“And the bogeyman will get ya, if ya don’t watch out,” sang James Whitcomb Riley in one of his most popular and most insipid poems. The bogeyman is still out there, it seems. Sometimes he’s Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi; sometimes Syria’s Hafez Assad, or Idi Amin, Yassir Arafat, the Ayatollah Khomeini, Abu Nidal, or any of a small army of other characters who seem to bear more resemblance to the kinds of villains that Sax Rohmer used to make up than they do to any real human being. Late last summer the bogeyman shifted his shape once again, this time becoming Saddam Hussein of Iraq. He was going to get us—if we didn’t watch out.
Even before Mr. Hussein decided to top off his summer vacation by swallowing Kuwait in a midnight snack, U.S. News & World Report dubbed him “the most dangerous man in the world,” a sure signal that the bogeyman was about to change his address once more. What exactly Mr. Hussein had done or even contemplated doing to merit this appellation remains unknown to me. It’s perfectly true that the dictator of Iraq is not the sort of fellow that English lady mystery writers would use as one of their heavies. Hiscapacity for brutality, cunning, and mendacity far transcends the very limited grasp of human evil that Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and their sisters displayed. But why he was any more dangerous than a host of other malefactors—including a number of utterly unscrupulous and repulsive American politicians—was never clear.
But once Mr. Hussein had smashed Kuwait, the monsters of a thousand slasher films seemed to leap from the celluloid, expropriate his sullen puss, and cast their torches toward our temple doors. Rotgut liberal columnist Mary McGrory, assuring us that the “beast of Baghdad” was “capable of anything,” advocated doing just about anything to get rid of him. Neoconservative Paul Greenberg called for an American onslaught against Iraq. Professional Negro Jesse Jackson intoned that the United States must be ready to “use military force, multilaterally or unilaterally,” to drive Hussein back into his lair. Leftist Senator Chris Dodd opined that “obviously, the oil reserves pose an immediate, major security threat.” And before the week was over. President Bush and the Pentagon were dispatching some two hundred thousand U.S. troops in the largest force to go abroad since the Vietnam War to the Arabian desert, there perhaps to die for the security of the House of Saud and to save the clan of Sabah from the cruel fate of munching caviar on the Riviera for the rest of history.
Not even the Ayatollah Khomeini’s attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 provoked the kind of unanimous consent to commit mayhem against the aggressor that the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait incited, nor did terrorist attacks against Americans or the Soviet massacre of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 in the 1980’s. And yet Hussein had done absolutely nothing to the United States itself or its citizens or their property. All he wanted to do was gobble up a small feudal enclave that could not possibly have existed without superpower protection and to raise the price of oil so he could pay off the $70-billion debt he piled up during his nine-year war with Iran.
Of course, his drastic and bloodthirsty means of satisfying that ambition did raise serious implications for the national security and economic well-being of the United States, and even more so for those of Western Europe and Japan. There was ample reason for Mr. Bush, in concert with the Europeans and the Japanese, to explain patiently but firmly to Mr. Hussein that while, like any other Third World cobra, he might sink his fangs into the flesh of any of his neighbors he chose, he’d better forget about any plans to bite or blackmail the West. Hussein should have been open to this argument, since, in the long run, he needs the markets of the West as much as we need the oil itself, and eventually, if market forces had prevailed, we would probably have gotten the oil, albeit at a somewhat higher price, without finding our economy in ruins or even having to stand in line at the pump to buy it. That at least seemed to be the consensus of most oil experts as the crisis began quickly to turn into a disaster.
But the wrath directed against Mr. Hussein went far beyond any legitimate concern for the concrete security and economic interests of the West or the United States, and when Mr. Bush addressed the American people on the morning of August 8 to explain why he was sending their sons and daughters to gape into the jaws of the new Great Satan, he made only passing reference to our own national interests and security.
After roundly denouncing Hussein’s “outrageous and brutal act of aggression” against Kuwait, Mr. Bush asserted what he called four “principles” that would guide our policy and that presumably justified his use of military power. These were the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, the restoration of “Kuwait’s legitimate government,” “the security and stability of the Persian Gulf,” and the protection of the lives of American citizens. With the exception of the last, however, none of these “principles”—in fact, they are merely policy goals or objectives—arose from any expression of the real interests and security of the United States, nor was it likely that any of them could be achieved through the means the President had chosen.
It would require far more military power than the United States deployed to the sands of Araby to force Hussein out of Kuwait, let alone deposit the emir back into his palace, and Mr. Bush did not seem to contemplate an invasion of Iraq. In the absence of such a military blow to his solar plexus, Hussein had no reason to disgorge the rich morsel he had just masticated. Mr. Bush, moreover, never explained his solicitude for the emir and his government or why Americans should be prepared to die for it.
Nor did Mr. Bush’s goal of stabilizing the Persian Gulf reflect an accurate reading of U.S. interests there. The “Carter Doctrine,” which was dusted off and hauled out to justify U.S. intervention, says nothing about the “security and stability” of the Gulf, but rather warns against efforts by any “outside power”—namely, the Soviets—to gain control of it. Granted that we have a strong interest in keeping outside powers from dominating access to our oil supply, it does not follow that we should use force to manage the internal squabbles of the Gulf powers themselves, unless these conflicts threaten to close off our access, which Iraq’s invasion did not.
