They Squandered the Peace Dividend

[Taki’s Magazine]

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Peace Dividend, anyone? Where did it go? If you Google "Peace Dividend" and end up at Wikipedia, you will see that the concept refers to "a political slogan popularized by US President George W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the early 1990s, purporting to describe the economic benefits of a decrease in defense spending.... The term was frequently used at the end of the Cold War, when many Western nations significantly cut military spending."

At least for this observer, the Peace Dividend conjured up significantly more than just economic benefits to be derived from the collapse of world communism, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. The end of the Cold War meant that the nuclear "balance of terror" had been terminated along with the ever-present possibility of Armageddon, if someone in Moscow or Washington had miscalculated. The Peace Dividend suggested a new era, free of war and fear.

Growing up in America during the Cold War meant living under a giant, dark cloud, overhead and nearby. But starting with Poland in 1988, the captive nations of Eastern Europe exploded in strikes and revolution. By 1991 that cloud had been lifted completely, thanks to President Reagan and Chairman Gorbachev. The spontaneous uprising of brave Russians in August 1991, led by Boris Yeltsin, on the streets of Moscow put an end to the communist party’s attempted counter-revolution. Freedom was in. Communism was definitely out.

Everything was going to be peachy, going forward. A golden age perhaps. But Saddam's Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in the summer of 1990 had intervened in the meantime, followed by Operation Desert Storm in January 1991. Next was a scholarly article in 1993 by Harvard Professor Sam Huntington in Foreign Affairs entitled "The Clash of Civilizations?".  Both Saddam’s attempted annexation of Kuwait and the Huntington article were distorted, exaggerated and seized upon by so-called "neoconservative" elements within the Washington foreign policy establishment.

Their ultimate goal was to hijack Uncle Sam and redirect the focus of U.S. foreign policy. It worked. The Arabs and Islam were brought forward to be the new, all-consuming threat for the lone surviving superpower at the end of the 20th century.  

Whereas the threat posed by the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact, and communist fellow travelers in the Third World was real, the new crusade in response to the Arabs and Islam would be entirely unnecessary. The clash would be extravagant, self-inflicted and self-fulfilling.

The world-wide communist challenge, on the other hand, did require counter-measures. The comrades in Moscow had spawned Red China, which took the communist idiocy of Marx, Lenin and Stalin to the next level of madness under Chairman Mao. In 1989 all that was behind us, the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing notwithstanding. The Berlin Wall had fallen. Tiananmen was regarded as a bump in the road. Happy days were here again.

Not exactly. Twenty odd years later, Washington finds itself stretched all over planet earth, most especially in the greater Middle East, which is ablaze. Iraq is on the back-burner, still smoldering from the 2003 unprovoked invasion and subsequent occupation. Washington has constructed a billion dollar embassy in the middle of the Green Zone of Baghdad, but the Shiite government that Washington unwittingly installed in Iraq wants American troops out of the country as soon as possible. The exploitation of Iraq's oil has been largely turned over to non-American companies.

The war in Iraq has been estimated eventually to cost the U.S. Treasury in the neighborhood of three trillion dollars. Recall that Paul Wolfowitz told Congress in March 2003 that Iraq's oil would pay for its invasion, occupation, and reconstruction. How convenient. Accordingly, Wolfowitz's War went unfunded. It was going to be a cakewalk.

In the interim, Peace Prize Obama's inherited "right war" in Afghanistan (as opposed to the Bush Jr.'s supposedly "wrong war" in Iraq) has gone from bad to worse, real fast. The fact that General Petraeus has been recalled from the field and put in charge of the CIA tells you that the White House has thrown in the towel. There is nothing Petraeus or anybody else can do. The Pentagon has hit the wall in Afghanistan, like the Kremlin and the British Empire did before it. Next door in Pakistan, once America's proudest ally in the region, the country is up for grabs.

Peace Prize Obama has developed a love affair with the drone. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and CIA Director Leon Panetta must have touted the advantages. Drone attacks targeting purported "terrorists" in Pakistan are killing a lot of people, some of whom might be "terrorists" but many are probably innocents, trying to stay alive in their own country a little longer. America is not making friends, and the government of Pakistan has been destabilized. What is going on here? How arrogant and bloodthirsty can we be?

Meanwhile, Washington's long, covert war against Iran, at the behest of Tel Aviv and in furtherance of Pax Israeliana, proceeds to an unknown destination. It's a bipartisan disaster-in-the-making, egged on by the Israel Lobby and embraced by everyone who is anybody in Washington. It is all predicated upon maintaining the fiction that Iran's nuclear weapons program exists and is an existential danger to Israel. Shades of Iraq's WMD. There has been no honest attempt to defuse this phony crisis.

Recently, Speaker of the House John Boehner of Ohio invited Bibi Netanyahoo of Tel Aviv to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. Bibi will talk a lot about Iran, and everyone--Left, Right and Center--in both political parties in that hallowed chamber will applaud like trained seals. Election year is right around the corner. In Washington, it is always right around the corner. Raising funds is a full-time job.

