(U-WIRE) ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – In the grim years that concluded the Vietnam War, the late scholar Richard Barnet aptly summarized the sweeping strategic failure of the most horrific U.S. terror campaign of the post-World War II period.
“After spending more than fifty thousand lives and $150 billion,” he observed in a landmark study of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment, “the United States could not achieve the modest imperial objective of establishing a stable, subservient government in South Vietnam.”
This monumental defeat produced no strategic gain for the United States, wrote Barnet, but instead revealed the frustrations of a “homicidal menace for millions of innocent people of Indochina.” Moreover, it deeply undermined the prevailing mythological portrait of a defensive, well-intentioned U.S. posture overseas.
Recent U.S. policy in the Middle East – despite colossal U.S.-Israeli efforts – has been comparable to this “monumental defeat,” not in the scale of its imperial brutality, but in the scope of its strategic collapse. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Unites States’ unwitting propulsion of its archrival, Iran, to regional hegemony. Just as its Pyrrhic counterterrorism policy has sharply increased the threat of terrorism globally, nearly every regional strategy the Bush administration has pursued since taking office has broadened Tehran’s power and influence. This point is echoed in a study released by Chatham House, Britain’s leading political research organization. “There is little doubt that Iran has been the chief beneficiary of the war on terror in the Middle East,” the study, released a week ago, concludes. First, the United States and its allies ousted two of Iran’s chief regional rivals, the Taliban to Iran’s east and Saddam’s regime to Iran’s west. This immediately conferred upon Iran power rarely enjoyed in its modern history. But to compound this development, the U.S.-led occupation forces in Iraq and Afghanistan failed to establish effective client governments to replace the Saddam and Taliban regimes. Consequently, Iran has “moved to fill the regional void with an apparent ease that has disturbed both regional players and the United States and its European allies,” the study notes.
The Bush administration’s proxy aggression in Lebanon is only the latest in a chain of inscrutable interventions that confound strategic logic. The San Francisco Chronicle revealed in July that “more than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to U.S. and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation – the attack on Lebanon – in revealing detail.”
Veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hersh provides details in the Aug. 21 issue of the New Yorker. Paraphrasing intelligence and diplomatic officials, Hersh writes that Bush officials were closely involved in planning and carrying out Israel’s invasion. U.S. officials sought to remove the presumed threat to Israel that Hezbollah posed. More troubling, Bush planners expected that a successful proxy assault on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure would turn Lebanon’s Sunni and Christian population against Shiite Hezbollah and would serve as a “prelude to a potential American preemptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations” – a long-standing priority of the Bush White House.
But in four weeks of devastating aerial and ground bombardment, the region’s leading military power, backed and supplied by the global hegemon, failed to secure a relatively minor military campaign, prompting the conservative magazine the Economist to declare, “Nasrallah wins the war,” referring to Hezbollah’s leader. Hezbollah emerged heroic from the rubble as the only Arab force to have successfully resisted a full-scale U.S.-Israeli assault, and at once it began rebuilding Lebanon and assisting, with Iranian funding, the immense waves of returning refugees, further consolidating its enormous gains in popular prestige.
In the end, the U.S.-Israeli invasion killed more than 1,000 civilians, displaced one-fourth of the country and caused what Amnesty International declared “destruction on a catastrophic scale,” and “war crimes that give rise to individual criminal responsibility.” And, predictably, the aggression in Lebanon “may have increased the danger of militant retaliation against the United States and U.S. interests abroad,” according to a Reuters survey of security officials and analysts.
The Bush administration’s military, diplomatic and planning assistance for Israel’s botched attack – including an emergency shipment of precision-guided bombs midway through the invasion – did not induce a Sunni-Christian backlash against Hezbollah as hoped. The widespread attack on civilians and civilian infrastructure was instrumental in uniting Lebanon’s sectarian divisions instead.
With any luck, this latest bloody intervention represents the death throes of Bush’s unredeemable Middle East policy and finally discredits Washington’s militaristic reactionaries agitating for more imperial violence, this time against Iran. Can the last stop for the Bush doctrine be prevented?