This Mad, Limitless War

It has become a fundamental act of self-control to calmly deconstruct the policies of Bush & Co. without losing contol of one’s temper.

I refer to the limitless “War on Terror” that has no borders, that has neither victory nor defeat within its grasp, that has many points of entry, yet no intended exit, and that continues to strip away at civil liberties at every turn. The sheer psychic bombardment that can result from turning on the news or from opening a newspaper can be overwhelming. I find that sooner or later the ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in, and as anyone knows, when we’re angry or scared, we easily lose our focus. Maybe that’s the idea.

As a project, this war was likely hatched within the minds of some very angry men. But their anger surely pre-dates Sept. 11, 2001. In fact, plans to re-make the post-cold war world by creating a global Pax Americana have firm roots planted in the administration of Bush the Elder.

A couple of months ago, Scotland’s Sunday Herald discovered an updated version. “Rebuilding America’s Defences: Strategies, Forces and Resources For a New Century”, is a document published by the Project for the New American Century, a neo-conservative think-tank. It lists a series of ambitious and ominous schemes for US global domination, including targeting Iran and China for regime change, establishing total control of both outer space and cyberspace, and developing new and exotic biological weaponry.

It also outlines a pre-mediated plan to attack Iraq as a means to establish a more permanent role in the Persian Gulf regardless of whether or not Saddam Hussein survives. The authors of this document were none other than Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Jeb Bush, and Paul Wolfowitz, and yet it was penned in September 2000, at least three months before they ascended to power under dubious circumstances. A war cabinet in waiting.

Al Queda and the terrorist attacks has afforded these recycled Reaganites the means to engage their hubris, and the evidence is borne out by the precipice on which we are now perched. The launching of this grand undertaking has in short order morphed into a neo-imperial war against much of the world, an unprecedented armada of arrogance. With $46 billion added to the military budget, since 9-11, one can imagine reluctant Pentagon planners having hissy fits trying to keep track of where everybody is and what the hell they’re all doing out there with all that hardware.

Remember War in Afghanistan? Far from over, I keep reading, with frequent attacks against US bases. The new War on Iraq is now delayed by a born-again UN arms inspections regime that was bound for trouble before the team boarded their plane. As if dealing with Saddam’s minions is not enough, they must also deal with a challenge from Washington aimed at undermining the entire process, including the launching of a smear campaign against chief inspector, the respected Dr. Hans Blix. It’s worth recalling that the UN route was only given new life back in August, and only due to the private pleas to Bush by Colin Powell, a wounded hawk who is the least hawkish of a very hawkish flock.

At any rate, the pieces of the global game of risk continue to fall into place, as intended. Astute observers speculate that if all goes well, war on Iraq may serve as a coveted strategic beach head to move against Iran, and perhaps the ungrateful House of Saud as well. Then there’s Africa, where, even as a new Somalian incursion is planned (redux version); the first salvos have been fired on Yemen via sky drone.

Should we soon expect Volkswagen-size shells to pound the shores of Lebanon once again, and cruise missiles to reign down upon Syria’s evil doers, in one glorious imperial leap back towards the Stone Age? All of which is far more likely than a US signature on the Kyoto Accord, the land mines treaty, or the International Criminal Court. Indeed it’s easier to imagine US planes bombing Kashmir in search of al Queda cells and the taped voice of Osama, than to envision the United States blessing a renewal of talks banning biological and chemical weapons.

Meanwhile, pushed to the back pages is America’s “drug war” in Colombia which continues unabated, as does the Philippines “training” engagement in pursuit of a band of a couple of hundred criminals.

The incessant beating of all these war drums has predictably summoned the usual media hawks, firmly ensconced throughout the free press. Tuning into a CNN White House report, one easily gets the feeling that pronouncements from the Oval Office are to be treated as sacrosanct edicts handed on down from the benevolent and sincere sons of Enron and Exxon. Given a history suffused with slime and skullduggery it is patently absurd to always first give Bush & Co., the benefit of doubt.

So, outside the bounds of conventional piety, there is growing dissent against Bush’s response to 9-11. It is deep enough, or at least heartfelt enough as to bring hundreds of thousands of Americans into the streets in defiance. But this time round, the anti-war faction extends straight across the political landscape, covering everyone from former generals to the anarcho kid with orange hair, while staking a fair degree of popular turf in between. There is a popular undercurrent, a gut level feeling amongst a sizeable portion of the population that an unprovoked invasion of Iraq has to be one of the dumbest ideas in a generation (or three). It will blow back at the United States and the West in ways we can only imagine. Everyone knows it. And yet they proceed.

As do the media hawks. Here, two points of departure are worth highlighting. One is the uncanny willingness to blame one man and his nasty regime for all of Iraq’s woes while accepting carte blanche the ever-shifting sands that serve as arguments to justify the making of war on the long suffering Iraqi people. This requires stuffing inconvenient historical facts down the memory hole and allotting zero, in any, responsibility for past, present and planned actions towards Iraq on the part of the West, lead by the United States and Britain.

