Why Is the Bush Administration Preparing for War Against Iraq?

by Tom Barrett


Imagine a country under the leadership of a man of quite limited intelligence, who holds top office only because his father held it before him and because his brother committed fraud to ensure his election. He has access to a vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, and he is threatening to commit an act of unprovoked aggression in the region on which the world depends for most of its energy supplies. Would it not be in the interests of world peace and stability to bring about a change of regime? Would it not be reasonable to assemble an international coalition to force such a dangerous leader from power? However, no one has yet stood up and called on the world to invade the United States to remove George W. Bush from the office of president, and it is unlikely that anyone will. Those who have an interest in bringing about peace and fairness in this world will have to find another way!

As facetious and absurd as this scenario may appear, it is no more so than the Bush administration’s actual policy toward Iraq. In the eleven years since the end of the Gulf War — an unjust war carried out by the current president’s father — Iraq has committed no act of aggression against any country, especially the United States. It should be added that Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the pretext for the 1990–91 Gulf War, would never have occurred had not Saddam Hussein been deceived by the U.S. ambassador that the U.S. would not oppose his seizure of Kuwait.

Bush is justifying his threats of aggression with a new pretext: that Iraq is developing “weapons of mass destruction,” that is (allegedly), nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. This is complete hypocrisy, even if the accusation is true, and Bush has yet to produce credible evidence that it is. First: Iraq is a sovereign republic, which has the right to defend itself from aggression by any means it considers necessary. No one who aspires to a peaceful world is in favor of the development of the horrific weapons which modern technology has made possible, but no country, especially the only one which has ever used a nuclear weapon against another, has the right to determine who has the right to possess these weapons and who does not. Second, Iraq is not the only Middle Eastern country to possess “weapons of mass destruction.” There is another Middle Eastern leader who has access to them, and he has never hesitated to commit acts of aggression against his neighbors, nor has he shown any reluctance to repress minorities within his own borders. Many consider him to be a militaristic madman: his name is Ariel Sharon, the prime minister of Israel.

Sharon has almost single-handedly destabilized the Middle East and brought this region — and the world — much closer to war. It could be argued that Bush would be doing a far greater service to the cause of peace if he forced a “change of regime” in Israel (we will leave aside the broader issues of the nature of Zionist society and its relationship to the Palestinian Arab people). Additionally, both India and Pakistan have tested nuclear weapons, and these two countries are at the brink of war over the disputed territory of Kashmir. Does Bush not consider this conflict a threat to world peace? Does he not take seriously this threat of nuclear war in South Asia? But we hear no talk of U.S. forces invading either India or Pakistan to force “regime change” in either of those countries. Only against Iraq, whose nuclear capability —if it exists at all — is less than India’s, Pakistan’s, or Israel’s. And we repeat: Bush has provided no credible evidence that Iraq has “weapons of mass destruction,” let alone that it has any plans of using them.

Working people in all countries must demand with their own voices that the U.S. cease and desist immediately from its threats of military action against Iraq. We have no interest in killing Arabs, just because the president that we did not elect doesn’t like the president that they did not elect. Iraq had nothing to do with the attack of September 11, 2001, and is no threat to the security of the American people. Saddam Hussein may not be a nice guy, but he has not handed a layoff notice to any working person in this country. He has not swindled any American worker out of his or her retirement savings, nor forced any farm family off its land, nor evicted any mother with her children from their apartment. American working men and women are not afraid to fight and die for a worthy cause, but this cause is as thoroughly unworthy as can be imagined. No working people — Arab or American — should be called upon to shed blood in Iraq.

Who Is Saddam Hussein, and Why Are We Supposed to Hate Him?

First, let it be understood: Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq, is guilty of many of the crimes with which the Bush administration has charged him. He is a tyrant; his regime is one of corruption and terror; he is no different in principle than a Mafia gangster in any American city. He has enriched himself and his family at the expense of the Iraqi people; his government is made up of old friends and relatives from his home village of Tikrit. As Sunni Muslim Arabs they are a distinct minority within Iraq. The majority of Iraqis are Shi’i Muslim Arabs; in the northern regions, the majority of the population is Kurdish, rather than Arab. The Shi’is and the Kurds together far outnumber the Arab Sunnis. Throughout the time Saddam has held power there has been no shortage of Iraqis who would like to see him overthrown.

