School of Journalism
University of Texas
Austin, TX 78712
work: (512) 471-1990
fax: (512) 471-7979
copyright Robert Jensen 2004
The Hindu, December 19, 2004.
by Robert Jensen
The United States
has lost the war in Iraq,
and that’s a good thing.
By that I don’t mean that the loss of American and
lives is to be celebrated. The death and destruction are numbingly
the suffering in Iraq
hard for most of us in the United States to
comprehend. The tragedy is
compounded because these deaths haven’t protected Americans or brought
to Iraqis -- they have come in the quest to extend the American empire
so-called “new American century,” as some right-wing ideologues have
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
American empire be defeated and dismantled.
Making that statement in the United States, as I
done over the past year, guarantees that one will be attacked as a
those on the center and the right; in their world, to oppose any U.S.
action is by definition treason because, in their world, the U.S.
always on the side of truth, freedom, justice and democracy. These
condemn me, in the words of one who wrote to berate me, for engaging in
“constant introspection of what
you think are the flaws in America.”
For these people, whatever potential flaws there are in U.S.
politics are so minor as to be meaningless, hence any critical moral
is wasted energy. Better to move forward boldly, they argue, lauding
Bush for exactly that.
But stating that level of intensity of opposition
to the U.S. assault
also opens one up to criticism from many liberals who complain that
remarks are callous; I’ve been scolded for not taking into
feelings of Americans whose friends and loved ones serving in the
at risk in Iraq.
Other liberals have argued that such blunt talk is ill-advised on
grounds; it will alienate the vast majority of Americans who
support the U.S.
military for emotional reasons.
But now is precisely the time to make these kinds
statements. The 2004 elections made it clear just how marginal the
anti-empire/global-justice movement in the United States
is at this moment in
history. There is no hope of success in watering down a message in a
to accommodate the maximal number of people for a short-term campaign;
kind of attempt in the run-up to the U.S.
invasion of Iraq
Although the worldwide turnout for the mass
on Feb. 15, 2003, was inspiring, we shouldn’t delude ourselves about
composition of the crowds in the United States. Many of
anti-war demonstrators were motivated by simple hatred of the Bush
administration; if it had been a Democratic president taking us to war,
folks likely would have stayed home. Another segment of demonstrators
not through the long-term work of organizing and public education, but
of a rejection of the Bush ideologues that was based more in a visceral
than in analysis; without a connection to a movement, they disappeared
public protest once the bombs started falling. In my estimation, at
best only a
third of the people who participated in that mass mobilization had any
meaningful connection to an anti-empire/global-justice movement that
beyond the moment.
So, there is no short-term strategy for victory
any sense if one takes seriously a left, anti-authoritarian political
That doesn’t mean there is no hope for left politics in the United
only that we have to avoid naiveté and wishful thinking: We are
in a period of
movement building -- trying to identify a core group, radicalize and
the analysis, and begin the process of finding ways to speak to a
public that is (1) intensely propagandized through a highly ideological
media to accept hyperpatriotic politics, and at the same time (2)
be politically passive and disengaged from meaningful participation.
of change can’t happen overnight. We are faced with the task of
This isn’t an argument for self-indulgent
or dogmatism; in fact, just the reverse. It’s an argument for carefully
assessing where we are -- both in terms of the state of the power of
worldwide and of domestic U.S.
politics -- and charting a path that can do more than put forward an
for a softer-and-gentler empire, a la John Kerry and the mainstream
That project, we can hope, is dead forever (though many Democrats hold
notion they can ride it back to power).
What is the message that the U.S.
left needs to refine? We have
to find a way to explain to people that the fact the Bush
we are fighting for freedom and democracy (having long ago abandoned
about weapons of mass destruction and terrorist ties) does not make it
must help U.S.
citizens look at the reality, no matter how painful. Iraq
is the place to start to
explain how this contemporary empire works.
The people of Iraq
are no doubt better off without Saddam Hussein’s despised regime, but
not prove our benevolent intentions nor guarantee the United States will work to bring
democracy to Iraq.
Throughout history, our support for democracies has depended on their
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
the Bush administration invaded not to liberate but to extend and
domination. When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says the Iraq
war “has nothing to do with oil -- literally
nothing to do with it,” he is telling a complete lie. But when Bush
says, “We have no territorial ambitions; we don’t seek an empire,” he
telling 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
it’s about control over the flow of oil and oil profits, not ownership.
President Dick Cheney hit on the truth when in 1990 (serving then as
of defense) he told the Senate Armed Services Committee: “Whoever
flow of Persian Gulf oil has a
not only on our economy but also on the other countries of the world as
So, 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 competitors -- Western Europe, Japan
-- which are more dependent on Middle Eastern oil. Hence the
policy of support for reactionary regimes (Saudi
Arabia), dictatorships (Iran under the Shah) and regional
aimed at maintaining control.
administration has invested money and
lives in making Iraq
platform from which the United States
can project power -- from permanent U.S. bases, officials hope.
requires not the liberation of Iraq,
but its subordination. But most Iraqis don’t want to be subordinated,
why the United
in some sense lost the war on the day it invaded; one lesson of
II history is that occupying armies generate resistance that,
prevails over imperial power.
Most Iraqis are glad Hussein is gone, and most
want the United
gone. When we admit defeat and pull out -- not if, but when -- the fate
Iraqis depends in part on whether the United States (1) makes good on
moral obligations to pay reparations, and (2) allows international
to aid in creating a truly sovereign Iraq. We shouldn’t expect
do either without pressure. An anti-empire movement -- the joining of
forces with the movement to reject corporate globalization -- must help
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 world.
So, I talk openly in public about why I’m glad for
the U.S. military
defeat in Iraq,
no joy in my heart. We should all carry a profound sense of sadness at
decisions made by U.S. policymakers -- not just the gang in power today
string of Republican and Democratic administrations -- have left us,
and the world. But that sadness should not keep Americans from pursuing
most courageous act of citizenship in the United States today:
dismantle the American empire.
Here is what U.S.
citizens have to come to terms with if the planet is to survive: The
resources do not belong to the United States. The century
is not America’s.
own neither the world nor time. And if we don’t give up the quest -- if
don’t find our place in the world instead of on top of the world --
little hope for a safe, sane, and sustainable future.
Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin,
founding member of the Nowar Collective, http://www.nowarcollective.com/,
and a member of the board of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center, http://thirdcoastactivist.org/.
He is the author of Citizens
of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (City Lights
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TO ROBERT W. JENSEN'S HOME PAGE