HAVE NO RIGHT TO SELF-DEFENSE:
AND SUPER-ROGUE DECIDES WHO IS A ROGUE
By Edward S. Herman
August 15, 2003
The view that U.S. targets have no right to defend themselves from a U.S. threat or actual attack goes back a long way. During the first three decades of the twentieth century, when the United States was regularly intervening in its backyard to discipline the unruly natives, those who objected and fought against the Marines were always designated “bandits,” even when the resistance “was organized, using flags and uniforms” (M. M. Knight, The Americans in Santo Domingo). The Vietnamese, in the 1950s and 1960s, resisting a U.S.-imposed puppet ruler and then a direct U.S. invasion, were always terrorists or aggressors in their own country in the U.S. official (and hence media) view, and as Leslie Gelb explained in defending the classification of Vietnam as an “outlaw,” they “harmed Americans” who had come to subdue them (NYT, April 15, 1993). Gelb, then Foreign Editor of the New York Times (and former State Department and Pentagon official), had internalized the imperial premise of a U.S. right to attack and dominate anywhere and for any reason, and the corollary idea that resistance to such actions is criminal.
One of the grotesqueries in U.S. imperialist history has been the regular U.S. practice of threatening some tiny backyard target, preventing its access to weapons from the United States or U.S. allies, and then pointing to the target’s acquisition of arms from the Soviet bloc as proof of (1) their aggressive intentions and (2) their links to the larger menace of Soviet aggression. This was a notable feature of the U.S. direct and proxy attacks on Guatemala in the early 1950s, Cuba from 1959 onward, and Nicaragua in the 1980s. In the case of Nicaragua, U.S. official claims of Soviet MIG fighters on their way to Nicaragua in November 1984--eventually acknowledged to have been straightforward Reagan administration disinformation--caused panic in the media and among leading Democrats, just as a shipment of small arms from Czechoslovakia to Guatemala had done in 1954. These countries had no right to try to defend themselves against ongoing U.S. efforts to overthrow their governments by violence.
The premise of the right to attack at imperial discretion implies that international law does not apply to the imperial center, but only to others, and of course the United States has taken this for granted for many decades. For the New York Times, “Providence decreed” that we should take over Puerto Rico (1898); for Teddy Roosevelt, U.S. adherence to the Monroe Doctrine “may force the United States, however reluctantly, to the exercise of an international police power” (1904); and for William Howard Taft, the entire hemisphere “will be ours...by virtue of our superiority of race” (1912). Modesty has never been a characteristic of U.S. leaders.
The assumption of a right to use force anywhere and unilaterally was prominent in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but even before the Bush-2 era actions involving Iraq, U.S. officials never allowed international law to interfere with policy. For example, in the Reagan years the International Court finding that the United States had engaged in “unlawful acts” and owed Nicaragua reparations was simply ignored, and the administration vetoed a Security Council resolution calling upon all countries to abide by international law! During Bush-1’s tenure the United States not only vetoed a Security Council condemnation of the U.S. invasion of Panama, it maneuvered the UN into sanctioning a war against Iraq by fending off all negotiating efforts, and conducted that war in violation of numerous international prohibitions (e.g., cluster bombs, fuel air explosives, depleted uranium, burying large numbers of Iraqi soldiers in bulldozed sand, and deliberately destroying Iraq’s water supply facilities).
Clinton carried on this great tradition, in the case of Iraq aggressively implementing the sanctions policy of deliberate deprivation of medicines and means of repairing the water system destroyed in 1991, with enormous civilian casualties, in clear violation of international law as regards the treatment of civilian populations. The “no-fly zones” in Iraq were not authorized by any UN resolution and the destruction and scores of civilian deaths resulting from U.S.-British air attacks on Iraq during the dozen years before the 2003 invasion were therefore criminal acts. As with the Vietnamese daring to shoot at U.S. soldiers invading their country, so Iraqi missiles aimed at U.S. and British aircraft prior to the March 18-19, 2003 invasion represent unjustified “attacks” that “demonstrate Iraq’s contempt for UN resolutions” according to Donald Rumsfeld (BBC, “Iraq intensifies ‘attacks,’ says US,” Sept. 30, 2002). Iraq, like all other U.S. targets, has never had any right of self-defense.
The United States also takes upon itself the right to name rogues, as it has long done terrorist organizations and terror states. Naturally, as super-rogue, it does not name itself, despite its unsurpassed rogue credentials (see Richard DuBoff’s updated listing of 27 recent U.S. rogue acts, which do not even include attacks on other countries, in “Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Biggest Rogue of All,” ZNet Commentary, Aug. 9, 2003; also the longer and more far-reaching accounts in William Blum, Rogue State and Noam Chomsky, Rogue States). It also excludes its allies and clients, just as it denies them terror-state status, no matter how excellent their qualifications. It is easy to see why the super-rogue has decided that it will oppose, possibly by force, any other country developing the capacity to challenge its military hegemony: this permits the super-rogue to behave like a rogue itself while self-righteously naming (and attacking) targets (i.e., alleged “rogues”) of choice.
