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The Function of Rogue States in U.S. Middle East Policy

By Stephen Zunes,
Middle East Policy Council May 1997

Dr. Zunes is an assistant professor in the Department of Politics at the University of San Francisco.


For much of the past 50 years, the perceived threat from the Soviet Union formed the primary rationale for U.S. policy in the Middle East, as it did for U.S. foreign policy in general. With the demise of the Soviet Union, however, the United States has placed concerns over so-called "rogue states," primarily located in the Middle East, at the top of its strategic agenda. Having the Middle East as the centerpiece of such a strategy is based both on the great economic and strategic importance of the region itself as well as on the number of regimes that fit the U.S. definition of such international pariahs. U.S. policy makers are also able to take advantage of a widespread American prejudice that results in gross misperceptions of Islam and the Arab world, often given a degree of credence by some prominent American scholars.

As defined by U.S. national-security managers, rogue states are those which possess substantial military capability, seek the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and violate what are seen as international "norms." According to former National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, 

Our policy must face the reality of recalcitrant and outlaw states that not only choose to remain outside the family [of nations] but also assault its basic values... [and] exhibit a chronic inability to engage constructively with the outside world.

Lake argued further that just as the United States took the lead in "containing" the Soviet Union, so it must now also bear the "special responsibility" to "neutralize" and "contain" these "outlaw states."

The U.S. government currently sees Iraq, Iran and Libya as the primary rogue states in the region. In the eyes of U.S. policy makers, Syria currently remains on the margins for inclusion, and Sudan has recently been added to the list as a secondary actor. It is noteworthy that a number of U.S. allies in the region including Israel, America's chief local partner and the world's largest recipient of U.S. economic and military support would by some accounts also fit into the category of rogues. Yet, as this article will demonstrate, rogue states have a clear function in U.S. foreign policy, independent of any objective criteria.

The well-justified U.S. criticism of repression of individual rights by Syria, Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Libya usually fails to rally public opinion in support of U.S. efforts to isolate these governments, given that such stalwart U.S. allies as Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Turkey have similarly poor human-rights records. Such allies are frequently labeled as "moderate" by U.S. officials and the mainstream media as long as their foreign policies correspond with U.S. policy interests, even if there is nothing particularly moderate about their level of repression. However, public knowledge about the human-rights records of U.S. allies in the Middle East is widespread enough that such a double standard is rather obvious to most Americans. In addition, there is a common prejudice which assumes that human-rights violations are somehow inevitable in Middle Eastern cultures and that there is thus little the United States can do about it. This is a kind of pseudo-cultural sensitivity frequently promoted by defenders of pro-American monarchies, which the public will often carry over to include the more adversarial states as well.

Thus, in order to mobilize public support for confrontational policies towards the so-called rogue states, American officials and their allies in the media must help develop a perceived sense of urgency and a clear case for national-security interests in isolating these regimes. The issues that have been most effective in this regard have been terrorism, the attempted procurement of weapons of mass destruction, and the risk of subversion or conquest of allied nations.


The noted linguist and social critic Noam Chomsky likes to quote the famous story told by St. Augustine regarding a notorious pirate who was placed before the emperor following his capture. When the emperor asked him why he engaged in theft and pillage, the pirate replied that his actions were no different than the crimes committed by the empire; they only went by another name.

The clear analogy, Chomsky observes, is in regard to U.S. policy towards terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere. The double standard at issue is not just a case of using an overly narrow definition, which refers only to the killings of innocent people by individuals or small groups of irregulars while ignoring the usually more widespread killings by sanctioned organs of the state against equally innocent people. It is that even by such a restricted use of the term, the United States ignores its own role in encouraging terrorism, both as a reaction to its foreign policies and even, at times, as a direct tool in the implementation of its policies.

While terrorism by extremist Middle Eastern groups, particularly those supported by governments, is a legitimate concern requiring a vigorous response, the U.S. war against terrorism has become so politicized that it has lost much of its credibility. For example, U.S. officials have repeatedly claimed that Syria's link to terrorist groups is a major obstacle in improving relations. However, the United States admits that it has no proof that directly ties the Syrian government to acts of terrorism since 1986, that Syria has pressed radical Palestinian groups to refrain from terrorism, and that Syria was instrumental in securing the release of American hostages held by Muslim terrorists in Lebanon. Officially, the United States claims that the major factor remaining is that known terrorists are still being granted sanctuary in Syria. That alone is grounds for keeping Syria on its list of terrorist nations, despite the fact that this is a stricter criterion for keeping the country on the State Department's list of state supporters of terrorism than for any other government. Most noteworthy, however, has been the repeated U.S. offer to drop Syria from the list of terrorist states which would offer a variety of benefits, including access to technology if it cooperated more with U.S. strategic and economic interests in the region. In short, the terrorism label remains pinned on Syria only as a wedge through which to apply U.S. diplomatic pressure.

