UN Crisis over Iraq

The Gravity of the Hour

Revolutionary Worker #1192, March 23 , 2003, posted at http://rwor.org

We received the following article from the A World to Win News Service.

10 March 2003. A World to Win News Service . [Note: This article was written before the March 16 meeting in the Azores where the U.S., the UK and Spain gave the ultimatum that Monday, March 17, would mark the end of any diplomatic discussion before going to war.] The U.S. has been stripped all but naked by the United Nations Security Council. This is a great achievement of the antiwar movement and in turn can spur it to new heights.

For months now Bush has been saying that Iraq must be punished because it is in "material violation" of UN resolutions. So far, the UN Security Council has rejected that argument. Faced with this situation, Bush now says that the U.S. "doesn't need anybody's permission." He will do what he has been determined to do all along, no matter how the Security Council votes. In other words, Bush is preparing to do on a grand scale just what he accused Saddam Hussein of doing on a smaller one: flouting international law. If the U.S. and the UK go ahead and attack Iraq without UN approval, this would clearly be illegal according to the UN Charter. It is the U.S., Britain and their handful of allies who will be "rogue nations" in material violation of United Nations decisions.

Bush made a public display of his disdain for the world body by holding a war council in his Oval Office just ahead of the UN meeting. Meanwhile, United Nations observers in Kuwait reported that U.S. soldiers had already begun to cut tank-sized holes in the wire fence separating that country from Iraq and slipped into Iraqi territory. This is in defiance of UN rules prohibiting any soldiers in the demilitarized zone. It is also an act of war. An unknown number of American soldiers have been airlifted into northern Iraq. U.S. and UK aircraft marked the UN meeting by pounding targets with bombs as they have daily for the last few weeks. Six civilians were reported killed and 15 injured on 4 March alone. The U.S. Air Force says it has hit every single known fixed air defense in Iraq. American officials have admitted that one reason for these daily attacks is so that Iraq will not be able to tell at first when the full-scale assault has actually begun. As far as Bush is concerned, UN or not, his war is already rolling.

International law and the UN Charter provide for only two legitimate reasons for war, "individual or collective self-defense in response to an armed attack" or "an action authorized by the UN Security Council." This second category, vaguely defined as "a collective response to a threat to peace," enabled the U.S. to obtain Security Council backing for aggression and invasions from Korea to the 1991 Gulf War and later Afghanistan. This time, the other countries on the Security Council have refused to give the U.S. this cover. Bush has been reduced to arguing that his invasion of a small, poor country halfway around the globe will be an act of self-defense. "I will not leave the American people at the mercy of the dictator Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction," he vowed on the eve of the Security Council meeting, already fearing defeat there. But the UN inspectors' report gave no support at all to the idea that Iraq represents an international threat, and no one abroad but Tony Blair even pretends to believe it.

In fact, the report by chief atomic arms inspector Mohammed ElBaradei pointed out that a major document presented by the October 2002 British White paper concerning Iraq's alleged attempts to buy uranium proved to be a forgery. Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix called this "very disturbing, to say the least." In a subsequent interview with the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine , ElBaradei said that "the secret services of several states" (the U.S. and UK) had turned over "many documents" that had been "crudely" and unprofessionally falsified. Although he didn't say so, this is a flagrant violation of UN resolution 1441. One of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief charges against Iraq is that it has turned over incomplete or incorrect documentation regarding its weapons programs, but Iraq has never even been accused of doing what the U.S. and UK have been caught red-handed doing.

Bush and Blair have increasingly wrapped their war aims in fundamentalist religious terms, resorting to a realm where, by definition, faith and not reason is the ultimate arbiter. Bush's bluster is aimed at those Americans who want to believe anything their president tells them. Blair has a particular problem because his determination to back Bush even without UN support has brought him under intense fire from every corner of British society, including institutions like the Anglican Church, universities, unions, political parties and so on. A third of his own members of parliament revolted against Blair even before the UN defeat came into view. One minister promised to resign if Blair is "extraordinarily reckless" enough to follow Bush to war without the UN. One parliamentary private secretary has already resigned, and others at all levels are said to be on the verge of doing so.

In desperation, Blair has been left with no argument but the idea that he and Bush have the right to ignore "an unreasonable veto." As a group of 16 distinguished international law professors stated in a letter published in The Guardian 7 March, this concept "has no foundation in international law." In fact, Great Britain, like the other Security Council members, insisted on establishing their right to veto UN resolutions in Article 27 of the UN's founding Charter. The victors of World War 2 wanted to secure their interests against any new changes in the world balance of power. The professors pointed out that the UK has used its veto 32 times since 1945. The U.S., by far the champion veto user in the last four decades, blackballed Security Council resolutions 70 times, usually to support Israel when the Zionists were cited for flagrant violations of international law in relation to the Palestinians. Most recently, in December the U.S. vetoed an otherwise unanimous resolution that criticized the killing of a World Food Program worker by Israeli soldiers. On 13 occasions the U.S., UK and France joined together to veto resolutions, for the most part to protect white-ruled South Africa.

