“We must make clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it…. No grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy.”
–Supreme Court Justice Robert L. Jackson, a U.S. representative to the International Conference on Military Trials at the close of World War II.
Of course the war on Iraq is not just about oil. It’s about imperialism, capitalism, the spread of white supremacy and privilege and the extension of unchecked American power, directed by people who look or think like George Bush, Dick Chaney, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Bob Jones and their big business and religious fundamentalist buddies. But “no blood for imperialism, capitalism, white supremacy and the extension of unchecked American power” is too much for a bumper sticker. And it’s harder still to get many white Americans (or people of color) to reject, let alone fight, to dismantle such an unjust way of existence.
Whether the killing is inspired by the imperatives of “Manifest Destiny”, “Divine Right”, “God’s chosen people”, the “Master Race” or “the sun never sets”, someone’s land and resources end up being stolen and the people enslaved, oppressed or killed by their so-called “liberators”. Bush can adorn his war with the nonsensical adjectives “pre-emptive” or “preventative”-a war to pre-empt war? –but the United States is clearly the aggressor nation. This is not a war of self-defense.
Now, I wouldn’t want to live in Iraq, nor do I have any fondness for Saddam Hussein. But imagine Hussein is the most racist, unpleasant Klansman on an average American block. And people are scared of him, because they know what he’s already done, and they think he could do just about anything. What would happen if, unprovoked except by their own fear, the black folks from another block decided to firebomb his home, killing him and his family–or maybe just his family, because he was at a meeting? They wouldn’t have a legal leg to stand on. No prosecutor, no jury in the land would accept an argument of pre-emption, or prevention and a weasel apology, “Sorry about the kids, collateral damage.” But this is exactly the argument Bush is demanding that Americans and the world accept.
There are far more reasons to be against Bush’s war than for it. The biggest reason to oppose war is that it is an instrument of death. Even if the inspectors had found chemical weapons products in Iraq that does not give anyone the right to kill its children. Even if they had found elements for the production of nuclear bombs, that does not give anyone the right to kill its children. Because that’s what war means. That’s what the past twelve years of sanctions have meant – Iraqi children dying. To take the additional step of committing American young people to attack a nation of young people-because over 50% of Iraq’s population is under 15 years of age-and to do this in the name of a plan for empire building hatched by Paul Wolfowitz twelve years ago: now that is criminal.
Bush and his backers hope for a quick war. First, they hope to seize the oil fields while waging a bombing campaign they have named “Shock and Awe,” dropping 3,000 or more bombs in the first 48 hours of the attack. This is the so-called “Baghdad First” strategy. It has another name: terror bombing. As one Pentagon official said, “There won’t be a safe place in Baghdad.” One of the basic features of terrorism is that it makes anyone a target, civilian or military, guilty or innocent. Everyone is afraid, because no one is safe. Still, immediate surrender isn’t a given. There could well be some bloody door-to-door urban fighting. And with all of this, let’s remember, Baghdad is a city of 4 to 5 million people who aren’t all named Saddam Hussein.
A few years ago, former U.N Ambassador Madeline Albright was asked what she thought about a report that sanctions had led to the death of 500,000 Iraqi children, from lack of medicine, food, clean water. “Is it worth it?” CBS’s Leslie Stahl asked her. Albright, after a considered pause, said, “Yes, we think the price is worth it.” Now mix Albright’s morbid calculus with the Bush Administration’s casual approach to instigating a human catastrophe. (Once again the power grid, on which the water purification system depends, will be a target.) What we are faced with is something quite simple and easily understood: the cheapening of human life. But not any human life – Iraqi human life, foreign human life. Their life, their children, not ours. American, more often, white, life is priceless. American children are priceless, worth so much that only the idea that they might not be safe, that they might live in a world where everyone doesn’t just love them, is used to justify threatening and snuffing out the lives of other children, lesser children, lesser people.
It is a fundamental moral precept that every human being is of equal value. If we in this country condone or ignore what this present administration is doing, we will be accomplices to mass murder.
