Wallerstein on Iraq
Source Ken Hanly
Date 03/03/21/11:21

"Bush Bets All He Has"
Mar. 15, 2003

The United States is in deep trouble. The President of
the United States has taken an enormous gamble, and
done it from a fundamentally weak position. He decided
a year ago or so that the U.S. would make war on Iraq.
He did this in order to demonstrate the overwhelming
military superiority of the United States and to
accomplish two primary objectives: 1) intimidate all
potential nuclear proliferators into abandoning their
projects; 2) squash all European ideas of an autonomous
political role in the world-system.

Thus far, Bush has been magnificently unsuccessful.
North Korea and Iran (and perhaps others as yet
unobserved) have actually speeded up their
proliferation projects. France and Germany have shown
what it means to be autonomous. And the United States
is not able to get any of the six Third World countries
on the Security Council to vote a second resolution on
Iraq. So, like a reckless gambler, Bush is about to go
for broke. He will launch a war in a very short time,
and bet that he can achieve an overwhelming and rapid
victory. The bet is very simple. Bush believes that if
the U.S. does achieve this kind of military result,
both the proliferators and the Europeans will repent of
their ways and accept U.S. decisions in the future.

There are two possible military outcomes: the one Bush
wants (and expects), and a different one. How likely is
it that Bush achieves the rapid capitulation of the
Iraqis? The Pentagon says they have the weaponry and
will do it rapidly. A long list of retired generals,
both American and British, have voiced their
skepticism. My guess (and for me that is all it is) is
that the outcome of rapid, total victory is not very
likely. I think that a combination of the desperate
determination of the Iraqi leadership plus an upsurge
of Iraqi nationalism plus the announced unwillingness
of the Kurds to fight Saddam (not because they don't
hate him but because they distrust profoundly U.S.
intentions with regard to them) will make it extremely
difficult for the U.S. to end the war in a matter of
weeks. It will probably take many months, and once it
takes many months, who can predict where the winds will
blow, first of all in British and then U.S. public

Nevertheless, suppose the U.S. wins quickly. I would
say that, at that point, Bush comes out merely even -
not a winner, but not a loser. Why do I say that?
Because a victory will leave the geopolitical situation
more or less where it is today. First of all, there is
the question of what happens in Iraq the day after
victory? The least one can say is that no one knows,
and it is not at all clear that the U.S. itself has a
clear vision of what it wants to do. What we do know is
that the interests at play are multiple, diverse, and
totally uncoordinated. That is a scenario for anarchic
confusion. For the U.S. to play a significant role in
the postwar decision-making will require a long-term
commitment of troops and a lot of money (really a lot
of money). Anyone who looks at the U.S. economic
situation and the internal politics of the U.S. knows
that the Bush administration would have a very hard job
leaving troops there very long and an even harder job
obtaining the money it would need to play the political

In addition, all the other problems facing the world
would remain intact. First of all, there would be even
less likelihood than now that there could be any
progress towards the creation of a Palestinian state.
The Israeli government would take a U.S. victory as
vindication for its tough line, and simply make it
tougher. The Arab world would get even angrier, if
that's possible. Iran certainly will not stop its drive
for nuclear proliferation. Iran will probably, on the
contrary, be feeling its oats in the region with Saddam
Hussein out of the way. North Korea would step up its
provocations, and South Korea would get even more
uncomfortable with its U.S. ally and the latter's
penchant for military action. And France is likely to
dig in for the long haul. So, as I say, a rapid U.S.
military victory in Iraq would leave us with the
geopolitical status quo - which is certainly not what
the U.S. hawks intend.

But suppose the military victory is not rapid. What
then? In that case, the whole operation is a
geopolitical disaster for the U.S. Pandemonium will
break out, and the U.S. will have as little influence
on its future outcome as say Italy, which is to say not
very much at all. Why do I say that? Think of what will
happen, first of all in Iraq itself. Iraqi resistance
will turn Saddam Hussein into a hero, and he will
certainly know how to exploit that sentiment. The
Iranians and the Turks will both send their troops into
the Kurdish north, and probably end up fighting each
other. The Kurds may side for the moment with the
Iranians. If that happens, the Shiite groups in the
south of Iraq will keep their distance from the U.S.
military efforts. The Saudis may offer themselves as
unwelcome mediators, and will probably be rejected by
both sides.

Elsewhere in the region, the Hezbollah will probably
attack the Israelis, who will riposte and probably try
to occupy southern Lebanon. Will the Syrians then enter
that war, to try to save the Hezbollah and, more
generally, their role in Lebanon? Quite possible, but
if so, the Israelis will bomb Damascus (maybe with
nuclear weapons). Will the Egyptians then sit still?
And oh yes, there is that fellow, Osama bin Laden, who
will no doubt be doing the usual thing he likes to do.

And Europe? There will probably be a major revolt in
the Labor Party in the U.K., which might end up with a
split in the party. Blair might take his rump out and
form a national emergency coalition with the Tories. He
would still be Prime Minister, but there would be great
pressure for new elections, and Blair would probably
lose, and lose badly. And then there is the little
matter of the warning Blair received from legal
advisors that, if the British went into Iraq without
U.N. explicit endorsement, he could be brought up on
charges before the International Criminal Court.
Aznar's electoral prospects in Spain have become
similarly doubtful, given extensive opposition within
his own party to Spain's position. Berlusconi and the
East/Central Europeans will start to get very cold

Meanwhile, in Latin America, one will say goodbye to
the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA, or in
Spanish ALCA). Instead, Lula will press for the
reinvigoration of Mercosur as a trade and currency
structure, and might even get Chile to come into it.
Fox will be in deep trouble in Mexico. In Southeast
Asia, the two largest Muslim nations (Indonesia and
Malaysia), both of which presently have governments
essentially friendly to the U.S., may try to emulate
Europe in creating a zone of autonomous action. There
will be great pressure on the Philippine government to
send the U.S. military home. And China is likely to
tell Japan that it had better loosen its political ties
with the U.S. if it expects to continue to have an
economic future in the region.

In early 2004, where will all this leave the Bush
regime? It will leave it facing a rapidly growing
antiwar movement in the United States, which might
actually swing the Democratic Party into a real
opposition to Bush's global policies. Not easy, but
quite possible. If so, the Democrats could probably win
the elections.

If all this happens, Bush will indeed have achieved
regime change - in Great Britain, Spain, and the United
States. And the United States will no longer be
regarded as an invincible military superpower. So, to
resume, if Bush wins, he faces a geopolitical status
quo, which is far less than he wants. And if he loses,
he really loses. I would say the odds are not very
promising. The historians will record that there was no
need for the U.S. after September 11 to put itself in
this impossible position.

Immanuel Wallerstein
Fernand Braudel Center, Binghamton University

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