The Game: Setting Up the Board

America's up to something.

The Bush administration's ham-fisted efforts at diplomacy ground to a halt this week when it became apparent that the UN Security Council would not be bullied into supporting America's war plans. In fact, America's ultimatum - Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq to forestall the invasion - is itself just the latest in a long string of lies, since White House Spokesperson Ari Fleischer announced that US forces will still "enter Iraq", ostensibly so Iraq can be disarmed. [1] If America's goal was disarmament, then it would allow the UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors to continue their work, which Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei agree is progressing with Iraq's cooperation. [2]

Even as Blix complained that the inspections have been interrupted despite their progress [3] and UN Director-General Kofi Annan questioned the invasion's legitimacy without a Security Council resolution [4], America is going ahead with its plans, citing the support of its "coalition of the willing" (this will be discussed further in Newsletter #18, coming soon).

Ultimately, the Bush administration's line on Iraq just doesn't add up. In the past year, the government has burned through several reasons, one after another, on why the rest of the world should support America's invasion plans. As each reason is discredited, the government segues seamlessly to the next one.

And so on, ad nauseum. When the official reason to invade shifts with the prevailing winds, you can be sure that the real reason is buried somewhere deep under the pronouncements. Into the gaping hole left by the Bush administration's hollow rhetoric has rushed a host of theories, some credible and some outrageous. Overwhelmingly, the most oft-repeated claim is that this war is about oil.

Drilling for Answers

Well, in any government composed of George W. Bush (Arbusto, Harken), Dick Cheney (Halliburton), Condoleeza Rice (Exxon), Donald Evans (Tom Brown), Spencer Abraham (Ford, GM, DaimlerChrysler), Gale Norton (Delta Petroleum), Andrew Card (GM), Zalmay Khalilzad (Unocal), and others, plus executives from the Defense and Aerospace industries [5], it's pretty clear that oil comes into play somewhere in their plans, especially considering the fact that the US government regards oil as a strategic resource and a matter of national security. Certainly, British Petroleum CEO Lord Browne has no illusions about the importance of oil, of which Iraq has the world's second largest reserves after Saudi Arabia. He has warned the US government not to hoard all the oil for American companies [6]. White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer has stated that after the Hussein regime is toppled, America will use Iraqi oil sales to pay for reconstruction, leading some officials to refer to the oil as "spoils of war." [7]

It's surely relevant that the two countries most in favour of invading Iraq - America and Britain - are home to the world's largest oil companies. In descending order of size, they are: Exxon Mobil (US), Royal Dutch-Shell (UK), British Petroleum-Amoco (UK), and Chevron-Texaco (US). Since America and Britain have been the strongest proponents of the sanctions against Iraq, these companies have had the most difficulty doing business in Iraq, but the world's second largest reserves of oil are a tantalizing prize. In 1998, Chevron CEO Kenneth T. Derr told the Commonwealth Club of San Fransisco that "Iraq possesses huge reserves of oil and gas reserves Id love Chevron to have access to." [8] Further, in spite of the sanctions, Iraq is the sixth largest importer of oil to America, behind Canada, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Mexico, and Nigeria. Bush's Energy Policy underlines the importance of Persian Gulf oil, noting that "By 2020, Gulf oil producers are projected to supply between 54 and 67 percent of the world's oil...This region will remain vital to U.S. interests...By any estimation, Middle East oil producers will remain central to world oil security. The Gulf will by a primary focus of US international energy policy." [9] This merely echoes the longstanding American claim that free access to Gulf oil is a matter of national security.

