According to the Bush administration, it is time for the UN Security Council to stand by its words and authorize military action against Iraq. Otherwise, the US will follow through on its interpretation of Resolution 1441, and attack Iraq to enforce regime change in Baghdad. By framing the choice in such brazen terms, the Bush administration has challenged the moral legitimacy of the UN Security Council.
This is a defining moment in the history of the Council. If it allows itself to be bypassed by the Bush administration, it would be marginalized as an institution. It is time for the Council to reframe the choice that it faces.
The Council should give serious thought to passing another resolution that would forbid any nation from taking military action against another nation without UN authorization. Should any nation take such unauthorized military action, it would be called as an aggressor nation, and be subject to economic sanctions leading up to the threat of war by a multinational coalition. This would be consistent with the Council’s prior history, and with the purposes for which the United Nations was created. However, except in a few instances, such as the Gulf War of 1991, the Council has not asserted its authority. It is time for a re-assertion of such authority, or the agency of multilaterallism will be finished.
As the leaders of several countries have indicated, Washington has allowed its justifiable anger against the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to escalate to irrational levels. When Washington began its military campaign against the al-Qaeda terrorist organization, and the Taliban regime that was harboring its leaders, people around the world generally regarded it as a war of self-defense. A year later, people around the world are apprehensive at Washington’s desire to pursue a war without just cause against Iraq, or against potentially against any other nation that it perceives to be a threat to US national security.
Speaking in December at the Commonwealth Club of California, US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said that “the war on terrorism is a global war, and must be pursued everywhere. We cannot allow one of the world’s worst dictators to continue developing the world’s worst weapons” because they threaten American national security. Thus, unless Saddam Hussein disarms himself, the US would step in and disarm him, with or without UN approval.
In his state of the Union speech, President Bush struck a defiant tone when he stated that the “course of this nation does not depend on the decision of others. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, is it God’ s gift to humanity.” In a speech last year at he US military academy at West Point, he had declared with great certainty that “Moral truth is the same in every culture, in every time, in every place.” Writing in the Financial Times, Philip Stephens noted astutely that “you have to go back a while to find such a stark assertion of moral certitude and strategic power.” In the past couple of days, the president has started to assert that if war is forced upon the US, it will fight it with the full force of its military and will win the war. A group known as the Project for the Next American Century (PNAC) anticipated this militarization of American foreign policy. They issued a document prior to the 2000 presidential elections that stated bluntly that America’s armed forces abroad are “the cavalry on the new American frontier.” This document, written for Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, went on to layout a “blueprint for maintaining global US pre-eminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests.”
Paul Wolfowitz is regarded by some as the intellectual guru of the neo-conservatives in the Bush administration, a group of people that are determined to impose democracy on other countries in a style reminiscent of imperial Rome. For this group of neo-imperialists, Iraq is “just the beginning of a project to turn out the despots and replace them with freedom-loving democrats.”
The Security Council has to challenge this doctrine of preventive war from being carried out by the US, which is being led by people who want to impose Pax Americana at all cost. If these neo-imperialists are allowed to have their way, the world will soon descend into chaos.
Deconstructing the logic of war
Washington’s assertion that war against Iraq is justified is a classic non sequitur. Its case for attacking Iraq rests on three tiers of premises. It begins with premises on which there is widespread agreement among the nations of the world; progresses to those on which there is much debate; and concludes with a few on which there is precious little agreement.
There are four premises in the first tier on which there is widespread agreement. Firstly, Iraq is governed by a tyrannical regime that has committed atrocities against the people of Iraq. Secondly, Iraq has used biological and chemical weapons against Kurds and Iranians. Thirdly, Iraq has twice invaded its neighbors. And fourthly, Saddam Hussein is an irrational man who has a deep-rooted hatred of the US. Virtually no one disagrees with these premises. However, this agreement cannot be taken as consent to the conclusions that follow.
Then come the premises in the second tier on which there is much debate. Firstly, that Iraq possesses biological and chemical weapons in militarily significant quantities. Secondly, that it has the means for delivering them over militarily significant distances. These premises continue to be debated, and may be partially resolved once the work of the UN inspectors has been completed. When Dr. Hans Blix reports to the Security Council on February 14th, he may be able to settle this debate.