As if there were not enough on Washington's plate already, Obama's national security team has allowed itself to be talked into a civil war in Libya. It looks like Robert Gates tried to inform the masterminds at the White House of the obvious, to wit, that the U.S. military was stretched to the limit, as per above. It did not matter. There was just no saying "no!" to Messrs. Nick Sarkozy of Paris and Dave Cameron of London, both of whom were gung-ho on the project. Obama and Hillary pushed through UN Security Council resolution 1973, which gave all interested parties enough cover to do whatever they pleased. True to form, Obama has now opted for drones. It's cheap and without risk.

Muammar Gaddafi is a gangster all right, just like Saddam Hussein was, but at least he is a gangster among his own people. He and his sons could be watched and curtailed from further mischief, if need be, from over the horizon. Iraq as a nation-state has already been destroyed and split in two, between the Arabs and the Kurds, thanks to a determined Washington policy spanning twenty years and three or four U.S. Administrations. Libya now seems to be the next convenient target, either by default or as a kind of afterthought. It goes without saying that none of this activity is consistent with a Peace Dividend. Precisely the opposite.  

The folks on the ground have been paying a heavy price for Washington's miscalculations, hypocrisy, and wholesale meddling in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, Lebanon, and now in Libya. How the resultant destruction and bloodshed in these Muslim lands benefits the average American--especially when it comes to the price of oil on the world market--is hard to fathom.

Even more than Bush Jr.'s "shock and awe" invasion of Iraq, Obama's air war in Libya is blatantly unconstitutional and just plain nuts on various levels. It harks back to Bill and Hillary Clinton's 1999 bombardment of Serbia. In desperation, Sarkozy and Cameron are hoping to blow Gaddafi to bits with cruise missiles. So far they have not succeeded, and a stalemate has ensued.  

All the above, and then some, is the result of Washington's incorrect response to the end of the Cold War. I realize it is easy to analyze geopolitical matters in retrospect, but that's all we have got to work with. Given the fact that the Soviet threat had evaporated and the Warsaw Pact had disbanded, why couldn't Washington have just withdrawn from NATO and turned Europe's security over to the Europeans, where it belonged? Was it even considered? Then Europe could deal with the Middle East, or at least try to.

I have suggested elsewhere that NATO should be replaced with something called EUDA, the European Union Defense Alliance, made up strictly of European states. It is those countries on their own who should have dealt with Serbia in 1999 and, if need be, with Libya today.

Instead, with the fall of communism, Washington rushed in to upsize the mission and membership of NATO, right up to the front porch of Russia. On top of that, Washington has now embroiled NATO in the quagmire of Afghanistan. Germany in particular is dismayed. It makes no sense, turning NATO into a tool of U.S. strategy outside Europe.

Leave Europe to the Europeans. If Washington had done that from the start, beginning with Woodrow Wilson, America could have avoided both world wars of the 20th century, England might still have most of its empire intact, and there may never have been a communist Russia created as a byproduct of the Great War of 1914-1918.


But the proximate cause of our imminent downfall here in the 21st century is not events in Europe. It was Washington's military response to Saddam Hussein's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait on the shores of the Persian Gulf. It opened a Pandora's Box, which is still wide open. There is no way to escape this conclusion.

By 2004 the U.S. defense budget was almost twice that of the next 15 military powers combined and larger in real terms than the average U.S. defense budget during the Cold War. Today the U.S. reportedly spends more on “defense” than the rest of the world combined. Such grandiosity is helping to bankrupt the country.

Recall that the crisis over the fake state of Kuwait did not happen out of the blue. After being Washington's ally for nearly ten years during Iraq's ruinous war on Iran's western border, Saddam Hussein was looking for a "peace dividend" of his own, when that war ended in a stalemate. Saddam needed to refill Iraq's treasury. He had a legitimate quarrel with Kuwait over oil. Acting as a presumptive U.S. ally, Saddam consulted Washington about it.

Washington's seasoned ambassador to Baghdad, Ms. April Glaspie, appeared to indicate in face-to-face conversations that the matter did not concern Washington. Saddam double checked. Had he misunderstood? Then he triple checked. Saddam concluded that he had been given a yellow light or maybe even a tacit green light to go ahead and solve his problem.

Taki Magazine’s Patrick Buchanan wrote at the time that the U.S. had no business going to war to keep the Emir of Kuwait in power. I felt the exact same way, especially after learning that Kuwait was an artificial entity concocted by the British and that every government in Baghdad, since gaining independence from the British in 1932, had claimed the city-state of Kuwait to be a province of Iraq.

No matter. President H.W. Bush and James Baker III decided, in their ultimate wisdom, that Washington had to jump in and prevent annexation. What was at stake? "Jobs, jobs, jobs..." according to Secretary of State Baker. That was his public rationale for war.

