Translated from Gegenstandpunkt: Politische Vierteljahreszeitschrift 2-2004, Gegenstandpunkt Verlag, Munich

International outcry over torture in American military prisons
Morality in Wartime and its Use as a Weapon of Critique

When the German foreign minister regrets the loss of moral leadership on the part of the United States of America, and demands that it be immediately reinstituted; when Italian politicians from the opposition call for a withdrawal of their troops in view of the published cases of abuse; when Polish members of government contemplate the same, and when in the eyes of Bush’s rival for the presidency, the honor of the military is impaired by the wrong leaders, then it is quite obvious that a moral scandal is being turned into a political means. Everywhere in the world, interested parties are seeking to exploit the affair. Yet the attention paid to discovering and revealing the hypocrisies on all sides all too easily fails to take notice of the very matter that is being exploited. The outcry over the scandal which can be triggered off nearly automatically has as its very premise that the torturing of war prisoners is the very fine line at which inhumanity begins.

By letting the accusatory “power of images” speak for themselves, such as that of a naked man on a dog leash or a wired man with a hood over his head standing on a crate as if crucified, or by showing themselves speechless from shock and dismay, the mass media calculatingly appeal to a direct human feeling that does not require any further reasoning. The facts now publicized in and of themselves make the point, simply because they are perceived from the biased point of view of a violation of recognized standards. Sensitive humanists in front of, and behind, TV screens are not bothered by the fact that those are rules and norms of warfare, which were set up to distinguish between the necessary, hence licensed butchering of the enemy’s soldiers, and excesses that no longer are condoned. It requires a fine skill, however, to accept the killing and injuring of people when there is a good reason for it, and to distinguish it from unnecessary and hence intolerable barbarity, a skill that the human feeling is only capable of when it observes guidelines: in doing so, the innate human feeling follows nothing but legal guidelines set by the state — in the case at hand, rights between states. The governments of diverse nations, eventually all nations, which insist on war, have found it expedient to set up quasi-legal rules for the time when sheer force is exercised between their noble communities, rules that distinguish legitimate from illegitimate actions in war. At any rate, the limitations and sanctions provided by the law of war, which is part of international law, don’t arise from a moral feeling but from political calculation. It is the self-limitation ensuing from such calculations to which the sovereign warlords on the killing fields promise to adhere.

Now American soldiers, male and (for the sake of emancipation) female, have breached these rules. Since they are active representatives of the stars and stripes, their great nation is in the dock. From a legal point of view, this is irrelevant for the defendant state. There is no court, and no German foreign minister, that will impose a fine or deliver a prison sentence on the ones “who were responsible.” Nonetheless, there is a lot of hype over the matter; and, the U.S. administration is requested to take measures. Having breached the aforementioned norms, it is now to demonstrate that it stands by them and considers it a duty to keep to them. It is to distance itself from the evildoers by punishing them. And the administration has taken on this request, if only reluctantly. Its response shows that even those who have just breached the law of war show some interest in how it is employed, and in the reputation it enjoys. The response, however, does not contain any information on the nature of the offense committed by the military servicemen. What exactly is it that the authors of this set of rules had in mind when they concurred that even in the midst of an armed encounter, there are things that simply aren’t right?

Morality and calculations I: How to treat the disarmed enemy

Conventions such as the Hague convention on land warfare stipulate that all foreseeable casualties of the well-calculated orgy of violence during a war are fundamentally entitled to a minimum of respect. When large battles and effective carpet bombings have done their work, states explain to the victims that have survived and been rendered defenseless that the entire campaign of destruction was not directed at them, not in their capacity as humans. War is only waged against the enemy nation, and its human stock ‘only’ has to suffer because the people are, willing or not, an instrument of the enemy state’s military force. Ruining the means of life, the health and the lives of so many may be unavoidable but it has to be restricted to what is necessary, i.e., to nothing less than what it takes for a war party to prevail. In all seriousness and with the clearest of consciences, heads of states who make use of the barbarian “extension of politics by other means” agree to a quasi-legal definition of the limitation to all the damages they inflict on the subjects of a foreign state from the very moment they consider the activities of this state as irreconcilable with their own interests.