Consider this statement of policy for United States Central Command (USCENTCOM), which General Tommy Franks now commands:

The broad national security interests and objectives expressed in the President's National Security Strategy (NSS) and the Chairman's National Military Strategy (NMS) form the foundation of the United States Central Command's theater strategy...The purpose of U.S. engagement, as espoused in the NSS, is to protect the United States' vital interest in the region - uninterrupted, secure U.S./Allied access to Gulf oil. [10]

Lining up at the Trough

American oil services companies like Halliburton, of which Vice President Dick Cheney was recently the CEO, and Schlumberger Ltd., of which one board member, MIT Professor John M. Deutch, was the Director of Central Intelligence when the CIA tried to stage a coup in Iraq and is a strong advocate for invasion, supplied Iraq with millions of dollars worth of oil services in the 1990s, circumventing American sanctions by operating through foreign subsidiaries. [11] These companies are expected to be early winners after Hussein is deposed, when they are awarded contracts to rehabilitate Iraq's derelict oil infrastructure. [12] Halliburton has already been awarded a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild Iraq's oilfields after the war. [13] The US government will probably tear up the memoranda of agreement that Hussein signed with European oil companies to develop Iraq's oilfields after the sanctions are lifted [14], but the oil companies themselves are generally keeping a low profile in their enquiries.

Bid invitations for reconstruction contracts through USAID are quietly being given exclusively to American companies, which currently are partially locked out of Iraq due to the sanctions. [15] As one industry executive put it, "these companies are really in a position to win something out of this geopolitical situation." [16] This tendency to invite only American companies to bid for post-Hussein contracts is what sparked BP's Lord Browne's concerns that the American-only trend would continue to new oilfield development contracts.

However, it is dangerously misleading to assume that this war is mostly or even mainly about securing access to Iraq's vast oilfields. America's demand for imported oil will increase significantly over the next fifty years, but there's no shortage of companies - or countries - willing to sell it, including Iraq under Hussein. Further, as neoconservatives love to point out, simply increasing the supply of oil by turning up Iraq's pipes will theoretically hurt the oil industry, because the increased supply will depress the unit price, leading to reduced profits. [17]. Unless we look beyond access to oil and towards more ambitious, long-term goals, America's war on Iraq seems confusing at best.

Beyond Oil

So it's not just about oil. But neither is it about ridding the world of terrorists, as the US government and its conservative mouthpieces continue to assert despite the utter lack of credible evidence to link Iraq with al-Qaeda. The Bush administration would have us believe that all of its efforts abroad are dedicated to the cause of making the world a safer place for freedom and democracy. Doubtless, anti-terrorist activities form part of America's agenda. But if we assumed, as Bush insists, that this is the real issue, particularly in regards to Iraq, then we would become understandably confused. The Washington Post reports that on September 17, 2001, President Bush signed a top secret document outlining the US government's plan to invade Afghanistan and to begin planning the invasion of Iraq. Noting that this policy decision was made in an "ad hoc" way by long-time hardliners outside the normal decision-making channels, the Post reported that the pressure to invade Iraq preceded 9/11, but that the hardliners were previously stymied by the dissent of moderates in the Administration. [18] The decision to invade Iraq was made by taking immediate steps to link Saddam Hussein with the "war on terror," a linkage no one, including the CIA, is able to establish.

In fact, Donald Rumsfeld contacted his aides in the Defense Department to begin drafting plans to invade Iraq mere hours after the 9/11 attacks. "Go massive," Rumsfeld told his aides, asking them to establish how to include Iraq in the battle plans being drafted against al Qaeda. Rumsfeld does not seem to have been concerned whether Iraq was actually involved. "Sweep it all up," he told his staff. "Things related and not." [19] The Bush administration hawks' desire to invade Iraq was merely waiting for the right circumstances, which the 9/11 attacks provided.

Five years ago, Paul Wolfowitz (deputy Secretary of Defense) and Zalmay Khalilzad (Special Envoy to Afghanistan), both of whom I will discuss in more detail below, wrote articles for the Weekly Standard under the topic "Saddam Must Go: A How-To Guide." Also in 1998, a number of US hawks, including Wolfowitz, Khalilzad, Donald Rumsfeld, and Richard Perle, wrote an open letter to President Clinton urging "a comprehensive political and military strategy for bringing down Saddam and his regime." [20]