Here in Canada, readers of The Globe and Mail are familiar with the simple-minded ramblings of Margaret Wente. In her Oct. 8 column she questions the figure of a half million dead Iraqi children from western imposed sanctions, by claiming it comes straight from the Iraqi government and therefore is pure propaganda. She asserts that “it’s Mr. Hussein who bears most of the responsibility for the malnutrition (and no doubt deaths) of Iraqi children in the past decade.” She goes on to catalog Saddam’s atrocities (while ignoring the crucial US support during the worst of his crimes), along with his initial rejection and further manipulation of the oil for food program, and labels the peace movement a bunch of “useful idiots” in service of the Butcher of Baghdad.

Fortunately, the UNICEF President in Toronto felt obliged to type a corrective letter to The Globe the following day. David Agnew explained that the figure of 500,000 dead Iraqi children came from an exhaustive UNICEF study that had unfettered door to door access and the full cooperation of the Iraqi government. UNICEF concluded both western imposed sanctions and Iraqi government mismanagement caused the deaths. Yet Wente’s piece leaves the impression that we, the benevolent democracies have only been trying to help the Iraqi people.

Hogwash. She didn’t even consult one of two former UN humanitarian coordinators, Denis Halliday, or Hans Von Sponeck, both of whom resigned in protest against the inhumanity of the sanctions in 1997 and 2000 respectively. Nor did she cite Prof. Richard Garfield of Columbia University who conducted a separate study of the same demographic age group by relying on various independent statistical sources and surveys along with comparative public health data from other countries. He came up with an estimate of 400,000 probable deaths of under-five children from August 1991 to June 2002.

Then there are those recent, partially released Pentagon documents showing a deliberate policy during the 1991 bombing campaign to target Iraq’s infrastructure, including its water supplies, and the predictable consequences of mass disease and suffering.

Perhaps an essay by Joy Gordon entitled,”Cool War: Economic Sanctions as a weapon of mass destruction,” in the November Harper’s may help clear the confused minds of many a pro-war pundit. Gordon presents reams of evidence of a clear and distinct pattern by the United States inside the Security Council 661 Committee, of having “consistently thwarted Iraq from satisfying its most basic humanitarian needs, using sanctions as a deadly weapon.” The administration of these comprehensive sanctions is mostly under the radar of public scrutiny and therefore required three years of research, requiring Gordon to acquire confidential UN documents on the condition of source anonymity. In the name of tenuous security concerns, billions worth of water purification systems, sewage pipes, medicines, hospital equipment, electricity and communications infrastructure, oil field equipment, dialysis dental and fire-fighting equipment, milk and yogurt equipment, flour, printing equipment for schools has been blocked or held up. The list is legion. Moreover, she clearly demonstrates that the US has deliberately impeded the much-trumpeted oil for food program and therefore “has put in place a device that will systematically cause enormous human damage in Iraq.”

True, evil Saddam has exploited these sanctions of mass destruction in any way he can, assuring that he and his loyal elite is well taken care. So perhaps even more poignant is a study conducted by the Select Committee on International Development of the British House of Commons (1/27/00), which concluded, “a sanctions regime which relies on the good faith of Saddam Hussein is fundamentally flawed.” Yes, the sanctions regime has allowed the tyrant to tighten his iron grip on power, all predictable and knowable consequences of our own actions.

The United States, Britain and the West in general bare a heavy moral responsibility for this punitive and collective punishment. Blocking weapons transfers and potential components to Iraq is certainly in keeping with post Gulf War UN resolutions. But given the imposed methods and conditions, even if Mahatma Ghandi were their leader, there would still be immense suffering and deprivation visited upon the Iraqi people.

The second point of departure is the international peace movement that has quickly arisen in response to the threat of war with Iraq. Here are some recent highlights: in August 3,000 protesters were tear-gassed in Portland, Oregon protesting a visit by Bush. Then 400,000 Londoners hit the streets on Sept. 27 objecting to Tony Blair’s status as America’s poodle. Millions have demonstrated in Italy. On Oct. 6, tens of thousands marched against the war in Washington and all across the United States. Students have walked out of classes in California, others have occupied the offices of Congress, and scores have been arrested for blocking federal buildings in San Francisco and the UN. Millions of Americans have written to Congress. Still thousands more have finally begun to hit the pavement in Canada to resist America’s request for troops.

The largest American demonstration since the Vietnam era occurred on Oct. 26 with 100,000 marching in Washington and 75,000 in San Francisco. As a little test, I thought I’d monitor the coverage that Saturday on NBC. So I eagerly awaited the end of the football game, anxious to watch my American friends exercise their right to dissent. And I can happily report that there was no detectable bias whatsoever on their evening news. No downplaying of the numbers of protesters, and no dissing of their attire or hair. Why? Because there was no mention of the rallies, that’s why. A march that lasted hours and circled the White House was completely, utterly ignored! What on earth are we up against? Even in totalitarian Saddam-land, the Iraq news agency reports on “protesting families” outside prisons.

Oh my. I could go on, but I think I’m losing my temper.

WAYNE SAUNDERS (Canada) is a freelance writer. He can be reached at