?" (pp. 136-137)
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