L. Neil Smith's
Number 326, July 3, 2005

"Hands Off My Home!"

The Tangled Web: Iraq and Post WWII American Foreign Policy
by Patrick K Martin

Exclusive to TLE

The war in Iraq is not about oil.

The war in Iraq is not about WMD.

The war in Iraq is not about terrorism.

The war in Iraq is simply another chapter in the foreign policy which America has pursued since World War II.

To understand our current situation, one must understand a little bit of history. In 1945, with the end of the WW II, the world had changed in fundamental ways, but the most important change was the loss of British control of the sea.

When most people consider the power of the British Empire they think of the great colonies like India and Canada, but, in fact, the real military power of the Empire rested on tiny colonies scattered around the globe, places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Gibraltar, The Falklands, Bermuda, and others. These colonies and bases existed to support the Royal Navy for the purpose of controlling the vital choke-points on the sea-lanes. Using these bases, Britain ensured the ability of her military, merchants and allies to ply the sea-lanes, while denying her enemies that same ability. This ability to prevent her enemies to operate freely on the sea, more than anything else, allowed Britain to become the largest most successful Empire in history.

In 1945 all this changed, while Britain still possessed those colonies, the Royal Navy lacked the ability to project power from them. The losses which the Royal Navy had suffered in the war and the rise of the aircraft carrier as the primary offensive warship had reduced British naval power to near impotence. Combined with the moral and physical exhaustion of the British people and the increasing restlessness of the subject peoples throughout the Empire, these factors sounded the death knell of the old world order.

At the same time America, previously a secondary military power, had built a naval force the likes of which the world had never seen. The US Navy commanded more ships than the rest of the world combined with more than 3000 combatant vessels. What America did not have was the kind of bases which would allow this armada to control the sea lanes as the British had, and given the state of world affairs at the time, the US was unlikely to obtain them, at least outside the Pacific theater.

However, it was quickly realized that America had one advantage that Britain had never possessed, a lack of competitors. The Germany and Japanese navy's had been destroyed, the Italian and French Navy's were in tatters and the British navy was out numbered, outmoded and soon to be reduced to a shadow of it's former glory. No navy existed which could threaten the US, nor prevent it from going anywhere on the high-seas. American policy thereafter became one of ensuring that no other country on earth could produce such a navy, by any means necessary. It was this policy which has produced some of the most confusing and controversial actions in American history.

One of the most egregious actions which resulted from this policy was the 1956 "Suez Crisis". In 1956, after the US and its western allies refused to provide Egypt with the money and equipment to build the Grant Aswan Dam (a refusal do in large part to Egypt's growing relationship with the Soviet Union, which itself was the result of America's refusal to sell Egypt modern heavy weapons) Egypt occupied and nationalized the Suez Canal. This action was clearly illegal as the canal was owned by a private company which was in turn owned, in part, by the British and French governments.

Britain and France, fearing that Egypt would close or threaten to close the canal to European shipping, hatched a plan to reoccupy the Canal Zone. On October 29, 1956, Israel attacked Egypt on the context that Egypt was preparing to do the same to Israel. On October 30, Britain and France offered to occupy the Canal Zone as a buffer force between the two combatant nations. Egypt refused and on October 31, British and French aircraft began attacking Egyptian bases, with paratroop landings on November 5. America's response was to demand that Israel, Britain and France withdraw, and even went so far as to threaten sanctions and possible military action (the blockading of Israel and the British and French forces in the Canal Zone) through the United Nations, as well as supporting Egypt's refusal to clear the canal for shipping until the invading troops withdrew. On December 22, 1956 French and British forces were removed, with Israeli forces leaving on March 8, 1957.

A great many people, both in America and abroad, saw this action as proof that the Eisenhower administration was a nest of communist sympathizers. The fact that America was acting to support a Soviet client state in Egypt (while, at the same time, doing nothing to support the people of Hungary in the face of the Soviet invasion of that country), and doing so against our own allies was, for many, not comprehensible in any other context. In truth the Suez crisis was simply a means to an end, America did not need the canal while European powers did. Without the Suez, British power in the middle-east would wane, many of her far-east holdings would become untenable and British capacity to project force in the Indian and Pacific oceans would be drastically reduced. Why would America desire this when Britain is our ally? Because the United States knew that all allies are temporary. Japan was an ally in WW I, the Soviets in WW II, and they both turned on us, why not Britain, or France or anyone else?

