Progressive Writers Bloc

History Lesson

By Bill Becker

Bill BeckerFor supporters of President Bush's unilateral decision to invade Iraq, and his management of the aftermath, it is an article of faith that Iraqis will in the long run be far better off than had the president devised a more patient, creative, and above all, multilateral approach to the problem posed by Saddam Hussein. In the space below I examine that article of faith, in my typical fair and balanced manner.

I will ignore the fact that the original reasons given for invading Iraq--weapons of mass destruction, mushroom clouds over New York, Saddam playing footsie with Osama bin Laden--were bogus, and that the president has had to make a virtue of necessity by claiming that FREEDOM for the Iraqi people was the REAL reason we invaded that poor country all along. I will also ignore the suggestion that had the government of Spain followed the wishes of the Spanish people and refused membership in President Bush's "coalition of the willing," some 191 innocent Spaniards would not have died in the al Queda-linked Madrid train bombings March 11th.

Instead I will discuss history.

Let us begin with President Bush's own question: "Why do they hate us?" His answer:

"They hate...a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."

That's rubbish. There are far deeper reasons for Arab and Islamic enmity against America than a mindless hatred of democracy, or even simple envy. To borrow from archconservative Patrick J. Buchanan, the Arab world's perception of the U.S. as an "arrogant imperial superpower" has a solid historic basis.

In 1890 Rear Admiral Alfred T. Mahan advocated the taking of the Caribbean Islands, Hawaii, and the Philippine Islands for bases to protect U.S. commerce.

Three years later, at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, historian Frederick Jackson Turner suggested the obvious next step. Noting that the American frontier was now closed, "American energy will continually demand a wider field for its exercise."

In 1898, taking advantage of rebellions against Spain in Cuba and the Philippines, America cleverly arranged the Spanish-American War. The war lasted barely 7-1/2 months. After helping U.S. troops to defeat Spain, "liberated" Filipinos were surprised to learn that America would be their new master. They rebelled again, and held off their erstwhile "liberators" for 3-1/2 years. When the violence finally ended, 4,000 American troops, 40,000 Filipino soldiers, and 200,000 Filipino civilians were dead. Had Bush been president then he would have described these people as "freedom hating," no doubt.

After two world wars, America was king of the hill, challenged only by the Soviet Union. Even so, in his post-WWII Top Secret advice to the Truman administration, State Department "wise man" George Kennan articulated the real challenge facing America:

With "about 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population... Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming;...

"In the face of this situation we...should dispense with the aspiration to 'be liked,' or to be regarded as the repository of a high-minded altruism.... We should cease to talk about...human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we will have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.

"We should make a careful study to see what parts of are absolutely vital to our security, and we should concentrate our policy on seeing that those areas remain in hands which we control or rely on."

In other words, we should become indistinguishable from our ideological enemies. So much for being a beacon to the world!

In 1953 the C.I.A. overthrew the democratically elected and phenomenally popular Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh and installed Mohammad Reza Shah. Mossadegh's sin was planning to use Iran's oil wealth for the benefit of the Iranian people instead of turning it over to the British government and the American oil giants. After being returned to the throne, the Shah proved to be a surpassingly vicious monarch, but Washington loved him nonetheless. (It helped that he was a compulsive consumer of U.S. military wares.) Finally, in 1979 he was deposed by honest, but (surprise, surprise…) exceedingly anti-American Islamic clerics. The rest, shall we say, is history. In his masterful book on the coup, All The Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, New York Times reporter Stephen Kinzer is entirely correct in his observation:

"it is not farfetched to draw a line from [the coup] through the Shah's repressive regime and the Islamic Revolution to the fireballs that engulfed the World Trade Center in New York."

In 1970, Chilean voters decided that Salvador Allende's plan for a socialist economy would bring them a better life than they had enjoyed under the foreign capitalists who dominated Chile's manufacturing and mining industries. President Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger decided to effectively destroy Latin America's most successful democracy, and make the Chilean economy "scream" through economic sabotage. The U.S. ambassador to Chile, Edward Korry, declared, "Not a nut or a bolt will reach Chile... We will do all in our power to condemn Chileans to utmost poverty." Three years later, Allende was killed in another C.I.A.-orchestrated coup. Commenting on the not-so-secret destabilization of Chile's economy, and support for the right-wingers that plunged Chile into a nightmare of repression, Nixon right-hand-man Henry Kissinger famously quipped: "The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves."

And then came Iran-contra.

The president's supporters will probably respond: "ho-hum, that's old news. Things are different now." Oh? As Sportin' Life said: "it ain't necessarily so." The economic theories that drove the U.S. to destroy any upstart government perceived to be even mildly "leftist" during the Cold War is now the received religion in U.S. circles of power. Covert action now masquerades as "structural adjustment," a form of economic blackmail imposed by U.S.-dominated International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Structural adjustment means a small impoverished country must open its doors to foreign capital, while slashing public services in favor of debt repayment to U.S. investors. The problem is, it is the elites of the debtor countries, who profit as U.S. surrogates and middlemen, while the poor are further impoverished to repay the loans. "Structural adjustment" benefits the wealthy, period! It has never benefited the poor, even as First World economists rhapsodize about "economic growth".

Islam, and especially Shiite Islam, mandates care for the poor, and Shiites are the majority in Iraq. It is widely agreed that Iran's Shiite clergy are honest as well as practical in their understanding of modern political reality. Does that argue for truly free elections in Iraq? I don't think so. The prospect of a Shiite-led Iraq is the Bush administration's worst nightmare. Thus, we are justified in expecting some creative manipulation of Iraq's pending elections and effective control of Iraq's economy by Washington, whatever the result. My bet is that Halliburton's shareholders will benefit far more than the Iraqi people.

For more on the history of U.S. imperialism, read my reviews of four important books at

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