As George W. Bush signals world history's most lethal military machine to ready an indefinitely dated but seemingly inevitable assault on Iraq, numerous commentators from various points along the political spectrum are making the case against the White House's clamor for war. Here are the primary points, some being made by leading supporters of United States Empire, including Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to George Bush
* Contrary to the claims of Bush junior, Don Rumsfeld, Condaleeza Rice and Tony Blair, there is no significant evidence linking Iraq to terrorist conspiracies against the United States, now or in the past. In addition, Saddam Hussein is a longtime enemy of Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists of the bin-Laden variety.
* An attack against Iraq will squander what's left of the global good will America garnered in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks. There is virtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq at this time.
* A pre-emptive war against Iraq is utterly contrary to international law and morality and dubious even under the American Constitution. It would set a horrific standard and serve as a dangerous model for future international behavior.
* There are plenty of states besides Iraq with terrible rulers who have done and do horrible things to "their own people." Does the US propose to attack and change the governments of these countless other nations? Of course not, particularly since many of the worst violator states - Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Columbia, to name just a few - are heavily supplied and assisted by the US.
* There are plenty of states that possess more weapons of mass destruction than Iraq. Does Bush intend to invade Israel (known to possess hundreds of nuclear warheads), Pakistan, or India?
* The US is the only nation that has ever actually used nuclear weapons - twice and both times without reasonable justification, if such a thing exists for the use of such sinister devices on civilian populations. It currently possesses and keeps at the ready more thermonuclear warheads than the rest of the world combined. It refuses to honor international treaties by permitting its own weapons programs to be inspected by international experts. In the last three years, moreover, America has violated international law by bombing four states - Serbia, Iraq, Sudan, and Afghanistan. America has also waged radioactive war twice since 1990, deploying munitions containing depleted uranium in the Gulf and Kosovo wars, producing significant measurable increases in child leukemia and birth defect rates in Iraq and Serbia. Should the US be preemptively invaded, by virtue of its unrivalled possession, development, and record of using weapons of mass destruction?
* The horrible actions that Saddam carried out against technical citizens of Iraq (dissident Iraqi Kurds) and to which Bush and Rumsfeld obsessively refer (how many more times must we hear Dubya, Rummy, Condi, and Tony make disingenuous expressions of horror at the fact that "he gassed his own people"? ) were conducted with the full approval of the US policymakers, who viewed Hussein as a valued Persian Gulf ally prior to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Indeed, the US and its imperial junior partner England were the leading suppliers of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons during the 1980s.
* Hussein poses little real threat to the world or even to the region. According to former United Nations Special Commission chief inspector Scott Ritter, Iraq has been essentially "disarmed from a qualitative standpoint." Even Kuwaiti and Israeli analysts have acknowledged that Iraq no longer poses a serious danger. Moreover, to the supreme disappointment of Bush, who revealingly claimed to "see an opportunity through the tears" just two days after 9-11 (yes, an opportunity to launch wars planned before the Twin Towers fell), Hussein has acceded to White House demands for intrusive and unrestricted military and weapons inspections, far beyond the elementary requirements of national sovereignty.
* The best way to get Saddam's dreaded weapons into in to the hands of terrorists or otherwise in play is precisely to threaten his existence. It is only with nothing left to lose that Saddam would likely unleash his biological and chemical materials, whatever they be, possibly provoking havoc in the region. There is no evidence that Hussein is suicidal, which he would have to be to conduct a significant operation against the US.
* A war on Iraq will distract American and world attention and resources away from the urgent need to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict in an equitable fashion.
It will also distract the US and the world from the difficult task of preventing further attacks by Al Qaeda and other shadowy non-territorial terror networks. According to Scowcroft, "the central point is that any campaign against Iraq, whatever the strategy, costs, and risks, is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism."
* American troops will be put at risk by an invasion of Iraq. Some will come home in body bags, something understood by military authorities, some of whom served time in Vietnam, but which does not concern the administration's well stocked coop of "chicken-hawks" from Bush junior on down.
* If the US does manage to unseat Hussein, US forces will have to remain in Iraq for untold years, carrying out an expensive, difficult, and risky nation-building project.
