MIA: History: ETOL: Newspapers & Periodicals: International Socialist Review: Issue 25

International Socialist Review, September–October 2002

Anthony Arnove

The case against Bush’s war


From International Socialist Review, Issue 25, September–October 2002.
Downloaded with thanks from the ISR Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.


Once again, the U.S. government is gunning for Iraq. After twelve years of imposing the most comprehensive–and deadly–sanctions in history, after destroying much of the country and killing tens of thousands of civilians in the 1991 Gulf War, and after periodically bombing the country in the years since, U.S. warmongers are now openly planning another major invasion, including possibly an occupation of the country that could last for years.

The need to build a movement against this attack on Iraq is urgent. Any escalation of the war on Iraq will lead to enormous numbers of casualties, will further devastate Iraq’s badly damaged infrastructure, and will lead to an even greater expansion of U.S. military power and use of that power to wreak havoc around the globe.

Every argument now being used to go to war with Iraq is a lie or is the rankest hypocrisy.

The United States needs to go to war to bring democracy to Iraq. The United States has been the single greatest opponent of democracy not just in Iraq and the Middle East, but in the world. For decades the U.S. government has backed the corrupt dictatorships of Saudi Arabia, Iran under the Shah, the Gulf monarchies, and Iraq itself. Saddam Hussein was backed for years by Washington, and even when Bush I turned against him, he and his buddies preferred to keep Hussein in power at the end of the Gulf War. The Bush administration preferred “an iron-fisted Iraqi junta,” in the words of the New York Times, to the threat of the people of Iraq determining their own future. Washington feared that the rebellion could spark uprisings throughout the region, especially among the oppressed Kurds of Turkey.

The so-called Iraqi opposition now being funded and trained by the United States is a collection of corrupt opportunists with absolutely no social base or legitimacy within Iraq. The group met recently with the brother of the late King Hussein of Iraq, who aspires to restore the Hashemite monarchy to Iraq.

Moreover, we don’t hear Bush talking about engineering a “regime change” to “bring democracy” to Pakistan, where Bush’s friend General Pervez Musharraf just single-handedly rewrote the constitution to give him even more power than he had already amassed since assuming the presidency in a coup. Nor do we hear any complaints about any of the other dictatorial regimes in Central Asia that the U.S. has on the payroll as allies in the ongoing war on Afghanistan.

Saddam Hussein is such a madman that he used chemical weapons against his own people. This line has become a mantra of the “bomb Iraq” crowd. But what they neglect to mention is that Iraq was a patron of the U.S. government when he did so. After the brutal attacks on Kurds in Halabja in 1988, Secretary of State George Shultz met with Saadoun Hammadi, Iraq’s minister of state for foreign affairs in Washington, and said: “The approach we want to take [toward Iraq] is that, ‘We want to have a good relationship with you, but that this sort of thing [the Halabja massacre] makes it very difficult,’” in the words of one State Department official.

In fact, the U.S. continued aid to Iraq, providing hundreds of millions of dollars in export credit guarantees through the Agriculture Department’s Commodity Credit Corporation and the Export-Import Bank. From June 6–8, 1989, a delegation of U.S. businesspeople representing “23 U.S. banks, oil and oil-service companies, and high-tech, construction, and defense contractors, with cumulative annual sales of $500 billion” visited Iraq and had “high-level” talks with the Ba’athist regime.

On April 12, 1990, five top U.S. senators arrived in Baghdad on a trip that has received little notice. “The senators carried a private message from President Bush that the United States wanted to improve relations with Iraq ‘notwithstanding the record of President Saddam Hussein.’” Three of the five–Bob Dole, Howard Metzenbaum, and Frank Murkowski–returned to lead the charge against sanctions against Iraq for its use of chemical weapons. This is classic U.S. foreign policy–back a ruthless dictator when he does your bidding, then turn on him as a vicious monster when he disobeys.