Warlords impose this limitation on themselves, during and after their destructive work, for good reasons. The effect this limitation actually has “in real life” is very well known by tortured prisoners and those unlucky enough to become “collateral damage.” Its political intention is a calculating recall, a conditional repeal of their subjects-in-arms’ morale which the same warlords have in the first instance boosted before they sent them off with the mission to carry out reckless destruction. When depicting the enemy, neither dictators nor democracies confine themselves to condemning the inimical sovereign alone. They invariably take aim at the pawns in the enemy’s service, for it is them after all who allow the unbearable political leadership’s activities, enable it to act as the enemy, and must therefore be destroyed. The political calculation for the aftermath of a war, however, which brags of its respect for humans, targets the will both of the defeated population and of the captive soldiers who are to be put to a new use in peacetime, for which the war victors have their own ideas. The foreign people who have been subjected to their rule are to learn that obedience to the new rulers can work out for them, and is from now on the only way to get on in life. A further target of the limited distinction made between the hostile state power and the people it has “misused” should not be ignored: it is the re-civilization of the belligerent’s own troops, who were authorized and encouraged to perform duties for the purpose of warfare that are inappropriate for their foreign and domestic peacetime missions. Even they have to learn that the license to kill and to commit bestialities was issued only for a limited time and under certain conditions, and was enforced only in the name of the nation and for its benefit. As everybody knows, this is quite a challenge for the moral standards, as well as for the mind which supports them, of many a soldier both of higher and lower rank.

The American right to war is incompatible with the current convention on war

In the global war that President Bush declared after the attacks of 9/11, the violations of international law — and the breach of conventions that govern the treatment of war prisoners in particular — are not the usual excesses among the ranks pertaining to the acts of violence that they have been ordered to commit; they are policy. The moral justification of this war, this act of self-defense against an unofficial act of war in which peaceful American citizens were insidiously and — in Bush’s eyes — entirely without provocation killed by the thousands, already contained a proclamation: from now on, America has the right to do anything, and there is nothing it has to justify any longer. Its self-defense knows no boundaries, neither territorial nor sovereign: all countries may become war theaters in the hunt for terrorists; all sovereign powers are confronted with the choice of either submitting their capabilities to America’s security needs, or being counted amongst the terrorists. Nor does this proclamation know any moral boundaries: the enemy is not a legitimate power — at least not in principle — that has ‘merely’ transgressed its acknowledged rights. The fighters are not soldiers but criminals who, as private individuals, are representatives of an inimical power: in short, they are terrorists. States like Afghanistan and Iraq, which have been targeted by the United States in the wake of its campaign against terrorism, are simply counted amongst the ranks of the supranational conspiracy of Islamist secret societies. They, too, are not considered as powers that are legitimate in principle, that would be admitted to postwar international diplomacy on conditions dictated by the victor, but are considered as pure EVIL that can essentially only be exterminated. The United States doesn’t recognize these states as enemies that have to give up their opposition to American interests, but confronts them with total nonrecognition: they are not even granted the right to capitulate. These regimes — and with them the type of nation and nationalism they represent — are annihilated, and their organizations, including their civil administration and military forces, are criminalized, disbanded and replaced by a U.S.-bred substitute under American occupancy.