Similarly, the Clinton admin-istration has shown no evidence to suggest an upsurge in Iranian-backed terrorism to justify its increased efforts to isolate Iran. Even governments critical of the Iranian regime have complained that U.S. charges of Iranian complicity in various terrorist acts are often not backed up with evidence. Citing the alleged growing terrorist threat, however, the United States imposed a total trade embargo on Iran in April 1995, even while observers were noting that the Iranians had actually cut back on their export of terrorism. Even the Hizbollah in Lebanon, whose targets in recent years have primarily been not civilians but Israeli troops occupying the southern part of their country, receive significantly less support from Iran than they used to. This is in part because of a more moderate government than was in power during most of the Khomeini years and in part because the Iranian government is experiencing serious domestic problems that have distracted it from its once-grandiose designs of encouraging Islamic revolution beyond its borders. Iran's overseas terrorism like that of Libya has primarily been focused on exiled dissidents, not the United States or Israel. While Iran has certainly trained and funneled arms and financial support to extremist Islamic groups, recent U.S. charges of direct Iranian responsibility for specific terrorist acts against Israel appear to be greatly exaggerated. One of the strongest cases the United States alleges to have regarding Iran's terrorist activities regards two major bombings of Jewish targets in Argentina: the Israeli embassy in 1993 and a Jewish community center in 1994, both resulting in scores of fatalities. Even here, the U.S. case is spotty. As with many such charges, the supposed evidence has not been released. Some argue that the evidence appears to point to extreme right-wing elements of the Argentine military, which has a notorious history of anti-Semitism. There have been a series of arrests in connection with the bombing, particularly among the carapintadas, a particularly seditious sector of the military responsible for as many as four coup attempts between 1987 and 1990. Virtually all of the suspects have since been released for "lack of evidence," fitting a pattern of expeditious vindication of well-connected suspects. In addition, many international observers believe that U.S. ally Saudi Arabia has contributed more funds to extremist groups connected with terrorism than has Iran or any of the other "rogues."

Libya has long been the primary Middle Eastern target of the United States regarding international terrorism, leading to a variety of harsh U.S. responses, including the bombings of two Libyan cities in 1986. More recently, in 1992 and 1993, the United States successfully pushed for a series of U. N. Security Council sanctions against the government of Libya for its failure to extradite two of its citizens to Great Britain or the United States, where they face criminal charges in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland in 1988. The Libyans, noting the absence of extradition treaties with either government and the unlikelihood of a fair trial in these traditionally hostile countries, offered instead to try them in Libya (as required by the 1971 anti-hijacking Montreal Convention), send them to trial in a neutral country, or even have them tried before Scottish judges at the World Court. The United States has refused to even consider such a compromise. Instead, the United States went to the Security Council to push for sanctions, even while the extradition question was under review by the International Court of Justice. This worked well for the United States, since the World Court acknowledged that, while Libya's right to refuse extradition was indeed safeguarded by international law, they would not challenge the already-implemented decision of the Security Council to ban international flights to Libya, cut Libyan diplomatic missions, impose an arms embargo and freeze all funds and financial resources controlled by the Libyan government. What has made the Libyans particularly reluctant to give in to these demands is the realization that the United States would block the lifting of sanctions even if they complied, since the Clinton administration's target is not the indicted men but the regime itself.

What apparently provoked the terrorists who destroyed the airliner was the 1986 U.S. bombing raids. The United States justified the air strikes on the grounds that they would prevent future Libyan- sponsored terrorism, an ironic justification given the subsequent event. In addition, international law does not recognize the legitimacy of the use of force for retaliation, but only for self-defense. As a result, the United States tried to argue that the bombing of these Libyan cities which resulted in over 60 deaths, primarily of civilians was "self-defense against future attack," an unusually creative twist of international law that even the strongest U.S. allies were unable to defend on legal grounds.

What is most striking regarding the Libya situation is not the legal questions regarding extradition or the guilt or innocence of the men accused, but the double standards inherent in the issue itself. In 1976, a Cuban airliner on a regularly scheduled international flight was blown up by a bomb planted by right-wing terrorists, killing all 73 passengers and crew, including the country's Olympic fencing team. Four men were indicted in Venezuela for the crime, all Cuban exiles who had been trained by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and had ongoing associations with CIA covert activities. The mastermind of the bombing, Luis Posada Carriles, had worked for the CIA in the 1960s as a saboteur against a variety of Cuban targets. After his escape from custody in Venezuela, the CIA hired him again to help direct arms shipments for the Nicaraguan Contras from a Salvadoran air base.

Like the Libyans, the United States showed its willingness to keep terrorists on the government payroll. Indeed, Libya's refusal to extradite those charged in the Pan Am bombing bears striking similarity to the ongoing U.S. refusal to extradite John Hull, an American CIA operative, indicted in Costa Rica for the 1984 bombing of a press conference in a Nicaraguan border town which killed five journalists. Costa Rica and Venezuela are longstanding pro- American democracies. They have two of the freest and most credible judicial systems in Latin America. The evidence against these men is public and very damaging; there is little question regarding the validity of their indictments. As a result, many in the international legal community believe that the U.S. government is no less complicit in the harboring of terrorists than is Muamar Qadhafi's regime in Libya.