Iraq has weapons of mass destruction that threaten the United States as well as Iraq’s neighbors. According to Vice President Dick Cheney, “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction; there is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.”

The rabidly Zionist New York Times columnist William Safire wrote recently that Iraq is “gaining the power to threaten our cities with annihilation.” We must therefore “liberate Iraq.” This cannot be taken seriously. The very same day, the Times acknowledged that Iraq has no more than 40 missiles with a range longer than 90 miles, none of which has a range of more than 390 miles (a few miles short, it turns out, of being able to reach the U.S. border). Even the CIA admitted last March that “Most agencies believe that Iraq is unlikely to test before 2015 any [intercontinental ballistic missiles] that would threaten the United States, even if UN prohibitions were eliminated or significantly reduced in the next few years.”

According to Scott Ritter, the former head of the United Nations weapon’s inspection team in Iraq (Unscom), by 1998 “Iraq had been disarmed.” According to Ritter, “The people who claim that Iraq has these weapons today are also the same people saying ‘We should not send weapons inspectors back to Iraq,’ because they know very well that if you send weapons inspectors back to Iraq, the basis upon which they’ve made these outlandish claims will be reduced to about zero.” Whatever weapons Iraq may or may not have, the country has gone through more than ten years of devastating bombing, sanctions, and weapons inspection that have destroyed the country’s infrastructure. Iraq was not a military threat to the U.S. in 1991, when its military forces smashed Iraq in a matter of days–the idea that Iraq is a threat today is a bad joke. In an interview broadcast on National Public Radio, Ritter joked, “We used to joke that the only way an Iraqi biological weapon would ever kill you is if it hit you on the head.”

Mo Mowlam, writing in the UK Guardian, points out that “Even if Saddam had such weapons, why would he wish to use them? He knows that if he moves to seize the oilfields in neighboring countries the full might of the Western world will be ranged against him. He knows that if he attacks Israel the same fate awaits him.” Indeed, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, taken to seize a greater share of Middle East oil, took place under conditions in which Saddam Hussein thought he had a tacit green light to go ahead with it from Washington, which then considered him an ally. Outside of Israel–America’s Middle East watchdog–there isn’t a state in the region that has expressed any fear of an Iraqi threat. But even if Iraq did have a proven capacity to develop or use weapon’s of mass destruction, we must oppose military action–on the grounds that the purposes of the invasion are to enhance U.S. imperial power in the region and strenghten its capacity to threaten others.

It is the purest hypocrisy for the U.S. to justify going to war on the basis of perceived threats from countries that might posses weapons of mass destruction. Not only does the U.S. government have the world’s largest collection of weapons of mass destruction, it has used them–in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (the atomic bombs that killed 200,000 people and caused generations to suffer the damages of radiation); in Vietnam (where the United States dropped napalm, a deadly chemical weapon that maimed and killed thousands); and even “on its own people” (secretly testing biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons on the domestic population).

And the U.S. government “threatens to use its nuclear weapons.” The New York Times recently published a leaked Bush administration “Nuclear Posture Review.” The “secret Pentagon report calls for developing new nuclear weapons that would be better suited for striking targets in Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Libya” and “indicates that the Pentagon views nuclear weapons as an important element of military planning.” The document “calls for improving the intelligence and targeting systems needed for nuclear strikes and argues that the United States may need to resume nuclear testing.”

The hypocrisy goes deeper. Where did Iraq get its weapons of mass destruction capacity in the first place? Much of it, in fact, came from the United States and its allies, such as Germany and Britain. No one worried too much about these weapons when Iraq was allied with the United States during the brutal Iran-Iraq war. In fact, the United States armed both sides, and encouraged Iraq to invade Iran. So much for the integrity of international borders declared as the pretext for the invasion of Iraq in 1991, after it moved into Kuwait in August 1990. Iraq also used chemical weapons against Iranian troops without falling out of favor with its friends in Washington.

