The slogan was repeated around the world: "no blood for oil". But blood and oil have flowed together for a long time. From the betrayal of the Arab world by the French and the British following the fall of the Turkish empire in 1917 to the latest war against Iraq, Western policy has been dominated by oil. Western thirst for oil has been satisfied through opposition to Middle Eastern reformists in favor of the most backward and corrupt traditional rulers, through support to the strategic asset of aggressively modern Israel, through fanning the flames of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, then the 1991 Gulf War followed by endless embargo and bombing of Iraq.
In 1945, the U.S. State Department described the Saudi Arabian petroleum reserves a "stupendous source of strategic power and one of the greatest material prize in world history". Today Bush's war regime is less frank and pretends that the conquest of Iraq has nothing to do with its huge petroleum reserves. However, their soldiers massively protect the Petroleum Ministry in Baghdad while abandoning to looters and vandals the ministries responsible for public services, the hospitals and the country's priceless archeological treasures. The looting can serve to demoralize and divide the population of a conquered country and make it welcome whatever invader is able to use force to restore law and order.
Today there is universal rejoicing over the end of the dreadful dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, as if opponents and advocates of the war could at least agree that the Pentagon chose the right target. But the Pentagon has already struck many targets in the past, and will be encouraged to strike many more in the future, and crimes such as those attributed to the Iraqi dictator have little to do with the criteria for selection.
In their effort to escape from Western exploitation, third world peoples have produced many diverse leaders: Ho Chi Minh, Mao Tse Tung, Gandhi, Martin Luther King et Malcolm X, Lumumba, Nkrumah, Nasser, Allende, Fidel Castro, Amilcar Cabral, Arafat, the Sandinistas, Ben Bella and Ben Barka... All these leaders, and in Europe, the rare defenders of third world revolution, Olof Palme in Sweden or Otelo de Carvalho in Portugal, all of them, whether reformist or revolutionaries, socialists or nationalists, armed or non-violent, have all been reviled by the "Free World", and have been various plotted against, demonized, invaded, imprisoned or assassinated by the West or its agents.
In 1953, the CIA overthrew the reformist Iranian prime minister Mossadegh in favor of the Shah's dictatorship which led to the Islamic revolution and the regime of the Ayatollahs. In 1954, the CIA overthrew the elected reformist president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, leading to decades of military dictatorship and bloody massacres. In 1965, the United States engineered the overthrow of the reformist Goulart in Brazil, the reformist Juan Bosch in the Dominican Republic and President Soekarno in Indonesia, with hundreds of thousands of victims. Mandela is recognized today as a hero, but it should not be forgotten that he spent 27 years in prison with the complicity of the CIA.
Whenever third world peoples try to free themselves by essentially peaceful and democratic methods, whether the Palestinians during the Oslo period, or Allende in Chile, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and today Chavez in Venezuela, their hopes are countered by violence and endless subversion. If they arrest their opponents like Castro, or turn to violence like the suicide bombers in Palestine or the Maoists in Nepal, their cause is reduced to their methods by Western humanitarians whose standards of pure non-violence never applied to the creation of the modern dominant nations.
Perhaps one should ask the imperial powers to spell out precisely what methods oppressed peoples may be allowed to use for their defense and liberation.
The failure of the Afghanistan war to catch Osama bin Laden or to create a new democratic Afghanistan is forgotten, just as the Bush administration can hope people will forget the pretexts for the war against Iraq, along with the nonsense about gas masks and duct tape. Richard Perle says the famous "weapons of mass destruction", neither found nor used during the U.S. invasion, may be hidden deep underground, or in Syria...
How many countries can be invaded in the course of this hunt? Now that the U.S. controls the terrain, any belated "discovery" will have no more credibility than the many discredited "proofs" and falsehoods offered by the Anglo-Americans to justify war. Besides, it is difficult to see how weapons of mass destruction possessed by a regime that does not use them at the very moment that it is toppled can be a threat to anybody. As for the accusation -- which polls indicate was believed by 40% to 50% of Americans -- that Saddam Hussein was linked to September 11, it remains as totally unsubstantiated as ever.
The only pretext left is "democracy", today the opium of the intellectual warriors. The official position of the reluctant European governments and their media is not very different: the war is an illegal and illegitimate aggression, but still, we hope it succeeds as soon as possible. Otherwise, it would be catastrophic for "democracy". The moment may have come to ask some questions about that concept. How does "real existing democracy" appear to people in the Arab world? Just how attractive is a system that gives full power to individuals such as Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, or Reagan's secretary of state George Shultz of the Bechtel corporation and Dick Cheney of Halliburton, whose companies profit rebuilding the countries they pick for destruction?