Mr. Bush’s fourth principle—protecting American lives abroad—is certainly a legitimate U.S. interest, and one that legitimately may require force. But Mr. Hussein did not threaten the lives of the three thousand-odd American citizens living in Iraq and Kuwait. He simply forbade them to leave the country, as he did other foreigners resident there, and he forcibly rounded up a number of Yanks and hosted them at five-star hotels in Baghdad. Of course his intentions were unclear and his methods uncalled for, but he acted only after Mr. Bush had declared an embargo against Iraq and frozen its assets in the United States. Given the absence of any hostile act on the part of Iraq against this country, the President’s policy could be construed only as an act of aggression by the United States against Iraq. In other words, the Iraqi detention of American citizens, as frightening as it was, was a response to a U.S. provocation, not an act of aggression. The United States loves to slam sanctions on countries it doesn’t approve of and to strut about setting an example to the world, but it would be well for our policymakers to consider that sanctions and embargoes are serious matters in international affairs and invite retaliation. Not all countries are as supine about a cut-off of their economic lifelines as South Africa has been.
In sum, then, despite brief references to U.S. dependence on foreign oil—far less now than it was in the early 1970’s—Mr. Bush said absolutely nothing to show that the interests and security of the United States were so seriously jeopardized by Mr. Hussein’s invasion that American military forces were needed abroad. What, then, are the real reasons for the President’s actions and for the nearly hysterical chorus of assent to his response to an act of conquest that was neither unique nor unprecedented?
The real reasons may be elicited from Mr. Bush’s other remarks in his address and from what a number of commentators let drop in their own jeremiads against Iraq. “We’re beginning a new era,” the President intoned in his speech. “This new era can be full of promise, an age of freedom, a time of peace for all peoples. But if history teaches us anything, it is that we must resist aggression, or it will destroy our freedoms.”
The real reason why American troops must risk their lives for the emir of Kuwait and the safety of his tribe, the reason for the strong support for the President’s action among publicists who have made a career out of denouncing the United States when it acts unilaterally in its own interests and of concocting extenuations of aggression when it was committed by the Soviets, the Vietnamese, the Sandinistas, and the Cubans, and the reason for the quick endorsement and cooperation from the Soviets and the United Nations is that they all have seen the future and it works. That future is to be one in which specific nations and their interests are to be subordinated to the “global economy,” the “new international order,” the needs of the “global village,” and other cosmopolitan shadows that flit through the speeches and books produced by the emerging transnational elite. “We,” the President continued, referring to the other leaders of Western Europe, the Middle East, Asia, North and South America, NATO, and presumably the Red Cross and the Knights Templars, “we agree that this is not an American problem or a European problem or a Middle East problem. It is the world’s problem.” At which point the citizens of every independent country in the world should have quietly slipped the safety catches on their revolvers.
It is the emerging transnational order that constitutes Mr. Bush’s “new era,” and Saddam Hussein’s brutality against Kuwait, which produced what the pundits immediately denominated as the “first international crisis of the post-Cold War era,” is a definite no-no under the still misty codes that will govern the new age. Not only wars of conquest for the satisfaction of national interests and grievances but also any action that threatens the functioning of the whole is equally illegitimate and is fair game for coordinated multinational police measures.
It was specifically for that reason that Washington Post columnist Haynes Johnson, who has spent most of the last two years spearing Mr. Bush, hailed the President’s actions as demonstrating “presidential leadership of high order.” “It’s possible,” warbled Mr. Johnson, “given the extraordinary unanimity of world opinion and sanctions endorsed across the ideological spectrum of nations, that a new and more hopeful world order can emerge from the latest threatening actions in the Persian Gulf. If so. Bush will receive justified credit for helping to create it.”
Mr. Johnson’s ruminations on the new age were soon echoed by other pundits. The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal instructed us a few days later as to the “more significant” reasons we should be in the Gulf in addition to the narrowly selfish one of protecting “the integrity of the world’s oil supply.” “With the world now being made small by the wonders of electronic miniaturization and instant communication, it has grown extraordinarily vulnerable to this kind of threat. If in the next century the world is to realize the promise of the interdependencies it has begun to create, it will have to learn to suppress piracy.”
Zbigniew Brzezinski, ever prepared to strike his lyre in praise of the “technotronic age,” joined in the chorus also. “A brutal and forcible annexation of a member of the international community by a more powerful neighbor cannot be accepted, and it should not be tolerated. The international order would be in grave jeopardy if it were to be otherwise.” Neoconservative Charles Krauthammer sang the same song: “Today there is another value at stake in the Gulf. It is even more important than oil. It is world order.” Mr. Bush’s speech was indeed a kind of declaration of interdependence for that new order, and he began it less sonorously than Thomas Jefferson but no less ominously. “In the life of a nation,” he pronounced, “we’re called upon to define who we are and what we believe.”
Mr. Bush’s speech was nothing less than a redefinition of the United States for the new era to which he will deliver us, and his remarks told us, perhaps more subtly than the President knew, what the U.S. role in it will be. Not an attack on American interests and security, not geopolitical and strategic concerns for our own security or treaty obligations to which we are publicly and legally committed, will mobilize American troops for warfare, but any act of “aggression” that derails the evolution of the new transnational regime.
The new enemy is neither fascism nor communism nor the ever-changing Third World bogeyman, but rather national autonomy itself, and the wicked and violent autonomy asserted by Saddam Hussein against Kuwait seemed to be a good place to start mopping up the foe before he got out of hand. Global trade, narcotics, antigenocide, and anti-terrorism conventions are already helping to transcend national independence and midwife the birth of the new order, but what Mr. Bush and the states cooperating with his policy achieved in the Gulf last summer brings us closer to a formalization of that order than any other action previously taken. What country will be the next to feel its concerted wrath; how many Americans will have to die for it; and how long will it be before our own nation is punished for not submitting to its universal hegemony?