"Major Storm Clouds Gathering"
by Immanuel Wallerstein
Commentary No. 180, Mar. 1, 2006 fbc.binghamton.edu

The level of agitation is rising everywhere, and the world-system has never been more anarchic than now. We may be going over the edge.

The bombing of the Askari Mosque in Iraq resulted not only in an immediate and large surge in intra-group violence in Iraq, but has probably derailed the efforts of the U.S. Ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, to bring about Sunni participation in the Iraqi government. This could mean a failure to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority vote to establish the government and therefore new elections, which would be very difficult to arrange in the present climate. At the very same time, the U.S. Army has demoted the single Iraqi unit previously thought capable of military operations without U.S. support to one that still needs U.S. support. The United States is now being openly criticized - indeed attacked - by the principal Shia parties, creating for the first time a pan-Iraqi hostility to U.S. presence and objectives in Iraq. And the British in Basra are now as limited in their ability to control the situation as the Americans in Baghdad.

Everyone, everywhere is discussing the issue of the famous cartoons published by Jyllands-Posten in Denmark. Most of the discussion in the Western world has missed the point. Everyone seems to be debating the issue of freedom of the press versus responsibility of the press. That is an old debate, and frankly rather beside the main issue of the moment. The main issue is why people are so extremely agitated about this issue, not only in the Muslim world but in the Western world. This seems to be more than the usual issue of blasphemy.

It seems to be clear that the Danish publication of the cartoons, and their republication by a number of other Western journals, reflects at the very least exasperation with the Muslim populations in their midst and for many outright racist xenophobia. Fear and anger abound. And there are growing numbers of people in Denmark, but not only in Denmark, who would like somehow to rid their countries of Muslim populations, or at the very least stop the inflow.

And the violent reaction throughout the Muslim world reflects more than the mere issue of a protest against the visual portrayal of Muhammad. The cartoons are rather the excuse for the expression of a degree of anger and fear of Western intrusion into their countries that has overflowed. The attempts of Muslim governments to channel this anger, by themselves leading the attack, has backfired in that the demonstrators have now turned actively against them, as in Pakistan, where President Musharraf's erstwhile Islamist supporters are now calling for his resignation.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government is being assailed in the Western world to a degree not previously known. Suddenly the prison at Guantanamo is a matter of widespread concern, and condemnation. This is coming not merely from the usual left critics of the Bush regime, but from the governments of Great Britain, France, and Germany, from the United Nations, and from human rights groups across the world. They are calling for shutting down the base immediately, and either bringing the inmates to trial or releasing them. Their language is suddenly very strong, not that the Bush regime is ready to concede the case.

The blow-up over the prospect of a Dubai firm owning some of the operations in U.S. ports is in part an internal U.S. electoral game, but in part a matter of irrational hysteria about Arabs owning anything in the United States. Security at the ports is indeed lax, but it is not the companies who own the operations but the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that ensures security, and would continue to do so, however poorly they have been doing it.

What seems the culminating blow to the Bush regime is to have the elder statesman of the U.S. conservative movement, William Buckley, write an article in conservatism's premier review, /National Review/, in which he says: "One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed." He calls for the "acknowledgment of defeat." If one of the leaders of the pro-war camp wants to acknowledge defeat, Bush is indeed in very great trouble. But also, it means that things are falling apart within the United States. In the words of William Butler Yeats, when "things fall apart, the centre cannot hold."

The reaction thus far of the neo-con cabal in the Bush regime, led by Vice-President Cheney, himself in increasing trouble with the U.S. public, has been to plunge ahead as if nothing had happened. They are advocating war on Iran (unlikely they will succeed even in launching it, but nonetheless). And now Cheney wants the U.S., which has accumulated enemy after enemy, to take on Putin and Russia as well. Cheney is the U.S.'s Samson, pulling down the temple. He may only succeed in stimulating a U.S. civil war.

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