The Bush administration offers two sets of justifications for the war with Iraq. In international and formal circles, where “regime change” is not passe, it is the threat of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and its refusal to comply with the UN resolutions. The non-compliance with the UN resolutions is very absurd. Many countries have ignored such resolutions in numerous occasions and there have been no consequences. It is ironic that the Bush administration officials complain about Iraq’s ignoring the UN. At the same breath they remind the UN and the world that they are going to attack Iraq, with or without UN’s approval!
Iraq’s WMD today are much less than what they were at the time of the first Gulf war. A good portion of them was destroyed in the war and in the following years by the UN inspectors. There is no doubt that these weapons, which were produced with knowledge and tacit approval of the “Western” powers and help from their multinational corporations, should be destroyed. The current process, if not the most effective, is much less costly in human, environmental, and financial terms. The US government would be wiser to concentrate on improving effectiveness of this process if destruction of these weapons were the primary goal. Besides, after invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam’s regime these WMD, assuming they exist, are not going to walk to American forces. They still have to be searched for. Whatever means the US is going to use to find these weapons then could be implemented now. The US would have a better case for use of force if Iraq refuses demand to reinforce the search process.
To Americans, and in less formal settings “regime change” has been suggested as the main reason for the war. Accordingly, the brutal and autocratic regime in Iraq not only is a menace to its neighbors (it has invaded two of them) and region, it has brutally suppressed its own people, killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, used chemical weapons against Iranians and its own civilian Kurdish population,. The list is very long and accurate. No doubt that Saddam’s regime is a menace and the world would be better of without it. How credible is this “defense of human rights” claim? To accept that the Anglo-American war plans are due to their concern for human rights of Saddam’s victims particularly Iraqi people, raises some troubling questions. To begin with, Saddam has been violating these rights for decades. When now secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was proudly shaking Saddam’s hand in Baghdad in 1984 everybody with some knowledge of Iraq knew that Saddam “takes no prisoners” because he kills them all. When then majority leader Senator Dole headed a congressional delegation to Baghdad to give Saddam his “Man of Peace” award in spring of 1990, the latter’s use of chemical weapons against Iranians and Kurds in Halabje was known to the world. At the moment the International Court of Justice in Hague is considering Iran’s demand for retributions from the US. During Iran-Iraq war Kuwait, which was actively supporting Iraq, used its ships and ports to import weapon and other needed materials for Saddam’s war machine. When Iran sank some of these ships, Kuwaitis asked for US help. US attacked Iranian navy and oil exporting facilities, for which Iran is demanding retribution. In this way US actively supported Saddam in his war with Iran, well aware of his records. Secondly, As bad as Iraqi regime’s human right records are, it does not stand alone. Iraq’s two invaded neighbors, Iran and Kuwait are not exactly exemplary democracies either. Nor are Syria and Saudi Arabia, two other neighbors. Indeed one does not need to go far to see more examples of regimes with terrible human rights records: Pakistan, Egypt,. This list too is long! Shouldn’t a genuine concern for human rights extent to Palestinian people in the Occupied Lands? Aren’t there better ways to promote democracy in Iraq and the region? (Although lately talk of replacing Saddam’s regime with a “model’ democracy is downplayed. Instead it is an American military governor that is supposed to run the country for the “near” future.) Wouldn’t promotion of democracy be more effective if the quest for a forceful “regime change” was replaced with one for free elections in, let’s say six months with all kinds of international guarantees for free and fair elections? This demand could be beefed up by setting up an international fund with ten billion dollars (a fraction of cost of removing Saddam) in the region. Only genuinely democratic regimes with acceptable human rights records would be eligible to apply for these grants. A military campaign would have had some legitimacy had the US done this and Iraq, or other governments in the region, had refused the offer.
If neither WMD nor concern for human rights and democracy are the prime motive for this war, then what is? Is it, as some opponents of the war believe, for oil? Although oil plays a role, it is not the reason. The direct financial cost of this war is estimated to be between one to two hundred billion dollars. Its indirect costs are much more. Every dollar increase in price of a barrel of crude oil costs US economy roughly seven billion dollars. The US currency has depreciated ten percent against Euro. This alone means loss of hundreds of billions in dollar denominated wealth. Also stock markets losses, in hundreds of billions, have been attributed to the uncertainty about the war. While many states facing large deficit and are in dire need for aid from the federal government, the war has become a major burden on the federal budget. In short, no oil, for that matter any other economic gains, would justify the financial costs of this war.