The United States has meanwhile been embroiled in a full-blown partisan war — at a time when it was making plans for reconstructing the country and re-educating the Iraqis in order to turn them into new subjects. Repeated attacks and insurgencies by both old Saddamite nationalists and alternative nationalists supporting a Shiite religious state, or by international jihadists — they all serve to confirm the judgment the conquerors had at the beginning of the war: those are terrorists. People who put up resistance to their well-meant occupation certainly don’t deserve to be treated in accordance with the law of war as mere instruments in the hands of the attacked enemy state. They have set their mind on serving a national cause that no longer — or not yet — exists. In their defiant will, they thus represent an enmity that is altogether incorrigible and must be exterminated. Only a dead partisan is no longer a security risk for the occupying forces. Detaining a prisoner does not yet mean neutralizing him; this is not even the case in “civilized” wars and with normal war prisoners. Detainees are always potential sources of information about the enemy’s location, his strength, his arms and his plans, and are treated accordingly. But the treatment of “terrorists” is devoid of any restraining calculation, such as rehabilitating them as subjects of the new power; moreover their psychological and physical destruction is meant to scare off their sympathizers. By making the objects of the tricky distinction between civilians and — unfairly — nonuniformed combatants liable for this very distinction, the occupying power provides for its own security. Thus, in the course of a single week, 600 residents were killed in Falluja because the occupying forces were not able to gain control over the core of the local resistance group. In cases like these, it is the obligation of the people who are willing to submit to the new rulers to separate themselves from the insurgents and put them in the firing line of the occupation forces; otherwise, the latter won’t be able to distinguish them.

The U.S. leaders in charge don’t keep any of this a secret. From the outset, they have insisted that the American right to self-defense cannot be made contingent on UN votes and international law, or on foolproof evidence of the enemy’s crimes, and that preventive attack on possible terrorists cannot wait until after they have committed some crime. The President had Congress officially authorize him to deal with “unlawful combatants” outside of American military law and the international law of war. He doesn’t concede enemies of this kind the status of prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva Convention. They are used as a source of information in order to crush their organization and to fight against their cause — to achieve this, the United States “takes its kid gloves off.” In this sense, the prison guards were not only incited and unleashed but instructed “to make prisoners’ lives a hell” and to “soften them up.” Guantánamo is a torture camp, and the world ought to know this. The same is true for the military prison camps in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The difficulty of liberating a nation that is fundamentally flawed

Now, Bush, Rumsfeld, and their Condoleezza represent the execution of their explicit or implicit orders as singular, individual misdemeanors, dismiss the publicized atrocities as “un-American,” and have them prosecuted under military law. They have been eager to launch an investigation after “the pictures” could no longer be kept a secret, despite their massive interventions, and thus demonstrate what the difference between democracy and dictatorship is: they offer their apologies to the victims and their people in a perhaps somewhat roundabout way, and they display shame — mainly shame that the honor of their troops, the finest human beings the world has known,[1] has been impaired. All this is not, of course, a case of a guilty conscience. It is rather another product of their political calculation — a product of a failed calculation on the part of American policy in Iraq in the first place.

This is not quite the way the conquerors envisioned the possession of their spoils. They considered themselves liberators of the Iraqi people from an evil dictator. Their interests ought to go hand in hand with the liberated Iraqis’ interest in democracy and capitalism: the United States wants a reliable pro-American bastion in the Middle East, which it intends to rid of its humiliated and hence dangerous nationalism, and which it intends to modernize. It is interested in secure access to the second largest oil reserves in the world, including the ensuing claim on strategic control. The Iraqis on their part were, and still are expected to willingly found a nation under America’s directions, a nation which has no other choice and no other intention than to serve U.S. interests. In contrast to Israel and its asymmetrical war against the rebellious Palestinians, the United States doesn’t want to exterminate, but rather utilize the competing claims to power it set free by removing Saddam, so as to bring the contradictory demands of its global rule to a successful end in Iraq and elsewhere in the world: the United States still wants to see Iraq as a functioning rule which is somehow wanted and supported, i.e., obediently endured, by its population — notwithstanding the fact that there is no uniform and unified people, while the same state is constructed, militarily controlled and placed under allied American control in a such a way that any unruly national interests are definitely ruled out. Instead, the occupying forces are now confronted with insurrections that obstruct any order, and that indicate to the Americans that too many Iraqis do not want the liberty that Bush is bringing them, but have their own national ideas of an Iraq worth living in — which are in no way compatible with those of the United States.