The US government had also realized that, like Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries, American power depended not on the size and strength of her ground forces but rather on the her ability to deliver and support those forces anywhere on earth, and the key to doing so lay with the US Navy. If anyone, even a supposed ally, could prevent our placing military forces wherever they are needed whenever we desired, America would not be safe. Once one understands this, many of America's seemingly inexplicable foreign policy actions become clear. When the US Navy parked an intelligence ship (a sister ship to USS Liberty) off the coast of Pakistan during the1965 India-Pakistan war, and provided real-time intelligence to both sides it made no sense, until you realize that US interests decreed that neither side win. India is a traditional sea power in the region and Pakistan was then her only serious rival, if India won she would begin looking to expand her influence in the region, most likely through sea power, and a triumphant Pakistan would undoubtedly do the same thing. Two years later, USS Liberty herself was attacked by Israeli forces during the Six-Day war because Israel feared she would be used to feed intelligence to Egypt. Once again, America did not want either side to win, and Egypt's military was so heavily damaged in the first hours of the war that it was feared she would collapse, eliminating Israel's most serious military rival. Israel too has a history as a regional sea power (though it dates back to the time of King Solomon) and with Egypt out of the way Israel might look seaward.

The examples go on, but we will now skip forward to 1990. In 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait, an act which Saddam Hussein believed had been condoned by the United States, as a means of resolving a long time border dispute. In fact, America might well have acted only diplomatically if Iraq had only acted to control Kuwait's oil fields. When Iraqi forces seized the entire nation however, they sealed their fate. The reason was that in capturing all of Kuwait, Saddam had captured 6 new ports and harbors (Ash Shu'aybah, Ash Shuwaykh, Kuwait, Mina' 'Abd Allah, Mina' al Ahmadi, Mina' Su'ud). The addition of these facilities to Basra, Iraq's only major port, and the extension of Iraqi territory to the south would have had the effect of outflanking Iran to the south and placing Iran at a significant disadvantage should Iraq consider further military action against her. This is why America felt it had no choice but to attack, but refused to destroy Iraq in 1991. It is why America called upon the people of Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein, but refused to support the Kurds and Shiite's who did rise up, and allowed Iraqi forces to violate no-fly zones and use weapons of mass destruction to eliminate them. It is why America invaded Iraq in 2003, when just about any observer could see that Iraq posed little threat to anyone, much less the United States. Because US/Iraqi relations since 1979 have had absolutely nothing to do with Iraq, America's concern is with Iran.

In 1979 Iranian revolutionaries deposed the Shah of Iran and instituted a fundamentalist Islamic state. The Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, was a cowardly toad who had already been chased from the country once in 1953 in a dispute with then Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, only to be restored later by the CIA. He was however, dedicated to improving his country and helping his people advance out of the 12th century, where the Ayatollah's wished to keep them. Also, and this was far more important to American policy makers, the Shah would do nothing that America did not want him too, including build a real Navy. The rise of the Ayatollah's meant that the threat of a resurgent Iran might once again seek to rule the Persian Gulf and adjacent waters, something America could not allow.

To preclude this America began cozying up to Iraq's Saddam Hussein, nurturing his desire to add to his power base at the expense of Iran. On September 22, 1980 Iraq invaded Iran, the beginning of a bloody struggle that lasted until August 20, 1988 when, mutually exhausted, both sides finally agreed to halt the fighting. While the war itself was undoubtedly Saddam Hussein's idea, America supported Iraq with money, duel-use technology, and even components used to produce chemical weapons. Once again, America had no real interest in either side achieving victory, as the winner might move to expand into the waters of the Gulf and beyond, but the likelihood of this was small, given the relative strength of the two sides.

Once the guns fell silent and the smoke cleared the situation was little changed as far as America was concerned. The armed truce which held between Iraq and Iran still meant that neither side had resources available for any sort of naval buildup. The invasion of Kuwait changed all that. As mentioned Kuwait has six ports and harbors, as well as placing Iraqi forces in position to menace Iranian facilities in the northern waters of the gulf. Iran's only realistic response to this menace would be to begin developing naval forces to counter the threat, which in turn would lead to a naval arms build-up in the region, which America was not about to allow. America went to war.

