By now, we are all familiar with the ever-shifting rationales advanced by the Bush/Cheney junta for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. First it was weapons of mass destruction [itself a fiction, since only nuclear weapons are appropriately labeled thus], then deposing Saddam, then it was bringing democracy to the Middle East, then it was fighting Islamo-fascism, and lately it is that getting out would be a disaster. Each time the factual presuppositions of a rationale are shown to be false, or inoperative, the Administration moves on to the next rationale, with no observable alteration in strategy or behavior.
Now, it is easy, and in a sad way, fun to expose the absurdity of each explanation, and watch the momentary squirming and denial before the next explanation is put forward. But the more interesting question is this: If none of these really is the reason Bush and Cheney invaded Iraq [and I think we can take it as established that none of them is], then just what is the reason?
This question has of course been asked, and the answer almost always given is OIL. As I shall suggest, there is some truth in that answer, but offered by itself, it fundamentally misses the point of what we are doing. Remember, the world oil production is totally fungible -- a barrel of oil pumped out of the ground in Iraq joins the flood of oil in the world market, and is available to us whether we occupy Iraq or not. Indeed, the sanctions imposed at our behest by the United Nations had the effect of reducing Iraq's oil production. Whatever else Saddam might have been likely to threaten, keeping his country's oil off the market was never even the slenderest possibility.
The clue to the correct answer to our question lies in the enormous construction project that we have undertaken during our time in Iraq. I have in mind not the abortive, mismanaged, and as yet almost totally stalled reconstruction of the Iraq economy and infrastructure, but rather the network of huge, self-sufficiant military bases that we are in the process of building at great expense. The vast Embassy in Baghdad is the most visible of these construction projects, but it is in fact the least important. The bases, for those you who have not been paying attention, are designed to be completely autarchic, in the old Greek sense. They have their own power supply, fast food restaurants and recreational facilities, airfields, and perimeter defenses. They are the exact counterparts to the garrisons that the old Roman Empire built in its conquored territories.
Why are we building these bases? To grasp their significance, we must think geo-politically, in the fashion of old-time political scientists like Hans Morgenthau [whom I had the pleasure of knowing, back in '61-'63, at the University of Chicago.]
Looking at the world as a whole [as those who think geo-politically routinely do], we can see that there are a number of spheres or contiguous areas that great powers seek to dominate, either by installing governments, or through a direct military presence. Latin America is one such sphere, over which the United States has successfully asserted hegemony for the past two centuries, now deposing governments, now installing clients, now establishing bases, and always warning away other powers seeking to establish a presence as well. [That was the real reason for the Cuban Missile crisis, and is also the reason why we opposed Castro rather than embracing and controlling him].
The Middle East is one, or more accurately contains two, such spheres. The first is what used to be called the Near East [or the Fertile Crescent], and the second is the Middle East proper, with Iraq lying pretty much at its center. At an earlier time, when England and France were major players in this area, the foci of conern was the Suez Canal in the west, and the high passes linking Afghanistan in the East [pace Kipling's great imperialist novel Kim.] Great powers seek to control these areas in part for economic reasons -- shipping, later oil -- but also for military reasons. The French, British, Germans, and Russians were for several centuries engaged in an endless jockeying for power in the sphere that stretched from Western Europe east through Russia and south to the Near East, the Middle East, and the Indian sub-continent.
With the decline of the imperial power and ambition of the British and French, and the temporary incapacity of the Russians [caused in part by their disastrously unsuccessful effort to control Afghanistan't internal affairs], something of a power vacuum came into being in the Middle East.
The invasion of Iraq was an attempt by the Bush/Cheney regime to seize the opportunity opened up by the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the retreat of the French and British. The Administration seeks to plant itself militarily, firmly and as permanently as possible, right in the heart of the Middle East. America's alliance with Saudi Arabia has proven only partially satisfactory, and rather unstable. But a chain of mega-bases in Iraq, backed up by airfields in Kazakhstan and other parts of the former Soviet Union, will make it possible [or so they believe] to dominate one of the three or four major geo-political spheres of the world. In light of the growing power of the Chinese, who clearly consider East Asia, including Southeast Asia, as their own equivalent to our Western Hemisphere, it is essential to America's dreams of world hegemony to control as many of the major spheres as possible.
Notice that to accomplish this end, it is entirely unnecessary for Iraq to be stable, let alone democratic. Indeed, a stable, democratic Iraq would almost certainly challenge America's maintenance of such a system of bases. An Iraq beaten into submission will do quite nicely.
This, in my opinion, is the real explanation for the invasion of Iraq, and for the desperate desire of Bush, Cheney and others to invade Iran as well. Needless to say, wanting is not the same as having. America pretty clearly does not have a large enough military to achieve these objectives, even with the use of hundreds of thousands of mercenaries, nor is it politically viable for an American administration to reinstate a draft in order to expand its forces.
Furthermore, such evidence as is available to outsiders like myself strongly suggests that a president elected on a Democratic ticket will pursue essentially the same policy as one elected on a Republican ticket. The only candidate in either party who has clearly foresworn the foundational principles on which this hegemonic project rests, so far as I can tell, is Ron Paul, Lord love him.
So if you get a chance to ask a question of an aspirant to the presidency [which can only mean that you live in Iowa], ask him or her this question: if elected President, will you dismantle the megabases now being built in Iraq?