As hard as Colin Powell and Condelezza Rice tried to conjure one, there is no hardheaded geopolitical consideration of the normal kind precipitating war on Iraq. This time, Hussein hasn’t gassed the Kurds or the Iranians–which when he did he was receiving military intelligence and biological and chemical weapons agents from the United States. The running joke in Washington is that “America knows Saddam has these weapons because it has the receipts.”
This time, Iraq has invaded no one, seized no land, occupied no territory, committed no sudden international atrocity, nor put the lives of people in other countries in particular peril. Even Iran, Iraq’s next-door neighbor and the country it gassed, opposes a U.S. invasion. And our next-door neighbor, Canada, opposes the war.
Vice-President Dick Cheney calls Hussein a “mortal threat” but let’s be real. The United States has a $400 billion Pentagon budget; Iraq’s military budget is about $4 billion. America has thousands of nuclear weapons, many of which are produced right here in South Carolina at the Savannah River Plant; Iraq doesn’t have one yet, or the means to deliver it. And although chemical weapons have been internationally banned, the U.S. still has 75% of its stockpile. Anniston, Alabama, alone has enough sarin, VX nerve agent, and mustard gas to kill or incapacitate millions. So, even if Iraq obtained one nuclear weapon or two, would that present a “mortal” danger to the United States? The United States has survived for four decades against two formidable foes – Russia and China – with thousands of nuclear weapons aimed at us. And when it comes to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, “We’re number one!”
If Iraq is a “mortal threat”, what about the 16 other countries in the world that have or might have nuclear weapons, the 25 countries that have or might have chemical weapons, the 19 other countries that have or might have biological weapons, and the 16 other countries that have or might have missile systems? Is the United States going to invade them too?
Ironically, an American invasion may actually increase the odds that Hussein will use chemical or biological weapons. Back in 1991, he had chemical or biological weapons loaded onto missiles. The elder Bush warned Hussein that if he used those weapons, he would face devastating retaliation. Everyone, including Hussein, understood that meant having a nuclear bomb dropped on his country. So he backed down. Today, Bush the son is talking “regime change”. So Hussein has absolutely no incentive not to fire whatever chemical or biological weapons he might have hidden at U.S. troops, Israel, Turkey or Kuwait.
War on Iraq is not about enforcing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 or any other resolution. If that were the case, the U.S. would have to invade Israel, a country in violation of numerous resolutions (223, 242,267,271, 298, 446,452 and 465) and led by Ariel Sharon, a war criminal. Sharon has effectively transformed Gaza and towns in the West Bank into concentration camps, where people are under constant curfew, penned in by barbed wire, surrounded by tanks and soldiers and threatened constantly with homelessness by bulldozing. Israeli soldiers kill Palestinians every day. On March 16 they killed an American, crushed her under a bulldozer. The death of Rachel Corrie, a U.S. peace activist, was not a mistake; it was a warning that the Israeli government doesn’t care who is opposed to its policies of oppression and occupation.
Bush can talk about the United States not being at war with Islam or the Muslim world, but after a while, as the brutality escalates or America tires of “nation building” and paying to rebuild what it has destroyed, many in that world will find the argument insulting. Sooner or later the “chickens will come home to roost”, with a greater likelihood of suicide bombers striking here in America. Already the run-up to war has inflamed Muslim fundamentalists, who had previously despised Saddam Hussein as an infidel. Even the government reports it has been a boon for al Qaeda’s recruiters. Hard to see how that is in the interests of the United States.
As a civil libertarian, I believe an invasion of Iraq is unconstitutional. Article 1, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution gives the right to Congress and only to Congress to take the United States to war. But Congress has been silent and impotent from the start. It gave Bush a blank check use-of-force authorization after 9/11, with Representative Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) as the sole voice of dissent. Now the most passionate voice of opposition to an imperial presidency and war without Congressional declaration or even debate is an ex-Klansman, Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va). Byrd accused his colleagues of “sleepwalking through history” and hoped “that this great nation and its good and trusting citizens are not in for a rudest of awakenings.” Since just after World War II, presidents have usurped this power of Congress, and Congress has abdicated it. There has not been a Congressional declaration of war since December 1941, though there have been plenty of wars since then–Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, the Dominican Republic, and the Gulf War. There also have been numerous other nations the United States has assaulted directly or covertly over the last six decades.