Super-rogue behavior has been dramatically evident in the Iraq sanctions, invasion and occupation. Super-rogue was able to impose punitive sanctions on Iraq that involved treating 23 million civilians as hostages to the demand for regime change for twelve years, in the process killing over a million of those civilians. This was done with the cooperation of Kofi Annan and the UN, and with no outcry or protest from the “international community,” media or “cruise missile left.” Super-rogue was then able to invade and occupy Iraq in blatant violation of the UN Charter, after having made fools of the inspectors and UN, and he did this without the slightest penalty from the same “international community” that had punished Vietnam severely for invading Cambodia and overthrowing Pol Pot, an invasion that took place only after repeated attacks on Vietnam by Pol Pot’s forces. Iraq of course had not attacked the United States or Britain and had no capability of doing so. In short, UN sanctions have nothing to do with principles; they only follow demands and/or approval of the principal (super-rogue).
It is now generally acknowledged, even by some U.S. officials, that the attack on Iraq was based on serial lies concerning Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the threat that they posed to U.S. and British national security. It is also evident that the U.S. attack on Iraq once again involved the use of anti-civilian weapons (cluster bombs, depleted uranium), deliberate attacks on many sites where civilians were likely to be killed, and over 5,000 civilian deaths. It is also evident that the U.S. government has violated the obligation of an occupying army to provide security and assure basic services to the civilian population of the occupied territory; that it came in prepared only to protect the oil ministry and oil resources; and that it has given highest priority to hunting for Saddam Hussein rather than assuring even minimal services to the victimized population.
But despite the illegality-plus-lie basis of the conquest, and the gross mishandling and illegalities of the occupation, and the obvious intent to rule Iraq directly or via proxies, the international community has not called for punishing the killers of over 5,000 civilians (plus innumerable other crimes) and forcing the aggressors-murderers out. Three thousand dead U.S. citizens on 9/11 was unbearable in the United States and aroused the deepest sympathy and understanding on the part of the “international community,” for whom it justified a vengeance assault on Afghanistan and declaration of a global “war on terror.” But 5,000+ Iraqi civilians killed on the basis of lies is quite bearable, and the New Hitler will not even be deprived of the fruits of his conquest, let alone be subjected to sanctions. He is merely urged to farm out some of the management responsibilities to the UN and to move more rapidly to that democratic state that he belatedly claimed to be his objective in regime change in Iraq. But there are no threats or penalties for misbehavior, which is why super-rogue finds it so satisfying to be super-rogue and promises to use force to assure preservation of his super-rogue status.
And super-rogue can continue to set the agenda on “threats” for the UN and international community. The world’s people may, despite control of the global media by friends of super-rogue, believe that super-rogue himself, with his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, his continuing military buildup and drumbeat of threats to use force unilaterally, his open-ended “war on terror” being carried out in cooperation with junior-partner rogues like Sharon, constitutes far and away the world’s greatest threat to peace, security, and even survival. But super-rogue says that North Korea’s and Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons is a very very serious problem that amounts to “crises,” and news reports tell of well-developed U.S. plans to attack these rogues and put a stop to their nefarious behavior. The Western media and even the liberals swallow this, agreeing that these are crises and major threats, with the debate over whether we can solve this problem by negotiations (the liberals) or must go in and “take out” the threatening weapons and/or regimes.
One pathetic liberal gambit has been to criticize the Bush cabal’s focus on Iraq, which doesn’t have a bomb, while neglecting the fearsome threat that North Korea in the meantime might be acquiring a nuclear weapon. This inflates the threat of North Korea’s possible possession of a nuclear weapon, which it could not use without committing national suicide. It ignores the fact that North Korea and Iran are compelled to seek such weapons because the United States openly threatens to use such weapons against them. It ignores the fact that Israel has been allowed—even helped—to acquire a nuclear weapons arsenal without penalty, and is permitted by super-rogue and the international community to do so, while countries threatened by Israel’s weaponry cannot do the same without constituting a “threat.” It ignores the fact that the super-rogue is the only country that has used nuclear weapons and now threatens their further use even more openly.
In short, the real threats today are not to be found in actions of North Korea or Iran, but rather in the U.S. rejection of the Non-Proliferation Treaty promise to refrain from the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states; its threat to use these and its other weapons in “preemptive” (in reality, preventive) actions against targets of choice; its self-exemption from international law; and its double standard support for Israel’s freedom to acquire nuclear weapons while such efforts by Israel’s opponents are intolerable.
The response of the UN and international community to these real threats has been in the same pattern as their treatment of the U.S. plan to attack Iraq. That is, instead of opposing the U.S. threats and plans of aggression against its targets, the UN and international community accept the U.S. premises that its targets pose the threat. And just as they rushed to accommodate the super-rogue with intensified inspections to deal with that monstrous threat of Iraq’s WMD, they now rush to persuade North Korea and Iran to be reasonable, accept international inspections, and give up any desire they might have to acquire nuclear arms. Once again those threatened by the super-rogue are not granted the right to defend themselves, not only by super-rogue but by the UN and “international community.” But this failure to contest super-rogue’s actions and policies encourages him to continue on his deadly path, and it will hardly deter his prospective victims from seeking to protect themselves.
First published in Z Magazine / Znet
Edward S. Herman is Professor Emeritus at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
Back to Political Articles