The upside to losing Iraq? An empire falls

By Robert Jensen

Published in Austin American-Statesman · December, 2004

[Austin American-Statesman, December 3, 2004, p. A-17. Also ran as “Defeat for an empire,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 8, 2004.]

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 so-called “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 the American empire be
defeated and dismantled.

The fact 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 nor guarantee the United States will work to
bring meaningful democracy to Iraq.

Throughout history, our support for democracies has depended on their
support for U.S. policy. When democratic governments follow an
independent course, they typically end up as targets of U.S. power,
military or economic. Ask Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez or Haiti’s
Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

In Iraq, the Bush administration invaded not to liberate but to extend
and deepen U.S. domination. When Bush says, “We have no territorial
ambitions; we don’t seek an empire,” he tells a half-truth. The United
States doesn’t want to absorb Iraq nor 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. policymakers want leverage over the
economies of its competitors – Western Europe, Japan and China – which
are more dependent on Middle Eastern oil. Hence the longstanding U.S.
policy of support for reactionary regimes (Saudi Arabia),
dictatorships (Iran under the Shah) and regional military surrogates
(Israel), aimed at maintaining control.

The Bush administration has invested money and lives in making Iraq a
platform from which the United States can project power – from
permanent U.S. bases, officials hope. 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 the day it invaded. One lesson of contemporary history is that
occupying armies generate resistance that, inevitably, prevails over
imperial power.

Most Iraqis are glad Saddam is gone, and most want the United States
gone. When we admit defeat and pull out – not if, but when – the fate
of Iraqis depends in part on whether the United States (1) makes good
on legal and moral obligations to pay reparations, and (2) 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 antiwar forces with the movement
to reject corporate globalization – must create that pressure. Failure
will add to the suffering in Iraq and more clearly mark the United
States as a rogue state and an impediment to a just and peaceful

So, I’m glad for the U.S. military defeat in Iraq, but with no joy in
my heart. 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.

This 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.