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Why does the Bush administration want to go to war against Iraq? There are at least five reasons that people in the United States, and other countries too, should be debating.
(In addition to these five, three other reasons are worth mentioning whose importance is impossible to measure. The first is the machismo of U.S. leaders when faced with tyrants of little real power–Qaddafi and Castro come to mind as well the Iraqi president–who persist in self-destructively retaliating, as best they can, against U.S. policies they dislike. The second is a desire, in the case of George W. Bush, to get rid of a hateful tinhorn who may have tried to assassinate Bush’s father, and who has successfully beaten the odds by outlasting Bush’s father in office. The third is the distraction that war and the threat of war with Iraq offered from the corporate scandals that might otherwise spread more easily right into the White House. These factors almost certainly contribute some weight to Bush’s and Vice-President Cheney’s desire for war against Iraq, but it is simply not possible for anyone outside the White House to know how much.)
Let’s consider in more detail the five reasons on which speculation might be more productive. The five are:
1. The expressed desire to “disarm” Iraq, specifically to eliminate Iraq’s possible weapons of mass destruction (WMD), as well as any potential for their future production.
2. The expressed desire to “introduce democracy” into Iraq after a U.S.-enforced regime change has taken effect.
3. The desire for greater U.S. control of Iraqi (and thus indirectly other Middle Eastern) oil resources.
4. The desire to extend the U.S. drive for global domination by eliminating the hindrance to this drive that the present government of Iraq constitutes.
5. The desire that a conquest of Iraq become the first phase of a “strategic transformation” of the entire Middle East.
Only the first two above–the disarmament or WMD issue and the administration’s stated desire to introduce democracy into Iraq–are reasons that the administration chooses to advertise loudly and publicly. And these two are probably the least important reasons in the administration’s own view for going to war. The Bush administration in all probability is advertising these two reasons so heavily at least in part to cover up the other three reasons, which it is less willing to talk about.
Specifically on the WMD issue, the U.S. now threatens to launch preemptive wars against nations trying to develop such weapons. This is a policy change of extreme importance. In the 57 years since the age of nuclear weapons began, the U.S. has deliberately decided, time after time, not to launch preemptive wars against nations developing the most important type of WMD, nuclear weapons. We have since the late 1940s rejected preemptive war against the Soviet Union, China, England, France, Israel, India, and Pakistan. If the U.S. is really concerned about the further spread of nuclear weapons, we should understand that other nations–not just Iraq–will over the long run never go along with U.S. desires until the U.S., Israel, and other nuclear powers themselves show a real willingness to negotiate seriously on creating an entire nuclear-weapons-free world. This is precisely what the U.S. should do.
In this connection, the recent actions of North Korea are quite instructive. Caught pretty much red-handed by U.S. intelligence in lying about their nuclear weapons program, the North Koreans brazenly told the U.S. something like this: “Sure, we have a weapons program. You Americans already have thousands of these weapons, so why shouldn’t we have some, too?” It’s not clear yet how this specific case with North Korea will work out, but to repeat: over the long run many other nations will never go along with U.S. desires on nuclear weapons unless the U.S. and other nuclear powers agree to give up their own.
The problem with preemptive war goes even deeper. Wars inevitably kill innocent people, often in large numbers. That’s an obvious clich?, but it is true. Even if Congress gave the CIA and the rest of the U.S. intelligence community unlimited resources and reorganized the complete intelligence apparatus of the country so that it became infinitely more efficient that it’s ever been, one thing is crystal clear: IT IS BEYOND BELIEF THAT THE U.S. WOULD EVER HAVE INTELLIGENCE GOOD ENOUGH TO MAKE LAUNCHING A PREEMPTIVE WAR MORALLY ACCEPTABLE. There is always an element of guesswork with respect to a potential enemy’s intentions, and those intentions can change instantly–and at the last moment.
This question of intentions is vital. It is not enough, despite the Bush administration’s arguments to the contrary, to know that some possible enemy possesses and has the capability to use weapons of mass destruction. You need to know–and know for sure–the intentions of that possible enemy as well. Even if you have a 90 percent degree of confidence in your judgment of what another country, or a sub-national group, truly intends to do, initiating a preemptive war and killing innocent people is still a prohibitively immoral action. You should also understand that even your 90 percent degree of confidence is nothing but a guess. Any way you slice it, you are killing people on the basis of a guess. And to believe that any nation’s intelligence services can ever provide a 100 percent degree of confidence is just one more form of arrogance.
The third, fourth, and fifth reasons listed above–those that the administration does not want to advertise very much–are the ones that will most likely lead the U.S. into a war against Iraq regardless of the degree to which Baghdad cooperates in implementing the new U.N. resolution on disarmament. With respect to the third reason, oil, Iraq has, after Saudi Arabia, the next-largest known oil reserves in the Middle East, and U.S. oil and other corporations that are friends and supporters of Bush and Cheney would be delighted to see a regime change in Iraq that resulted in a government more subservient to the United States. It seems fairly evident that Bush and Cheney would also be delighted to please them.
The fourth reason listed is perhaps even more important than oil. Iraq is almost certainly regarded in the administration as the first of several major hindrances to the U.S. drive for global hegemony and domination. The other two nations in President Bush’s “axis of evil” (and others to be added) will, in good time, presumably also have to be subjugated or otherwise neutralized.
