Sunday, October 12, 2008

The twin crises that make this election of such vast significance (Unabridged)


By John Pedler, former British diplomat, now a diplomatic consultant based in France.

[This is the unabridged version for our correspondents of the 12 Oct '08 paper
Why the US Election so Momentous] 

This American election is the most momentous ever, not just for America, but for Europe and the  world. There is just one essential issue: whether the United States will lead towards a new era of cooperation made possible by the end of the Cold War, or whether the ethos of strong arm confrontation coupled with outdated free market ideology will drag on and miss this, perhaps last, opportunity to meet the daunting challenges of a world in jeopardy.

Brent Scowcroft, the leading Republican security guru since the Nixon presidency in the 1970s, puts this succinctly “the world is not susceptible to US domination – but without

US leadership not much can be achieved”.                        

In the US and the UK, the bulk of the politicians, many think-tank pundits, and most of the US and UK media voted for, or backed, the Iraq war – which largely shaped today’s world scene. At the  same time, both the G.W. Bush administration and the U.K.’s “Blairite” Labour government, egged on by financial interests and much of the media, continued and exacerbated the flawed neo-laissez-faire financial system which emerged in the 1980s – despite repeated expert warnings against an ill-regulated culture of borrowing. It is difficult for the Anglo-American establishment to admit such fundamental errors of judgment, burdening them with responsibility for our combined foreign affairs/military/financial predicament. So we are getting a distorted picture. We need a statesman “to tell us like it is“.  Meanwhile let’s switch on the foglamps:-         

Right now there are two world crises. There is the immediate military/financial crisis caused by mistaken US/UK policies. And, simultaneously, there is an unprecedented existential crisis for humanity.Since “the world became one” all countries face the same daunting challenges: climate change; energy, food and water shortages; nuclear proliferation; epidemics; poverty; genocide; international terrorism – and more. Clearly international cooperation must be paramount not only to recover from the last eight years, but to deal with these great problems largely neglected by the Bush administration. 

This goes beyond “left and right”, Republican v. Democrat, Conservative v. Labour.

As Scowcroft warned in August 2002: “An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardise, if not destroy the global counter-terrorist campaign we have undertaken…it could turn the whole region into a cauldron”. Robin Cook, former Labour Foreign Secretary, resigned in protest at the war and the worldwide damage it would inevitably cause. And financial experts like George Soros, of both ‘left’ and ‘right’ have inveighed against the proliferation of new, ill-secured, financial instruments in an era of financial de-regulation. They were ignored by Republicans and Democrats, Labour and Conservatives.        

In this lead-up to the U.S. elections we need to clear up first the responsibility for the financial ‘meltdown’. And second the continuing confusion about what al Qaeda hoped to achieve, and did achieve, by “9/11”, and what the G W Bush administration hoped to achieve, and did not achieve by invading Iraq.

The worldwide financial ‘meltdown’as a teen-ager staying in a Republican family, I was told the party stood for traditional American moral and social values; the responsibility of the rich towards all; caution in foreign affairs; and limited government – though having learnt the lessons of 1929, Keynes, and the New Deal, Republicans accepted that only government can impose the rules needed to ensure to make capitalism work..

But since the 1980s and the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, a neo-Republican revival of ideological laissez-faire, largely free from social concern, has emerged driven by the desire for greater profitability in the globalising financial sector. Encouraged by the successful de-regulation in the 1970s of certain services (notably transport) the neo-Republicans pushed for freeing financial services from the restraints imposed by the President Roosevelt’s 1933 Banking Act to prevent a recurrence of “1929”.  

It was this Act that prevented banks from also offering investment and insurance services – the root of the cancer at the core of, not just America’s, but the world’s financial health. The Reagan 1980 Depositary Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act. took up the financial de-regulation that culminated in the famous (now infamous?) 1999 Financial Services Modernisation Act passed veto-proof, thanks to Democrat support, by a Republican Congress. Under President G.W. Bush the atmosphere of de-regulation led to lax enforcement of remaining regulations, and a blind eye to an unsustainable culture of debt – governmental, business, and private. What was needed as many urged, was a reformed regulatory system devised for new global investment products – which in eight years the neo-Republican Bush administration failed to provide.