If war on countries with weapons of mass destruction is justified, then the U.S. had better start discussing its plans to bomb its allies Israel (which still denies officially that it has nuclear weapons, though it has been well established that it has a sophisticated nuclear program and perhaps 200 nuclear warheads), Pakistan, and India.

The fact is, the plans to bomb Iraq are not about “combating terrorism.” They are not about “democracy in the Middle East.” And they are not about protecting the United States or Iraq’s neighbors from an attack by Iraq. Iraq’s neighbors have expressed no worry that Iraq poses any kind of threat. The war is about U.S. imperialism advancing its interests in the world, taking advantage of the environment created by the attacks of a year ago on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Iraq is a thorn in the side of the Bush administration because it is a country that the U.S. government does not control. But it is a threat because Iraq is situated in the Middle East, home to two-thirds of the world’s oil. Oil is vital to the world capitalist economy, and the U.S. government has been committed for decades to doing whatever is necessary to control the profits from that oil; to control the governments that pump that oil; to reap all the political advantages that flow from this control; and to suppress any outside forces, any regional powers, or any social movements that threaten to limit–or, worse, democratize–access to it. Smashing Iraq–this time with Israel pitching in–is Washington’s prelude to reshaping its control of the region.

The drive to war could take many routes. We should not be confused if Bush is pressured by his allies or “critics,” like former Secretary of State James Baker III, to seek approval from Congress or the United Nations. Bush first said he didn’t need UN or congressional approval. Now he says he will seek congressional approval, and he may well decide to use the UN as a cover for this invasion. Make no mistake, if he wants such backing, there is hardly any doubt that both would roll over. If Bush announced the bombs had been launched, all of the people seemingly criticizing Bush now would rally around the flag, and announce that we have to “support our president” and “support our troops.”

In fact, those pushing for Congress or the UN to endorse the war are merely arguing for a different strategy for selling the war. Rather than “going it alone,” as most of the Bush hard-liners want to do, they think the invasion can be sold as a “multilateral” action. We should not forget that the last Gulf War was carried out under the banner of the UN (just like the sanctions). In reality, what the UN cover meant is that the U.S. military called the shots, but Europe and Middle Eastern states filled in the gaps–and paid the bill.

It will be harder for Bush to bring Middle Eastern states on board this time, but not as hard as many think. The gap between what King Abdullah of Jordan, for example, says for public consumption and what he says to Bush is large. And the U.S. will use all of its economic and military power to bully the world into submission, just as it did in creating the “international coalition” that fought the Gulf War.

According to the Financial Times, “[T]here are growing signs that Russia and China–two key members of the UN Security Council–would support passage” of a new resolution authorizing a strike on Iraq. One British government official noted that Chinese president Jiang Zemin is due to visit Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, in October. “You don’t go and see Bush in Crawford and then block him in the UN,” he told the Financial Times. The report also notes that British Prime Minister Tony Blair “would not back the idea of a UN resolution if it were to delay dealing with the fundamental issue which was depriving Mr. Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction. ‘If seeking a new UN resolution is going to become a bone of contention then it isn’t going to work,’ said one [Blair ally].”

Another war scenario will involve deliberately provoking a conflict over weapons inspections. This is the scenario favored by Blair, as well as by some of Bush’s rightwing critics who argue, in the words of the Financial Times, that “a rebuff [of weapon’s inspectors] by Baghdad would strengthen Washington’s justification for military action.”

“The inspectors have to go back in under our terms, under no one else’s terms,” Colin Powell recently told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ignoring–as has the media–Iraq’s concerns over the well-documented fact that the last inspection team in Iraq passed on intelligence information to the U.S. government. Despite the hype about Iraq “kicking out the inspectors,” as Scott Ritter notes, the United States deliberately “manipulat[ed] the inspection process.” After withdrawing inspectors, in advance of a planned attack on Iraq in December 1988, the United States “bombed targets that had been developed through the inspection process.”

