• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal


We are inching along, but not as quickly as we (or you) would like. If you have already donated, thank you so much. If you haven’t had a chance, consider skipping the coffee this week and drop CounterPunch $5 or more. We provide our content for free, but it costs us a lot to do so. Every dollar counts.

Bush at the UN on Iraq

In the age of American empire, this is what diplomacy looks like:

After months of open expressions of contempt for international law and disregard for the opinions of other nations (allies and enemies alike), the U.S. president deigned to appear before the United Nations on September 12. In the hectoring tones of an annoyed parent scolding a fussy child, George Bush explained that he would be happy to go to war with the endorsement of the Security Council but that he does not consider such endorsement necessary. The United Nations can have a role, the president conceded, but if it makes the wrong decision it will be “irrelevant.”

For this cynical maneuver, the emperor was applauded, at home and abroad. For this abandonment of any real commitment to multilateralism, all praised Bush the New Multilateralist.

The implications of this are frightening, long term and short, but at least now it’s all out in the open. The approval of the U.N. Security Council and Congress will be easier to secure after Bush’s pious posturing.

World leaders, apparently desperate to save some scrap of dignity in the face of the president’s condescension, suggested that this blatant rejection of any role for the United Nations beyond the cosmetic was a “positive” step (Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik) that showed how Bush had recognized the “central role” of the United Nations (French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin).

Meanwhile, back in the homeland, politicians rushed to the microphones to pronounce the speech “brilliant” (Sen. Joe Biden, a Democrat) and “a powerful and convincing indictment of Saddam Hussein and the grave threat he poses” (Sen. Joseph Lieberman, another Democrat). The fact that Bush offered no new evidence or arguments in the course of “making his case” seemed to matter little to Lieberman, or anyone else.

Perhaps the most telling moment in the speech came when Bush said he wanted the United Nations to be “effective, and respectful, and successful.” A text posted by the Associated Press almost immediately after Bush delivered the speech (from an advance copy provided by the White House, one assumes) used the word “respected” instead of “respectful.” Did Bush intend to say that he hoped the U.N. would be respected? Or did he want to tell the U.N. that its effectiveness and success depended on being respectful (to Bush and the United States, one assumes)? Was it a Freudian slip, or a conscious choice?

Perhaps it does not matter, for the rest of the speech was unambiguous: The empire has served notice that the world’s governing body can either act in accord with the empire’s wishes, or step back and watch the empire do its work.

The work, of course, is the bloody work of war against Iraq.

In the coming days, U.S. diplomats will hammer out a Security Council resolution that gives Iraq some specified amount of time (probably no more than a few weeks) to open up to unlimited weapons inspection of unprecedented intrusiveness or face military action. If Iraq refuses, the war will come sooner. If it accepts inspections, the war will be later, after the United States finds a new pretext. But Bush — along with Cheney and others in the administration — has made it clear the war will come, inspections or not.

Bush’s case against Saddam Hussein is based on the Iraqi leader’s disregard for U.N. Security Council resolutions calling on Iraq to disarm and respect human rights. It certainly is true that the Iraqi regime has long denied basic political and human rights to its citizens (including when Hussein was a valued U.S. ally in the 1980s). And while there is no clear evidence about the current state of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, it is plausible that Iraq has attempted to reconstitute some of those programs.

Although much of the administration’s rhetoric is overwrought — sometimes bordering on the hysterical in claims that Saddam is on his way to a nuclear strike against the United States — there is no doubt the Iraqi regime is a menace, to its own people today and possibly to the region in the future.

Bush pointed out that Hussein has used chemical weapons in the war against Iran and on Kurdish citizens in Halabja, but failed to point out that at that time he was a U.S. ally; Hussein has been bold enough to use such weapons only when he had the United States to protect him from serious international sanction, as U.S. officials at the time did.

Hussein’s Iraq has refused to fully comply with Security Council resolutions, but it is hardly alone in this. It is not a secret that Israel stands in violation of Security Council resolutions, among them SCR 242 calling for withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. Thirty-five years later, the United States’ response to that violation remains massive economic and military aid that allows Israel to remain defiant.