Iraq and the decline of American powerfor al Qaeda “9/11” was not a ‘”Pearl Harbour” to destroy the Pacific Fleet, and so tilt the balance against U.S. prior to war. It was a provocation -. a ju jitsu type ploy to use the opponent’s own weight to cause his fall. It counted on a wild ill-directed reaction. Knowing that Vice President Cheney and the neo-conservatives he had placed within the government, had, via their Project for a New American Century (PNAC), been publicly calling for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein since the Clinton administration, it is entirely possible that al Qaeda calculated that ‘9/11’ might provoke a U.S. attack on Iraq destabilising the Middle East and bringing one step nearer its ultimate aim – the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy so opening the way to its ultra-Wahabist control of both the Holy Places (thus religious dominance in the Muslim world), and Saudi Arabia’s oil (with the wealth to support Islamic resurgence worldwide). 

But President G. W. Bush’s professionally executed invasion of Afghanistan with widespread international support denied al Qaeda the excessive response it had expected. Had Bush then moved to resolve the Israel/Palestine problem, al Qaeda would have been denied the “oxygen” of Arab resentment on which it depended for support and recruits. With the international backing the US enjoyed after 9/11, this was an ideal moment to cure this running sore. But Bush chose instead an elective war with Iraq – backed not only by Republicans, but by €many Democrats. .

So, thanks to “Iraq”, al Qaeda is on track. It successfully moved house to Pakistan, it has metastasised worldwide, and every chunk of fall-out – including financial - from the Iraq adventure anywhere in the world is weakening the U.S. Working now on the destabilisation of both Pakistan and Afghanistan on its way towards the destabilisation of Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda is achieving all it could have hoped for from 9/11.

What then did President Bush, Vice-President Cheney and the neo-conservatives he placed in the heart of the administration, hope for from the ‘unapproved’ (by the UN, NATO, U.S. allies) invasion of Iraq? Just two of the aims were stressed in public – the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, a vicious dictator, and the elimination of such WMD as he possessed: a warning to North Korea and Iran, the other two members of the “Axis of Evil”. A third aim was played down: the control of Iraq’s oil.   

But there were more important unpublicised aims – gaining permanent bases in Iraq, thus achieving American military dominance in the Middle East; establishing a U.S. form of ‘democracy’ in Iraq – to be a model for others, thus creating a ‘New Middle East’; replacing a hostile with a friendly Iraq thus improving Israel’s security and negotiating position; and most important of all - demonstrating with “shock and awe” America’s military and financial might – its readiness to go anywhere, pay any price, to ensure that the 21st would indeed be an American Century: the ultimate aim of the PNAC.. And, after “9/11”, the occupation of Iraq was to be no diversion from the “War of Terror”: al Qaeda would be trumped in its Islamic heartland and stripped of its prestige. The “New Middle East” would be made in America’s image – not al Qaeda’s.

So Cheney and the neo-conservatives offered a beguiling scenario for an ambitious president anxious to aggrandise his country and stamp his name on history. 

Why did it all go so terribly wrong? What were the warnings of the Cassandras? It didn’t take ‘rocket science’ for them to make the case against invading Iraq. This makes the pro-war position taken by US and UK politicians, pundits, and media so inexcusable and thus harder for them to repudiate.   


Let’s briefly list the “Cassandras’” leading reasons for opposing the Iraq adventure, and what actually happened:-

1. Iraq is a fissiparous country with antagonistic ethnic and religious groups. With the dictator removed, a swift transfer of power will be essential to avoid a breakdown of order. There were no plans – as the British were known to have complained – for such transfer, swift or not: 5 years later even the “surge” has not stabilised Iraq.

2. To get political approval, the occupation is to have perilously inadequate military and financial resources. After the blitzkrieg, the country couldn’t be secured, so it was borrow all the way towards a trillion dollars overall - a major factor in the financial ‘meltdown’ we now suffer.

3. Success in Afghanistan would be jeopardised. 7 years have been lost in reconstructing Iraq, time for the Taliban to stage a come-back. NATO allies are loathe to pull U.S. chestnuts out of the fire. After a stunning victory, the spectre of defeat.     

