A Defeat For an Empire
by Robert Jensen
The United States has lost the war in Iraq, and that's a good thing.
I don't mean that the loss of American and Iraqi lives is to be celebrated. The death and destruction are numbingly tragic, and the suffering in Iraq is hard for most of us in the United States to comprehend.
The tragedy is compounded because these deaths haven't protected Americans or brought freedom to Iraqis. They have come in the quest to extend the American empire in this "new American century."
So, as a U.S. citizen, I welcome the U.S. defeat for a simple reason: It isn't the defeat of the United States -- its people or their ideals -- but of that empire. And it's essential that the American empire be defeated and dismantled.
The fact that the Bush administration says we are fighting for freedom and democracy (having long ago abandoned fictions about weapons of mass destruction and terrorist ties) does not make it so.
We must look at the reality, no matter how painful. The people of Iraq are better off without Saddam Hussein's despised regime, but that does not prove our benevolent intentions or guarantee that the United States will work to bring meaningful democracy to Iraq.
In Iraq, the Bush administration invaded not to liberate but to extend and deepen U.S. domination. When Bush said, "We have no territorial ambitions; we don't seek an empire," on Nov. 11, 2002, he told a half-truth.
The United States doesn't want to absorb Iraq or take direct possession of its oil. That's not the way of empire today; it's about control over the flow of oil and oil profits, not ownership.
In a world that runs on oil, the nation that controls the flow of oil has great strategic power. U.S. policy-makers want leverage over the economies of competitors -- Western Europe, Japan and China -- that are more dependent on Middle Eastern oil.
The Bush administration has invested money and lives in making Iraq a platform from which the United States can project power.
That requires not the liberation of Iraq but its subordination. But most Iraqis don't want to be subordinated, which is why the United States in some sense lost the war on the day it invaded. One lesson of contemporary history is that occupying armies generate resistance that, inevitably, prevails over imperial power.
When we admit defeat and pull out -- not if, but when -- the fate of Iraqis will depend in part on whether the United States makes good on legal and moral obligations to pay reparations and allows international institutions to aid in creating a truly sovereign Iraq.
We shouldn't expect politicians to do either without pressure. An anti-empire movement -- the joining of anti-war forces with the movement to reject corporate globalization -- must create that pressure.
We should all carry a profound sense of sadness at where decisions made by U.S. policy-makers -- not just the gang in power today but a string of Republican and Democratic administrations -- have left us and the Iraqis. But that sadness should not keep us from pursuing the most courageous act of citizenship in the United States today: pledging to dismantle the American empire.
The planet's resources do not belong to the United States. The century is not America's. We own neither the world nor time. And if we don't give up the quest -- if we don't find our place in the world instead of on top of the world -- there is little hope for a safe, sane and sustainable future.
Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of "Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity."
© 2004 The Star-Telegram