Consequences Of Empire
Fifty years of U.S. war and intrigue in the Middle
by Larry Everest
Z magazine, November 2001
Americans are asking, 'Why do they hate us'?" President
Bush stated in his nationally televised call to war. His answer
was that "they hate our freedoms; our freedom of religion,
our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree
with each other. "
I've covered the Middle East for more than 20 years-traveling
to Iran, Palestine, and Iraq to investigate, first-hand, the impact
that U.S. actions have had on the people in the region. I came
away with a totally different understanding than this myth of
" freedoms " told by George Bush.
Most people I met, and this included people from many different
political trends, didn't hate "us"-they made a distinction
between the U. S. government and people living in the U.S. But
they did not view the United States as a place of "freedom."
To them, the United States was an arrogant, cold-blooded, and
hegemonic power-which has wreaked havoc with lives of the people
in this region.
Beneath the earth, the vast oilfields of the Middle East and
the Caspian Sea lie in an area of the planet that stretches from
Algeria and Libya in the West to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the
east, from Kazakhstan and Russia in the north to Saudi Arabia
and Yemen in the south.
Before World War II, Britain and France had divided the region
into " spheres of influence " and ruled them as colonies.
But World War II severely weakened these old school colonialists,
while the U.S. imperialists-who had deliberately maneuvered to
come out on top of rivals and allies alike-emerged from the war
ready to pick up the pieces of empire.
In the mid 1 950s and early 1 960s, U. S. imperial ambitions
confronted a world where struggles for self-determination and
national independence were sweeping the formerly colonized countries
of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. A new rival-the once socialist
Soviet Union-was mounting the stage and also seeking to expand
into the Middle East.
The U.S. government dealt with these challenges ruthlessly:
sometimes intervening directly, sometimes mounting covert operations
to overthrow pro-Soviet or nationalist regimes, often arming and
backing ruthless tyrannies.
One of the most notorious actions by the U.S. government in
the Middle East took place in Iran in 1953, when the CIA organized
the coup that overthrew the Mossadeq government after Mossadeq
nationalized British holdings in the huge oilfields of Iran. With
Mossadeq out of the way, the U.S. put the Shah, Mohammed Reza
Pahlevi, on the throne, and backed his regime as a gendarme in
the region and a military outpost on the Soviet Union's southern
Under the rule of Reza Shah, the U.S. intensified its economic
and political domination in Iran. For 25 years, this Shah ruled
as an absolute monarch, torturing, killing, and imprisoning his
opponents-especially radical and revolutionary-minded students.
Iran was not the only target of U.S. intrigue. In 1949 the
CIA backed a military coup which overthrew the elected government
of Syria. It aided the Egyptian government in hunting down pro-Soviet
Egyptian communists, and in 1963 supplied Iraq's Ba'ath party
(soon to be headed by Saddam Hussein) with names of communists,
who the Iraqi regime then imprisoned or murdered.
lsrael: America's Gendarme
Arming and supporting Israel-today to the tune of $3 billion
a year-was another pillar of U. S. strategy in the region.
Created through violent dispossession of Palestinian people,
the state of Israel was quickly recognized in 1948 by the United
States-which had coldly refused to accept large numbers of Jewish
refugees after World War II.
Today the Israelis are using live ammunition and U.S.-made
attack helicopters against the Palestinian people's second "intifada."
Based on land stolen from the Palestinians, the Israeli state
became the U. S . 's gendarme in the region, ready to strike out
against regimes that stood in the way of U.S. "strategic
Israel's 1967 and 1973 wars not only expanded Israeli territory
but were aimed at weakening surrounding Arab regimes, particularly
Egypt' which was the heart of the Arab world under Nassar. The
U. S. was eager to threaten and bribe Egypt to align with the
U.S.-and not the Soviet Union.
In 1976 and again in 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon-killing
more than 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, seizing southern Lebanon,
and holding it until 2000. In 1983 the U.S., which had invaded
Lebanon in 1958, once again sent troops-supposedly as part of
a multi-national "peace-keeping" operation, but in reality
to protect U.S. interests, including Israel's occupation forces.