There was a similar irony in the United States appearing before the International Court of Justice in The Hague arguing against Libya. When the U.N. judicial body ruled in 1986 that the United States had to cease its attacks against Nicaragua and pay compensation for damages, the Reagan administration ignored the near- unanimous verdict. The United States continues to refuse to even recognize the World Court's jurisdiction in the matter.

Indeed, during the 1980s, the Contras armed, trained, and effectively created by the U.S. government were responsible for far more civilian deaths than all terrorist groups supported by Syria, Libya, Sudan, Iraq and Iran combined. Just as Qadhafi referred to those who gunned down passengers in the Rome and Vienna airports in December 1985 as "freedom fighters," so did President Reagan use the same term for the Contras, despite mounting evidence of their widespread attacks against civilians. If Libya's support of Abu Nidal could justify the U.S. bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi, U.S. support of the Contras could have justified the bombing of Washington and Miami.

It is noteworthy that the most serious single bombing attack against a civilian target in the modern Middle East was the March 1985 blast in a suburban Beirut neighborhood which killed 80 people and wounded 200 others. The attack was ordered by CIA director William Casey and approved by President Reagan as part of an unsuccessful effort to assassinate an anti-American Lebanese cleric. The U.S. role in the attack, widely reported throughout the Middle East and elsewhere, has tainted the credibility of the U.S. crusade against Middle East terrorism.

Nuclear Proliferation

A second major area on which U.S. policy makers focus their attention is the alleged attempt of certain Middle Eastern regimes to obtain weapons of mass destruction, primarily nuclear weapons. Of particular concern has been Iraq's effort in this direction, which was used as one of the chief rationales for the U.S.-led Gulf War in 1991 as well as for ongoing sanctions. Even though officials with the U.N. Special Commission assigned to monitor Iraq's nuclear program have expressed confidence that they now have in place sufficient systems for detecting any attempt to break out of the control regime, the United States continues to insist on full sanctions.

Ironically, Iraq's nuclear program was made possible through imports from the West of so-called dual-use technology, capable of producing both nuclear weapons or delivery systems while also having civilian applications. President Bill Clinton's former secretary of defense, William Perry, argued before Congress that it is a "hopeless task" to control such dual-use technology, arguing that "it only interferes with a company's ability to succeed internationally." The Clinton administration’s position, then, is in direct contradiction to that of U.N. inspectors in Iraq who have called for "strict maintenance of export controls by the industrialized nations" to prevent the Iraqi regime from once again developing its nuclear program. Indeed, it appears that the Clinton administration is even more lax than the Bush administration on controlling the exports of nuclear-related technology. It is noteworthy in this regard that the Clinton administration's program in the Defense Department addressing nuclear proliferation issues uses the term "counter-proliferation" rather than "non-proliferation," indicative of the shift in policy towards high-tech military responses to nuclear proliferation after it happens rather than export controls or diplomatic measures to contain it.

The United States has raised concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions as well, as exemplified by the heavy pressure placed on the Russian government over its sale of civilian nuclear technology to Iran in 1995. However, it is highly unlikely that the nuclear reactor built by Moscow, quite legal under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), would help Iran create an atomic bomb, both because of the low-grade nuclear material it would produce and Iran's lack of the necessary infrastructure for weapons production. The foreign diplomatic community in Tehran, as well as the president of the International Atomic Energy Agency, appear to agree that Iran's motivations are entirely peaceful. More significantly, however, Russia is not the first country to transfer nuclear technology to the Iranians. Throughout the 1970s, the United States encouraged American companies to sell nuclear reactors to the Iranian government, then under the dictatorial rule of the shah. His megalomania led many to fear his ambitions to divert the technology for military purposes even more than they do those of the mullahs now in power.

Indeed, the United States has little problem with nuclear-weapons development by its allies in the region, such as Israel. Israel has long stated that it would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East, a disingenuous commitment, since U.S. planes and warships have been bringing nuclear weapons into the region since the 1950s. Israel is generally believed to have become a nuclear power by 1969. Israel's program was privately endorsed by newly elected President Richard Nixon and his chief foreign-policy adviser, Henry Kissinger. They immediately ended the regular U.S. inspections of Israel's Dimona nuclear center. This was of little consequence, however, since the so-called inspections were essentially a charade. (President Lyndon Johnson had demonstrated his lack of concern over the prospect of Israel’s becoming a nuclear power by rejecting calls that one of the early major weapons sales to the Jewish state be conditioned on its signing the NPT.) The Nixon administration went to great lengths to keep nuclear issues out of any talks on the Middle East. Information on Israeli nuclear capabilities was routinely suppressed, and the United States went so far as to supply Israel with krytrons and supercomputers that were bound for the Israeli nuclear program.