4. With the neglect of Israel/Palestine, Islamic extremism will flourish.  Palestine neglected, Hamas won the elections and took over Gaza. Then war with Lebanon brought Hezbollah predominance. All to al Qaeda’s and Iran’s benefit.  

6.  With Nato, the EU, and the UN split the West will be gravely weakened. The slow progress of creating international institutions has been set-back just when international cooperation is indispensable. The West no longer speaks as one..


7. The forcible ‘democratisation’ of Iraq as a step towards a ‘new Middle East’ won’t work. It didn’t. Instead rulers providing some stability have been weakened. Islamist parties would now win further free elections  

8. With no occupation plans, insufficient resources, and no exit strategy there could be not one but two “Vietnams” in the making. This is the current military dilemma – how to get enough forces out of Iraq without a Vietnam and relocate them in Afghanistan.


9. The elective invasion of a second Muslim country will forward al Qaeda’s overall strategy – to detonat a “clash of civilisations”. From the UK to Indonesia a majority of Muslims believe that the West has “taken on” Islam. This has greatly assisted al Qaeda’s “metastasisation”. The UK is now a main source for its terrorists.  

11. Putting U.S. forces in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan will be met by a hostile Iran. . Ahmedinajad replaced the moderate Khatami as president, reversed reforms, and Iran is now apparently racing for “the bomb”. Iran and al Qaeda have become the major beneficiaries of the Iraq war.     

12. Non-proliferation required US cooperation with Russia, China, Japan and S. Korea to remove N. Korea’s existing bomb, not in invading to prevent Iraq from someday obtaining one. Experts believe that had the US been in the group early on, the N. Koreans would not now still be flaunting their bomb. Non-profileration is in disarray.  

13. War in Iraq and Afghanistan could reveal the limits of U.S. military and financial power – presaging the end of the pax Americana. U.S. funds and military are perilously overstetched. The U.S. has sunk from sole super-power to leading great power.  


14. An elective war in Iraq could seriously damage America’s prestige as the upholder of human rights. Even we Cassandras failed to foresee “Guantanamo”, “Abu Graib”, “Baghram”, CIA secret prisons, the use of torture, extraordinary rendition etc. Too few in the US and the UK grasp the scale of the hatred aroused by this flouting of human rights, hugely assisting recruitment to “al Qaeda and Co”. All to the despair of human rights activists rendered all but impotent e.g. over Darfur.       

(There is no space here to list other warnings - .above all that “Iraq” would, as it did, distract attention from the great global issues such as climate change, and the need for alternative energy)   

What conclusions about the U.S. presidential and congressional elections can we draw from our switching on the foglamps?

Both the financial meltdown and the closely linked “Iraq” fiasco are clearly the primary responsibility of the G.W. Bush administration and the post 1980 Republicans. Though the Democrats, as opposition, signally failed to oppose either Republican financial policies or Bush’s invasion of Iraq, nevertheless they alone could effect a shift from confrontation to cooperation under a determined president.   

Senator McCain – as Vietnam veteran, a leading Republican, and close to the Pentagon - was the politician best placed to protest, even prevent, the Iraq war. Instead he backed it enthusiastically despite the clear risk of a second “Vietnam” – and even a third “Vietnam” in Afghanistan. Like Vice-President Cheney, Senator McCain is proof that considerable experience is not of itself a guarantee of safe hands in foreign and security matters. As importantly, his neo-Republican laissez-faire politics disqualify him as the leader to reform the financial system.   

Only a “Cassandra” – an opponent of the Iraq war before it started, and a critic of neo-Republican de-regulation – can have the credibility at home and abroad needed to renounce  unipolarism (China’s and Russia’s condition for collaboration) and lead America and the world away from confrontation  to cooperation so essential today. .

Senator Barack Obama fits this ticket. So whether one is’ left or right’, old style Republican or ‘progressive’ Democrat, or just fed up with both parties, most of the world hopes you, the American voter, will elect him and provide him with a firmly Democrat Congress. Meanwhile let’s hope he will confirm himself as a statesman and “tell it like it is”.    


  John Pedler, ( welcomes comments at

[2300 wds, ends

No comments: