Drumming Up an Unjust War

Revolutionary Worker #1174, November 10, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org


A Pop Quiz

The U.S. government says:

a) It has an excuse to attack Iraq
b) It doesn’t need to give any specific reason for attacking Iraq
c) It will soon get a justification for attacking Iraq from UN inspectors
d) All of the above.

The answer is (d).


"They are very determined. The herd of elephants has started running."

Senior Israeli military source, on U.S. plans to attack Iraq, Haaretz newspaper

The war plans for the coming U.S. attack on Iraq are very clear: The Pentagon is building up massive invasion forces in the Persian Gulf and Turkey for attacking Iraq.

What is not clear, yet, is exactly how this next war will be justified. Many possible justifications are competing for the top spot of " official casus belli ." The U.S. government has claimed different and contradictory reasons for justifying war -- often several of them at the same time.

Inventing Links

An aide to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recalls that within hours after a plane crashed into the Pentagon, Rumsfeld told him to start preparing war with Iraq.

No one in the world has seen any evidence that Iraq has links to al-Qaida or was involved in any way in the September 11 events--though that doesn't stop prominent figures in the U.S. government from repeatedly claiming they have some.

Saddam Hussein's government is highly secular, and has been hostile to the fundamentalist Islamic forces like al-Qaida. During the last Gulf War in 1991, Osama bin Laden made an offer to the Saudi government to form a volunteer army to join the attack on Iraq.

For months, Czech president Vaclav Havel has told the White House quietly that there is no evidence to confirm reports that Mohamed Atta, the suspected leader in the Sept. 11 attacks, met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in April 2001, before September 11. This has not stopped U.S. officials from claiming there were such contacts.

In September, Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. National Security Adviser, charged that the Iraqi regime was protecting al-Qaida forces in Baghdad, and had even helped them get chemical weapons. No evidence has been provided, and these charges have been quietly dropped.

Then, on October 7, Bush claimed that "one very senior al-Qaida leader...received medical treatment in Baghdad this year." There is no evidence that the Iraqi government knew that this man, Abu Musab Zarqawi, was there or had contact with him.

The British Guardian reports (October 25): "Donald Rumsfeld, the hawkish American Defense Secretary, has assembled a team of experts to scour intelligence data for links between Iraq and al- Qaida, sidestepping the CIA, which is locked in conflict with White House conservatives on whether such evidence exists. Officials in the intelligence establishment said the team was part of an effort by Mr. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, to force the facts to fit their version of reality, according to which Saddam Hussein is working closely with terrorists and poses a serious threat to the U.S."

If the facts don't exist, men can apparently be found to invent them.

Inventing a Current Threat

Second, the White House insists that Iraq is a "threat to the U.S." It says that September 11 showed that the U.S. is vulnerable and can no longer tolerate hostile countries having powerful weapons.

In his now famous August 26 speech setting the U.S. on a course toward war, Vice President Dick Cheney said: "Many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon."

On September 7, Bush told reporters: "I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were denied, finally denied access, a report came out of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] that they were six months away from developing a weapon. I don't know what more evidence we need."

On October 7, Bush said, "We have discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet" of unmanned drone aircraft which, Bush said, could be used "for missions targeting the United States."

In reality, there is no evidence that Iraq has the ability or the inclination to attack the U.S.

The Washington Post published a report called "For Bush, Facts Are Malleable" (Oct. 22) which concluded that Bush's claims are "dubious, if not wrong." It said: "Further information revealed that the aircraft lack the range to reach the United States; there was no such report by the IAEA..."

Among the sources for this conclusion was a public CIA report which said Iraq's military had only conducted an "experiment" with unmanned planes, and such drones are incapable of crossing the Atlantic.

The last IAEA report on Iraq was made in 1998. That report said: "Based on all credible information to date, the IAEA has found no indication of Iraq having achieved its program goal of producing nuclear weapons or of Iraq having retained a physical capability for the production of weapon- usable nuclear material or having clandestinely obtained such material."

Virtually all experts on nuclear weapons say that, while Iraq has (like many countries) conducted nuclear research off and on for years, there is no evidence that Iraq has any fissionable material at all to make a bomb with.

The governments of all six countries that actually border Iraq (and that could theoretically be reached by Iraq's primitive missiles) oppose a war in the name of disarming Iraq.

In short: the White House claims that the U.S. is vulnerable and Iraq is threatening--but it has a very hard time making the case. The facts are clearly the other way around: The U.S. military is (according to the Pentagon's strategists) able to threaten anyone in the world without serious challenge or deterrence. Meanwhile Iraq's military is badly weakened by its defeat a decade ago, and long years of bombing and sanctions since then.

To many people in the world, it appears that the U.S. government wants to risk this war because they feel strong enough to "take out" Iraq, a small third world country of 22 million people, easily and even by themselves.

Inventing a Future Threat

The U.S. government produced a fall-back position when people pointed out that Iraq has no clear links with al-Qaida, and it doesn't have weapons that can reach the U.S.

They invented a world of maybe's: They say that if Iraq had a powerful weapon, it could give that weapon to some unnamed, unknown third party, who could carry it into the U.S. and use it.

U.S. government spokespeople repeat almost daily that Iraq could one day develop a nuclear weapon--sometimes they said it might take five years, sometimes they claim a few months.

This argument is at the heart of the new "Bush Doctrine" allowing "preemptive war"--which says the U.S. does not need any specific proven threat or provocation to attack another country. It says that the U.S. should launch wars if it suspects another government might do something hostile sometime in the future , if they later got weapons they don't have now--or if there are non-governmental forces inside the borders of that country who may do something hostile.

As Bush himself explains: "[Saddam Hussein] wants to have a nuclear weapon. He has made it very clear he hates the United States and, as importantly, he hates friends of ours." In Bush's gangster logic, what more reason for all-out attack is needed?

In this worldview, countries like Iraq simply have no right to self defense--and have no right to have weapons that might deter attack.

However it is worth noting that, after all, for a decade it has been Iraq that has been under constant attack--by major powers with vastly more powerful weapons. U.S. and British jets have claimed "fly-over rights" in most of the country for ten years. The U.S. and British warplanes and cruise missiles bomb at will. The U.S. openly claims it wants to see Iraq's government overthrown and wants to kill its top leaders. Huge armies and navies headed by the U.S. command have entered the region and stationed themselves permanently in bases in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Diego Garcia, Bahrain and Qatar--where they are openly carrying out attacks and threatening invasion.

The U.S. and Israel have both threatened Iraq with nuclear attack--and yet it is treated as a war crime for Iraq's government to seek any means of deterrence.

The new U.S. doctrine (embodied by the "National Security Strategy of the United States," released on September 20) calls for preventing any military challenge to U.S. supremacy from hostile powers anywhere in the world. The logic of the U.S. doctrine of "pre-emption" is, quite simply, that governments hostile to the U.S. have no right to have modern weapons, and the U.S. has the right to attack any of them. It is a nakedly imperialist doctrine that opposes any notion of national sovereignty and rights of national self-defense anywhere in the world. And Iraq is emerging as the first test case of that new world order.

Inventing a Theory of Unique "Evil"

After ranting for months that Iraq may be "wanting" nuclear weapons, the White House suddenly had to shift ground when the government of North Korea announced it already had a significant nuclear weapons program including facilities developing fissionable material.

On October 21, Bush himself stepped forward to explain that Iraq remained the target of war preparations because of the special "uniqueness" of Iraq's President Saddam Hussein. Bush said: "What makes him even more unique is the fact that he's actually gassed his own people." Bush was referring to the terrible poison gas attacks on the rebel Kurdish village of Halabja in northern Iraq in March 1988.

It is worth noting that at the time of these attacks Saddam Hussein was allied with the U.S.--and waging a war with Iran with U.S. support. In fact, at the time, the U.S. government (then headed by President Ronald Reagan and Vice President Bush Senior) opposed attempts in the U.S. Senate to condemn Iraq's government for this act. So it is rather intense hypocrisy for these same U.S. forces, now 20 years later, when they are opposed to Saddam Hussein, to treat these crimes as the ultimate proof of his "evil"--if so, what does that make them?

It is also worth nothing that the month before Bush spoke, the Pentagon released its new doctrine for urban fighting. The U.S. is a signatory of the international Chemical Weapons Convention which "prohibits the use of all chemical weapons, including riot control agents." However the Pentagon announced that it would not abide by this--adding "the United States holds the position that use of riot control agents to control prisoners of war or civil disturbances is not a method of warfare and therefore not covered by the convention."

In other words, the U.S. military rejects the international treaty it signed and declares it will use gas, if it wants, to control prisoners and civilians (both in Iraq and the U.S.).

Denying Strategic Goals

Not surprisingly, many people around the world suspect that what really makes Iraq "unique" and important, in the eyes of the U.S. government, is that it sits on the second largest oil reserves in the world and that it might serve as a base for more tightly controlling the whole surrounding region. U.S. government spokesmen have had to face this argument repeatedly.

For example, the following is an exchange with Presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer on October 8.

Question: "How much does oil have to do with the assessment of the threat from Saddam Hussein? President Bush didn't mention it."

Fleischer: "I'm not sure I follow your question ..."

Question: "Most security analysts take a look at it and say oil is a central aspect to the nation's security ... are you saying oil is not at all a factor in the president's thinking?"

Fleischer: I think when you take a look at what the United Nations voted for, what the Congress voted for, what President Clinton signed, and what President Bush supports, that is not a factor."

Question: "So oil is not a factor?"

Fleischer: "That is not a factor...."

Question: "So the stability of oil prices is not a national security or an economic matter--how can you say that it's not a factor? I just don't understand that."

Fleischer: "The question is about any potential use of military force. And this is about saving the lives of American people."

Many people find this hard to believe.

A recent report in Oil and Gas International (Oct. 30) noted that plans are already developing for drastically reorganizing the business relationship of a post-war Iraq:

"The Bush administration wants to have a working group of 12 to 20 people focused on Iraqi oil and gas to be able to recommend to an interim government ways of restoring the petroleum sector following a military attack in order to increase oil exports to partially pay for a possible U.S. military occupation government--further fueling the view that controlling Iraqi oil is at the heart of the Bush campaign to replace Hussein with a more compliant regime. The State Department wants to include not only Iraqi opposition leaders such as Ahmed Chalabi and Sharif Ali Bin al Hussein of the Iraqi National Congress, but recently defected personnel from Iraq's Ministry of Petroleum, and representatives of the U.S. Energy Department.... According to the source, the working group will not only prepare recommendations for the rehabilitation of the Iraqi petroleum sector post-Hussein, but will address questions regarding the country's continued membership in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and whether it should be allowed to produce as much as possible or be limited by an OPEC quota, and it will consider whether to honor contracts made between the Hussein government and foreign oil companies, including the $3.5 billion project to be carried out by Russian interests to redevelop Iraq's oilfields."

Control of such resources is not just a matter of corporate profits, but part of a whole strategic plan for U.S. dominance in the world--including over the other major world powers who rely heavily on Middle Eastern oil and who have been developing relations with the Iraq government in the last decade since the Gulf War.

For the last decade, there was mounting bitterness among the empire-planners and war-makers of the U.S. Some of them looked at the unprecedented level of U.S. military superiority and complained angrily that it was not being fully exploited. If no power on earth can challenge U.S. hegemony, why keep coloring inside the lines? Why pretend there is still "deterrence" by rival powers? Why act like weaker allies deserve an equal say in the shape of the world system? Why allow defiance in strategic parts of the world--like the Persian Gulf?

Now they have seized on the events of September 11, and they are arrogantly setting out to recast the international networks of power and wealth. And after their practice war in Afghanistan, they have focused their war guns on "solving the problem of Iraq." Powerful forces within the U.S. power structure have decided it is time to tighten U.S. control over the strategic oilfields of the Persian Gulf-- starting with overthrowing Iraq's government.

As Robert Johnson, former chief economist of the Senate Banking Committee, and Thomas Ferguson, professor of political science, University of Massachusetts, wrote in the Los Angeles Times: "By setting a goal of `regime change' rather than weapons elimination and by ostentatiously preparing to assume operational and oversight responsibilities in Iraq for a long stretch of time, the U.S. is sending a strong message to treasuries and foreign ministries around the world. In matters affecting either oil supply or the value of the dollar, we will act in our best interests, with little consideration of the interests or views of others."

So the threat of war on Iraq is meant to send a message to the whole world that the U.S. intends to dominate. And other major powers, like Russia, France, and Germany, have been very concerned about finding ways to maintain some influence in a world order dominated by U.S. military and economic power. This has led to the current negotiations in the UN over the terms of weapons inspections--and a whole new round of hypocritical justifications for war.

The UN--and the Inspections Tripwire

Specifically, in his United Nations speech (and ever since) Bush has claimed that the world should support war against Iraq because it has violated UN resolutions.

First, the U.S. wants the UN Security Council to vote to find Iraq in "material breach" of previous UN resolutions. Everyone expects the U.S. would treat such a resolution as a blank check to claim UN support for any war they choose to launch on Iraq.

Second, the U.S. wants the UN to send new teams of inspectors to make impossible demands on Iraq--so they can claim, while the world is watching, that Iraq has been given a "last chance" and has defied everyone.

Key to this plan is to make sure that the demands that the inspectors are sent in to enforce are impossible to meet. Recently, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer was asked if the U.S. would accept the current Iraqi regime in power if it complied with the resolution the U.S. wants the Security Council to pass. Fleischer replied: "I can't imagine a situation in which Iraq would do these things."

Iraq would have seven days after a UN resolution passes to accept demands that no country in history has agreed to. It would then have 30 days to present to the world (and to the armies gathering to attack it) a "full, final and complete disclosure" (FFCD) of its chemical, biological, nuclear and missile programs (which include locations of its missile and artillery installations). Within 45 days of the resolution, the inspectors would be back in Iraq, and 60 days later would be required to make a first report. However, while some officials are saying "it will take months for a complete inspection of Iraq"--the inspections could trigger war long before any countrywide inspection is "complete."

These UN weapons inspections have been designed to be the tripwire for war--to provide the justification that the U.S. has been looking for. It is a war plan "that won't take yes for an answer." And it is clear that those organizing these inspection teams, starting with chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, are eager to help bully Iraq and provide a trigger for a major U.S. attack.

It is possible to imagine a moment in the near future--when everyone is told that Iraq has defied UN inspections, that they have blown their "last chance," that they have "proven they won't disarm peacefully," and when it is said that the U.S. now has the backing and permission of the "world community" to bomb, invade and occupy Iraq.

It is important to be prepared for that moment--to be clear through all the twists and turns of the complex events-to-come about why this threatened war is wrong, and why no amount of resolutions, double-talk, manufactured provocations and arm-twisted endorsement from other imperialists can make it just.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)