* A war against Iraq will very possibly generate catastrophic side effects for the US, including a dangerous de-stabilization of the entire Middle East, a massive upsurge of virulent anti-Americanism in the Islamic world, and possibly even war between the two nuclear powers of the Sub-Continent. "If the US is seen as turning its back on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" in order to settle old scores with Saddam, Scowcroft has warned, "there would be an explosion of rage against us. We would be seen as ignoring a key interest of the Muslim world in order to satisfy what is seen as a narrow American interest. Even without Israeli involvement, the results could well destabilize Arab regimes in the region, ironically facilitating one of Saddam's strategic objectives" (Scowcroft should have added: to facilitate one of Osama bin-Laden's core objectives). In short, war on Iraq will do more than divert Americans from proper prosecution of the "war on terrorism;" it will also breed thousands of new anti-American terrorists.
There's plenty in all of the above to shoot down the warmongers of the White House. It is politically useful to antiwar activists, perhaps, that (reflecting divisions within the ruling-class on how to most effectively dominate the world), some of the key antiwar talking points are being at least partly written for us by imperialists like Scowcroft.
It is difficult, however, not to notice a missing piece in the antiwar
case(s) that make its way into the "mainstream" (really corporate) media and even in some of the statements from the left side of admittedly narrow US ideological spectrum. That missing or at least significantly under-emphasized piece is the likely terrible impact of a US attack on the ordinary non-policymaking people of the official enemy state.
Will innocent Iraqi civilians die? How many everyday Iraqi men, women, and children, including seniors and infants, will perish in, and as a result of, a new military assault on Iraq? Four things should be kept in mind in trying to answer these apparent mainstream non-questions.
First, using the past as a guide, we can begin by noting that, as eminent US historian Gabriel Kolko has recently noted (Another Century of War?NY: New Press, 2002), 33,000 civilians died during the relatively short Gulf War and the Kurdish and Shiite rebellions that followed.
Next, we should recall that a large number - estimates range from 100,000 to more than a million (including half a million children) - Iraqi civilians have died as a result of US-imposed UN sanctions on vital food and medicine imports since 1991. Thanks to this consequence of America's "benevolent" and "humanitarian" imperialism (in the words of the New York Times' Arab-bating foreign-policy columnist Thomas Friedman) and to war damage that remains un-repaired, the Iraqi people are in a weakened state compared to 1990. Their basic infrastructure and material lives are still horribly damaged on an ongoing basis by an American-led war that has never really stopped - something that will inflate morality levels in the event of another frontal US military assault.
Third, we should register the unpleasant fact that civilian deaths from American military actions in Afghanistan have exceeded 9-11's US toll, something to bear in mind when Pentagon officials claim that they will only attack military targets in Iraq.
Fourth, it should be noted that ordinary Iraqi people were not consulted on Saddam's decision to invade Kuwait in August 1990. And Hussein does not consult them on his recent moves any more than Afghan sheepherders murdered by US B-52s and cluster during the last year were consulted on Al Qaeda's plans before they died in the name of Bush's war on terrorism.
Yet beyond some references on the liberal-left side of the debate to the danger of "spilling the blood of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians who get caught in the way" (Michael Klare in the October 7th Nation), the issue of civilian casualties seems to be a marginal part of the Great Iraq War Debate. As befits a nation whose leaders murdered millions of Southeast Asians during the 1960s and 1970s but which still publicly obsesses only about what the Vietnam War did to our own national psyche, the debate is pretty much all about us. The officially permissible dispute is about how it will hurt our interests, how it will damage our image in and agenda for the world, how it might backfire against the new American Century.
Americans looking for reasons to oppose war on Iraq should certainly review the official reasons presented above in bullet-point form. They should also visit the web site of "Voice in the Wilderness," an excellent peace and justice organization that posts a plethora of disturbing facts and photographs, both documenting and personalizing the terrible human consequences of US policy in Iraq (to explore this material, go to www.nonviolence.org/vitw). In a minimally decent, civilized, and morally responsible nation, the mere chance that thousands more innocent people might be killed by a proposed government action would be all the information needed to preclude the action.
It's something worth reflection for Americans who continue to wonder why the "Arab Street" hates us. Also worth reflection in a time when US policymakers fret over the power of stateless terror networks: the ultimate form of global terrorism continues to be, as for many centuries now, the international system of state power, under whose hegemony ruling classes of various nations collaborate in the victimization of ordinary non-policymaking men, women, and children, for whom the first agenda is simply to survive from one day to the next.
Paul Street is an urban social policy researcher and freelance writer in Chicago. He can be reached at pstreet@cul-chic <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org> ago.org