U.S. troops were withdrawn after a suicide bomber destroyed a
U.S. Marine barracks.
The Invasion Of Afghanistan
Jimmy Carter had declared Iran "an island of stability"
in a sea of trouble. But in December 1978, more than 10 million
people-a third of the population of Iran-took to the streets of
Iran to demand an end to the rule of the Shah. The conservative
Shi-ite Islamists led by Ayatollah Khomeini got the upper hand.
The Iranian revolution revealed to the world the deep and
broad hatred of the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East. The
1980 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran-held for 444 days by
Islamic students with the support of Iran's Khomeini regime-humiliated
the United States and brought the end of Jimmy Carter's presidential
Then, in 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan-which
the U.S. rulers considered a "buffer state" between
the Soviet Union to the north and the strategically important
states of Iran and Pakistan to the south. The Soviets' immediate
goal was propping up a friendly regime in Kabul, but the invasion
significantly increased Soviet military presence in the region.
For the U.S. ruler, the fertile crescent had become the "crescent
These were severe shocks to U.S. power in the region, and
the U.S. responded by intensifying their rivalry with the Soviet
Union-including by preparing for nuclear world war. This was Ronald
Reagan's "resurgent America."
A key element of maintaining U.S. global power was maintaining
its grip on the Persian Gulf and the world's oil supply-including
keeping other Western imperialist rivals under the U.S. "nuclear
umbrella." In 1979 U.S. President Jimmy Carter designated
the Persian Gulf a vital U.S. interest and declared the U.S. would
go to war to ensure the flow of oil.
At one point, when the U.S. feared a Soviet move into Iran
during the turmoil following the revolution, Carter secretly put
U.S. forces on nuclear alert and warned the Soviets they would
be used if Soviet forces intervened in Iran. Zbigniew Brzezinski,
national security adviser to Carter, called the elevation of the
Persian Gulf to a "vital" U.S. interest a "strategic
revolution in America's global position. " Brzezinski told
the U.S. security council: if we lose the Persian Gulf, we'll
War And Intrigue In The Gulf
The U.S. attempted to deal with the new, more nationalist
and anti-U.S. Islamic regime in Tehran with both carrots and sticks.
It was even revealed that while U.S. personnel were being held
in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, representatives of soon-to-be President
Ronald Reagan were negotiating with the Khomeini regime to delay
the release of the U.S. "hostages" to better Reagan's
chances in the 1980 election.
But the main U.S. gambit was to encourage Iraq to launch its
1980 invasion into southern Iran, which turned into a bloody eight-year
war. Henry Kissinger summed up the cold-blooded attitude: "too
bad they can't both lose." Over 1 million people were killed
in the war, but it served U.S. purposes: it weakened both Iran
and Iraq, and prevented them from causing the U.S. trouble elsewhere,
especially in the nearby Gulf states.
The U.S. opposed UN action against the invasion, removed Iraq
from its list of nations supporting terrorism, allowed U.S. arms
to be transferred to Iraq, provided Iraq with intelligence aid,
economic aid, and political support (the U.S. restored diplomatic
relations in the late 1980s), encouraged its Gulf allies to lend
Iraq over $30 billion for its war effort then, and looked the
other way as Hussein gassed the Kurds at Halabja and other towns.
All the better to weaken Iran's Islamic Republic, as well as draw
Iraq away from the Soviet Union and closer to the U.S.
But for the U.S., Iran remained the bigger "strategic
prize," so privately the Reagan government encouraged Israel
to provide arms to Iran and then in 1985 secretly began shipping
missiles to Iran itself. The missiles were supposedly a trade
for U.S. hostages in Lebanon, but the bigger trade was for increased
U.S. Ieverage in Iran. This secret plot colIapsed when it was
publicly revealed during the "Iran-Contra" scandal of
Covert War In Afghanistan
While the U.S. was trying to bully and intimidate Iran's new
Islamic rulers, in next-door Afghanistan the U.S. was arming and
organizing the Islamic fundamentalists-who had religious ties
to the conservative Sunni Moslems of the Saudi Arabian ruling
class. Within weeks of the Soviet invasion, the U.S. began a program
of covert support to anti-Soviet Islamic Mujahideen fighters.
