Henry C.K. Liu
This article appeared in AToL
on November 11, 2006
The US mid-term elections of 2006 were
a classic example of political "blowback", a term the Central
Intelligence Agency invented for internal analysis. It refers to the
unintended consequences of covert operations. The public is generally
unaware that the headlines of violence by terrorist groups or drug
lords or rogue states are blowbacks from previous US policies.
"Blowback" first appeared in a March 1954 report, since declassified,
relating to the 1953 covert operation to subject the nationalist
government of democratically elected Mohammed Mossadegh in
Iran to regime change. By installing Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as shah to
replace Mossadegh, the US condemned the Iranian people to a
quarter-century of tyranny and repression that eventually strengthened
extremist Islamic fundamentalism and gave birth to theocratic
revolution led by ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979.
The misguided US policy elicited a tidal wave of anti-US sentiments
across the Islamic world that set the stage for the Iranian student
occupation of the US Embassy. The crisis destroyed president Jimmy
Carter's chance for a second term and turned US domestic politics
sharply to the extreme right, along a belligerent path that eventually
led to a blowback in the form of the terrorist attacks of September 11,
2001. In reaction, the US adopted a foreign policy of "regime change",
with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as opening salvos in President George
W Bush's "war on terrorism".
The disastrous war to force a regime change in Iraq in turn produced a
regime change in Washington on the second Tuesday of November in 2006.
On April 5, 2003, at the start of the Iraq war, I wrote in The war
that may end the age of superpower in Asia Times Online:
This war highlights once again that
military power is but a tool for achieving political objectives. The
pretense of this war was to disarm Iraq of weapons of massive
destruction (WMD), although recent emphasis has shifted to "liberating"
the Iraqi people from an alleged oppressive regime. At the end of the
war, the US still needs to produce indisputable evidence of Iraqi WMD
to justify a war that was not sanctioned by the United Nations Security
Council. Overwhelming force is counterproductive when applied against
popular resistance because it inevitably increases the very resolve of
popular resistance it aims to awe into submission.
In my article in ATol on October 23, 2003, The war
that could destroy both armies, I wrote:
Only when a nation is already occupied by a foreign power can the theme
of liberation by another foreign power be regarded with credibility. A
foreign power liberating a nation from its nationalist government is a
very hard sell. The US manipulates its reason for invading Iraq like a
magician pulling colored scarves out of a breast pocket. First it was
self-defense against terrorism, then it was to disarm Iraq of WMD, now
it invades to liberate the Iraqi people form their demonic leader. Soon
it will be to bring prosperity to the Iraqi people by taking control of
their oil, or to save them from their tragic fate of belonging to a
There is no point in winning the war to lose the peace. Military power
cannot be used without political constraint, which limits its
indiscriminate application. The objective of war is not merely to kill,
but to impose political control by force. Therein lies the weakest part
of the US war plan to date. The plan lacks a focus of what political
control it aims to establish. The US has not informed the world of its
end game regarding Iraq, beyond the removal of Saddam Hussein. The idea
of a US occupational governor was and is a laughable non-starter.
Guerrilla resistance will not end even after the Iraqi government is
toppled and its army destroyed. Drawing upon British experiences in
Malaysia and Rhodesia, the force ratio of army forces to guerrilla
forces needed for merely containing guerrilla resistance, let alone
defeating a guerrilla force, is about 20:1. US estimates of the size of
Iraq's guerrilla force stand at 100,000 for the time being. This means
the US would need a force of 2 million to contain the situation even if
it already controls the country.
A reader wrote on April 7: "If you want
Asia Times Online to be taken seriously, you might want to consider not
using any more items from Henry C K Liu ... Suggestion: Reread his
article six months from now as a test of his ability to prognosticate."
On April 20, 2004, I wrote in the article
Occupation highlights superpower limits:
Six months have passed and I repeat: This war may end the age of
With the fall of Saddam and the
marginalization of the Ba'ath Party in Iraqi politics, the balance of
power in the Persian Gulf region and indeed the whole Middle East is
fundamentally altered. A rise of Iraq's Shi'ites will be felt by the
entire Middle East - particularly states with their own sizable Shi'ite
populations - and Iraq's immediate neighbors, which include Iran,
Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Turkey. Iranian theocratic
influence is now dominant in the Iraqi political milieu through the
venue of democracy.
This is a strategic problem that cannot be corrected by the mere change
of one cabinet member, or even the change of partisan control of one
branch of government. There is a moral crisis in the US polity. What is
needed is a complete re-examination of US foreign policy to revive a
bipartisanship that recognizes the simple truth that terrorism cannot
be fought with state terror.
In the long perspective that governs national diplomatic priorities,
the role of the US in the region remains transient, while the rise of
Iranian theo-politics is a very serious long-term development for many
countries in the region and the world, particularly the Sunni
Iran's 1979 theocratic revolution was not only a shock to the West, but
to the entire Middle East and the Islamic nations of Asia. The US will
go to any lengths to prevent the Iranian theocratic model from sweeping
the region. The Ba'ath Party of Iraq, the history of which predates
Saddam's rise to power, until its ill-advised marginalization by the US
invasion authorities, had been the main bulwark against the Iranian
model of Shi'ism in Iraq.
By the regime change carried out with the invasion of Iraq, the US has
demolished that bulwark for no discernible geopolitical purpose. Sunnis
in the region are now torn between their fear of a rise of the Shi'ites
in Iraq and their commitment to Arab nationalism stimulated by foreign
occupation. Neither option has any room for US superpower dominance.
The abuse of superpower, and indeed the foolish squandering of
superpower resources, appears to have rendered the world's sole
superpower powerless to shape a new world order of peace, harmony and
justice, diluting the sole justification for superpower existence.
The US has the capacity to be a world leader of peace, but to fulfill
that noble mission it must adopt a foreign policy of tolerance, respect
and fairness toward other nations. Win the love of the world with
justice and the inferno of terrorism will be extinguished.