Here again the hypocrisy is outrageous. Last year, the Bush administration denied international inspectors access to U.S. chemical and biological weapons-related facilities–almost certainly the source the so-called Ames anthrax strain that has killed five people in the United States–because it might violate “proprietary commercial interests.” The U.S. government has also consistently undermined chemical weapons treaties to which it did not want to be subject. But no UN resolutions have been passed authorizing the use of force against Washington.

The illusion among liberals that Colin Powell is some kind of moderate who may temper Bush’s move toward war is simply wishful thinking. Powell was a key architect of the last Gulf War slaughter, a man who explained that for him the number of Iraqi casualties was a matter of indifference. Powell’s role in the current situation is explained by Norman Solomon in a September 5 Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting commentary:

Instead of undermining prospects for a military conflagration, Powell’s outsized prestige is a very useful asset for the war planners. The retired general “is seen by many of Washington’s friends and allies abroad as essential to the credibility of Bush’s foreign policy,” the French news agency AFP noted as September began.

Powell’s role, as Solomon shows, is to help the administration line up international support for an all-out war on Iraq. “Under Powell’s direction,” Solomon continues, “U.S. diplomats–diligently laying down groundwork for war–are brandishing carrots and sticks at numerous countries.”

The real threat to the world today is not Iraq, but the United States–the world’s leading rogue state. A rogue state which has weapons of mass destruction, has used them, and is threatening to do so again, with far more credibility than an Iraq still badly damaged from the Gulf War and suffering from a twelve-year-long embargo. A rogue state that is simultaneously arming Israel’s occupation and state terrorism against Palestinians, funding Colombia’s death squad government, sending troops into the Philippines, Malaysia, and Georgia, and waging an open-ended war on the world. The people of Iraq can be forgiven for thinking that George Bush–a man who threatens their already-devastated country daily with imminent military action by the world’s best-armed collosus–is the real madman with his finger on the trigger.

No doubt an Iraq war will make the world a much more unstable place, as ruling classes around the world jump on the Bush Doctrine bandwagon–much as they did in the early phases of the “war on terror”–and assert their “right” to take preemptive action against claimed threats. A movement has to be built here to confront U.S. imperialism. The circumstances for organizing today are challenging, but public sentiment could quickly turn against broadening the “war on terrorism” to include a preemptive strike on Iraq, especially if a movement of opposition can be formed in the United States and if the movements in the United Kingdom, in Europe, and in the Middle East can grow. The New York Times nervously reported in August 2002 that Blair is “facing mounting domestic opposition to the prospect of an American invasion of Iraq.” A Channel 4 poll found that a majority in Britain opposes the UK supporting a U.S. war on Iraq. Meanwhile, a CNN, Gallup, and USA Today poll showed that only a “slight majority of Americans still favors sending U.S. forces into Iraq to overturn the regime of Saddam Hussein.”

This tide can be turned. As historian Howard Zinn notes in Terrorism and War, the “war on terrorism has obscured the fact that many people in this country are still in need. We need to dig under the rubble of war and point out that the Bush administration is using the war as a cover for worsening the income gap in this country, while paying no attention to the problems of most of the American people, while enriching corporations. I think concentrating on the class issue, concentrating on the benefits being given to corporations, is critical.”

Zinn adds: “Seymour Melman of Columbia University ... [has] made an important point about the tactics of the antiwar movement. He said that the left is in a position of continually opposing war after war after war, without getting at the root of the problem–which is the economic system under which we live, which needs war and makes war inevitable.”

Socialists have a critical role to play in the coming months, not only in building the broadest possible campaign against an attack on Iraq, but in explaining why capitalism inevitably produces wars and all the suffering that goes with it. With that analysis, we can also understand how to end the system that breeds war and replace it with a humane, democratic one.

Last updated on 15 August 2022

Last updated on 15 August 2022