Londoners of a certain age may remember an old gentleman who regularly tramped the streets of the British capital wearing a sandwich board upon which was scrawled the words: The End of the World is Nigh.
With his battered Trilby, he was the epitome of the eccentric Englishman and attracted more than his fair share of ridicule. He has probably met his maker by now but if he were still around, few these days would be laughing.
It is no longer difficult to imagine an end-of-times scenario, especially if the American President George W. Bush launches a pre-emptive strike on Iraq. The result is likely to be that the Iraqi leader will respond by lobbing missiles at Israel, as he did during the Gulf War. But now there is one important difference.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has clearly said that he will retaliate, and has indicated that he may be prepared to use unconventional weapons. We can only imagine the reaction of the Arab world to one of their own coming under attack from the Zionist entity, not to mention the resultant fury on the Arab street – already enraged at the inhumane treatment meted out by Israel to the Palestinians.
At the same time, if Saddam Hussein’s life was seriously threatened and he had no back door through which to escape, he might just decide to take the region down with him, using whatever means he has at his disposal.
While the U.S. President seems oblivious to any such menacing outcomes, prominent American politicians are at last speaking out against war with Iraq, while almost all of the world’s leaders urge restraint.
Last week saw three Congressmen make a visit to Baghdad for the purpose of seeing the devastation and the deprivation, which more than a decade of sanctions has wrought. After they had toured hospitals and talked with ordinary Iraqis, they were convinced that war should not be the first option.
Also hosted by the Iraqi government last week were representatives of the foreign media. They were shown various Iraqi sites, which had been pinpointed by Western intelligence as being likely depots for weapons of mass destruction and found nothing untoward. If we take into account the U.S. military’s gross targeting failures, this is hardly surprising.
The Iraqis are still mourning the 340 people who died during the Gulf War due to two U.S. Stealth missiles dropped onto a bomb shelter, mistakenly designated by the U.S. “intelligence” services as a major command and control centre.
On a more positive note, leading Democrats are now making their objections to the U.S. going it alone, including the highly-respected Senator Ted Kennedy who said: “Military action should be a last resort, not a first response”.
Similar sentiments were echoed by ex-President Jimmy Carter, ex-Vice-President Al Gore and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
When thwarted in his aim of being awarded a blank cheque by the Democrat-led Senate to enable him to use force against Iraq and other “rogue” states, a frustrated Bush alleged that the Democrats were not interested in the security of the American people. This vitriolic outpouring was perceived by Democrats as a low blow, designed to undermine their legitimate voices of caution by attacking their patriotism.
In the meantime, National Security Adviser Condaleezza Rice, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld led a disingenuous politically orchestrated campaign to once again link Iraq with Al Qaida, announcing that prominent Al Qaida members had visited Baghdad.
At a Pentagon press conference, Rumsfeld seemed flustered when reporters tried to pin him down on the Baghdad/Al Qaida linkage. Again, there was nothing but innuendo in his statement, and still no smoking gun.
While the attempts to fudge Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein into one malevolent entity by the White House hawks may have swayed U.S. public opinion to a minor extent, Middle East experts said that the likelihood of the Iraqi government and Al Qaida being in cahoots was negligible. They point out that Osama bin Laden once referred to Saddam Hussein as an apostate and a puppet of the U.S.
Across the pond, similar anti-war sentiments were being elucidated in Britain’s House of Commons, whose members were recalled to debate the contents of the long-awaited Blair dossier. The dossier, like the substance of Bush’s recent speech before the UN Assembly, was nothing but a re-hash of Saddam’s past misdeeds.
The debate lasted well into the late hours and one after the other members of the House from all parties condemned any unilateral, non-UN sanctioned aggression on Iraq. The most outspoken were from Tony Blair’s own party.
Unfortunately, it appears that neither the British government nor the Bush administration is in any mood for listening. Instead, they have been busy working on a new UN resolution, which gives Saddam just seven days to declare his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and allow weapons inspectors access to all sites of interest – including his palaces – along with an armed security force. In the case of non-compliance, the next step would be military action.
France, Russia and China, three permanent members of the Security Council with a right of veto, fail to see any reason for a new UN resolution on Iraq since there are several applicable resolutions already on the books.
Reason is obvious
In reality, from the point of view of the U.S. and the UK, the reason is obvious. Bush and Blair know that such a resolution would not be acceptable to Iraq and once rejected (as it has been in advance), they have a perfect pretext to follow the new Bush doctrine of pre-emption.
Of course, Bush has said repeatedly that in the event of any failure to get the UN on board, the U.S. is prepared to put together its own coalition – currently an alliance of two.
What is patently clear is that the Bush administration is determined to go to war with Iraq and soon. The last thing it wants is the resumption of weapons inspections muddying the waters. Does anyone seriously imagine that Saddam Hussein has the capability of launching chemical, biological or nuclear weapons on U.S. cities, even if he possesses them?
When asked this question, the Washington hawks say that Saddam could supply a dirty bomb or a suitcase nuke to terrorist groups. True. He certainly could. But then so could any of America’s other enemies who have such weapons, including Iran and North Korea.
Are they next on the list? Why does the Bush administration have such a seemingly irrational obsession with Iraq? Is it because the U.S. sincerely believes that it is vulnerable to attack by the current Iraqi leadership and that Saddam has the intent to aggress the U.S. without provocation?
If that were so, then why has Saddam kept a relatively low profile for the past 11 years? He hasn’t attacked anyone during this period, and in fact, has tried his best to rejoin the world community, mend bridges with his former foes, and get the punishing led sanctions lifted.
If America is so concerned about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, one can only wonder why Donald Rumsfeld failed to speak up when he was President Ronald Reagan’s envoy to Baghdad in March 1984. On the very day that Rumsfeld was holding talks with the Iraqi leadership, Iraq launched a chemical weapons attack on Iranian troops. Why did it take Rumsfeld some 18 years to voice an objection to Saddam’s chemical stockpile?
Such hypocrisy on the part of Washington and its flagrant disregard for the opinions of the rest of the world is glaring, as is the zeal with which it pursues its warlike aims. What could be the real agenda here?
U.S. control of Iraq’s vast oil and gas reserves, perhaps? The setting-up of yet more American military bases in the region close to Iran, that other “Axis of Evil” member?
The removal of Israel’s enemy number one, leaving Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon free to pursue his dream of a Greater Israel which involves the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank and Gaza? Or is the diversion of U.S. public interest away from America’s worsening economy and corporate scandals the goal?
All of the above could represent the Bush administration’s motives for ousting Saddam and imposing a pro-Western regime but there is one other little-known scenario, based on the American leadership’s theological belief system.
Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and Attorney-General John Ashcroft are all self-professed Evangelical or Born-Again Christians, and like their co-religionists could well believe in the Bible’s end-time prophecies to the letter.
Such Messianic prophecies include the stipulation that before the Messiah can return to earth, there will be a major East-West war and the Jews must rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. Just one “minor” point! The temple must be built at the site where Al Haram Al Sharif – one of Islam’s three holiest sites, encompassing the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock – currently stand.
As to whether Bush, Cheney and Ashcroft are driven by religious ideology and fervour to usher in Armageddon remains in the realm of speculation. Let’s hope that it remains so, and the message on the sandwich board was just fantasy after all.
LINDA S. HEARD is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org