Even under the Carter administration, which took the nuclear-proliferation issue somewhat more seriously than other administrations, the issue of Israel's development of nuclear weaponry was not raised publicly. When satellite footage of the aborted nuclear test in South Africa's Kalihari desert gave evidence of the large-scale presence of Israeli personnel at the test site, the Carter adminis-tration kept it quiet, just as they did with the successful test in the Indian Ocean two years later. According to Joseph Nye, deputy under secretary of state, the Carter administration considered the Israeli bomb a low priority.

The Reagan administration made an effort to keep information on Israel's nuclear capability from the State Department or others that might have concerns over nuclear proliferation issues. More recently the Bush administration sold at least 1500 nuclear dual-use items to Israel, according to a report by the General Accounting Office, despite NPT requirements that the United States not help "in any way" another country's nuclear-weapons program. Meanwhile, for many years, Congress has made it clear to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other responsible parties that they did not want to have anything revealed in an open hearing related to Israel's nuclear capability. While most U.S. restrictions against foreign aid to new nuclear states had been written in such a way as to exempt Israel, a public acknowledgement might still have jeopardized U.S. economic and military assistance. Outside of Washington, top Israeli nuclear scientists had open access to American institutions and many top American nuclear scientists had extended visits with their counterparts in Israel, in what has been called "informational promiscuity" in the seepage of nuclear intelligence. In addition, given the enormous costs of any nuclear program of the magnitude of Israel's, it would have been very difficult to develop such a large and advanced arsenal (now estimated at over 200 weapons with sophisticated medium-range missiles) without the tens of billions of dollars of direct and unrestricted American financial support to the Israeli government. In effect, the United States has subsidized nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.

Perhaps the most disturbing development in recent years has been the apparent U.S. belief that it is legitimate for the United States or an ally to maintain its regional nuclear monopoly through force. The Israeli attack on Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981 was made possible only by the U.S. decision to supply Israel with high-resolution photographs of Iraq from the KH-11 satellite, data to which no other nation was allowed access, as well as through U.S.-supplied F-16 fighter planes. Though the United States publicly condemned the bombing, in private "Reagan was delighted...[and] very satisfied." Publicly, the United States suspended the delivery of four additional F-16s but quietly lifted the suspension two months later. Such an attitude was not just that of a conservative Republican administration. In recent years, the House of Representatives in efforts led by liberal Democrats passed a resolution endorsing the Israeli attack and calling for the United States to seek the repeal of U.N. Security Council resolution 487, which condemned it. The irony is that the Osirak reactor was not the focal point of Iraq's nuclear program, and the Israeli attack likely encouraged the Iraqis to undertake greater efforts to evade detection of their primary nuclear-development facilities.

The 1981 air strikes by Israel against the Iraqi nuclear reactor, however, paled in comparison with the much wider bombing attacks against suspected nuclear sites ten years later by the United States, which like the Israeli bombing violated both the spirit and the letter of the NPT. It was the final demonstration of U.S. contempt for law-based approaches to nuclear non-proliferation. It is also a reflection of the unipolarist view which now dominates U.S. foreign policy in the post-Cold-War era, advocating U.S. military action rather than reliance on international organizations, international law or diplomacy. The result of such policies delegitimizes traditional international safeguards against nuclear proliferation in favor of an international anarchy where regional nuclear powers can launch preemptive attacks against potential rivals at will. Subsequent to the attacks against Iraq, both the South Korean and Indian governments have talked openly about taking unilateral actions against North Korea and Pakistan, respectively. Tragically, such lawlessness creates the very kind of insecurity that has motiv-ated countries to develop their nuclear programs in the first place. It will likely set back the cause of nuclear non-proliferation rather than promote it.

Much of U.S. military policy from the 1950s until the collapse of the Soviet Union was based on the concept of nuclear deterrence. This rested on the principle that regardless of the quantity of nuclear weapons and delivery systems the Soviets may have had, all the United States needed was an effective second-strike capability. As a result, the Soviet Union could amass tens of thousands of nuclear warheads and hundreds of bombers, submarines and ICBMs capable of utterly destroying the United States several times over, yet the United States could feel relatively secure knowing it had an effective deterrent force.

Why, then, is the prospect of Iraq or Iran procuring a few small nuclear devices without any long-range delivery systems seen as such a major security risk? The official rationale is that small states with unstable dictatorial leaders are far less predictable than the great powers and would therefore be more likely to actually use their nuclear weapons. Indeed, such rulers are often referred to as "madmen," with the assumption that it is a fundamental fallacy to trust such people with nuclear bombs. (Such a harsh characterization of foreign leaders serves another purpose: by raising questions of the sanity of such leaders, even their occasionally legitimate concerns about the U.S. role in their regions or other perspectives which might challenge U.S. prerogatives can be more easily dismissed.) However, while it is undeniable that Saddam Hussein, Muamar Qadhafi and the Iranian mullahs have engaged in a number of desperate acts far outside the norms of acceptable international behavior, support of terrorism and vitriolic sloganeering is still a big step from taking an action which could lead to the nuclear destruction of their nations. A propensity for provocative behavior need not be indicative of a propensity for suicidal behavior.

There are also certain racist assumptions behind the idea that a Middle Eastern leader is inherently less trustworthy than leaders of already existing nuclear powers, particularly given recent revelations regarding the judgment of such leaders as Mao Zedong, Georges Pompidou, Leonid Brezhnev and Richard Nixon in their final days in office. Furthermore, the dubious safeguards against the possible unauthorized use of battlefield nuclear weapons or submarine-launched nuclear missiles by unstable commanders seem a far more serious problem, not to mention the prospects of nuclear terrorism or other misuse of weapons from the arsenals of current nuclear powers.

The reality appears to be that the primary concern of the United States is not the prospect of horizontal nuclear proliferation per se, but any challenge to its military hegemony in the post-Cold-War world. With American strategic planners moving away from the prospect of a major East-West confrontation to ones involving medium-intensity warfare against Third World regional powers, the desire for a nuclear monopoly by the major powers and certain allies like Israel becomes all the more critical.

Iraq has endorsed calls for nuclear-free zones in the Middle East. Even if such pronouncements proved less than sincere, U.S. support for the concept would provide the international community with the legitimacy it now lacks to help control the threat of nuclear proliferation. However, Washington has rejected such calls, insisting that nuclear weapons in the Middle East should be the exclusive domain of Israel and the United States. This will not encourage non-proliferation, however, but will instead result in a rush by other nations to counter a perceived American-Israeli threat, as witnessed by Iraq's ambitious nuclear program. Such a double standard creates widespread sympathy in the Middle East for demagogues like Saddam Hussein, who argued that he would have abandoned Iraq's nuclear and chemical weapons program had Iraq not been under nuclear threat from the United States and Israel.

Subversion and Conquest

Throughout the Cold War, the United States sought to place the blame for violence and internal unrest in the Middle East and the Third World in general on the Soviet Union rather than on the failures of its own allies to govern fairly. This same pattern is emerging regarding the so-called rogue states in the contemporary Middle East. As with the Soviets and Cubans following their triumphant revolutions, the Iranians did seek to encourage like-minded activists in other countries to follow their lead in overthrowing unpopular pro-Western governments, sometimes providing training and material aid. However, as in the communist revolutions, the immediate post-revolutionary zeal was short-lived as internal problems and outside threats deflected the attention of the leadership. Subsequent aid has amounted to little more than limited logistical assistance to already-established revolutionary movements. However, as during the Cold War, this has not stopped the United States from putting forward an exaggerated view of Iranian subversion.

For example, there is growing unrest in the emirate of Bahrain. This Persian Gulf island has been without democratic representation for more than 20 years, since the monarchy suspended the country's national assembly. Pro-democracy efforts by middle-class elements of the country's disenfranchised Shiite Muslim majority have been brutally suppressed, leading to the rise of more radical and ethnically/religiously based opposition elements. The United States has been strongly supportive of the Khalifi regime, which has granted U.S. forces substantial basing rights. Rather than recognize the failings of the Bahraini government, however, the United States appears to support official claims that the social unrest is caused by agitation from Iran.

More recently, the United States has been raising alarms about direct Iranian military aggression against its neighbors. Among the concerns is the reinforcement of Iranian military positions on disputed strategic islands in the Persian Gulf, which the United States claims raises the prospect of disrupting shipping. However, not only has Iran not threatened sea lanes, nor does it have any reason to provoke such a confrontation over them, these islands were seized by Iran from the United Arab Emirates with apparent U.S. approval back in 1971, when the shah was still in power. An additional irony is that much of Iran's vast arsenal is of U.S. origin, the majority of which was sent in the final decade of the shah's rule, though some arms continued to flow in the 1980s after the Islamic revolution’s broader ambitions were known. More important, due to its financial problems, Iran has been dramatically reducing its military spending, to the point where it now totals less than 1 percent of the U.S. military budget.

The single most outrageous act by the Middle East's so-called rogue states was Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. One of the key concepts of international law in the twentieth century is the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by military force. This was the primary legal basis for the Gulf War, where the United States led a coalition of countries in a U.N.-endorsed assault against Iraq, forcing it to withdraw. Yet Iraq is not the only country in the world in recent years that has invaded and occupied a neighboring country and brutally suppressed its population in violation of international law and specific U.N. resolutions.

In 1975, Morocco invaded Western Sahara like the more recent Gulf crisis, a case of one Arab country invading another. The Moroccans forced most of the population out of the country into exile through the desert, with horrific human consequences. In Southeast Asia that same year, Indonesia invaded the tiny island nation of East Timor. More than one-third of the population, over 200,000 people, perished in the repression that followed.