[I offered another explanation in my book, published in 2005. Chapter VII is entitled "Crusade to Nowhere, Operation Desert Storm" and covers this topic in some detail. Here's an excerpt: "After initial uncertainties, President Bush suffered a messianic syndrome attack. This is a peculiar illness associated with a number of U.S. Presidents, starting with Woodrow Wilson. When combined with the crackup of the Soviet Union, courtesy of a Jihad in Afghanistan, and with the cessation of the Cold War, which left an avalanche of expensive weapons lying around, the urge to do something pyrotechnic, counter-productive and pointless proved irresistible."]

Instead of Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Arab League being put on the spot to deal with this purely Arab affair, Washington pushed everyone and everything aside, and took direct control. The world was about to spin off its axis.

The U.S. landed troops, to take up position in Saudi Arabia, against the better judgement of King Fahd. This was called Operation Desert Shield. Phase II, Operation Desert Storm, commenced with an aerial bombardment of Iraq in January 1991 and then with a ground assault in February. After expelling Iraq from Kuwait lickety-split, U.S. troops lingered in Saudi Arabia for no good reason. King Fahd, the custodian of Mecca and Medina, the holy cities of Islam, acquiesced. At that point, he had become a captive entity.

[As I write this--Monday, May 2nd, 2011--word comes that terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden has been killed in a U.S. commando operation in Pakistan. The larger significance of this event is unclear. May I just point out that Washington's response to Saddam's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 "made" bin Laden. It helped launch him into a career of terrorism. Prior to that, bin Laden had been a de facto ally of America.

He had led a considerable contingent of Muslim volunteers in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, fighting a guerrilla war, funded by Washington and funneled through Pakistan, against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. In so doing, Bin Laden helped America win the Cold War. In a Washington Times article, Arnaud de Borchgrave stated in July 2005 that "By the time the defeated Soviets left Afghanistan in February 1989, bin Laden had been elevated to hero status in Saudi Arabia."

I also wrote in 2005, in the above-mentioned chapter VII of Situation Report: "At the start of this process, it probably never occurred to George Bush Sr. and to his foreign policy team that they were creating a monster by the way they handled the Kuwait annexation brouhaha. The monster they created was a maniac named Osama bin Laden. This came about due to Bin Laden's close connections with the Saudi royal family and bin Laden's adverse reaction to King Fahd's decision--forced upon him by Washington--to allow the U.S. Army and Air Force to install themselves inside the Kingdom, and then to stay there indefinitely after Operation Desert Storm had concluded."]  

After dislodging Iraq from Kuwait, Washington quarantined Iraq as part of an effort to oust Saddam from power. His days of usefulness to Washington in sticking it to Iran were over. Murderous and draconian economic sanctions were imposed. There was malnutrition and the degradation of Iraq's civilian infrastructure, especially water purification plants. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children died.

Leslie Stahl confronted Bill Clinton's Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, in a famous "60 Minutes" interview about the policy. Albright stated in a moment of unguarded candor that the sanctions were "worth it" even if the situation was difficult to understand. What madness!

As a kind of backdrop, the Oslo Middle East "peace process"--another venture entirely run by Washington to benefit Tel Aviv--got underway and wasted years in pointless "negotiations" during the Bill Clinton Administration. Meanwhile, the Israelis grabbed more land and water from the helpless Palestinians, using American tax dollars and tax-deductible contributions to do it. One wonders if that was the actual point of the exercise, to wit, to provide an extended diplomatic cover for brazen neocolonialism.

The charade of the so-called "peace process" was readily transparent to the Arab street, although not to the average American, who remained oblivious. Naturally, the Palestinians and the Arabs blamed the U.S. when the staged talks came to nothing. In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the talks at Camp David in July 2000, Ariel Sharon made a provocative visit to the Temple Mount in Old Jerusalem. It incited the Palestinians, who erupted in a second Intifada, starting in September 2000. In January 2001, G.W. Bush became the U.S. figurehead President.

The blowback from all of these related developments was the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, eight months into the vulcanized, neoconservative regime of Bush Jr. and Dick Cheney. During those eight months, Bush Jr. and Cheney had outsourced U.S. Mideast foreign policy to Ariel Sharon. More madness and folly. Average Americans were shocked, surprised and bewildered by the attacks, which seemed to come from out of the blue. No one in the media dared pose the question, "Why?" The powers-that-be never asked or answered that question. The answer was too explosive.

The terror atrocities provided Cheney and his neoconservative operatives with a field day to advance their private agendas. There were no limits to what Washington officialdom might attempt to do in the world. There are still no limits under Peace Prize Obama. There has been no fundamental change in the direction of U.S. foreign policy away from the neoconservative narrative. The policy has been almost seamless.

Under such circumstances, the 1989/90 hoped-for Peace Dividend has been quashed. And along with it, a golden age that might have been. The conflict in which Washington has embarked is open-ended. We have nothing to gain in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Libya, it seems to me, and everything to lose. All of this costs lives and money. It is a horrible waste of time. It has been counter-productive in the extreme.

The incendiary policy that squandered the Peace Dividend could simply be short-sighted and ill-advised. But there is another distinct possibility. It could be a sophisticated crime by insiders with ulterior motives who feel confident that they will never be held accountable.