As a permanent member of the Security Council, the United States has the right to veto resolutions it doesn’t like. Though the United States’ illegal invasion of Panama in 1989 drew condemnations around the world, no Security Council resolution would be passed calling on the United States to withdraw, hence no need for the United States to violate such a resolution.

The question has never been whether Saddam is a nice guy, but rather how to deal with his regime. The U.S. strategy to date — under Bush I, Clinton and Bush II — has been to offer disincentives rather than incentives.

Beginning under the first President Bush and continuing in the Clinton years, U.S. demanded Iraqi compliance with weapons inspections but also said that even if inspections certified that Iraq to be clean of weapons of mass destruction, the economic sanctions might well stay in place “in perpetuity.” In other words, the message to Hussein was: Comply with the rules, but your punishment will never end.

Finally, after manipulating the inspections process to provoke a confrontation by demanding the right to inspect sensitive sites, inspectors were pulled out on U.S. orders — not evicted by Iraq — in December 1998 right before the United States launched cruise missile strikes on Iraq. Not surprisingly, Iraq has not been eager to allow inspectors to return, especially after it was revealed that what Iraq had long contended was true — the United States had used inspectors to spy on the Iraqi regime.

Bush I and Clinton had always talked “regime change,” but after 9/11/01 Bush II upped the ante by stating openly that such change likely would come through a U.S. war. The United States continued to demand inspections while at the same time saying that even a completely clean inspections report would not deter the United States from direct intervention to topple Hussein. In other words: Comply with the rules, but we will bomb you anyway.

Saddam Hussein is a thug, but even a thug can see the obvious. It is clear that Hussein is most concerned with his own survival, and to date the United States has given him every reason to continue on a path of defiance. If you are told the most powerful nation in the world will wage war on you no matter what you do, what incentive is there for anything less than defiance and preparation for war?

At this point, perhaps the only thing that Bush and Hussein have in common — besides a shared contempt for the United Nations — is a desire for war. One can assume Hussein sees no other path open for himself at this point.

The reason that Bush — and with him a certain stratum of elites in the United States — might want war is equally clear: Iraq has the second largest proven oil reserves in the world, just behind Saudi Arabia. After putting up with Hussein for more than a decade after the Gulf War, the time seems ripe to American hawks to go further than mere “containment.” Bringing down Hussein and replacing him with a compliant leader along the lines of Hamid Karzai (the United States’ hand-picked puppet in Afghanistan) will allow indefinite military occupation and further solidify U.S. control well into the future.

Shoehorning such a war on Iraq into the rubric of the “war on terrorism” makes such a war easier to sell to a U.S. public frightened by the reality of terrorism and the rhetoric of the Bush administration. The rest of the world (perhaps with the exception of Tony Blair) is not taken in by such rhetoric, but to the Washington crowd the rest of the world is not of great concern. Old ideas about building coalitions are unattractive when the officials of the empire believe they can go it alone; as Donald Rumsfeld has put it, “The mission must determine the coalition. The coalition must not determine the mission.” Other nations may express concerns, but in the end, force carries the day.

Bush said that the United States “has no quarrel with the Iraqi people, who have suffered for too long.” The problem is that he has no quarrel with them and also no concern for their fate. Assuming that Hussein is not going to simply pack up and leave quietly when U.S. forces arrive, it is sensible to assume there will be a war of some duration and that the U.S. military will use its preferred tactics — high-altitude bombing to “soften up” areas before ground troops go in, which guarantees high levels of civilian casualties; the use of indiscriminate weapons such as cluster bombs; and the deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure such as electrical-power generation and water facilities. Whether the military will discover Iraqi underground bunkers that can only be reached with “bunker buster” tactical nuclear warheads is unknown.

An attack on Iraq will have nothing to do with stopping terrorism. It will have nothing to do with the liberation of the Iraqi people. And it will be only marginally concerned with weapons of mass destruction.

