The Temptations of Empire

By Robert Scheer

It sure smells like imperialism. That's the word historians use when powerful nations grab control of desired resources, be it the gold of the New World or the oil of the Middle East.

Imperialist greed is what "regime change" in Iraq and "anticipatory self-defense" are about; the rest of the Bush administration's talk about security and democracy is a bunch of malarkey.

In the laundry list of reasons that the Bush team has been trotting out in defense of a unilateral invasion of Iraq, oil is never mentioned. Is the fact that Iraq holds a huge pool of oil a piddling footnote to this debate? Is that Persian Gulf War protest sign, "No Blood for Oil," too cynical, even passe? Perhaps we should ask National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who served as a Chevron director and had an oil tanker named after her.

Despite her corporate connections, Rice is a scholar, and she should know her history: For 50 years, we and the British before us have assumed the same neocolonial posture toward Iraq as we do with Saudi Arabia and its surrounding sheikdoms and Iran. The Person Gulf War, fought to save U.S. corporate interests in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, was only the latest example of this heavy-handed policy. Think Halliburton and Vice President Dick Cheney.

The strategy is pretty much the same as that drawn up by the Romans: Find and support local strongmen who can deliver the goods to the imperial capital, come hell or high water. How they treat their own people is not our business, we have never cared about democracy in the Mideast unless one of its dictators happened to fail to toe our line.

That is why our CIA facilitated the rise to power of Iraq's Baath party and ultimately the succession of Saddam Hussein as its leader. THe first Bush administration supported Hussein, providing him with the means to wage chemical and biological war, up to the day he invaded Kuwait, another of our client states. After his defeat, we became totally disinterested in the freedom of the people of the countries we had rescued. So much so, in fact, that Saudi Arabia was allowed to thrive as the world capital of religious hatred and the major sponsor of terrorists, producing Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers who gave us Septmeber 11.

The same contempt for democracy has marked our policy toward Iran, that other member of the "axis of evil" we helped create. When Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh moved to eliminate foreign control over Iran's oil, the CIA and its British counterpart overthrew him in 1953. We had no compunction about replacing the elected Mossadegh with a guy who claimed the hereditary right to the throne as shah of all shahs.

When the shah dared to act in the interest of his people -- and his own bank account -- by bolstering the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in the push for higher oil prices, we came to regard him, too, as expendable.

With the end of the Cold War, we were at a loss for a noble rationale to justifiy our heavy Mideast presence, which has been enormously profitable to some American corporations and industries that are well represented in this administration. Support democracy? We do subsidize Israel, the region's only functioning democracy (sic), but our motives look less than pure when we fawn over cooperative dictatorships such as the regime in the United Arab Emirates, which forked over $6.4 billion to Lockheed Martin for fighter jets and gives us access to its oil.

Having just fought to free themselves from one of history's great empires, this nation's founders fiercely and repeatedly warned of the risks of imperial ambitions. Because of this, most Americans, whether liberal or conservative, grasp the fundamental truth that foreign entanglements destabilize, backfire and cost too much in lives and dollars.

Instead of exploiting our natural patriotism to fight a nonsensical war, our government should forgo the temptations of empire.

San Francisco Chronicle, 2 October 2002

Letter to the Editor from Joanne Heisel of San Bruno:

I think The Chronicle should run an in-depth article on past U.S. involvement in "regime change" in other countries, including both the short-term and long-term results. I would include information such as how many people were killed, tortured or "disappeared" in the aftermath; how many years of internal strife followed the U.S. intervention; how the people of each country fared economically and in terms of civil, political and human rights, etc.

For starters, you might want to cover these "successful" U.S. efforts to "change regimes" around the world: Angola, Bolivia, Chile, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Indonesia, Iran, Laos, Nicaragua, Panama, Vietnam and Zaire/Congo.

The U.S. record on regime change has been a disaster, at least for the peoples of the countries in question. And, in terms of the safety and security of U.S. citizens, our government's escapades abroad have only increased the animosity of other peoples of the world against us and our country. This time, let's rein in the warmongers. They aren't doing us -- or anyone else around the world -- any favors.

San Francisco Chronicle, 2 October 2002

See The Secret History of the CIA by Joseph J. Trento (2001) for the shocking story of America's imperialist assassinations and manipulations operating (somewhat) outside the control of Presidents, Congressional representatives and the people of the United States.

Articles and Reprints

Subway Guitars
1800 Cedar Street
Berkeley, California 94703

Telephone: (510) 841-4106
noon til six, Monday thru Saturday
Pacific Time