Pax Americana

The Bush administration claims to be invading Iraq to secure freedom and democracy. This makes sense if we apply a very special definition of "freedom and democracy." In standard American government rhetoric, expanding freedom and democracy abroad means pursuing America's interests abroad. If actual freedom an democracy happen to ensue, then so be it; at the same time, if it results in greater oppression, that's okay too, as long as American interests are served. In fact, America's current plans only start to make sense if we replace the commonsense definition of "freedom and democracy" with this special definition. I mean to argue that the Bush administration has planned nothing less than global Imperial hegemony. I write this neither rhetorically nor hyperbolically; The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Imperialism as:

the policy, practice, or advocacy of extending the power and dominion of a nation especially by direct territorial acquisitions or by gaining indirect control over the political or economic life of other areas; broadly: the extension or imposition of power, authority, or influence

Many governments, especially in democracies, are composed mainly of lawyers, and it shows. The Bush government is composed mainly of military hawks, oil executives, and industrialists. And it shows.

As the following evidence will demonstrate, global imperialism is exactly what America plans to pursue. I will focus my argument primarily on four sources, all of which are linked to US government officials and planners, and all of which espouse a policy of global reach and influence, preventing, co-opting, or pre-empting actual and potential rivals, and reshaping global politics to serve America's interests. They are:

as well as various reports and papers that document America's efforts in this regard. Because it sets the stage for America's long term strategy, I will address the first of these sources, The Grand Chessboard, in the second part of this newsletter. The other three sources will make up the bulk of material for Newsletter #15, The Game: Players & Strategies.

The Grand Chessboard

To understand what America has planned, we begin with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Scholar, Trustee of the Trilateral Commission, former National Security Advisor to President Carter, former Member of the NSC - Defense Department Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy for President Reagan, former Member of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board for President Reagan, and former Director of the Trilateral Commission. In 1998, he wrote a small but influential book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives, in which he established a framework for continued American global hegemony.

The nice thing about reading The Grand Chessboard is that Brzezinski largely dispenses with the quasi-evangelistic, pro-American rhetoric that characterizes so much writing by Americans about American imperialism. Instead, Brzezinski unapologetically regards America as a global empire, and writes pragmatically about what America can do to maintain and build on its unique historical position. He identifies four of what he calls "decisive domains of global power": military scale and reach, economic output and growth, technological innovation, and cultural appeal. He observes that while other countries may rival America in one of the last three domains (for example, Germany and Japan challenge America's economic supremacy), America has the largest and best-positioned military by a huge margin, and only America can claim primacy in all four domains. (p. 24)

Brzezinski makes the case that for America to maintain its position of world hegemony for as long as possible, it needs to establish clear dominance over the massive Eurasian landmass, which:

is the globe's largest continent and is geopolitically axial. A power that dominates Eurasia would control two of the world's three most advanced and economically productive regions. A mere glance at the map also suggests that control over Eurasia would almost automatically entail Africa's subordination, rendering the Western Hemisphere and Oceania geopolitically peripheral to the world's central continent. About 75 percent of the world's people live in Eurasia, and most of the world's physical wealth is there as well, both in its enterprises and underneath its soil. Eurasia accounts for about 60 percent of world's GNP and about three-fourths of the world's known energy resources. (p. 31)

The Cold War is best understood as a competition between the American empire (which controlled most of the world's seas) and the Soviet empire (which controlled most of the world's land) over which would eventually prevail and gain effective global control. He notes that the effect of nuclear deterrence via mutually assured destruction "made the contest truly unique... The intensity of the conflict was thus simultaneously subjected to extraordinary self-restraint on the part of both rivals." (p. 6) The Cold War ended with the struggle over southern Eurasia, when the Soviet empire invaded Afghanistan, the American empire intervened to support anti-Soviet rebels (i.e. the Mujahideen, about whom I write in Newsletter #8, in order to give the Soviet empire "its Vietnam war" as Brzezinski explained in a 1998 interview), and America engaged in "a large-scale buildup of the US military presence in the Persian Gulf ... on a par with its western and eastern Eurasian security interests." (p. 7)