Instead, this will be a war to extend and deepen U.S. control over the energy-rich Middle East, the single most important source of strategic power in an industrial world that runs on oil.

Bush and others in his administration have made it clear for some time that they desperately want this war. Many in the antiwar movement have felt desperately alone in the quest to stop the war.

After Bush’s U.N. appearance, it is clear that, in some sense, we are alone. Other nations have signaled they will not take risks to derail the empire. U.S. politicians have shown they will not take the lead to challenge an imperial president.

The burden of stopping this war of empire rests where it always has, on the shoulders of the citizens of the empire who are willing to organize against it.

Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas and author of “Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream.” He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.

Rahul Mahajan is the author of “The New Crusade: America’s War on Terrorism.” He can be reached at rahul@tao.ca.

October 21, 2019
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Wolf at the Door: Adventures in Fundraising With Cockburn
Rev. William Alberts
Myopic Morality: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Sheldon Richman
Let’s Make Sure the Nazis Killed in Vain
Horace G. Campbell
Chinese Revolution at 70: Twists and Turns, to What?
Jim Kavanagh
The Empire Steps Back
Ralph Nader
Where are the Influentials Who Find Trump Despicable?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Poll Projection: Left-Leaning Jagmeet Singh to Share Power with Trudeau in Canada
Thomas Knapp
Excuses, Excuses: Now Hillary Clinton’s Attacking Her Own Party’s Candidates
Brian Terrell
The United States Air Force at Incirlik, Our National “Black Eye”
Paul Bentley
A Plea for More Cynicism, Not Less: Election Day in Canada
Walter Clemens
No Limits to Evil?
Robert Koehler
The Collusion of Church and State
Kathy Kelly
Taking Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition
Charlie Simmons
How the Tax System Rewards Polluters
Chuck Collins
Who is Buying Seattle? The Perils of the Luxury Real Estate Boom
Weekend Edition
October 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Trump as the “Anti-War” President: on Misinformation in American Political Discourse
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Where’s the Beef With Billionaires?
Rob Urie
Capitalism and the Violence of Environmental Decline
Paul Street
Bernie in the Deep Shit: Dismal Dem Debate Reflections
Andrew Levine
What’s So Awful About Foreign Interference?
T.J. Coles
Boris Johnson’s Brexit “Betrayal”: Elect a Clown, Expect a Pie in Your Face
Joseph Natoli
Trump on the March
Ashley Smith
Stop the Normalization of Concentration Camps
Pete Dolack
The Fight to Overturn the Latest Corporate Coup at Pacifica Has Only Begun
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Russophobia at Democratic Party Debate
Chris Gilbert
Forward! A Week of Protest in Catalonia
Daniel Beaumont
Pressing Done Here: Syria, Iraq and “Informed Discussion”
Daniel Warner
Greta the Disturber
John Kendall Hawkins
Journey to the Unknown Interior of (You)
M. G. Piety
“Grim Positivism” vs. Truthiness in Biography
Christopher Fons – Conor McMullen
The Centrism of Elizabeth Warren
Nino Pagliccia
Peace Restored in Ecuador, But is trust?
Rebecca Gordon
Extorting Ukraine is Bad Enough But Trump Has Done Much Worse
Kathleen Wallace
Trump Can’t Survive Where the Bats and Moonlight Laugh
Clark T. Scott
Cross-eyed, Fanged and Horned
Eileen Appelbaum
The PR Campaign to Hide the Real Cause of those Sky-High Surprise Medical Bills
Olivia Alperstein
Nuclear Weapons are an Existential Threat
Colin Todhunter
Asia-Pacific Trade Deal: Trading Away Indian Agriculture?
Sarah Anderson
Where is “Line Worker Barbie”?
Brian Cloughley
Yearning to Breathe Free
Jill Richardson
Why are LGBTQ Rights Even a Debate?
Jesse Jackson
What I Learn While Having Lunch at Cook County Jail
Kathy Kelly
Death, Misery and Bloodshed in Yemen
Maximilian Werner
Leadership Lacking for Wolf Protection
Arshad Khan
The Turkish Gambit