[A-List] US imperialism: unilateralism & resentment
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Tue Dec 17 05:28:35 MST 2002
A heavy-handed hegemon
By Jim Lobe
Asia Times, December 17 2002
WASHINGTON - Hawks in the administration of US President George W Bush
received a rude reminder last week that Washington's vaunted power to
determine the course of events around the world is more limited than perhaps
they had thought.
They had hoped to focus world opinion on Iraq's submission of an allegedly
deceptive and incomplete inventory of its missiles and weapons of mass
destruction (WMD) to the United Nations Security Council in order to ease
the way for an invasion of Iraq by mid-February. They had also hoped to get
Turkey to agree to act as a base for US ground troops, so that they could
attack Baghdad from the north as well as from the south via Kuwait.
They got neither. In fact, all they got was aggravation, complaints and
defiance - from friends and foes alike.
The week started auspiciously enough. Hyper-eager US diplomats grabbed the
original Iraqi report from the Colombian chairman of the UN Security Council
before he had a chance to have it copied.
The White House cleared the latest additions to its controversial new
national security strategy: a promise to respond with "overwhelming force",
meaning nuclear weapons, if WMD were used against its troops, territory or
allies; and the authority to conduct "effective interdiction" and preventive
strikes against states or groups that are close to acquiring WMD or the
missiles needed to deliver them.
Diplomatic and military muscles thus flexed before the (presumably
awestruck) world, the administration spent the rest of the week on the
receiving end of a collective obscene hand gesture by countries great and
No sooner had the new anti-WMD policy been released then an unflagged ship
that had been tracked by US satellites since leaving North Korea was seized
by Spanish warships in the Indian Ocean and found to be carrying Scud
missiles. "A perfect opportunity to demonstrate US determination and
international cooperation", thought the hawks, until Yemen, a key US ally in
the war on terrorism, claimed that it had bought the missiles fair and
square, protested their seizure and demanded that they be delivered.
Washington meekly, if angrily, climbed down, managing in turn to anger the
Spanish, one of its strongest supporters in the war against terrorism, who
asked why they had risked the lives of their own commandos at Washington's
request for nothing.
But that was only a foretaste of what was to come - a much more serious
challenge from North Korea itself. The country's announcement that it was
re-starting a nuclear power plant that had been frozen under the terms of a
1994 accord with Washington in response to the administration's decision to
cut off heavy oil deliveries early next year constituted direct defiance of
repeated US demands over the past two months that the country dismantle all
of its nuclear programs.
By announcing that it was resuming operations in the Yangbyon plant, whose
plutonium was believed to have already produced one or two nuclear bombs,
the North appeared to be calling Washington's bluff, even as it restated its
position that serious bilateral talks, so far rejected by Washington, could
resolve all outstanding problems.
Pyongyang's move - made more dramatic by its announcement on Friday that it
has asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to remove equipment that
has been monitoring 8,000 spent fuel rods whose plutonium could be used to
quickly produce several bombs - puts administration hardliners, who have
pursued the tough line on North Korea over objections from US Secretary of
State Colin Powell and others, between a rock and hard place.
On the one hand, the credibility of the administration's tough preemption
policy has been challenged directly by a charter member of the axis of evil,
which, unlike Iraq, already admits to having an active nuclear-weapons
On the other, hardliners know that a preemptive military strike risks not
only a major conflagration on the peninsula, but also the permanent
derailing of their plans in Iraq and the Middle East, not to mention
straining ties with their closest allies in East Asia - South Korea and
Japan - both of which have urged Washington to be more flexible toward the
"The alternative to getting back to the table [with North Korea] is to risk
a continuing spiral of action-reaction that will lead nowhere good," said
Alan Romberg, a retired State Department expert on Korea now with the
Washington-based Stimson Center.
How to resume talks without both losing credibility and provoking cries of
double standards in its kid-gloves treatment of a nuclear-armed North Korea
and a far weaker Iraq will not be easy. For now, the White House has said
that Pyongyang's decision is "unacceptable".
If Yemen was the most embarrassing of the week's episodes and North Korea
the most dangerous, yet another major setback revolved around Turkey and the
European Union (EU).
During what one senior administration official characterized as "intense"
White House talks on Tuesday with the Turkish ruling party leader Recep
Tayyip Erdogan, the Bush team offered an aid package worth more than US$20
billion - twice the entire annual US foreign aid budget - in exchange for
full Turkish cooperation with Washington on a ground invasion of Iraq from
Erdogan, citing overwhelming domestic opposition to the idea, reportedly
declined to strike a deal, but stressed that Ankara would be much more
favorably disposed if the EU agreed to launch talks on Turkey's membership
in the body within the next year.
Washington, which had already been lobbying the EU hard, intensified its
efforts by getting Bush personally involved, but to no avail. By the end of
the week, EU members agreed only to meet again in two years to determine
whether Turkey had met political and human rights conditions on membership.
The decision initially provoked fury in Ankara, while in Washington,
officials said that they were still trying to get clarification.
European diplomats complained that Washington's pressure had, if anything,
been counter-productive and raised real resentments. "The Americans acted as
if we don't have real rules and conditions on EU membership," said one based
here. "What would have been your reaction if we demanded that you admit
Canada as a state?"
European diplomats were particularly angry with Deputy Defense Secretary
Paul Wolfowitz, the leader of the administration's "attack-Iraq" faction,
who travelled to Brussels after meeting Erdogan and Turkish generals in
Ankara last week. "He really does believe that this is the Roman Empire,"
The Europeans are also increasingly angry over Washington's refusal to push
forward a "road map" to be put together by "the quartet" - the United
States, the EU, Russia and the United Nations - to achieve an independent
Palestinian state within three years.
The White House, which appointed a prominent pro-Likud neo-conservative,
Elliott Abrams, to oversee its Mideast portfolio 10 days ago, has defied EU
pressure to finish work on the plan this month, before Israel's elections at
the end of January.
Some EU diplomats reportedly favor dropping out of the quartet and launching
their own plan given the administration's recalcitrance.
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