How impressive is freedom of the press when the mass media, concentrated in few hands, can convince the American public that Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks? What do they think of being told by the star New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman that "we left you alone for a long time, you played with matches and in the end we were burned. So we're not going to leave you alone any longer". (quoted by Ari Shavit in "White man's burden", Ha'aretz, April 7, 2003). The same Friedman adds that the war against Iraq would never have taken place in the absence of 25 neo-conservative intellectuals, all near his Washington office, whom he could name. So much for democratic process. And what can they think of the choice of retired general Jay Garner, ardent champion of Israel, to be the new proconsul of occupied Iraq?
Enough abuse and hypocrisy can eventually discredit even the best ideas, democracy as well as socialism.
The new conquerors claim to want free elections in Iraq. Let them try. Certainly, it is odd to make war in order to have free elections in Iraq, when there are no such elections in countries already dependent on the United States, such as Egypt. Are there elections in Afghanistan? But the basic reason to doubt the authenticity of U.S. support for free elections in the Middle East is to be seen in the outcome of elections in Algeria, Turkey or Pakistan. The Arab-Muslim world today appears to be largely convinced that if secular nationalism has failed to bring full independence, it is because it was secular. God's help is needed, and God will only help the true believers. The voters will not choose the corrupt pro-Western elites, who more or less openly support Israel, that the West dreams of seeing legitimized through elections. Free elections would be won by political Islam, more hostile to the West than the existing undemocratic regimes.
For all those in the Arab world or in the West who doubt the existence of divine intervention in human affairs, this evolution can only be felt as a huge step backward. Regardless of their mistakes and crimes, Arab nationalists, like the communists, tried to improve human life on earth by the only means accessible: social transformation and not the interpretation of sacred texts. We may believe that such means are not exhausted, but belief in their efficacy has faded.
It is also interesting to contrast the reaction of mainstream Western intellectuals to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and of the Shah of Iran back in 1979. Both were ruthless dictators, both secular in some ways and both trying to modernize their country. And downfall of both benefits (or will likely benefit in Saddam's case) political Islam. One of them, however, was a close ally of the United States and the other not. The reactions are markedly different- in one case huge celebration, in the other, warnings that the next regime won't be any better.
It is not easy to be optimistic today as Iraq is plunged into a new night of colonialism. But if we take the long view of history, we can see that at the beginning of the twentieth century, all of Africa and a large part of Asia were under the rule of European powers. In Shanghai, the British could declare a park off limits "to dogs and Chinese". The Russian, Chinese and Ottoman empires were helpless to stop Western intervention. Latin America was invaded even more often than now. Since then, colonialism has been defeated and discredited, with a few exceptions, notably Palestine.
Even more than the defeat of fascism, this no doubt constitutes humanity's most important social progress of the 20th century. One of the underlying reasons for the "post-modern" pessimism of so many Western intellectuals, who deny that there is such a thing as historical progress, is that the very real progress of recent times has essentially been attained through the defeat of the West and the gradual emancipation of the colonized peoples. Those who want to revive the colonial system in Iraq -- and why else conquer the country? -- even with an "Arab façade" as the British used to say, are blinded by their military force to the awakened determination of all the world's people to decide their own future. The struggle for the genuine independence of the former colonized peoples is still far from completed, and cannot be stopped by occasional setbacks.
In its present stage, that struggle faces what can be called the "Latin Americanization" of the world, that is, the replacement of Europe by the United States as the center of the imperial system, along with the substitution of neo-colonialism for colonialism, meaning a continuation of traditional pillage, exploitation of third world resources and labor (with the more recent addition of brain-power, imported by the West to make up for the inadequacies of our own education system), combined with formal political autonomy and a correlative delegation of repression tasks. In such a world, there can be no real peace and no genuine democracy, which presupposes national sovereignty.
In 1991, the collapse of their unreliable but only potential defending power seemed to leave third world countries once again at the mercy of the West. The debt mechanism could be used for a gigantic hold up of the raw materials and industries of the south. Small recalcitrant States could be demonized and isolated as "rogues".
With the Oslo accords, the Palestinian resistance could be made to accept the endless fragmentation of the Occupied Territories into tiny bantustans strangled by armed settlements. And yet, things are not going so well for the West. The Americans were chased out of Somalia. The Israeli occupation force was driven out of Lebanon. U.S. control of Afghanistan is precarious. The Palestinians stood up to overwhelming destructive force in Jenin. In Latin America, neo-liberal illusions have evaporated and the neo-colonial system is facing rising challenges. There is no reason to believe that the Iraqi people are resigned to U.S. military rule and that various forms of resistance will not appear. Above all, worldwide opposition to U.S. intervention has never been so strong and widespread. The Bush regime is resorting to repressive measures at home, while its propagandists try to dismiss their ever more numerous critics as "anti-American" or "anti-Semitic".
A new worldwide movement is waking up to the fact that corporate globalization is directly or indirectly enforced by militarization, subversion, intervention and war. The struggle for secular democracy in the third world, if sincere, is inseparable from our struggle at home against Western imperialism.