What the occupation forces are doing is to take on the partisan war, raze whole city districts, kill everybody looking suspicious, and intern unreliable inhabitants in vast numbers. The latter undergo the well-known special treatment in military camps, and the whole population, in itself riven by rivalry, gets to learn the lesson that an American won’t give an Arab and his right to his own nation a chance, that Americans only want to oppress the people and steal Iraqi oil. By teaching the defiant that there is no alternative but their subordination under the occupying forces’ regime, the Americans make an enemy of ever greater parts of the population. So, on the one hand, the “liberators” all the more attend to the problems of an occupation force with all the required brutality. They consider a certain racist suppression necessary for that breed of people so unsuitable for freedom, as one thing is certainly out of the question, namely that the U.S. power withdraw from Iraq without results, as if to say: No offense, folks, we just thought it was what you wanted! At the same time, they give the Iraqi people to understand once and for all that this harsh treatment is not meant to last and is not aimed at the Iraqis as Iraqis, but only at their role as rebellious terrorists. No easy task for the Iraqi masses, nor for the agents of the American education program for the people. The pictures from Abu Ghraib reveal to what extent the rebel detainees have been identified as sub-humans. The President’s team now owns up to atrocities, which Rumsfeld and his commanders claim they would never have imagined American soldiers capable of; yet they make their admission just so as to rein in a bit the racist acts of inhumanity that hurt every Muslim and Arab, and to insist on a boundary between the instruments necessary for a painful interrogation of suspected terrorists and unnecessary excesses of violence — even if violence against intractable zealots can in itself never be excessive. The obvious pleasure, however, that the brutalized prison guards derive from tormenting inmates clearly violates human rights, according to the official interpretation submitted after the publication of the 1,800 photos and videos. Torture is OK, but please only under order, without private sadism and without any signs of satisfaction on the tormentors’ side — this is the minimum of self-discipline the United States must invest in humanity, i.e., into its meanwhile rather vague calculation with the Iraqi people, who may at some time be willing to cooperate. In view of the demands made on more effective interrogation methods, the requested boundary line is indeed a very subtle one. This can be seen in the corrected list of “softeners” which are still — or no longer — permitted. “According to information from the AP news agency, the commanding general of the multinational forces in Iraq, General Ricardo Sanchez, will no longer permit sleep deprivation of more than 72 hours, nor forced uncomfortable postures of more than 45 minutes.”[2]

Morality and calculation II: How international diplomacy gets a boost from the torture scandal

1. The United States practices a new law of war, and meets with some approval

Those who make America’s foreign policy approach the world with their admission that things had gone beyond what was necessary, or rather: that they had tolerated excesses by failing to adequately control them. They offer their apologies for the excesses and announce their intention to investigate and punish the offenders, thereby demanding all the world’s recognition of what they call necessary. Such is the respect for international law that they deem appropriate. The United States thinks neither of placing itself outside international law nor having the legality of its international activities denied. The superpower declares the law of war to be necessary merely in order to demand from its partners and rivals that this law be continued and brought into line with America’s imperialist needs and the current balance of power. At the same time, the United States insists on being respected by these nations as a competent custodian and executor of international law.[3]

Taken by themselves, the proclamations by American leaders in this affair are grotesquely presumptuous. They generously admit to the undeniable charges of American torture — “in Saddam’s own torture chambers” — while, in the same breath, they insist on a tremendous difference from the atrocious deeds for which that notorious torturer from Baghdad is personally held responsible: “In a democracy, misdemeanors are brought to light, the system is working” — “Saddam, our prisoner of war, is getting better treatment than he ever granted his prisoners.” Disclosure of American atrocities is countered by President Bush with his abhorrence of the retaliatory decapitation of the American citizen, Nick Berg. No sooner has he voiced his comparison — “The others have also committed crimes” — than he rejects any comparisons and refuses to accept that what had been declared a retaliation was an act of revenge: the murder showed an incomparable degree of bestiality that is characteristic only of Islamist sub-humans. In the midst of the torture scandal, Bush once again denounces Cuba’s violations of the freedom of the press and the code of criminal procedures. Yet his brazen invectives make political sense: this is how the president of a superpower insists that the transgressions on his side are mere individual slip-ups uncovered and eradicated by the system — elsewhere, they are systemic. For the United States, he insists on its role as the true and legitimate supervisor in control of the compliance that other sovereign powers show in respect to international law and human rights. All the more so because his country — as demonstrated — is able to look after its own affairs in such a tremendously self-critical way. And if the master of the White House meets neither with sneering laughter nor outraged rebuffs, this is not because his performance has been so morally convincing. It is rather because the members, big and small, of the family of nations, which he has confronted with a challenge, have taken the caliber of his power into account, a power that — by boasting of its self-purifying powers — is depriving them of any right to criticize.