Finally come the third-tier premises on which there is little agreement. This is where the US case breaks down. Firstly, the US has consistently maintained that Iraq possesses nuclear weapons, but the UN inspectors have conclusively rejected this contention. Secondly, the US has argued that present-day Iraq poses a clear and present danger to its neighbors. If that were the case, one would expect that all of its neighbors would be supporting this war, but none of them are supporting it. They view Iraq as a lesser threat than a US-led invasion of the region. This situation contrasts sharply with the consensus that existed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. Thirdly, the US has argued that Iraq poses an immediate threat to the US. Hardly any nation is convinced of Iraq’s ability to hit its sworn enemy, Israel, with ballistic missiles. Unlike North Korea, Iraq’s ability to hit the US with its ballistic missiles is non-existent. One cannot rule out the possibility that Iraq may provide its weapons to terrorist organizations that would smuggle them into the US, but then so could any other nation. This is too weak an argument to justify attacking a sovereign nation.
Fourthly, that Iraq has ties with al-Qaeda and may have been involved with the attacks of 9/11. The Bush administration has presented no evidence that the Iraqi regime had any connection with the attacks of 9/11. Earlier on, it had tried to establish such as link by repeatedly referring to a meeting that the lead 9/11 hijacker had with some Iraqi officials in Prague. But it has not mentioned that visit in a long time. Nor has the administration demonstrated convincingly that the regime is harboring al-Qaeda terrorists. The evidence that Washington has provided on this topic is very sketchy, and would not hold up in any court of law.
Fifthly, attacking Iraq will not involve civilian casualties, because precision munitions will be used. All one needs to do is recall the several instances in which bombs went awry or faulty intelligence kicked in killing large numbers of civilians during the 1991 Gulf War, the war in Kosovo and the ongoing war in Afghanistan.
Sixthly, attacking Iraq will lead to democracy and stability in the Middle East. As cited by H. D. S. Greenway recently in the Boston Globe, after the Gulf War, an ebullient US Secretary of State James Baker wrote, “Look, we’ve done everybody in the region a favor, including Israel.” Even Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak said the American victory represented “a new chapter in the history of the Arab nation.” Today there is no Arab coalition or consensus against Saddam, because the US has ignored the centrality of the Palestinian question in its Middle East policy.
What is not mentioned
In all discussions of the evil character of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Washington never mentions the role it played in supporting that very same regime during the eight-year war with Iraq. During that time, Donald Rumsfeld is known to have visited with Saddam Hussein on behalf of US president Ronald Reagan. The US provided agricultural and biological aid to Iraq that many regard has been used by the Iraqis to produce biological weapons. It also used chemical weapons against its Kurd minority during that time, with the knowledge of the US administration. When such double standards are raised with Washington, the response is that Iraq was an ally at the time.
Washington has been working hard to minimize the threat posed by North Korea. It has openly admitted to be working on the production of nuclear weapons and has a variety of ballistic missiles in its inventory. It could cause significant harm to the civilian populations of Seoul and Tokyo with these weapons of mass destruction. Some have argued that parts of the western US are already within the range of its ballistic missiles.
A recent British survey indicates that a majority of Britons regard North Korea as a bigger threat to world peace than Iraq. Nevertheless the Bush administration continues to say that the situation in North Korea does not constitute a crisis, and is simply a big problem. Comments Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution: “The notion that this is not a crisis either makes the word meaningless or it means this administration is self-delusional.”
Given these inconsistencies in its foreign policy, Washington has failed to persuade the rest of the world to support its case for going to war against Iraq. While the Prime Minister of Britain is willing to risk his political career supporting this war, more than 75% of Britons are opposed to the war. Almost the same situation exists in Spain. In France and Germany, whose leaders are opposed to the war, more than 80% of the people are opposed. The US Defense Secretary is so miffed at France and Germany for opposing the war that he has called them “Old Europe.” At the recent gathering of NATO defense ministers, the German foreign minister Joschka Fischer expressed his frustration with Donald Rumsfeld’s articulation of the well-known US position by saying that, “Why this policy now? Saddam Hussein is a terrible dictator but we have known that for years.” In India, the visiting French prime minister responded to President Bush’s assertion that “the game is over” by saying: “It is not a game. It is not over.”