The United Nations took immediate action in both cases, deploring these invasions and calling for an immediate withdrawal of foreign forces, just as they did in the case of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. However, due to American objections, no sanctions or other decisive actions were taken. According to the autobiography of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and now a Democratic senator from New York, "the Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. The task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success." Since Morocco and Indonesia were major U.S. allies, the United States did not think it appropriate to interfere with their policies.

Similarly, Turkey continues its illegal occupation of the northern third of Cyprus. More than 2,000 civilians were killed in the 1974 invasion; the entire ethnic Greek majority was forcibly expelled; and the island remains divided. In addition, Israel continues its occupation of the Golan Heights and southern Lebanon, as well as parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel and Turkey also remain in violation of a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions. At the time of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, all four of these countries Morocco, Indonesia, Turkey and Israel collectively received billions of dollars annually in unrestricted military and economic aid from the U.S. government to arm and subsidize their occupation forces. These occupying countries have all engaged in population transfers, expelling indigenous inhabitants and colonizing the occupied territories with their own citizens, clear violations of international law made possible in large part by their military, economic and diplomatic support from the United States. Even during Israel's protracted invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the United States repeatedly vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for Israel’s withdrawal and even vetoed resolutions calling for a cease-fire in place to end the fighting, which was resulting in thousands of civilian casualties.

Thus, many observers particularly in the Middle East believe that the zeal with which the United States pursued U.N. action to force an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait was not based on a principled commitment to the authority of the United Nations and the observance of international law, but was a cynical attempt to maintain its access to oil reserves and to crush one of the stronger nationalist Third World regimes that dared challenge U.S. hegemony. The United States was successful in rallying Security Council support of the resolution in part because of the grievous nature of Iraq's aggression. The original U.N. response (UNSC Res. 660), which condemned the invasion and called for the immediate and unconditional with-drawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait, needed no prodding from the United States; the move was spontaneous and had widespread support. Similarly, the imposition of sanctions was not difficult, since unlike cases involving U.S. allies there was no threat of a U.S. veto. However, soon thereafter, when Washington decided that it did not just want an Iraqi withdrawal but Iraq’s humiliation on the battlefield, the United States had to push hard to ensure U.N. cover for its military action.

The United States took a major diplomatic offensive to obtain support of Security Council members for the use of force, to the point of bribery and extortion. In return for not vetoing the resolution authorizing the use of force, the United States agreed to drop trade sanctions against China, reopen high-level diplomatic contacts and approve new loans. In return for the Soviet Union's support, Washington blocked discussion of the repression in the Baltic republics from the ongoing conference in Paris on European security and cooperation. Colombia, Malaysia and Zaire, non-permanent members, were promised increased aid and extensions of loans. When Yemen resisted similar pressure, the United States yanked $70 million in aid. Refusing calls from member states to engage in serious negotiations with the Iraqis and effectively blocking French, Jordanian, Yemeni and Soviet efforts to negotiate a compromise, Washington launched the war soon after the January 15 deadline.

Rather than an act of collective security, Security Council Resolution 678 authorized member states to take whatever means necessary to enforce previous resolutions calling for Iraq's pullout. This was, according to one analyst, the equivalent of a "sheriff deputizing a posse." The U.S.-led coalition went well beyond its mandate, launching the ground war even after Iraq agreed to a withdrawal, occupying the southern fifth of Iraq and destroying much of the country's infra-structure. In addition, the resolution itself was of highly questionable legality, since the U.N. charter obliges member states to seek the peaceful settlement of disputes, which the United States refused to do.

Also of questionable legality was the U.S. insistence after the war that the United Nations require Iraq to abide by conditions that run far beyond what sovereign states have been required to do under U.N. orders, such as allowing for the unrestricted inspection of weapons facilities, the destruction of specific kinds of weaponry, and the protection of regional minorities. Needless to say, the United States has angrily rejected talk in the General Assembly of taking comparable actions regarding America's regional allies such as Israel which has far more advanced weapons technologies than did Iraq -- or Turkey, which also has a notorious human-rights record regarding its Kurdish minority. U.S. concerns over the fate of Iraqi Kurds also contrasts with the support of Guatemala’s military government in the 1980s during its attacks against its Indian populations, which were comparable in their severity to Iraqi attacks against the Kurds. Also controversial has been the American policy of launching periodic military actions against Iraq, including a series of bombing and missile attacks, some of which have resulted in civilian casualties. These actions were punishment for essentially technical violations of post-war U.N. Security Council resolutions, including the highly controversial attacks in September 1996 against Iraq for their interference in an inter-Kurdish dispute within Iraqi territory.