In essence, the insistence of the United States that international law be continued so that it meets with its imperialist requirements is indeed making progress. Since the Americans have been waging their global war on terrorism and against rogue states, even their peace-loving European partners consider some matters that they previously regarded a breach of international law by arrogant America as a good thing, provided they can count them among their rights, too. So they no longer regard the weapons that sovereign nations possess as the internal affair of these sovereigns. Even in the Europeans’ eyes, massive arsenals in the wrong hands are now worth a preventive war. And as regards the need to torture irregular combatants, the superpower by no means stands as alone as the public stir would have it. In Germany, Professor Wolffsohn of the University of the Federal Armed Forces has dared to frankly declare his approval, and even Interior Minister Otto Schily thinks nothing of threatening those who declare their willingness to die as martyrs with shooting to kill. The feature pages of one big German newspaper (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung [FAZ], May 10, 2004) express the desire for an unemotional discussion weighing the advantages and disadvantages of torture in the fight against novel challenges, and they find the Germans exceptionally qualified in particular for this debate because the Germans were, for the time being, not (yet) engaged in torturing, nor were they faced with the pressure to make decisions and the attendant emotionality, hence qualified for objectivity. This sort of objectivity is progressing, and not only in Germany, from the ban on torture imposed by international law to a debate about the right degree of employing it. And the debate recognizes the expediency of torture as much as it insists that arbitrariness, by all means, must be ruled out.

2. Morality and success the other way round: Washington warns of a “new Vietnam”

The United States politely admits to having violated traditional conventions of war, and it resolutely demands from the rest of the world to accept the new distinction it has made in the concept of a prisoner of war. The scandal, however, is far from being defused in the American capital: the true scandal of the scandal has only just begun. But not really because the atrocities in the prison camps have only recently come to light, but because by now they stand for more than just a disregard of the conventions of war. In fact, Amnesty International, the Red Cross and last but not least the Arabic TV channel Al Jazeera have been presenting relevant documents for nearly a year without meeting until very recently with greater interest from the American media. This has changed since public opinion began to interpret the large-scale mistreatments as evidence of Bush’s miscalculation of conquest and pacification. Notwithstanding their legal assessment, the “evil images” fail to show a glorious U.S. army winning a clean, smooth and brilliant war, but one that is getting more and more embroiled in a dirty little war. They clearly show that the occupying forces don’t have control over the people there, and reveal the winners’ lack of superiority. It is this deficiency that constructive critics are worried about — about torture only insofar as it can be taken as an indication of this deficiency. Bush’s critics blithely confirm the equation of success and morality in wartime. In moral terms, the historically unparalleled nuclear mass devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has not blemished the absolute victor of WW II in any way — neither its worldwide reputation as an exemplarily free and humane nation, nor the reputation of the “troop morale” in a stricter sense, i.e., the belief in the moral merits of its murderous mission. The My Lai massacre in Vietnam, by contrast, considerably harmed America’s moral standing in both respects. When America reordered the world with its superior military force in 1945, it was due to the enforced peace that any crime committed en route was accorded morality. If, however, the torturing and killing of the enemy’s people is tarnished by the senselessness, namely futility, of these acts, they are ultimately unjustifiable in moral terms. What started with moral outrage at dirty practices with Iraqi detainees are in actual fact doubts about whether the President still has a realistic path to success in hand, or at least an honorable ‘exit’ strategy — and whether the battling troops’ faith in the worthiness of their mission, and hence their fighting strength, can be sustained for long.