Nevertheless, Saddam Hussein has held power in Iraq for thirty-four years, first as a behind-the-scenes boss and, since 1979, as the official president. This is no Johnny-come-lately to Middle Eastern politics. He is no stranger to the U.S. spy services, military, or diplomatic corps. Washington knows him well.

The September 23, 2002, issue of Newsweek has as its cover story a remarkable article entitled “How We Helped Create Saddam and Can We Fix Iraq After He’s Gone?” written by Christopher Dickey and Evan Thomas. Even within the limitations of the big-business media, the authors demonstrate clearly how Iraq developed an arsenal of chemical and biological weapons with Washington’s encouragement; how the U.S. government turned a blind eye to Saddam’s crimes against his own people and against the people of Iran; and how even after defeating him in the Gulf War the administration of Bush the Elder made certain that Saddam retained his power. They write:

Through years of tacit and overt support, the West helped to create the Saddam of today, giving him time to build deadly arsenals and dominate his people. Successive administrations always worried that if Saddam fell, chaos would follow, ripping through the region and possibly igniting another Middle East war. At times it seemed that Washington was transfixed by Saddam.

George Herbert Walker Bush and the members of his cabinet, many of whom are in his son’s administration, made the same accusations against Saddam Hussein that we hear today. Some are true; others are false. Nevertheless, if Saddam was such a threat to our safety and security in the United States, surely it was the height of irresponsibility to allow him to remain in power after his defeat in the Gulf War.  Why would the Bush (senior) administration and the Clinton administration which succeeded it not only allow Saddam to remain in power but actually ensure that he remain in power by blocking aid to those forces who sought to overthrow him? Again, Dickey and Thomas have an explanation:

It was widely assumed by policymakers that Saddam would collapse after his defeat in Desert Storm, done in by his humiliated officer corps or overthrown by the revolt of a restive minority population. But Washington did not want to push very hard to topple Saddam. The gulf war, Bush I administration officials pointed out, had been fought to liberate Kuwait, not oust Saddam. “I am certain that had we taken all of Iraq, we would have been like the dinosaur in the tar pit — we would still be there,” wrote the American commander in Desert Storm, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, in his memoirs. America’s allies in the region, most prominently Saudi Arabia, feared that a post-Saddam Iraq would splinter and destabilize the region. The Shiites in the south might bond with their fellow religionists in Iran, strengthening the Shiite mullahs, and threatening the Saudi border. In the north, the Kurds were agitating to break off parts of Iraq and Turkey to create a Kurdistan. So Saddam was allowed to keep his tanks and helicopters — which he used to crush both Shiite and Kurdish rebellions.

Saddam’s rule is oppressive — to the Iraqi workers, peasants, and students — but he is no threat to capitalist business interests. Multinational corporations are free and encouraged to do business in Iraq; however, there is a price: the enrichment of Saddam, his family, and his friends. In this way, Iraq is no different than the waterfront of Port Newark or Port Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Why Is Bush So Anxious to Make War on Iraq?

Since the Bush administration began its buildup toward open warfare there has been disagreement within the ruling class of the United States and outright opposition from capitalist governments in Europe and the Middle East, including many of Washington’s most loyal allies, such as Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. In Europe only Tony Blair, who has earned the nickname “Bush’s Poodle,” has spoken out in favor of a military assault on Iraq and forcing Saddam Hussein from power, and even he is reported to have come to this position with reluctance.

Bush’s pretexts for war are flimsy at best, as we have shown. There are not even any significant economic benefits for the U.S., except maybe for the weapons industry — Iraq in no way threatens Western access to Persian Gulf oil. In fact, peace with Iraq would be far more beneficial to Western energy supplies than war will be. Moreover, the cost of going to war, especially with few or no allies, both in dollars and in lives, could be staggering. It is instructive, and somewhat ironic, that within the Bush administration the loudest voices for military action are coming from those who have not served in the armed forces, such as Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who saw combat in Vietnam and served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the first Gulf War (under Bush the Elder), has consistently opposed a preemptive attack, as have a number of former advisers to Bush the Elder.