The fifth and last reason why the U.S. government wants to go to war, and one that the Bush administration really doesn’t want to publicize, is the desire on the part of some senior U.S. officials, and no doubt most senior officials in the present government of Israel as well, to completely overturn, by military action if necessary, the status quo that has existed in the Arab nations of the Middle East for the past several decades. In the U.S., these senior officials are led by Vice-President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and the number-two and number-three men in the Defense Department, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith.
On September 22, 2002, the New York Times Magazine carried a detailed study of Wolfowitz. According to this profile, Wolfowitz “has an almost missionary sense of America’s role. In the current case, [the Middle East,] that means a vision of an Iraq not merely purged of cataclysmic weaponry, not merely a threat disarmed, but an Iraq that becomes a democratic cornerstone of an altogether new Middle East. Wolfowitz’s moralistic streak may explain the affinity between the born-again and resolutely unintellectual president and this man he calls ‘Wolfie.’ A senior official who has watched the two men interact says that Wolfowitz and the president have reinforced each other in their faith in ‘a strategic transformation of the whole region.’ ”
This kind of thinking by Wolfowitz and the president is disturbing, to say the least. The concept of encouraging greater democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere should be acceptable only if it is done by peaceful means. Whatever kind and quality of democracy develops in any country should be brought about largely by the people in that country. It is criminal to go around the world introducing by military force, and killing people to do it, something that we in our American wisdom define as “democracy.” Our own version of democracy is quite incomplete and quite imperfect, and we should be humble enough to realize that, and also humble enough to let other people around the world do it their own way. Above all, it should not be necessary that one prerequisite of any other country’s “democracy” be that it remain perpetually subservient to the United States–which would seem to be one aspect of the kind of “democracy” that Wolfowitz and perhaps Rumsfeld and Bush himself would like to see throughout the Arab world.
The precise extent of support in the Israeli government for this concept that regime change in Iraq should be the first stage of a “strategic transformation” of the entire Middle East is unclear. But the evidence strongly suggests there is at least some support. It is clearly not in Sharon’s interest to play an overt and active role in pushing the U.S. in this direction, so there is not a lot of information easily available on this subject. On the other hand, Uri Avnery, a leading Israeli peace activist who opposes the occupation and founded Gush Shalom in the early 1990s, makes a fairly good case that Sharon himself does favor the transformation by force of the Muslim Middle East. Before becoming a peace activist, Avnery wrote two extensive biographical studies of Sharon, with Sharon’s cooperation. Commenting on the various schemes of Wolfowitz and others in Washington, Avnery wrote in early September of 2002:
A grandiose, world-embracing and logical design. What does it remind me of? Indeed the style sounds vaguely familiar. In the early ’80s, I heard about several plans like this from Ariel Sharon (which I published at the time.) His head was full of grand designs for restructuring the Middle East, the overthrow of regimes and installing others in their stead, moving a whole people (the Palestinians) and so forth. I can’t help it, but the winds blowing now in Washington remind me of Sharon. I have absolutely no proof that the Bushies got their ideas from him, even if all of them seem to have been mesmerized by him. But the style is the same.
On the question of urging the U.S. into a war against Iraq, an even more recent article by Avnery says that the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. is pushing the Bush administration to start a war. Also on the question of starting the war, the Christian Science Monitor of August 30, 2002 carried an article under the headline, “Israel Sees Opportunity in Possible U.S. Strike on Iraq.” In this article, the Israeli deputy defense minister stated that, “If the Americans do not do this now [that is, start the war], it will be harder to do it in the future. And as deputy defense minister, I can tell you that the United States will receive any assistance it needs from Israel.”
On October 1, 2002, Akiva Eldar, a leading commentator in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, who opposes the 35-year-old occupation of Palestinian territories, wrote an article detailing the activities in Israel in 1996 of two Americans who now hold very senior positions in the Bush administration, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith. These two “joined a small group of researchers who were asked to help Benjamin Netanyahu in his first steps as prime minister” after his election in 1996. The document they prepared for Netanyahu, according to Eldar, “presents an ambitious plan for a U.S.-Israeli partnership –not one focused narrowly on territorial disputes.” It even included “plans for Israel to help restore the Hashemite throne in Iraq”–that is, to help bring about regime change in Iraq and restore a monarchy there. (That’s a truly superior way to introduce democracy!) The article goes on to show that in September 2002 Perle, one of the American experts and now a key Pentagon adviser, organized a briefing for top U.S. defense leaders on how to transform the Middle East that included a graphic labeling, among other things, Palestine as Israel, Jordan as Palestine, and a new Iraq as “the Hashemite Kingdom.” This may not yet represent official U.S. policy, but it indicates that Perle and, no doubt, his Defense Department colleague Douglas Feith are pressing in Washington for the same thing now that they were urging on Netanyahu six years ago in Israel. If or when a U.S.-Israeli partnership with such goals does become official U.S. policy, it will mean a new era of colonialism for the entire Middle East–a colonialism dominated by the U.S. and Israel.
It is difficult to imagine a better recipe for perpetual war.
Bill Christison joined the CIA in 1950, and served on the analysis side of the Agency for 28 years. From the early 1970s he served as National Intelligence Officer (principal adviser to the Director of Central Intelligence on certain areas) for, at various times, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Africa. Before he retired in 1979 he was Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis, a 250-person unit. His wife Kathy also worked in the CIA, retiring in 1979. Since then she has been mainly preoccupied by the issue of Palestine.