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Rebuffed President Recklessly Saddles Up for War
Published on Sunday, March 9, 2003 by the Toronto Star
Rebuffed President Recklessly Saddles Up for War
by Linda McQuaig
 

Is there nothing that can stop this man from recklessly using his weapons of mass destruction? Apparently not. George Bush made it clear in his televised appearance Thursday night that he's finished with "diplomacy" and is keen to get on with the bombing.

No wonder he's had it with diplomacy. Countries just weren't capitulating. Take Turkey. Washington offered $26 billion in grants and loans just for permission to use Turkey's soil briefly to deploy U.S. troops against Iraq.

That probably works out to about a million dollars a square foot! But those ungrateful Turks turned him down. (When an impoverished nation turns down $26 billion, you get a sense of the depth of resistance to this U.S. war.)

Then there's the annoying behavior of those no-name countries with temporary seats on the U.N. Security Council.

In a surprising show of gutsiness, poor nations like Mexico, Cameroon, Angola — even dirt-poor Guinea — have been unwilling to knuckle under to the demands of the U.S., despite the fact that Washington effectively controls the IMF and the World Bank, upon which they depend for survival. No surrender monkeys in that crowd.

One shudders to think of what kind of punishment will be in store for the likes of little Guinea for its uppity behavior against the big boss-man.

Mexico, another heel-dragger, got a hint of how it may pay for its lack of capitulation.

In an interview with Copley News Service last week, Bush said he didn't expect there'd be any "significant retribution" from Washington if Mexico voted against war, but he drew attention to "an interesting phenomena taking place here in America about the French ... a backlash against the French, not stirred up by anybody except the people."

The president went on to say that if Mexico or others vote against the U.S., "there will be a certain sense of discipline."

It is mind-boggling that an American president has become such a cartoon figure of swaggering, threatening gunmanship — a kind of Cecil Rhodes and John Wayne rolled into one — and it helps explain the outpouring of anger over this war around the world.

But while Bush's cowboy bravado gives a whole new look to the exercise of U.S. power in the world, it would be misleading to see what's going on now as a complete break with past American foreign policy.

Washington has a long history of intervening in the affairs of other countries, with the oil-rich Persian Gulf being a key focus of past interventions. So, yes, it's not only about oil this time, it's often been about oil.

Even former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, who recently won the Nobel Peace Prize and who opposes war with Iraq, declared in 1980 that Washington would not tolerate a hostile state getting into a position where it could threaten America's access to the Gulf. (That "Carter doctrine" followed the popular overthrow of the Shah of Iran, who had been installed by a U.S.-engineered coup in the early 1950s.)

And U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney made it clear that oil was front and center in the U.S. decision to go to war against Iraq the first time. Cheney, who served as secretary of defense in that war, explained to the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1991 that, after invading Kuwait, Iraq controlled 20 per cent of the world's oil reserves.

Cheney said that this — and the possibility that Iraq would invade Saudi Arabia — put Saddam Hussein "clearly in a position to dictate the future of worldwide energy policy and that gave him a stranglehold on our economy and on that of most other nations of the world as well."

The "stranglehold" image is apt. Because of the acute importance of oil to the modern world, whoever controls the massive reserves of the Gulf effectively has a stranglehold on the global economy. But, as Michael Klare argued last month in the U.S. academic journal, Foreign Policy in Focus, it is Washington that maintains a stranglehold over the global economy through its dominant position in the Gulf.

Washington's dominance in the Gulf has long been made possible by its close ties to Saudi Arabia, which has about 25 per cent of the world's oil reserves. But with the U.S.-Saudi relationship strained after growing evidence of Saudi connections to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, the need to control Iraq's oil has taken on new significance.

"Iraq is the only country in the world with sufficient reserves to balance Saudi Arabia," notes Klare.

So Bush wants the war to begin. While the U.N. continues its hapless search for elusive weapons, Bush is keen to get on with implementing a long-standing U.S. agenda, cowboy-style.

Linda McQuaig is a Toronto-based author and political commentator. Her column appears every Sunday.

Copyright 1996-2003. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

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