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All They Want is War

All They Want Is War

by AARON MATÉ

However much more time the UN Security Council now extends to inspections in Iraq, the US has already made clear that their findings will be of little relevance. "President George Bush is determined to go to war with Saddam Hussein in the next few weeks, without UN backing if necessary, according to authoritative sources in Washington and London," the Guardian reports on January 24th. The only debate within the Bush administration centers along the much-hyped Rumsfeld-Powell divide, with the former "[wanting] Mr. Bush to set a clear and imminent deadline" while the Secretary of State is "resisting, asking for a little more time for diplomatic coalition-building" before bombing this suffering, miserable country.

Whenever they may be implemented, the Bush administration’s war plans reflect well-established precedents familiar to the people of Iraq and the Middle East: the death and misery of millions of people to ensure Western control over the region’s oil resources. The basic aim helps explain why the US has supported dictatorial regimes throughout the region, Saddam no exception.

Less than a year after Saddam used poison gas to massacre 5000 Iraqi Kurds in March 1988, newly inaugurated president George Bush Sr. called for establishing close ties with the Iraqi dictator, explaining that "normal relations between the United States and Iraq would serve our longer term interests and promote stability in both the Gulf and the Middle East," and encouraging "economic and political incentives for Iraq to moderate its behaviour and to increase our influence."

Bush Sr.’s overtures were by no means novel; six years earlier President Reagan had dispatched special envoy Donald Rumsfeld to Baghdad to visit "with the explicit aim of fostering better relations between the United States and Iraq," as John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen M. Walt of Harvard note in the January 2003 issue of Foreign Policy. Soon after, "Saddam was gassing Kurds and Iranians," all with US cooperation and support, progressing into direct "facilitat[ion] of Iraq’s efforts to develop biological weapons by allowing Baghdad to import disease-producing biological materials such as anthrax, West Nile virus, and botulinal toxin."

The authors, two respected scholars well within the mainstream, invoke this crucial background to illustrate the limited tactical point that Saddam can still be deterred today — as indicated by his selective instances of gassing innocents and attacking neighbours only when he could count on the support of his patron superpower [Kuwait included ­ just before the invasion U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie had told Saddam that "[W]e have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait"], leaving the obvious moral questions aside. Nevertheless, their point is significant: echoing nearly every serious intelligence analysis on record, Saddam "has no more incentive to give al Qaeda nuclear weapons than the United States does-unless, of course, the country makes clear it is trying to overthrow him", an observation that extends to all terrorist acts that Saddam could possibly take. In other words, as the CIA pointed out in an October 7th letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee, "Should Saddam conclude that a U.S.-led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist action."

Perhaps picking up on these disaproving analyses, the Bush administration has once again tried to push the alleged links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. The idea was raised with much fervor in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, with much of the focus centering on allegations of a prior meeting between Iraqi officials and Mohammed Atta in the Czech republic. But the business section of the New York Times reported on October 26, 2001 that "Czech officials said they had been asked by Washington to comb their records to determine whether Mr. Atta met with an Iraqi diplomat or agent here. They said they had told the United States they found no evidence of any such meeting. … Petr Necas, chairman of the parliamentary defense committee, said, ‘I haven’t seen any direct evidence that Mr. Atta met any Iraqi agent’."

Yet addressing the media on Monday, January 28th, "[Press Secretary Ari] Fleisher and {Secretary of State Colin] Powell repeated the president’s long-held beliefs that Iraq has been a refuge for al-Qaida and that Iraqis have trained terrorists in the use of chemical weapons," the Associated Press reports. When pressed for details, Fleisher could offer only the very telling line of "it’s a story that’s unfolding," as it no doubt is in the imaginations of the speechwriters and PR managers that have been attempting to spin it for a long while, in the continued effort to scare the American population into accepting war. (Ron Fournier, "Bush Address Won’t Include New Iraq Data", AP, Monday Jan 27) Of course, even expecting fabricated evidence to justify the attack before it begins might even be asking too much. The day that Hans Blix submitted his progress report to the UN, the Financial Times, citing a "senior western security official", informs us that "strong evidence of Iraq’s success in hiding its WMD programme will also emerge only after foreign troops have occupied the areas in which its alleged chemical and biological weapons programmes have been carried out," ­ entrusting the foreign invading army to provide the evidence after it has taken over the country. It is unclear why the US does not simply to pass on its intelligence of these alleged areas of WMD programmes to the UN inspections regime right now. Perhaps because "US administration officials stress that just because certain sites are not operating does not mean that they will not be used for WMD production in the future," a logic that would thus have us bomb anywhere in the world if it was actually taken seriously. (Mark Hubbard and Charles Clover, "Full evidence on Iraq arms only after war", FT, Jan 27). That no citizenship outside of the United States seems to accept these transparencies are remarkable achievements of domestic US propaganda, as Noam Chomsky has pointed out. But that public opinion polls in the US continue to disagree with the Bush administration’s extreme stance is also a tribute to the growing anti-war sentiment that has been displayed in the country. The widespread public opposition to war is also considerable here in Canada, given how much effort has been made in the mainstream to convince us of the merits of subordination to US power and greed. Globe and Mail Washington Bureau chief John Ibbitson provides an apt example in posing the "basic" dilemma facing Canada, asking the profound question of whether "we stand with the United States when they need us," or do we choose to make our own decisions, "acting with the United States only when we agree with its aims and actions?"