A further point of contention has been that the United States appears to continually change the goals of the sanctions and provides a far broader interpretation than the rest of inter-national community, insisting that Iraq meet requirements that go well beyond those stated in U.N. resolutions. In addition, even if Iraq did indeed violate these resolutions, it is highly debatable whether these remaining transgressions constitute any real breach of the peace as traditionally defined or that they are violations of Iraq's obligations under the U.N. Charter, necessary prerequisites for sanctions. While Iraq's 1990 invasion and occupation of Kuwait certainly does meet such criteria (as did its 1980 invasion of Iran, which like the aforementioned invasions by Indonesia, Israel, Morocco, and Turkey went unpunished), the U.S.-led challenges against Iraq's remaining alleged offenses arguably constitute an intrusion into the domestic affairs of a member state, which the U.N. Charter precludes. Nevertheless, the United States has been reluctant to move forward with significant liberalization of the sanctions regime despite these formidable legal questions or the sanctions' serious humanitarian consequences and dubious political effectiveness.

Implementation of Policy

U.S. policy towards rogue states is based essentially on the following imperatives:

Discount the authoritarianism, poverty and social injustice within allied countries by blaming internal unrest on outside forces.

Insist on the use of military solutions to what are essentially political and economic problems.

Define terrorism as the primary problem rather than the gross injustices that spawn it, and place the blame for terrorism on govern-ments the United States does not like.

Selectively raise the issue of nuclear proliferation as a means of further isolating these rogue states.

Early last year, Congress passed a bill authorizing $18 million for the budget of U.S. intelligence agencies to be spent on covert actions to undermine the government of Iran. Such a policy is not only contrary to international legal conventions, which recognize sovereign rights and principles of non-intervention, but directly counters the Algiers Declaration of 1981, in which the United States unequivocally pledged not to intervene politically or militarily in the internal affairs of Iran. Middle East International cites informed sources in the Iranian foreign-policy establishment as insisting that Iran would otherwise be willing to exercise greater flexibility towards the United States and that they are concerned "that U.S. policy makers are not showing enough versatility to ease the preparatory climate."

The United States has vigorously used its considerable economic clout to isolate rogue states. Given the reluc-tance of many European governments to follow suit, the United States is now applying considerable pressure on its own allies to cut economic ties. When over $4 billion of U.S. trade with Iran was eliminated by President Clinton's embargo in the spring of 1995, other countries simply took over the former U.S. portion of the lucrative market. As a result, in August of 1996, President Clinton signed a law introduced by Senator Alphonse D'Amato (R-NY) that imposed a secondary boycott on foreign countries investing more than $40 million in Iran's oil and natural-gas industry or of those breaking the U.N. embargo against Libya by selling such prohibited items as weapons, aircraft or airplane parts.

The motivation for the D'Amato Act may go beyond simply curbing terrorism to exerting U.S. pressure on weaker countries. The law says that the president can "determine" that a person, company or government is in violation of the act, and the aggrieved party has no recourse to challenge the president's determination in court or anywhere else. With such wide latitude of interpretation, a president can impose punitive measures based more on political considerations than objective criteria. This strengthens the tools by which the United States can force Middle Eastern countries to cooperate with its strategic and economic agenda, including its pro-Israeli interpretations of the Middle East peace process. The bill provides for an array of sanctions, including banning the sale of products of culpable firms in the United States. As with similar extraterritorial efforts regarding Cuba, even America's strongest allies have raised vehement objections to the law. Ironically, this is the same sort of secondary boycott that the United States has vociferously opposed when Middle Eastern states applied them to companies doing business in Israel.

There is nothing wrong with placing an economic embargo against regimes which export terrorism, violate human rights and develop nuclear weapons. However, until the United States is willing to abandon its gross double standards, such efforts, even where justified, will get little international support. Despite the secondary boycott, other countries are likely to pick up lost U.S. business. Thus, it will not be "rogue" regimes that will be hurt by Clinton's moves, it will be American business and American credibility.

Forces Behind the Policy

There are a number of domestic political forces pushing U.S. policy in this direction. One comes from mainstream-to-conservative Zionist groups and their supporters, long a powerful lobbying force in the United States, which have used supposed threats against Israel as the chief rationale for continuing large-scale military and economic aid to the Israeli government. There are several problems in their argument, however.

First of all, Israel is separated from these rogue states by distances ranging from 280 to 800 miles, and the land in between consists of countries that are formally at peace with Israel and openly hostile to these rogues. The Israeli air force is more than capable of protecting Israel's border against any combination of opponents. Surface-to-surface missiles have been cited as a possible threat, yet adequate missile defense systems would cost only a fraction of the more than $4 billion in economic and military aid sent annually to Israel from the United States.

Furthermore, there is a serious question as to whether, despite the frequently bellicose rhetoric directed toward Israel, these countries really have such hostile intentions (assuming they might be able to carry them out). Libya has never directly attacked Israel or joined in a war against it; indeed, for many years Arabs have complained that Qadhafi was dedicated to "fight Israel to the last Palestinian." Saddam Hussein, whose war-making capability was largely destroyed in 1991, will likely not be a threat to anyone besides his own people for a long time to come. Finally, it is highly unlikely that Israel would have armed the Ayatollah's Khomeini's government throughout the 1980s if the Islamic Republic was considered such a threat.