When the Soviet empire finally collapsed under the weight of its own internal contradictions, authoritarian structure, and diminished capacity for creativity and enterprise, America found itself "simultaneously the first and the only truly global power." (p. 10) Similar to previous empires, "the exercise of American 'imperial' power is derived in large measure from superior organization, from the ability to mobilize vast economic and technological resources promptly for military purposes, from the vague but significant cultural appeal of the American way of life, and from the sheer dynamism and inherent competitiveness of the American social and political elites. Earlier empires, too, partook of these attributes." (p. 10) Specifically, America controls all the world's oceans and seas, and has established military bases all around the periphery of Eurasia in such a way that it can "project its power inland in politically significant ways. Its military legions are firmly perched on the western and eastern extremities of Eurasia, and they also control the Persian Gulf. American vassals and tributaries, some yearning to be embraced by even more formal ties to Washington, dot the entire Eurasian continent." (p. 23)

In order to maintain this position of dominance, America must exercise care and forethought in dealing with potential rivals, particularly Russia and China. He writes that "Lacking the ability to project forces over long distances in order to impose their political will and being technologically more backward than America, (Russia and China) do not have the means to exercise - nor soon attain - sustained political clout worldwide." (p. 24) America must act to make sure this does not change. To execute what Brzezinski calls "the long-term management of America's Eurasian geopolitical interests," (p. 39) America must do two things, worth quoting in full:

In other words, determine what other countries or alliances could possibly usurp America's primacy, and then move pre-emptively to ensure they do not gain enough power to do so. This includes preventing countries from forming strategic alliances that do not serve America's interests, or in Brzezinski's words, "consolidat(ing) and perpetuat(ing) the prevailing geopolitical pluralism on the map of Eurasia." (p. 198) He warns that America must "prevent the emergence of a hostile coalition that could eventually seek to challenge America's primacy, not to mention the remote possibility of any one particular state seeking to do so." (p. 198) Brzezinski summarizes his strategy with shocking bluntness when he writes, "the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together." (p. 40)

One way America acts to co-opt potential alliances and power grabs is to establish and dominate a series of key institutions that it can manipulate to maintain a balance of power among its potential rivals. These institutions and agreements include: an expanded NATO that encompasses the new Eastern European and Balkan countries, ongoing support and protection of Japan in order to maintain its military subjugation, multilateral investment organizations like NAFTA and APEC, strong military presence in the Persian Gulf, and the IMF/World Bank system, which, "in reality ... are heavily American dominated". (p. 27) He notes that, as a practical result of America's centrality in all these world institutions, over a thousand foreign governments and organizations have registered active lobbying groups in America in an attempt to influence American foreign policy. In a rare burst of gushing, he calls this "the highest compliment that the world pays to the centrality of the democratic process" in America (p. 28), but in reality, this merely represents widespread recognition that America truly has the power to shape the fates of other countries.

Of special concern are Russia and China. It will be exceedingly difficult to co-opt even a democratizing Russia, since that country has a "deeply ingrained desire for a special Eurasian role." (p. 51) Russian officials believe - correctly - that America wants to prevent this, by co-opting Russia's former vassals. Brzezinski stresses the importance of recognizing and aiding the independence of the Eastern European and Balkan states in order to prevent their reversion under Russia's imperial umbrella. This is especially true of the Caspian countries, with their potentially massive supplies of oil and natural gas. It is vital to American interests that these countries be "linked to Western markets by pipelines that do not pass through Russian-controlled territory." (p. 47) He singles out Azerbaijan as "the cork in the bottle containing the riches of the Caspian Sea basin and Central Asia," (p. 46)

Similarly, China represents a potentially significant regional power that could block America's Eastern dominance. Brzezinski writes, "The most appealing outcome (of China's emergence as a major power) would be to co-opt a democratizing and free-marketing China into a larger Asian regional framework of cooperation" (p. 54), but he warns that a China that continues to grow in power but refuses to be co-opted "could entail an intensifying conflict." (p. 54) Brzezinski's worst scenario would be what he calls an "antihegemonic coalition" (p. 54) of China, Russia, and Iran, which would be comparable to the Soviet Union in its ability to block America's pursuit of its interests. This must be prevented at all costs.