3. Lessons about morality and success from Europe

As best they can, the dear allies from “Old Europe” are reinforcing the superpower’s self-doubts, of course in a diplomatic, i.e., both moral and hypocritical way. German foreign minister Joschka Fischer — who can’t stand the sight of blood, as everybody knows since the war in Kosovo (in which Germany took an active part) — visits his colleague Powell and tells him that “the German reaction was shock and utter dismay” — without however “allowing himself the slightest touch of malicious glee,” as a major German newspaper notes (FAZ, May 13). It is simply taken for granted that there is a reason to be pleased, so shock and dismay don’t seem to be too deep. In fact, Fischer senses a weakness on the part of the United States in Powell’s admission that the conventions of war were violated, and hence an opportunity for German advances. The superpower admits to a breach of the standards to which it owes respect in the eyes of the world. The very power that has claimed to define, interpret, and globally execute international law all by itself, that didn’t think it needed partners and thought it could ignore their opposition, has morally exposed itself: now it has to justify itself — to us, for a change! Now it is our turn to be the custodians of international law and teach the superpower — of course “without the air of a schoolmaster” (Schily, FAZ, May 11) — what international law requires: “a thorough and impartial investigation of the responsibilities, and punishment of the culprits.” “The United States must do everything to reinstate its global moral leadership, after all that has happened.” (FAZ, May 13) First, Fischer in person denounces America’s right to global moral leadership so that it will appreciate his help in regaining this noble good — from him, and people like him: and this is what America should do by giving conclusive evidence of its subordination to international law. The United States cannot hope for moral leadership, i.e., allegiance of the world of nation-states out of their own accord, unless it gives up leading and commits itself to internationally agreed norms as an equal among equals.

Fischer makes his demands known to his American friends by pledging allegiance to the very nation whose torture practices have hit the headlines. He is concerned about its moral leadership, thus making clear how relative the criticism is that he doesn’t want to spare his big partner. Far is it from him to infer from the torture the kind of order it helps to establish. While the United States is treating its detained enemies just as the most evil dictator would, it is asked by its German partner to bear in mind that the conqueror’s good reputation with the conquered and his credibility might be tarnished. Fischer at any rate won’t be shaken in his faith concerning the moral superiority of the American violator of human rights, although he would consider the material in other cases proof enough to declare a state a rogue state and an outlaw. By expressly endorsing the noble self-image from which the United States deduces its right to invade and convert the world, i.e., the beacon of light it represents in matters of freedom and democracy, he also endorses this wonderful right, but only in order to tell his American friends that they will not only forfeit this right — something they could possibly do without — but, in addition, forfeit their capability to enforce it unless they keep their promise to treat the conquered people in exemplary fashion.

“The reputation of the United States in Iraq and in the Arab world has been further tarnished. The power of the shocking pictures … could inflict more damage to the Iraq project, the planned democratization of a country and a whole region by military means, than could the terror attacks in the past months together with the supply shortages.” (FAZ, May 13)

When a German foreign minister — who is far from wishing the United States to wage more morally impeccable wars of conquest — gives his advice as to how it could maintain or regain its right and its capacity to wage such wars, this, firstly, amounts to nothing but pure hypocrisy. When this expert in matters of international law fully equates morality with success — i.e., torture doesn’t achieve its goal — and commends himself to the conqueror as an efficiency consultant, this is, secondly, a telltale cynicism. And it is, thirdly, absurd and bizarre when this same person interprets the whole continued struggle for power in Iraq as a huge endeavor to convert the Iraqis, and beyond them all Arabs, as a struggle by the superpower to win their hearts and minds — only in order to declare this conversion crusade a failure. But this is how diplomacy goes. The representative of German power, which has been asked to recognize and support the way America is handling things, doesn’t drop a word about America’s real failure to achieve real success but instead talks about its moral failure on the lofty level of the conquest of minds. He elevates everything to the question of whether it is worthy of acknowledgement, does not grant such but stipulates conditions on which such acknowledgement might be granted. By criticizing a moral weakness of the leading nation, he openly or secretly — the other side understands very well — tries to exploit the real weakness it shows in Iraq. His indictment of a moral failure on the part of the United States derives its significance in international diplomacy from the superpower’s real failure, measured by the exacting standards which it has established for itself, and which all other nations have adopted.