Still, these rogue states are useful pretexts for continuing taxpayer subsidies for the Israeli government and the U.S. military contractors that send the Israelis their wares. With Egypt, Jordan and the PLO formally at peace with Israel, with Syria reducing its military and lacking a great-power sponsor, with Lebanon as weak as ever, and with the Gulf states focused on Iraq and Iran, Israel is in a far stronger military position than ever. Similarly, with the demise of the Soviet Union, Israel is no longer of use as a Cold War asset. As a result, having Israel portrayed as both a potential victim of and bulwark against these rogue states allows for ongoing high levels of U.S. aid, most of which comes back to the United States to the coffers of American military contractors and American banks as interest on military loans.

Another reason for the current U.S. obsession with the rogue states is domestic political considerations. It is a time-honored tradition for political leaders to maintain their popularity at home by manipulating public opinion to believe that there is some kind of external threat from which the public needs protection. Indeed, critics from across the political spectrum cited this as a possible motivation for President Clinton’s ordering of air strikes against Iraq just two months prior to his reelection. As the United States has the most secure borders in the world and no superpower rival, these rogue states are the only international scapegoats available on which a politician can build a reputation for toughness. Unlike U.S. conflicts with Nicaragua or even Vietnam, there is virtually no domestic support for the other side. Peace groups and left-wing movements in the United States are often as critical of the Iranian and Iraqi regimes as is the administration, despite frequently taking issue with specific policies towards these countries. As a result, targeting these governments is never unpopular.

The most important function of rogue states, however, is their role in maintaining public support for high levels of military spending. With the end of the Cold War threatening to result in a dramatic reduction in the Pentagon budget, the Bush administration embarked on a "regional strategy" based on the prospect of periodic clashes with emerging Third World powers. The result was the adoption of a military posture, essentially confirmed by the Clinton administration in its 1993 review, which argued that the United States must maintain enough force to fight two simultaneous major regional wars on the scale of the 1991war against Iraq, in response to surprise attacks from rogue states and with no allied forces to support the American side. To fight such a war, it is argued, requires standing combat personnel totaling 1.4 million and the air, naval and land equipment to support them. While most independent observers see such a scenario as extremely unlikely if not ludicrous, it has been adopted as the basis for maintaining high levels of military spending well into the 1990s.

The scenarios of the Bush and Clinton administrations were developed by Pentagon planners who had a vested interest in maintaining a large military establishment. According to strategic analyst Michael Klare,

To justify this vast expense, the Clinton Administration must be able to demonstrate that the United States is indeed threatened by potent foreign enemies. Hence the periodic alarms in Washington over the military power and aggressive designs of Iraq, Iran, Libya and North Korea. Only when Congress and the American people can be shown an authentic and sufficiently menacing threat on the horizon will they be prepared to subsidize indefinitely a cold-war-level military establishment.

It is to control these rogue states of the Middle East, along with North Korea, that the United States justifies a military budget of more than $260 billion, a figure higher, even adjusted for inflation, than the level of military spending during most of the Cold War, including the final military budgets of such Republican presidents as Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

The strategy of focusing on rogue states may be good for certain political ambitions and may appease powerful economic interests, but it carries serious risks. The most obvious victims are the peoples of the Middle East: U.S.-led confrontations with rogue states have uniformly hurt their civilian populations, already suffering under despotic rule, far more than the targeted regimes. The U.S.-led militarization of the region to counter rogue states severely retards economic development and political liberalization among pro-Western states. This policy also hurts the United States: allied Middle East governments are frequently dismayed by American double standards on such issues as nuclear proliferation and terrorism as well as the use of punitive action against so-called rogue states. In addition, such policies feed popular anti-Americanism in the region. Not only does such a policy drain the U.S. budget and take money from its neediest citizens in order to feed the military establishment, it deflects attention away from more pressing foreign policy concerns: the deterioration of the global environment, the economic disintegration of Mexico, right-wing nationalism in Russia, expanding trade, growing international economic inequality and other issues.

The crimes committed by the rogue states, while frequently exaggerated and not always unique, are still very real. Similarly, double standards are not unusual in the foreign policy of any great power. Yet it is becoming increasingly apparent that the most serious offenses by Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria in the eyes of U.S. policy makers are not in the area of human rights, terrorism, nuclear ambition, subversion or conquest, but in daring to challenge American hegemony in the Middle East. It is these regimes which are preventing the United States from exercising its political dominance over this crucial region. Having these regimes overthrown or under control would give the United States unprecedented leverage in shaping the future direction of the Middle East.

Thus, the final irony: Serving as an impediment to such American ambi-tions gives these regimes a credibility and legitimacy they would not otherwise receive from large numbers of Middle Eastern peoples resentful of foreign domination. The result is to strengthen these regimes’ rule at home and their influence throughout the Middle East and beyond.


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