By Izeth Hussain –
I see international relations partly in terms of an attempt to build a new world order which has as its obverse side a new imperialism. A striking illustration of this ambivalent movement is provided by the case of Iraq. An important stage in the attempt to establish a new world order was reached in the Gulf War against Iraq in the first half of the ‘nineties. It will be remembered that America and the West had the backing of the third world which quite rightly saw Iraq as engaged in neo-imperialist behavior in annexing Kuwait. There were other developments in the ‘nineties which also suggested that the West genuinely wanted to establish an equitable new world order. Western help over Kosovo and Bosnia, for instance, could not be squared with the image of an Islamophobic West. It is understandable therefore that in his exchange of letters with Bush prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Blair should have referred to the need to establish a “new world order”.
It has to be expected, of course, that the West would want to establish not just another new world order but one that is favorable, or at least one that is not inimical, to what it conceives of as its legitimate interests. That should be understandable because, after all, who in his right mind would do anything that runs counter to his legitimate interests? At this point we must consider the significance of an important fact. It is the powerful countries of the world, not the others, who would want to establish a new world order because it is only they who have the power to accomplish that. At the moment they consist of the US, the EU, Russia, Japan, China, and India. They will be joined by others in the future, notably the Arab world, or – considering the enormous cohesive power of Islam – the Islamic world as a whole. So a new world order has to be a projection of power, and power of course implies unequal relations between the powerful and the powerless, which could range from loose hegemonic leadership to outright control and domination. Consequently the attempt to construct a new world order that would be beneficial for everyone could be an ambivalent movement leading to its obverse of neo-imperialism.
How does my theory sketched out above fit the case of Iraq subsequent to the Chilcot findings? The exchange of letters between Blair and Bush in the years preceding the 2003 invasion of Iraq – of which only the letters of the former are available – clearly shows that Blair believed that a US-British intervention in Iraq to effect regime change would advance a new world order. A point of the greatest importance is that he did not conceive of the new world order in terms of a multi-polar world consisting of several power centers, which has come to be the normal and almost universal expectation today. He conceived of it rather as a universalist world order based essentially on democracy and the rule of law. It is a noble conception with which I am entirely in sympathy, because the alternative conception of a multi-polar world order carries with it neo-imperialism on its obverse side. But there is an ambiguity about it, coming as it does from Tony Blair, notoriously a brutish and utterly unprincipled person. Probably what he has in mind is a new world order in which the Anglo-Saxon powers have a dominant position, and none of the others really count.
The question that has to be addressed at the moment is whether Bush and Blair were sincere in wanting to promote a new world order through regime change and the institution of democracy in Iraq. At this point we must note some awkward facts. The US has been traditionally ferociously antagonistic to democracy in the third world countries, as shown by its very horrible record of neo-colonialism in Latin America and elsewhere. In recent times, the world has come to accept that a new world order has to be built on democratic foundations, and the US now ostensibly favors democracy. But as Noam Chomsky and others have pointed out the US favors change to democracy in the third world only if the resultant regime is favorable to the US. There are many who believe that that is the main reason why the transition to democracy is proving to be peculiarly difficult in the Arab world unlike in other parts of the Islamic world, such as Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia. A point to be noted is that Britain has always been the most enthusiastic supporter of US anti-democratic savagery in the third world. It was legitimate to wonder therefore whether the US and Britain were sincere in wanting to promote democracy in Iraq.
The question of sincerity is not the sort of thing that is susceptible to definitive proof either way through hard evidence on the empirical level. On balance, taking several factors into account, it seems reasonable to conclude that the US in particular cannot be expected to be enthusiastic about promoting democracy in the Arab world. The reason is the American commitment to Israel, an essentially racist commitment, because Israel is seen as the Western fortress to stop the advance of dangerous Asiatic hordes. That was Theodor Herzl’s racist vision of the destiny of Zionist Israel, a vision that requires that the Arab world be kept weak, divided, chaotic, so that it can never pose a threat to Israel and the West. The Israel factor in the yet inchoate new world order/neo-imperialism will be the subject of the next part of this article.
Here I will merely point to a couple of details that seem significant for showing that the US and Britain were never serious about promoting democracy in Iraq. If they were they should have moved towards the holding of free and fair democratic elections, and such elections could not have been democratic unless the partisans of Saddam Hussein were allowed to participate. We must bear in mind that before he became a mad and brutal dictator, the Baath Socialist Party had a very creditable record of performance in both Syria and Iraq. Those two countries were seen as the best hopes for a secular and progressive Arab world that could cope with the pressures of modernity. The other significant detail is that the US/British conquerors dismissed the entire Iraqi army of 400,000 men. Most of them were surely professional soldiers, not criminals. Their reduction to destitution overnight was on a par with the worst outrages carried out by the arrogant Western colonial criminals of the past. The result was that a substantial proportion of those soldiers joined the IS. The indications are that the priority of the conquerors was not to promote democracy but to secure ends favorable to the West.
If the promotion of a new world order based on democracy was not the real objective behind the 2003 invasion of Iraq, what was it? My answer in the next part of this article will try to establish that racism, more particularly Western white racism, is an important component of the neo-imperialism that is shaping up. I quote the following from Raymond William Baker’s One Islam, Many Muslim Worlds (Oxford University Press – 2015) as a helpful preliminary to the argument that I will be developing: “Battered by decades of domestic tyranny, war, and the brutal regime of sanctions, the Iraqi regime on the eve of invasion was little more than a hollow shell. Yet it was a shell that retained considerable importance. As a regional Arab actor, Iraq lent support to the Palestinian resistance and in other ways represented an obstacle to total Israeli hegemony in the Middle East. Moreover, Iraq was an Arab state with cultural and historical weight, unlike the emerging new Arab centers of influence in the Gulf. Finally, Iraq was the site of impressive oil resources”.