The US Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, who was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War, and was thought to be the moderate in a hawkish administration, has called the latest proposal by France and Germany “a diversion, not a solution.” Since giving his speech at the Security Council, he has now made it his mission to lay the groundwork for a second resolution that would authorize the use of military force to depose the Saddam Hussein regime.
Faced with a rising anti-war movement, the White House is seeking to create an impression that only the countries of old Europe are opposing the war. However, Russia has now joined the French and German proposal. On Sunday, the Russian president Vladimir Putin said, “the positions of Russia, France and Germany are by and large in line.” In Washington’s back yard, both Canada and Mexico have expressed their opposition to the war. All of the Latin American countries remain opposed to the war as well. China, concerned that one day the logic of preventive war may be used to disarm it as well, has reiterated its wish to seek a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Iraq. If the matter comes to a vote in the Security Council, it is expected to abstain from exercising its veto out of respect for its economic ties with the US. There is little support for the war in Japan or South Korea, traditional American allies.
Not surprisingly, with the exception of some small Kingdoms along the Gulf, the entire Muslim and Arab world is opposed to the war. Long-standing US ally Saudi Arabia has been particularly outspoken in this regard. Editorial writers are concerned that the war would involve the use of untested weapons such as microwave bombs, and precipitate further terrorist attacks against American and other Western targets. The Arab News ran a story provocatively entitled, “Washington planning to nuke Iraq,” based on an article in the Los Angeles Times. Arab opinion leaders cannot figure out how President Bush could accuse Iraq of being in “utter contempt for the opinion of the world” when he is himself ignoring world opinion. They ridiculed Bush’s assertion that Iraq posed the “gravest danger facing America and the world” because it “possess nuclear, chemical and biological could be used for blackmail, terror and mass murder.” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff mirrored Arab skepticism when he asked whether an invasion of Iraq would make America safer. Kristoff noted, “While none of us know the answer, there is clearly a significant risk that it will do just the opposite.”
After meeting the French president Jacques Chirac in Paris, Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud bin Faisal said that a US attack on Iraq would result in “a calamity of immense proportions.” Elsewhere, the prince said, “Saudi Arabia will not join the conflict and will not [allow its territory] to be used to attack Iraq.”
Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, is reported to have met with German foreign minister Joschka Fischer in Berlin, and said that a war with Iraq would ” fuel popular resentment and anti-American unrest.” A few months earlier, Moussa had warned that such a war would “open the gates of hell.”
Contrary to how they are being portrayed in the US media, religious scholars in Saudi Arabia have used the opportunity provided by the gathering of two million pilgrims to remind Muslims everywhere that Islam means submission to the Will of God. This means obeying all His injunctions, one of which holds that all human life is sacred. The Imams of the two Holy Mosques cited Quranic verses and instances from the life of the Prophet Muhammad to assert that Muslims should not harm any non-Muslim civilians, even during times of war.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad admonished the US, “out-terrorizing the terrorists will not work.” He forecast a long period of war driven by hatred, revenge and greed, unless the US changed its tactics. Witnessing the rising tide of anti-Americanism across the globe, Eric Alterman wrote in the American magazine, The Nation, “There is a pro-American world out there, in Europe in particular but elsewhere as well. It is just waiting for an America it can respect as well as admire.”
On the day of the State of the Union speech, forty American Noble Laureates called on President Bush to stop his plans to fight a preventive war in Iraq, because even a victory in such a war would “undermine, not protect, U.S. security and standing in the world.” One hopes that the call has not come in too late. According to the Financial Times, General Tommy Franks has already informed the Kuwaitis that the US has made a decision to go ahead with the war.
Leadership does not consist in issuing propaganda, otherwise it leads to hubris. One need only recall the chilling statement from Reichmarschall Hermann Goering at the Nuremberg trials: “Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.”
Faced with widespread opposition to his war plans, both inside and outside the US, President Bush faces the biggest challenge to his presidency. He needs to step back from the brink, and realize that real leadership consists in listening to all voices, not just the ones that echo his voice.