Brzezinski writes at some length about the peculiar tensions of a global empire with a democratic system of government at home. He notes that, at the ending of the Cold War, "the emergence of the United States as the single global power did not evoke much public gloating but rather elicited an inclination toward a more limited definition of American responsibilities abroad." (p. 25) That is, Americans do not want America to use its power to increase and entrench its global control. Polls consistently show that Americans want America to share power with other countries. As a result, America must exercise its power with more tact and less overt military action than empires in the past. He writes that "America is too democratic at home to be autocratic abroad. This limits the use of America's power, especially its capacity for military intimidation... the pursuit of power is not a goal that commands popular passion, except in conditions of a sudden threat or challenge to the public's sense of domestic well-being (emphasis added)." (pp.35-36)

I'll return to this emphasized point later in more detail, but let me leave it right now with the observation that Brzezinski was Director of the Trilateral Commission, a group that observed in its 1975 Task Force Report "The Crisis of Democracy" that "Some of the problems of governance in the United States today stem from an excess of democracy (emphasis added)." (Michael Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington, Joji Watanuki, The Crisis of Democracy: a Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission, New York University Press, 1975, p. 113) The authors argued that governments need to find ways to scale back the active participation of their citizens so that the decision-making process doesn't get bogged down. "The effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups." (p. 114) This profoundly anti-democratic report claimed that "In many situations the claims of expertise, seniority, experience and special talents may override the claims of democracy as a way of constituting authority." (p. 113) However, the report lamented that all kinds of previously marginalized and apolitical groups in America were insisting on more direct involvement in the formation of policy. Brzezinski returns to this theme later in The Grand Chessboard when he writes that "as America becomes an increasingly multicultural society, it may find it more difficult to fashion a consensus on foreign policy issues, except in the circumstances of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat. Such a consensus generally existed throughout World War II and even during the Cold War (emphasis added)." (p. 211)

Ultimately, Brzezinski's is the most balanced and nuanced of the frameworks for American global hegemony. He advocates continued America geostrategic primacy for the short and medium term, while acknowledging that in the long term, America must build the kind of international structure that will sustain a global peace after America's dominance inevitably wanes. He advocates détente with Iran and China, preferring to co-opt them into the global framework rather than demonizing - and trying to isolate - those significant regional powers. At the same time, he apparently was critical of the Clinton administration's dovish premise that "the threat of war is off the table", claiming that this premise "is likely to be stable only in those parts of the world in which American primacy, guided by a long-term geostrategy, rests on compatible and congenital sociopolitical systems." (p. 56) That is, in parts of the world with incompatible sociopolitical systems, the threat of war must be put back on the table.

Compared to other models to be discussed in this essay, The Grand Chessboard is relatively dovish. Brzezinski argues that "it is unlikely that democratic America will wish to be permanently engaged in the difficult, absorbing, and costly task of managing Eurasia by constant manipulation and maneuver, backed by American military resources, in order to prevent regional domination by any one power." (pp. 198-199) Instead, it makes more sense to cultivate "genuine strategic partnerships" in Eurasia, so that eventually, Eurasia's own powers will act to preserve peace and security in order to protect their own "vital interests." (p. 199) He observes that "(n)uclear weapons have dramatically reduced the utility of war as a tool of policy or even as a threat," (p. 36) and that, therefore, "maneuver, diplomacy, coalition building, co-optation, and the very deliberate deployment of one's political assets have become the key ingredients" of America's ability to maintain it's primacy in Eurasia. Unfortunately, as we will soon see, the current US government has revealed a much greater passion for the utility of war as a means of maintaining and bolstering its primacy.

