Fundamentalism has Spawned an Ideology of American Supremacy
The invasion of Iraq was the first practical application of the pernicious Bush doctrine of pre-emptive military action, and it elicited an allergic reaction worldwide – not because anyone had a good word to say about Saddam Hussein, but because we insisted on invading Iraq unilaterally without any clear evidence that he had anything to do with September 11 or that he possessed weapons of mass destruction.
The gap in perceptions between America and the rest of the world has never been wider. Abroad, America is seen as abusing the dominant position it occupies; opinion at home has been led to believe that Saddam posed a clear and present danger to national security. Only in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion are people becoming aware they have been misled.
Even today, many people believe that September 11 justifies behavior that would be unacceptable in normal times. The ideologues of American supremacy and President Bush personally never cease to remind us that September 11 changed the world. It is only as the untoward consequences of the invasion of Iraq become apparent that people are beginning to realize something has gone woefully wrong.
We have fallen into a trap. The suicide bombers’ motivation seemed incomprehensible at the time of the attack; now a light begins to dawn: they wanted us to react the way we did. Perhaps they understood us better than we understand ourselves.
And we have been deceived. When he stood for election in 2000, President Bush promised a humble foreign policy. I contend that the Bush administration has deliberately exploited September 11 to pursue policies that the American public would not have otherwise tolerated. The US can lose its dominance only as a result of its own mistakes. At present the country is in the process of committing such mistakes because it is in the hands of a group of extremists whose strong sense of mission is matched only by their false sense of certitude.
This distorted view postulates that because we are stronger than others, we must know better and we must have right on our side. That is where religious fundamentalism comes together with market fundamentalism to form the ideology of American supremacy.
We may have more difficulty in perceiving the absurdity of pursuing supremacy by military means, because we have learned to rely on military power and we particularly feel the need for it when our very existence is threatened. But the most powerful country on earth cannot afford to be consumed by fear. To make the war on terrorism the centerpiece of our national strategy is an abdication of our responsibility as the leading nation in the world. The US is the only country that can take the lead in addressing problems that require collective action: preserving peace and economic progress, protecting the environment and so on.
Whatever the justification for removing Saddam, there can be no doubt that we invaded Iraq on false pretenses. Wittingly or unwittingly, President Bush deceived the American public and Congress and rode roughshod over our allies’ opinions.
The gap between the administration’s expectations and the actual state of affairs could not be wider. We have put at risk not only our soldiers’ lives but the combat readiness of our armed forces. We are overstretched and our ability to project our power has been compromised. Yet there are more places where we need to project our power than ever. North Korea is openly building nuclear weapons; Iran is doing so clandestinely. The Taliban is regrouping in the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan. The costs of occupation and the prospect of permanent war weigh on our economy, and we are failing to address festering problems both at home and globally. If we ever needed proof that the neo-cons’ dream of American supremacy is misconceived, Iraq has provided it.
It is hard to imagine how the plans of the defense department could have gone more awry. We find ourselves in a quagmire that is in some ways reminiscent of Vietnam. Having invaded Iraq, we cannot extricate ourselves. Domestic pressure to withdraw is likely to build, as in the Vietnam war, but withdrawing would inflict irreparable damage on our standing in the world. In this respect, Iraq is worse than Vietnam because of our dependence on Middle East oil.
Nobody forced us into it; on the contrary, everyone warned us against it. Admittedly, Saddam was a heinous tyrant and it was a good thing to get rid of him. But at what cost? The occupying powers serve as a focal point for attracting terrorists and radicalizing Islam. Our soldiers have to do police work in full combat gear.
And the cost of occupation is estimated at a staggering $160bn for the the fiscal years 2003-2004 – $73bn for 2003 and $87bn in a supplemental request for 2004 submitted at the last minute in September 2003. Of the $87bn, only $20bn is for reconstruction, but the total cost of reconstruction is estimated at $60bn. For comparison, our foreign aid budget for 2002 was $10bn.
There is no easy way out. The Bush administration is eager to get the United Nations more involved but is unwilling to make the necessary concessions. We have no alternative to sticking it out and paying the price for our mistake. Eventually a different president with a different attitude to international cooperation may be more successful in extricating us.
The US is not the only country at the center of the global capitalist system, but it is the most powerful and it is the main driving force behind globalization. The European Union may equal the US in population and gross national product, but it is far less united and far less comfortable with globalization. In military terms, the EU does not even qualify as a power, because members make their own decisions.
Insofar as any nation is in charge of the world order, it is the US. That is not to suggest that other countries are exempt from having to concern themselves with the well being of the world. Their attitudes are not without consequence, but it is the US that matters most.
If Bush is rejected in 2004, his policies can be written off as an aberration and America resume its rightful place in the world. But if he is re-elected, the electorate will have endorsed his policies and we will have to live with the consequences. But it isn’t enough to defeat Bush at the polls. The US must examine its global role and adopt a more constructive vision. We cannot merely pursue narrow, national self-interest. Our dominant position imposes a unique responsibility.
This is an edited extract from ‘The Bubble of American Supremacy‘, by George Soros, published on Thursday by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Â© George Soros 2004
Author: George Soros
News Service: Guardian/UK