It’s difficult to reconcile, he writes, when we are amongst the select group that embodies the "liberal and democratic traditions [that] are almost exclusively the preserve of what Winston Churchill called ‘the English-speaking peoples’: Great Britain and its major settler colonies," who are "leading the world toward a future of universal democracy, open markets, and collective peace." We thus face a challenge "when the leader of this coalition, the United States, concludes that they, we, and everyone else are in imminent danger from a rogue state and that action must be taken." It’s a challenge that has undoubtedly been faced by any state that has lacked the values of universal democracy and human rights to not to submit itself stronger, imperial powers bent on decimating local populations and taking over their resources.

As always, the business press offers a more honest account of the real questions faced in this war. "Executives of US oil companies are conferring with officials at the White House, the Department of Defense and the State Department to figure out how to best jump-start Iraq’s oil industry following a war," Thaddeus Herrick reports in the Wall Street Journal. "With oil reserves second only to Saudi Arabia’s, Iraq would offer the oil industry enormous opportunity should a war topple Saddam Hussein," an opportunity that will likely go, incidentally, to "oil services firms such as Halliburton Co., where Vice-President Dick Cheney formerly served as Chief Executive for what could be as much as $1.5 billion in contracts." But in case anyone might get the wrong idea, Larry Goldstein, "president of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation in New York", an industry lobby group, dismisses any misconceptions: "If we go to war, it’s not about oil," he explains. "But the day the war ends, it has everything to do with oil." ("U.S. Oil Wants to work in Iraq," WSJ, January 16 2003).

The background illustrates a Western policy guided by narrow self-interest that is easy enough to document and denounce; what is more difficult is to capture in words is just how much suffering it has caused. One does not have to venture into the devastated hospitals and decaying infrastructure of Iraqi society to get an idea ­ it is beyond words to look at pictures of Iraqi babies born with severe deformities due to exposure to depleted uranium from US bombing . Under US/UK-led sanctions and periodic bombings since the Gulf War, 400,000 Iraqi civilians have lost their lives, taking the conservative estimates. A comprehensive August 2002 report by 13 religious and non-governmental associations conducted in partnership with Save the Children (UK) on the humanitarian consequences of the Iraqi sanctions notes that while Saddam’s regime holds considerable responsibility for the suffering in his country, "many" of its problems "can be attributed to the sanctions." The bombings have caused "Electricity shortages, [which] in addition to shutting down water-treatment, seriously disrupt hospital care Sanctions also result in shortages of medical equipment and spare parts, blockages of certain important medicines, shortages of skilled medical staff, and more." The health crisis that Iraqis endure is worsened by "sanctions that deepen that crisis as a cause and also block measures that could mitigate it through public health measures and curative medical procedures."

An attack launched on Iraq would only increase this suffering. "This is going to be a major undertaking for us," the World Food Programme’s Khaled Mansour tells the Associated Press of the likely humanitarian effort required in event of an attack. "This is not going to be a small crisis from the humanitarian perspective. The need will be huge, because the population is already highly vulnerable." (Timothy Appleby, Associated Press/Globe and Mail, Jan. 15).

That there is even a question of whether we are to participate in bringing about this crisis is shameful in itself; a telling indication of the direction that "universal democracy" and "collective peace" have taken under its Western leadership. Whether these values can come to have some remote meaning today certainly begins with the ongoing efforts to oppose the planned attack on Iraq. This opposition is crucial — given our leaders’ overall indifference to whatever real dangers face either us or the intended victims, our public dissent stands as the only real chance to ensure that our destructive polices do not continue on their well-established course.

AARON MATÉ is Vice-President (campaigns) of the Concordia Student Union in Montreal. He can be reached at aaronjmate@yahoo.com