Even a former U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, has publicly challenged the legal basis (as well as the advisability) of this war in view of the U.S.'s isolation. However, Hillary Clinton, wife of Bush's predecessor and a leading member of the Democratic Party in her own right, has fully supported Bush.

The people of the world do not have a single representative at the United Nations. The permanent Security Council powers and even the Third World regimes admitted to that body as window dressing stand opposed to the interests of the people. Yet the Security Council's opposition to the U.S. has a great deal to do with the people's opposition to this war, which has come close to the point of explosion in some countries and whole regions.

The attitude of the Security Council powers who are threatening to veto the U.S.-sponsored resolution is very telling of the aims of this war and the stakes involved for all the imperialist powers, big and little. France has long had investments and other important ties to Iraq. It has a great deal to gain if it can invest in a post-Saddam Iraq. For instance, its telecommunications company is eager to get what may be one of the biggest single contracts of its kind ever on offer when it comes time to rebuild that country's entire communications network. Germany also has had major business dealings with Iraq and hopes for much more. Russia is owed $8 billion by Saddam's regime, and its oil companies have been eagerly trying to get their hands on Iraqi crude. U.S. officials have addressed this almost openly in public (speaking loudly "off the record") and undoubtedly much more bluntly in private, saying that these countries can just kiss all that money goodbye if they try to stand in America's way.

But they have anyway. This is not a war for oil in a narrow or immediate sense. These regimes have their own strategic political reasons for opposing what the U.S. really seeks in this war, what French Foreign Minister de Villepin referred to as "a new order"--a phrase often used by American foreign policy thinkers to describe the U.S.'s goals to each other and the elite "political class," but until now a forbidden phrase in polite UN circles when talking about why the U.S. is out to occupy Iraq. The U.S. wants to control Iraq not just for its oil but for the power this would give it in the region and even over the other oil-importing countries like France. These powers have their own imperial reasons to oppose America. But the U.S. has been counting on these countries giving in when brought face to face with the fact that the U.S. is determined to have this war and they can't stop it. This hasn't happened yet.

It cannot be emphasized enough that none of these countries has tried to stop the U.S. nor have they refrained from invading Third World countries themselves. Germany may pretend to be the most pacifist of nations, but the U.S. would find it very difficult to wage this war at all without the use of the U.S. air bases, troops and other strategic facilities in that country. Germany has sent troops to Afghanistan and is taking over the task of coordinating the U.S.-led forces there, enabling the U.S. to concentrate on attacking Iraq. It has also freed up American troops by taking up the job of protecting U.S. bases from the wrath of German antiwar protesters. Just to look back on recent history, Germany played a major role in fomenting the wars in Yugoslavia. As for Russia, at the same time its foreign minister was threatening to call a Security Council session to condemn the U.S. if it attacks Iraq, for the first time in its history Russia was opening up its borders and air space for the shipment of German materials across its territory to Afghanistan. Nearly everyone knows about Russia's genocidal conduct in Chechnya. No nation, not even France, the strongest Mediterranean power which has traditionally tried to impose its dominance there, has objected to the U.S. warships and aircraft that have turned that basin into a funnel for American war preparations. Even as it opposed the invasion of Iraq, France sent its own soldiers to enforce French interests in the Ivory Coast.

Even some governments such as Italy and Poland that publicly enlisted in the Bush camp initially have tried to distance themselves somewhat since then. By seeking to associate himself with the Pope's stand against the war and emphasizing that no Italian troops will be involved under any circumstances, Berlusconi is trying to prevent even more mass outrage and action directed against the use of Italian airspace, railroads and ports that is vital to the U.S. war effort. The government of Bulgaria, whose ports and airbases are being used by the U.S. while awaiting a hoped-for reversal of Turkey's position, is trying to convince its people that the country is not taking part in or even supporting fighting. Reporters see American helicopters supplying Special Forces troops already airdropped into Northern Iraq take off and land constantly but this is supposed to be a secret. Aznar of Spain, which has key U.S. military bases and ports and is building brand new American military facilities for this war, has attempted to deal with the overwhelming repudiation of his position by the people and the isolation of his party in parliament by claiming that "Spain is not a part of any military coalition." In late February Aznar even tried to argue that the position of the two sides in the Security Council are "perfectly compatible." Governments that dare not tell their people they are at war are not very reliable allies by any standards.

We have said that there was a great danger that the great powers would go along with the U.S. at the end of the day. The day isn't over yet. But it seems that a major reason why these powers have resisted to the extent they have so far is that they think the U.S. may fail in its objectives. They fear, as de Villepin said, the "unforeseeable consequences of war." As a journalist for the ruling class but antiwar Spanish daily El Pais wrote, "If Iraq is attacked, nothing will be like before, and many fear the worst."