America did not wish, however to remove the threat of Iraq, which would place America back in it's 1979 position, so America did not complete the destruction of the Iraqi state, despite it's demonstrated ability to do so. Instead America held back and worked to eliminate Saddam without eliminating Iraq. In 1991 Kurdish and Shiite populations rose against Saddam's government at the urging of the US. Not only did America not provide the support that was promised to these people, but a blind eye was turned to Saddam's use of aircraft despite the "No-fly" zones established in the areas of conflict, as well as Iraqi use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians. The reason for this was the fear that the Shiite's would naturally ally with Iran, cutting off Iraq from the gulf and outflanking her from the south. The Kurd's in the north of Iraq, if allowed to establish an independent state, would present a massively destabilizing influence on Turkey, which might in turn invade the area to prevent its own Kurdish population from attempting to break away. Iran too might well add to this problem by releasing some portion of its own Kurdish areas to such a Kurdish state, making Turkey's position even more difficult. The end result was, as we have seen, tens of thousands of dead, sacrificed on the altar of American naval supremacy.

By the late 1990's it was becoming apparent that Iran was no longer intimidated by Iraq. Iran's economy, while hampered by American and International sanctions as well as internal problems and inefficiency was recovering. Iran's leadership was once again looking to increase Iranian power and prestige, and one of the places it was looking was towards the gulf. The purchase of ex-Soviet Kilo class submarines, Chinese C-801 and C-802 Cruise missiles, "Azarakhsh" and "Saeqeh-80" fighters (enhanced, domestically built versions of the American F-5f Tiger) as well as the Russian-Iranian "Shafaq" fighter, new domestically produced UAV's, and most dangerous of all, new missiles like the "Kosar" which is said to be a Cruise missile with 'Stealth' capability and the "Feimeng-80/90" series of advanced Chinese anti-aircraft missiles, had elevated Iran to the status of a real threat, especially in the confined waters of the gulf, and given the level of military and technical aid Iran was (and still is) receiving from Russia, including nuclear technology, this threat was (and is) growing daily.

Even before 9/11, it was decided that if Iraq could no longer credibly threaten Iran, America would. The invasion of Afghanistan (already planned in early 2001 to ensure the elimination of terrorist bases there, as well as providing a pipeline route from the Caspian Sea oil region which did not go through Russia), was designed to put a pro-US regime in place, placing pressure on Iran from the east, both militarily, from US/Afghan forces and economically, by limiting the water flow from dammed tributaries to the Helmand River, which was already a point of contention between the two nations. The subsequent invasion of Iraq, accomplished with even more ease than expected, then placed further US forces in easy striking distance to the west (the use of primarily non-US allied forces to control the mainly Shiite areas of the south was an attempt to demonstrate that the immediate invasion of Iran is not contemplated).

The plan was simple, intimidate Iran into halting their military build-up in the gulf, convince the Iranian leadership to open talks with the US with a view to normalizing relations, while rebuilding Iraq into a credible military threat. Of course this strategy has failed, due to both the continued resistance inside Iraq as well as Iran's failure to be intimidated. The US is now faced with much narrower options. It can accept Iran as a regional power, hoping to offset the lack of access to the Persian Gulf via the new military facilities in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, which would also mean effectively abandoning our 60 year policy of ensuring naval supremacy, which is simply not going to happen. It can bring new diplomatic and economic pressure to bear on Russia, Japan, Germany, China, France and Italy as major trade partners of Iran, as well as other economic and diplomatic measures designed to force Iran into peaceful engagement, which is even less likely to work than it is to happen. Or America can develop a pretext and invade, which, at the moment, all signs point to.

America has painted itself into a corner. For sixty years American strategy has worked, but in an attempt to maintain absolute supremacy on the high-seas the US has intimidated allies, abandoned friendly countries and made more enemies than it can handle. Now the American people are faced with the consequences of that strategy, mounting losses of American blood and American treasure in what will most likely be a vain attempt to maintain it, or abandoning the strategy and hoping that the unintended consequences of its pursuit do not destroy us. The increasing capabilities of unfriendly nations, the increasing uncertainty of our allies and the legacy of past actions are not things that allow for simple apologies and letting bygones be bygones. America is riding a tiger and whether we stay on or get off at this point we are quite likely to get mauled, the question is, which option will cost us less?


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