In regards to Iraq, some argue that Bush has the authority to wage war by virtue of three Congressional actions. First, in 1991, Congress gave his father the authorization to wage war against Hussein (though technically it did not declare war). But was that authorization an open-ended go-ahead to wage war against Iraq forever, or anytime any president happened to feel like it? And did Congress grant the son the right to change the regime there now, more than a decade later?
The second Congressional act that Bush backers cite is the September 14, 2001, use-of-force authorization, which allows Bush to attack any person, group, or country that he believes was involved in the attack of 9/11. But while Powell, Rice and others (to include corporate media) have been doing their damnedest to lay some of the blame for the 9/11 attack on Hussein, there is no evidence connecting the two and no credible link has been established between Hussein and al Qaeda, or between Iraq and the anthrax-laced letters that killed several Americans.
Then, in October of last year, prior to offering 1441to the U.N. Congress passed a resolution authorizing the use of force, if necessary, against Iraq. But none of these measures was ever a Congressional declaration of war.
Presidential candidates Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton have been the most critical of Bush’s war, but other Democratic presidential candidates use anti-war sentiment to the extent that they can carve out votes. Sharpton is the only candidate challenging both the legitimacy of the war and the legitimacy of the Bush presidency. No one has dared utter the world impeachment, yet.
Most Democratic candidates have not challenged Bush’s legitimacy to wage war because in their heart of hearts most want to join the I-can-make-war Club. One of the qualifications for being president, after all, is the willingness to use America’s nuclear “deterrent”-that is, to threaten or commit mass murder in the name of national security.
Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential front-runner claims to oppose war but said, “When the war begins, I support the troops and I support the United States of America winning as rapidly as possible. When the troops are in the field and fighting remembering what it’s like to be those troops, I think they need a unified America that is prepared to win.”
Presidential candidate Howard Dean, who calls Bush’s foreign policy “ghastly” and “appalling,” has been painted as the Democrats’ most vocal opponent of a unilateral war against Iraq. But once war breaks out, he says, “Of course I’ll support the troops.”
The impulse to support the troops is understandable. They’re our kids, cousins, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, neighbors, friends and even grandparents. We want our soldiers–young people who risk too much for too little pay–to come home in one piece. Many don’t want to be where they are. There is an economic draft in this country, and many are there because of it. But blindly supporting the troops while they’re fighting an immoral and illegal war is misguided and wrong. Perhaps the best way to support the troops is to increase the effort to get them home. The government is spending a billion dollars a day to keep soldiers in foreign lands for this war; we should demand that the money be used to educate kids and give them options other than the military. We should also be encouraging kids not to join the military. It makes them the imperialists’ apprentices. In the era of modern warfare especially, it forces them to be murderers and terrorists. And when the war is over, if it doesn’t kill them-and a low rate of U.S. battlefield casualties is becoming common-it kicks them to the curb. More than 164,000 Gulf War veterans are officially disabled. High percentages of every city’s homeless population are veterans. Somehow the money always runs out when it comes time really to support the troops.
There have been only lies and immorality in the drive to war. Sure, Hussein is a bad guy but it really isn’t about him. It’s about what the U.S. stands for. Bush and all his apologists must be called to account, including Rice and Powell. In the African-American community, the two should be granted the same pariah status as Clarence Thomas: Rice as the “devil’s handmaiden” and Powell as a company man. At this point Rice is just a mouthpiece, but many portray Powell as a man of principle. Remember the Powell Doctrine? It states that the U.S. should only go to war after addressing the following concerns:
Is a vital national security interest threatened? Do we have a clear attainable objective? Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed? Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted? Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement? Have the consequences of our action been fully considered? Is the action supported by the American people? Do we have genuine broad international support?