The "worst" in their eyes is this: instead of bringing an imperialist "order" to the Middle East, the U.S. attack may bring upheaval and chaos on a mass scale. They fear the reaction of the people in their own countries, and that of the people of the Middle East and the world even more. They fear that if the U.S. invades, this will not weaken the clash between the people of the Middle East and their oppressors but rather make the masses struggle harder and give them a common, immediate target, the U.S. occupation army. The Palestinians are not some special people more inclined to struggle than others. Under the boot of the Israeli occupiers, they have been the advanced guard of all the peoples of the Middle East against the domination of imperialism, especially the U.S. Bush's Iraq war, instead of bringing the peace of the graveyard to Palestine, may spread the spark of the Intifada across the region. These other imperialist powers fear that Bush's recklessness may bring neo-colonial regimes crashing down all over the world.

In short, at the Security Council the great invisible presence was the masses of people themselves. The unprecedented resistance of the people on a world scale did not create the conflicts between the imperialist powers, but it sets the context that is shaping them and intensifying them.

This is equally obvious in the actions of the governments of the Third World countries on the Security Council. Each of these governments is beholden to imperialists, most of them to the Americans. The U.S. has backed coups, toppled governments, sent in troops or backed mercenary forces in at least four of the six--Chile, Mexico, Angola and Pakistan. It holds these regimes by a rope of debt around their necks. It also dominates Guinea economically and is becoming involved there militarily as well. At the same time, naked lackey behavior by these regimes would bring them into sharp contradiction with their own people, whose hatred for American "regime change" is personal. For instance, in a BBC broadcast, an Angolan journalist explained that people there suffered horrendously through many years of a civil war financed by the U.S., and they are not ready to see their government back the U.S. inflicting the same or worse on another country. Now not only do these governments lack the pretext of going along with "the international community," if they give in and vote with the U.S. at the United Nations they cannot even argue to their people that it was impossible to stand up to the Yankees. Others have already done so.

When the U.S. is not directly on their backs, such as at the recent meeting of the Non-Aligned Nations, these countries tend to act like they can oppose the U.S. to a degree. When the U.S. forces them to take a clear stand at the UN, they squirm. This is not just a problem of embarrassment. Some governments may not survive. People in these countries and elsewhere got very mad when it came out that the U.S. National Security Agency was intercepting the phone calls and e-mail of their diplomats at the UN with the same arrogant disregard for rights and law as the American government displays with the country's other inhabitants. But this incident brought out something else as well: that the U.S. has its doubts about its ability to absolutely control governments whose diplomats don't usually need to be bugged because America knows in advance that they will do whatever they are told.

Turkey is the best example of the trouble the U.S. is in. In normal times the Turkish parliament's job is to rubber-stamp whatever the military tells them and the U.S. gives the Turkish military orders. Suddenly even many members of the ruling party refused to back a government-sponsored bill to allow the U.S. to use Turkey to attack Iraq. Members of Parliament complained that when they returned to their home districts just before the elections they found themselves in a sea of opposition to the U.S. and they were afraid they and their regime might drown. U.S. officials attempted to put a brave face on the situation by saying that they could still attack Iraq from the north and south simultaneously in a pincers movement by simply airlifting troops to northern Iraq from bases in Kuwait. But it is not so simple to airlift the tens of thousands of troops they have waiting in two dozen ships off Turkey to Kuwait and then helicopter them north. U.S. helicopters can't carry the tanks and other heavy armor that are the core of U.S. hopes to win on the ground. If the U.S. tries to ship troops and material through the Suez Canal, this might set off uncontrollable protests in Egypt, which owns the canal in theory at least. Last week Cairo saw another rally of what was variously estimated as between a half million and three million people of all social classes, from the countryside as well as the city. Although organized by the government, the warning to the U.S. was real.

Maybe the U.S. will be able to use Turkey as a staging area anyway. The chief of the general staff of Turkey's armed forces warned the members of parliament that they had better reconsider. It has even been floated out that since the Turkish military is eager to cooperate with the U.S., they should both just "veto" parliament and land the American troops anyway without formalities. Given these threats, even a second, favorable vote in parliament would help expose the neo-colonial character of that state and the regime's essence as a puppet of imperialism.

The last few months have changed many people. Millions have been aroused and awakened to political life. Little of this appeared on the horizon a year back.

The world is a very different place than it was during the last Gulf War a dozen years ago. On the one hand, what the U.S. aims to do now has a far more ambitious reach. On the other hand, it is far more isolated and exposed and the people are far more aroused. As has been said before, their opposition to this war encourages opposition by a wide range of forces, some reactionary, and this opposition in turn gives the people more heart and opportunities. The U.S. government has more power than any government in history, but the last few weeks have proven that things are very definitely not under their control.

As the U.S. brings its last pieces into place for war, it faces a much more unfavorable situation than Bush and his minions ever expected, and in fact than anyone foresaw. The movement against the war has not stopped the U.S.. Bush publicly made fun of the idea that he cared what the people think. He has provided the material for deep lessons about the nature of imperialist rule and what it will take to end it in every country. But the people on every continent have had an unmistakable and enormous impact on the situation in many respects. It is impossible to tell in advance just how much they can accomplish if they look at the power they have demonstrated so far and heighten their determination and actions in accordance with the gravity of the hour.

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