Regional geopolitics is another rationale for the war. US’s military presence in Iraq will tip the balance even further in its favor. The extent of the change in political map is not clear. It could range from a minimal removal of Saddam (preferred by Arab allies of the US: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt) to a maximal combining of Iraq and Jordan into one country. If the Bush administration has any plans for the future of Iraq, is not revealing them. Although important, this too, does not explain the push for this unpopular war. The US could have attracted more domestic and global support if it was more forthright about its plans.
We believe this war is about a New World Order (NOW). The old order belonged to the cold war era. This was a bi-polar system. The US needed allies. Imagine the trouble for US if countries like France and Germany would align themselves with the Soviet Union. Western Europeans were treated as partners. They were consulted on major issues and decision making was collective. No more! Unilateralists in Washington argue. There is no reason to continue the old order. Since the collapse of bi-polar system there is one super power and it could do whatever appeases her. The others, mainly European ex-allies, have no choice but to follow. The war with Iraq is a message to them. It is not Iraq, Iran, or North Korea that could mound a serious challenge to this NOW. It is those with actual (France, Russia, China) or potential (Germany Japan) military power that worry Washington’s unilateralist. Iraq was chosen as a test case because of the ease, both militarily and politically, of the operation. It is easy to vilify Saddam further and get a favorable public opinion in the US and most of the world for such a war. Iraqi’s military has been decimated since 1991 and can not do much damage to the occupying forces. As early as 1998 Donald Rumsfeld, a member of think tank “Project for a New American Century” (the name is revealing) was among signatories of a letter to the then president Clinton urging him to attack Iraq. If the Bush administration can get away with minimal human, financial, and political damages, the NOW has taken a giant leap forward.
Opposition of France and Germany, two staunch allies of the US, to the push for the war is not out of their concern for rule of law or plight of Iraqi people. Nor is it for love of Saddam, or commercial benefits (the cost of opposing US is much higher). It is opposition to this NOW that, if implemented, will marginalize them. The large, worldwide demonstrations against the war in Feb. 15th were a clear message that the people are not willing to accept this unilateralist world order that the Bush administration is craving for.
For Iran the consequences of the war with Iraq are enormous. Aside the direct and immediate effects such as flood of refuges and so on, there is this huge change in the political map of the region. Here, however, we confine ourselves to one major aspect: The future of Islamic Republic regime (IRR). Many Iranians opposed to the IRR, particularly those in the US believe that after Saddam and Iraq it is Iran and IRR’s turn. To them a “regime change” is in order. This is a viable possibility, but not the only one. It is also possible that the hard-liners in the IRR get US’s support. It should be reminded that the primary goal of US’s foreign policy is its “national interests,” not promotion of democracy, as its propaganda mouthpieces claim. Democratic regimes can bargain harder because of their reliance on the people. It is more difficult to make a democracy do something unpopular like “follow the leader.” For these reasons the current US administration prefers autocratic regimes. Lacking popular, support they can’t bargain hard. In absence of formal political institutions (a real parliament,.) it is easier to send an emissary to deal with their ‘strongman” behind closed doors. An Iran similar to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan is preferred to one resembling France, Germany or Japan. Out of four alternatives hard-liners and “reformers” in the government; Religious-Nationalist (Melli- Mazhabi), the “loyal opposition; and the secular forces (Various shades of Monarchists, social democrats) the first fit the above description the best. They are already in control of state apparatus, so no costly “regime change” is required. Absence of any popular support for them is glaringly clear. And they are willing to deal behind closed doors, as their almost quarter of century records of such deals indicate. Comments of the Bush administration officials in the past few months about giving up on Khatami and “reformers” could signal a shift. Numerous sources (including Washington Post) have pointed to the recent “secret” negotiations between hard-liners and the Bush administration. This is not to suggest that such an alliance is faitacompli. The outcome of events in Iraq and Iran depends, on one hand, on how costly the venture to Iraq ends up to be. The more resistance to this unilateral war, the better. No war is the best because it means defeat of this unilateralism and increased need for reliable allies; that is genuine democracies. On the other hand, it depends on how smart the above mentioned Iranian factions will play their cards. It is crucial that they put the national interests of Iran above their factional interests and quest for power. Otherwise they all lose.
REZA GHORASHI is professor of political economy at Stockton College. He can be reached at: Ghorashi@stockton.edu