In 1980, Osama bin Laden arrived in Afghanistan, bringing funds
from the reactionary Saudi Arabian ruling class to the Mujahideen.
Over the next decade, the U. S. provided more than $3 billion
in arms and aid to the Mujahideen-much of it financed through
funding from Saudi Arabia and the rapidly growing heroin trade
on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. By 1987, 65,000 tons of U.S.-made
weapons and ammunition a year were entering the war. Zbigniew
Brzezinski wrote: "We now have the opportunity to give the
Soviet Union its Vietnam."
The U.S.-Soviet rivalry produced a war that would tear Afghanistan
apart. More than one million Afghani people were killed and one-third
of the population fled into refugee camps. Tens of thousands of
Soviet soldiers died in the war. Twenty years later, the fighting
in Afghanistan has still not ended.
The U.S. was lashing out at other states as well. In 1981
and again in 1986, the U.S. held military maneuvers off the coast
of Libya in order to provoke a response from the Qaddafi regime.
In 1981, when a Libyan plane fired a missile at U.S. planes penetrating
Libyan airspace, two Libyan planes were shot down. In 1986, after
a bomb killed two Americans in a Berlin nightclub, the U.S. charged
that Qaddafi was behind it and conducted major air strikes against
Libya, killing dozens of civilians, including Qaddafi's daughter.
In the Persian Gulf, the U.S. stepped up its direct military
presence-organizing a "Rapid Deployment Force," increasing
its naval presence, and pre-positioning equipment and supplies
in the region. In 1987 the U.S. Navy was dispatched to the Persian
Gulf to prevent Iran from cutting off Iraq's oil shipments. During
these patrols, a U.S. ship shot down an Iranian civilian airliner,
killing all 290 passengers.
Today, the U. S. poses as the protector of the Kurdish people
against Sadaam Hussein, but the history of U.S. treatment of the
Kurdish-an oppressed nation of some 25 million living in Iran,
Iraq, Turkey, and Syria-typifies the U. S . government's contempt
From 1973 to 1975, the U.S. supported Kurdish rebels in Iraq
in order to strengthen Iran and weaken the then pro-Soviet Iraqi
regime. But as soon as Iran and Iraq cut a deal, the U. S . withdrew
support, denied the Kurds refuge in Iran, and stood by while the
Iraqi government murdered them. Henry Kissinger, the U.S. National
Security Adviser at the time, explained, "covert action should
not be confused with missionary work."
Iran's Kurdish population rose up with millions of other Iranians
to overthrow the hated Shah in 1979, but when they demanded their
national rights, the U. S. government publicly supported the Khomeini
regime's efforts to crush them and maintain Iranian domination
In 1988, the, Iraqi regime launched mass poison-gas attacks
on Kurds, killing thousands and bulldozing many villages. But
during that time, the U.S. increased their support for the Iraqi
Operation Desert Storm
The carnage and destruction of the Iran-Iraq war paved the
way for the next war in the Persian Gulf-the U. S. -led Operation
Desert Storm-Iraq was severely weakened after the eight-year war,
and the Iraqi government felt its Arab neighbors owed them something-after
all, they'd been fighting to protect Saudi Arabia and Kuwait from
the militant mullahs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who were
posing as the true defenders of Islam against Western influence
and denouncing the pro-U.S. monarchies of the Gulf states. Instead,
Iraq discovered that Kuwait was overproducing its oil quota, undercutting
Iraqi oil revenues, and also slant drilling for oil into Iraqi
territory. After warning the U.S. Ambassador that the situation
was intolerable and that Iraq would take action-and after hearing
from the U.S. Ambassador that this would pose no problem for U.S.
interests-Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.
The U. S . quickly condemned Iraq's invasion, fearing it threatened
loyal clients in the Gulf and used the occasion to send a message
to the planet.