Brzezinski also recognizes the great value of America's "cultural superiority" and "cultural appeal" as means to influence other countries without great military expenditure. He observes that Germany and Japan "recovered their economic health in the context of almost unbridled admiration for all things American. America was widely perceived as representing the future, as a society worthy of admiration and deserving of emulation." (p. 8) Brzezinski notes that this is a classic feature of successful empires, noting that Rome "exercised its sway largely through superior military organization and cultural appeal (emphasis added)" (p.21 and that the British empire prior to World War I enjoyed "Cultural superiority, successfully asserted and quietly conceded, (which) had the effect of reducing the need to rely on large military forces to maintain the power of the imperial center." (p.21)

Under the Bush administration, America is now losing that "cultural appeal", and its increasingly belligerent power mongering is quickly dampening the "almost unbridled admiration for all things American" that sustained over half a century of hegemony among the western democracies in Western Europe and East Asia. The appeal of American-style liberty and democracy, or its "cultural superiority", are diminished by its rampant anti-liberal and anti-democratic activities on the world stage. America's great strength has been the sheen of freedom and democracy that it has projected onto the world stage. However, the current administration's severe bellicosity is making it impossible to maintain the fiction that America stands for freedom and democracy, either at home or abroad. As faith in the American model is eroded by America's heightened readiness to use force, the "cultural appeal" that has, in the past, had citizens of other countries welcoming and celebrating the arrival of American troops (recall the protesters at Tiannmen Square, who still saw the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of freedom) will also erode the support of America's "vassals". That will, in turn, increase America's reliance on force as a means of maintaining control.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration does not seem to see this as a problem.

In summary, Brzezinski's framework for continued American global primacy is based on the following:

Next Issue:

Probably the single most influential think tank in America today is the conservative Project for a New American Century. PNAC members occupy some of the highest posts in the Bush administration, and their policy recommendations quickly become official government policy. In the next issue, we will look closely at PNAC, its membership and policies, and other activities of PNAC members over the past decade.

Ryan McGreal
March 4, 2003


1. White House Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, Mar. 18 2002 2. "UN Still Discussing Disarmament", CBS News, Mar. 19, 2003 3. "US action to come under fire at UN meet", Sify News, Mar. 19, 2003 4. Peter Slevin, "Legality of War is a Matter of Debate" Washington Post, Mar. 18, 2003 5. "The Bush Administration Corporate Connections", Open Secrets, 6. Terry McAlister, "BP Chief Fears US will carve up Iraqi Oil Riches", The Guardian, Oct. 30, 2002,2763,822230,00.html 7. Paul Krugman, "The Martial Plan", New York Times, Feb. 21, 2003 8. James A. Paul, "Iraq: The Struggle for Oil" Global Policy Forum, August 2002 9. US National Energy Policy, Ch. 8 10. "USCENTCOM", Combatant Commands Informational Series, US Forces Air University 11. Carola Hoyos, "A discrete way of doing business with Iraq", Financial Times, Nov. 3, 2000, reproduced by Truthout 12. Neela Banerjee, "Energy Companies Weigh Their Possible Future in Iraq" The New York Times, Oct. 26, 2002 13. Danny Penman, "US firms set for postwar contracts" The Guardian, Mar. 1, 2003,,12271,911943,00.html 14. Ed Vulliamy et al., "Scramble to carve up Iraqi oil reserves lies behind US diplomacy" The Observer, Oct. 6, 2002,6903,805530,00.html 15. Rupert Cornwell & Ben Russell, "First deals to rebuild Iraq will go only to US firms" The Independent, Mar. 12, 2003 16. Danny Penman, "US firms set for postwar contracts" The Guardian, Mar. 1, 2003,,12271,911943,00.html 17. Jeffrey Bowyer, "Crude Thinking" National Review, Oct. 31, 2002 18. Glenn Kessler, "U.S. Decision On Iraq Has Puzzling Past", The Washington Post, January 12, 2003 19. "Plans for Iraq Attack Began On 9/11", CBS News, Sept. 4, 2002 20. Stephen Solarz et al., "Open Letter to the President, "Feb. 19, 1998

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