The very existence of this failure gives Fischer and his European colleagues diplomatic opportunities to chip away at the absoluteness of the imperialist legal standpoint that America takes for granted. Neither the torture cases, nor their publication, nor any breach of international law, however flagrant, could by themselves tarnish the superpower’s reputation, let alone restrict its freedom of action. Since the run-up to the war, the superpower has demonstrated how it treats international law when restrained by it. The superpower will define it anew if need be, while demanding recognition of this definition from the rest of the world. Opposition is ignored; states that contradict are threatened to be made irrelevant. Less than a year ago, Europe was divided over the question whether they could afford to repudiate America’s effort to elevate its interests to internationally binding law.

Today, things look different. Not because of incidents of inhumane and excessive violence in subjugating the invaded country, but rather because — despite all brutal force — the conquest has not been the success that satisfies the superpower’s demands of itself. The conquest has failed to prove that the United States and its coalition of the willing can set faits accomplis of world politics at their own discretion — facts that would be challenged by nobody and nothing so that other powers have no choice but to accept them as the new legal condition. It has failed to prove that any deviating insistence on the letter of international treaties merely isolates the deviants and reveals their impotence. With large parts of the Iraqi population in hostile opposition to the occupying forces and without any prospect for “law and order” there, let alone the prospect for the political and economic use that the Americans have been envisaging; and with a coalition abandoned by one partner after another, leaving the burden of occupation solely to the United States, President Bush — according to the German calculation — will have to relinquish the low esteem he holds for his old allies. Instead of isolating the powers that are capable of intervention, the United States is about to isolate itself among them. For the planned appointment of an Iraqi government under protection of American weapons, Bush could well need the backing of the Old Europeans in the UN, and, beyond that, practical contributions to stabilize the country. Germany and France take this as an indication of American weakness, and the more of this weakness they think they notice, the higher the price they demand for their possible “cooperation.” From the very beginning, they have refused to provide any practical assistance in the occupation, and they do everything they can to prevent a NATO mandate that would allow other member states to utilize joint military capacities and the approval of the entire West in order to side with the United States. Old Europe demands “genuine and full sovereignty” of the new Iraqi government — which entails the free choice of its foreign partners and sovereignty over the oil licenses — before giving money or training policemen. The “cooperation” that they promise has nothing to do with aid for the establishment of Iraqi sovereignty. The lessons the Americans are being taught in moral matters aim at participation in the higher sense in world politics. What is demanded of the superpower is neither respect for captive Arabs nor for some will of the Iraqi population, but rather respect for the rights of its imperialist rivals.


[1] Rumsfeld before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, May 7, 2004: “I deeply regret the damage that has been done … to the reputation of the honorable men and women of our armed forces who are courageously, skillfully and responsibly defending our freedom across the globe. They are truly wonderful human beings…”

[2], May 15, 2004. By the time the present article went to press the news agencies hadn’t come to a clear conclusion as to what exactly Sanchez’ new decree had negated: did he forbid sleep deprivation, which he had previously approved for more than 72 hours, or only sleep deprivation exceeding 72 hours? Maybe this lack of clarity is already an answer .

[3] Even before the war on Iraq, the Bush administration had tried hard to win Security Council approval for its war in accordance with international law. Such approval would elevate to international law what America undertakes out of its own interest and with its own power. The right of the strongest, blessed by the nations that are affected by its activities, thus becomes the cause of the world community, consequently obligating everybody. Washington didn’t get this blessing. The current state of the former West reveals what it means if this recognition is subject to dispute.

© GegenStandpunkt 2005