On January 16, 1991, the U.S. Iaunched Operation Desert Storm
against Iraq and its people. For the next 42 days, the military
might of the main imperialist power on the planet, joined by its
allies, was unleashed on a poor Third World country. U.S. and
allied planes pounded Iraq. By the time the war was over, they
had dropped 88,000 tons of bombs. Then on February 22, 1991, the
U.S. Iaunched its 100-hour ground war. Heavily armed U. S. units
drove deep into southern Iraq, leaving a trail of death and destruction
in their wake.
During the war 100,000 to 200,000 Iraqis were killed. Since
1991, another 500,000 to 1,500,000 Iraqis have been killed by
disease and malnutrition caused by U.S. sanctions.
New Rivalries, New Intrigues
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the dawning of a new
millennium has only intensified U.S. designs to dominate the Middle
East and Southwest Asia.
Two factors are key: the ever-growing dependence of the U.S.
and its European and Japanese allies on foreign oil and the fact
that most of the world's oil reserves are in this region.
The National Energy Policy Report estimates that U.S. oil
consumption will rise 32 percent from 19.5 million barrels a day
in 2000 to 25.8 million in 2020, yet domestic production will
remain flat at 9 million barrels a day. This means that imports
will have to rise 61 percent from 10 to 16.5 million barrels a
Where will this oil come from? The San Francisco Chronicle
(9/26/01) reports that, according to the Statistical Review of
World Energy, the Persian Gulf/Caspian Sea region accounts for
more than 65 percent of world oil and natural gas production,
and by 2050 it will account for more than 80 percent. The region's
reserves are estimated to be 800 billion barrels of oil and an
equal amount in natural gas. Meanwhile, energy reserves in the
Americas and Europe are less than 160 billion and will be exhausted
in the next 25 years.
A new element in this equation is the opening up of vast new
oil reserves-estimated at 200 billion barrels of oil and 600 billion
cubic meters of natural gas-in and around the Caspian Sea, bordered
by Iran to the south, Russia to the north and west, and the newly
independent republics of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to the east.
This region used to be part of the Soviet Union, and the Soviet
collapse has spawned new rivalries and intrigues over who will
end up with control of these energy resources.
Some capitalists in the U.S. are maneuvering for a pipeline
from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey. Others dream of a pipeline
from Turkmenistan across Afghanistan into Pakistan in order to
link Central Asia directly to Western corporations and markets.
The U.S. ruling class hoped Afghanistan's Taliban reactionary
government could establish some stability in Afghanistan and allow
these plans to proceed.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, many in the U.S. hoped for
a cut in U.S. military spending and a "peace dividend."
Today the U.S. military budget stands at $343.2 billion a year-23
times as much as the combined spending of the countries the U.S.
calls its "likely adversaries" in the region.
Significant amounts of this spending are for forces aimed
at the Middle East/Southwest Asian region, where the U.S. now
has permanent military bases.
In October 1999, the U.S. Department of Defense shifted command
of U. S. forces in Central Asia from the Pacific Command to the
Central Command. Writing in Foreign Affairs ("The New Geography
of Conflict," May/June 2001), Michael Klare notes, "The
region, which stretches from the Ural Mountains to China's western
border, has now become a major strategic prize, because of the
vast reserves of oil and natural gas thought to lie under and
around the Caspian Sea. Since the Central Command already controls
the U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region, its assumption of
control over Central Asia means that this area will now receive
close attention from the people whose primary task is to protect
the flow of oil to the United States and its allies."
The government and media are billing America's New War as
a conflict against "terrorism." But calculations of
empire are, no doubt, the real agenda. George Bush warned the
U. S . was preparing to "bring our enemies to justice or
bring justice to our enemies." But justice is one thing the
U.S. has never delivered in the Middle East. For the people of
the Middle East, U.S. "justice" has meant shallow graves
and shattered lives. This planet does not need another unjust
Larry Everest is a correspondent for the Revolutionary Worker
newspaper and author of Behind the Poison Cloud: Union Carbide's
11th, 2001 - New York City