By Powell’s standard, war on Iraq is without foundation. His doctrine has been replaced with the Wolfowitz Doctrine, which claims America’s right to war by virtue of its superpower status and the rest be damned. Yet Powell has gone along with it.
The Bush Administration is using 9/11 as an excuse to terrorize and brow beat the world while simultaneously stripping away our rights here at home. Under Bush, the government has instituted a foreign and domestic policy of revenge, pre-emptive killing, support of political assassination and torture and the creation of a class of individuals, groups and countries with absolutely no human, legal and civil rights. Once labeled a terrorist an individual, group or country has no rights that anyone is bound to respect. Sound familiar?
The terrorist label has been extended from those that fly planes into buildings to those who sell and buy weed on the street to those who oppose the Bush plan for world domination. While the faces on the anti-drug television ads that tie the drug trade to terrorism are white, the faces that go to jail are black. The war on drugs has already stripped countless black Americans of their rights, once branded terrorists ? they will be reduced to below nothing status.
While opinion polls show only 19.2 percent African Americans supporting Bush’s war aims, black people have not attended anti-war rallies in huge numbers. Blacks don’t have any special obligation or greater urgency to oppose this war than whites, although we have a greater, far more bitter familiarity with the way lives are unequally valued. African Americans, because of our history, understand white supremacy and privilege. And those of us who understand the difference between movement and opposition know that confronting these demons by creating a peace alternative is the movement that must be built.
African Americans must also be mindful that well over 30 percent of those U.S. Army troops sent to fight Bush’s war are black. And while Bush gives lip service to diversity, he attacks affirmative action. He condemns Trent Lott one day and places wreaths on Confederate soldiers’ tombs the next. While he takes the country down an economic spiral, which affects blacks disproportionately, he is willing to run huge deficits to wage an illegal and immoral war. Bush may hoist Powell and Rice as the new black leader archetypes, but they are not acting in the best interests of black Americans, or any Americans for that matter.
Maybe things will go well, the smart bombs will hit only military targets, and U.S. soldiers will make short work of the war. But what about the peace? Even if the war is a success by its authors’ standards, the question of winning the peace in a pursuit that is so very wrong from the beginning is hard to fathom. What this moment in history does, in a sense, is sharpen what should have been the task for the black movement, the labor movement, the progressive movement, all along. Martin Luther King defined the real “axis of evil” 36 years ago. He warned, “that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.” As for America, King said, “A nation that will exploit economically will have foreign investments and everything else, and will have to use its military to protect them. All of these problems are tied together.”
Those “triple evils” of racism, economic inequality and militarism King talked about didn’t just come together during the Vietnam era and are now coming together again. They where together from the beginning, one feeding the other in a relentless loop. Some say that under Bill Clinton we had “peace and prosperity”, but the number of poor people stayed about constant with what it was 30 years ago, and more bombs were dropped on Iraq ton-for-ton during his administration than during the entire Vietnam War.
There’s always a war somewhere; there’s always a military system sucking the life out of societies at home and abroad, just as there’s always racism and economic inequality. War makes all of those things worse. But the reason to oppose it, other than to save the lives of innocents, is the same as the reason to struggle in this world at all: because the present set-up is not serving the people, is not serving humanity, is not just or equitable or enlivening. It’s a death trip. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” sounds more radical every day.
In wartime we must not lay down and be quiet for the sake of “unity.” We must take to the streets, to the steps of Congress and the White House. Locally, we must go to those government institutions that feed the war machine to make the peace presence known, our voices heard and our demands met. We must support any international call for sanctions against this government. And we must call for a full investigation, debate, or whatever you want to call it, on how George Bush made America an international outlaw nation. We must resist the impulse and drive to try to control the world.
Let us remember as Dr. King said, “There is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. Let us realize that William Cullen Bryant is right: Truth crushed to earth will rise again. Let us go out realizing that the Bible is right: Be not deceived, God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
Thanks to JoAnn Wypijewski for her constant help and Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive Magazine for his earlier case against war.
KEVIN ALEXANDER GRAY is a CounterPunch contributer and civil rights organizer who lives in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached at: email@example.com