Collective Security is Working

As an American, I would like to thank all those people and countries around the world who are helping to pull my country back from the brink of war. And I want to assure you that your efforts are having a big impact in the United States.

Unfortunately, the claim that the Bush Administration is determined to make a pre-emptive attack on Iraq has been validated over and over–most recently by Colin Powell’s assertion on the BBC that Washington might pursue “regime change” in Iraq even if the Iraqi leader complies fully with weapons inspections.

Softening up bombing, the classic first phase of an invasion, has already begun. So has the transport of war personnel and materiel to the Persian Gulf region. The war marketing campaign is in full gear. To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, “When the leaders speak of peace, the mobilization orders have already been given.”

The Bush team’s meticulous planning had presumed UN and Congressional votes authorizing US attacks on Iraq by now, laying the groundwork for permission to use Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan, Jordan, and other countries as bases for attack. After President Bush’s address to the UN, the US Congress was poised to overwhelmingly pass a bi-partisan resolution giving the President a blank check for war.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the battlefield. For months people around the world have been expressing their outrage. Overwhelming majorities in almost every country except Britain and Israel opposed US plans. Politicians and national elites, while loathe to court the wrath of their patrons and protectors in Washington, have been even more terrified of the forces likely to be unleashed by the Bush Administration’s irrational obsession.

The effects of this global opposition on the US have been greatly underestimated. There is broad support here for international efforts to deal with Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. But there is virtually no sector of American society that supports a unilateral preemptive attack against Iraq without international support except the President’s immediate clique, a few members of Congress in both parties, and the Air Force.

The top uniformed military, except for the Air Force, have been widely reported to be extremely skeptical of such an effort. This summer they aroused the wrath of the pro-war clique by submitting estimates of troop requirements and casualties so high as to make the war seem too costly to pursue. While the military brass haven’t spoken against a unilateral attack on the record, their retired colleagues have done so forcefully. Top Republican military experts like Brent Scowcroft, many of them cronies of former President George Bush and formerly high officials in his Administration, spoke out against a unilateral attack.

This summer, popular and Congressional support for the Bush war plans seemed overwhelming. But as members of Congress visited their districts in August they were met both by organized delegations opposing the war and by profound worry among their ordinary constituents. Democratic leaders announced hearings and no “rush to judgment” on war policy. As the Administration launched its war marketing campaign in September, floods of phone calls and e-mails to members of Congress led former Democratic Presidential candidate Al Gore and the leadership of the Democratic Party in Congress to end silence or reverse explicit support for Bush’s policies.

Most of the popular and elite opposition is not opposition to any attack on Iraq, but rather to an attack on Iraq without allies. Little of this opposition would have arisen had the rest of the world caved in to Bush Administration demands for support. But the global united front against a US war is transforming the balance of forces within this country. While panicky Democrats in Congress may pass a watered-down resolution authorizing war, US opinion is now clearly divided, and policy elite, especially the Vietnam-burned military, is strongly averse to going to war without broad popular support. If the international front holds, there is a real chance that a US attack can be averted.

If the Security Council refuses to authorize US military action and the UN inspectors go to Iraq, Bush Administration war promoters will have at least two big problems. Neither public nor elite opinion in the US is likely to support a unilateral, unprovoked attack. Neighboring states are more likely to be firm in their resolve not to let their countries be used as bases for US attacks on Iraq. (Bush’s friend Ariel Sharon is also making it easier for them to just say no to US demands.)

If a full-scale attack on Iraq becomes untenable, the Bush Administration will probably follow three tactics. First, it will try its best to undermine and discredit the UN inspection process; the faintest hint of Iraqi non-cooperation will be met with fresh attempts to initiate war. Second, it will expand the bombing it is conducting already. Third, it will look for new openings to bully or bribe other countries back into line.

This indicates the probable next steps needed to contain US aggression. The tacit coalition of people and states opposing the US war on Iraq, acting through the UN, should demand that the US stop bombing Iraq while the inspection process goes forward. Of course the US will veto such a resolution, but the demonstrated international opposition will strengthen both popular and elite opposition in the US. “State-supported nonviolence” — for example placement of foreign volunteers in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities with the support of their national governments — might also provide a deterrent to US bombing.

It is also essential that the inspection process go forward successfully. While it is impossible to know exactly what led Iraq to readmit inspectors, there was clearly at least a tacit quid pro quo that other countries would attempt to stave off an American attack. Iraq must be made to feel that it is safest if the inspection process proceeds successfully. After all, Iraq can reasonably feel that, by allowing inspection of its real or imagined weapons of mass destruction, it is giving up a significant deterrent to US attack. The containment coalition needs to indicate that it will try to protect Iraq from US attack as long as the inspection process goes forward, but that it will be much less able to do so if Iraq’s cooperation is less than complete.

Finally, it is necessary to block US efforts to bribe or bully other countries back into line. The Bush Administration’s snub of German Prime Minister Schroeder in the aftermath of his reelection is only the publicly visible tip of the iceberg of Bush Administration bullying. There have been many journalistic references to other countries being offered a share of the spoils of war — Iraq’s oil, for example, or the contracts for post-war reconstruction–as a quid pro quo for joining the US in the kill.

Russia has indicated an interest in US acquiescence in a Russian attack on Georgia, justified as a means to root out Chechen rebels. Apparently this is a price the Bush Administration is not yet willing to pay. No doubt they would see it as giving the green light to restoration of the Russian empire–establishing Russia’s right to ignore the new national boundaries that divide its once-and-future empire. But there is no telling what bribes they will be willing to offer if they find their way to war successfully blocked.

The Bush people tend to think of the world as a football game, and their strategy is to knock off those who get in their way one at a time. In the long run, containing them will require not just opposition by individual nations, but rather some more conscious form of collective security. There needs to be a global understanding that containing US power is a collective responsibility. This might be expressed, for example, in providing financial and other support for countries like Jordan that are being threatened with US reprisals if they refuse to serve as bases for war against Iraq.

Another step could be to forcefully stigmatize any country selling out to the Bush Administration for such a “mess of pottage” as a share of the spoils of war, some supposed geopolitical concession, or (for poorer countries) cold cash. For a historical analogy, we might recall that the Western powers tried to keep Russia in World War I by means of scandalous secret treaties offering them other country’s territory when the war was won. The exposure of those secret treaties may have done more than any other single act to destroy the legitimacy of the Russian regime.

Most important of all is to continue the popular pressure on governments around the world. Movement pressure in Britain has already forced Tony Blair to publicly split with Bush over “regime change” and if it continues to grow will make British participation in a unilateral attack untenable; withdrawal of British support might well be the final nail in the coffin for US war plans. German popular opposition swung the election; it is leading American policy elites to fear that Bush policies are undermining European acquiescence in US global dominance. The fact that not one country in the world beside Britain has offered to help the US attack Iraq has a major impact on US opinion. Please, keep up the good work!

One of the central tasks for the tacit coalition of people and states opposing the US war on Iraq is to win the hearts and minds of the American people. Americans are still hurt and terrified by the 9/11 attacks and easily led to support absurd policies sold as “anti-terrorism.” Nonetheless their views are volatile and conflicted. In a September 24 CBS News poll, 57 percent wanted the US to give the UN more time to get inspectors back into Iraq and 52 percent thought the US should follow the recommendations of the UN when it comes to taking action against Iraq, instead of taking action on its own.

National leaders and ordinary people around the world need to reach out to Americans and help them bring their government to its senses. An example: A delegation of British anti-war religious leaders is coming to the US to share with American religious communities their concerns about US threats against Iraq. Containment of Bush Administration aggression is–and should present itself–as pro-, not anti-, American.

Ultimately, the issue here is far larger than the conflict between the US and Iraq. Bush’s new policy document, “The National Security Strategy of the United States,” which codifies previous pronouncements, indicates the megalomaniacal scope of the Administration’s ambitions. The document notes, “The United States possesses unprecedented–and unequaled–strength.” It proclaims that “we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively.” The US will use its power for “convincing or compelling states” to accept what it calls “their sovereign responsibilities.”

This strategy for global domination is not limited to military matters, but proposes to shape the whole of global society and political economy. Indeed, the document goes so far as to declare that there is only “a single sustainable model for national success.”

Blocking the US attack on Iraq is a crucial step but only the first step in the containment of these awesome aspirations for global domination. It represents the emergence of a tacit but nonetheless real policy of collective security to contain US aggressiveness. If such collective security can be maintained, it bodes well for the containment of “pre-emptive aggression” in the future. And perhaps it will lay a foundation for addressing such other threats to collective security as global warming, poverty, economic crisis, AIDS, and weapons of mass destruction.

Nothing could be more in the genuine interest of the American people.

JEREMY BRECHER is a historian and the author of twelve books including STRIKE! and GLOBALIZATION FROM BELOW.


Jeremy Brecher is an historian and co-founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability. A new, post-Paris edition of his Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival was published by Routledge.