Many theories have been put forward to explain what has seemed inexplicable: is Bush the Son trying to finish what Bush the Father did not? Is he carrying out a vendetta to avenge the attempt on his father’s life in Kuwait in 1993? Has Saddam Hussein become George Bush’s White Whale? None of these explanations has made any more sense than the official justifications coming out of the West Wing of the White House.

During the first week of October, however, an explanation has surfaced in at least two publications. In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, deputy editorial page editor Jay Bookman has written an article called “The Presidents Real Goal in Iraq.” The arguments he advances are independently corroborated in two articles appearing in the November 2002 issue of The Atlantic Monthly:The Fifty-First State: the Inevitable Aftermath of Victory in Iraq” by James Fallows and “A Post-Saddam Scenario” by Robert D. Kaplan. What these authors say on the one hand makes sense: Bookman cites important documents written by people who are now working in the Bush administration, and Fallows, a national correspondent for the Atlantic, interviewed dozens of authorities, both in and out, both supporters and opponents of a war to remove Saddam Hussein. On the other hand, what they report is frightening and outrageous. Jay Bookman writes:

…As it turns out, this is not really about Iraq. It is not about weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, or Saddam, or U.N. resolutions.

This war, should it come, is intended to mark the official emergence of the United States as a full-fledged global empire, seizing sole responsibility and authority as planetary policeman. It would be the culmination of a plan 10 years or more in the making, carried out by those who believe the United States must seize the opportunity for global domination, even if it means becoming the “American imperialists” that our enemies always claimed we were.

Once that is understood, other mysteries solve themselves. For example, why does the administration seem unconcerned about an exit strategy from Iraq once Saddam is toppled?

Because we won’t be leaving. Having conquered Iraq, the United States will create permanent military bases in that country from which to dominate the Middle East, including neighboring Iran.

Fallows, always more a journalist than an analyst, does not question this basic assumption; rather, he examines the possible consequences, especially unintended consequences, of war in Iraq, which he assumes the U.S. will win. Neither Fallows nor Bookman addresses the deeper question of whether the United States has any legal or moral right to cause the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and Iraqi soldiers and civilians. Kaplan, on the other hand, does, and answers it in the affirmative! He writes: “Our goal in Iraq should be a transitional secular dictatorship that unites the merchant classes across sectarian lines and may in time, after the rebuilding of institutions and the economy, lead to a democratic alternative.” Moreover, Atlantic Editor at Large Michael Kelly, in an essay entitled “What Now” adds his voice to Robert Kaplan’s in supporting U.S. aggression against Iraq, only warning the Bush administration that the postwar period holds the greatest danger for American capitalist interests.

The idea that the United States is planning to march into a country halfway around the world, take it over, and rule it for an indefinite period, seems incredible. One might even be inclined to dismiss it as a paranoid conspiracy theory. But the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is one of the most respected capitalist daily newspapers in the United States, and the Boston-based Atlantic Monthly has for well over a century been a voice for the intellectual elite serving the American ruling class. The authors of these articles have provided strong documentation for their assertions, and Bush’s policies make sense only when considered in light of what Bookman, Fallows, and Kaplan are saying.

“National Security Strategy” and “Rebuilding America’s Defenses”

Jay Bookman cites as his sources a 35-page document called “National Security Strategy,” released by the White House on September 20. It outlines a new approach to “national defense,” ostensibly dictated by the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon; however, most of its ideas can be found in a larger and earlier document called “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” published in 2000 by a group of right-wing intellectuals calling themselves the Project for a New American Century. The document’s authors now hold high positions in the Bush administration, mostly in the Department of Defense. Among them is Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense and one of the most prominent proponents of preemptive war on Iraq; another is I. Lewis Libby, now chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

In both documents a great deal of space is taken up with platitudes about the United States being a “force for good” in this dangerous world. Written over George W. Bush’s own signature in the “National Security Strategy” document is the following:

Today, the United States enjoys a position of unparalleled military strength and great economic and political influence. In keeping with our heritage and principles, we do not use our strength to press for unilateral advantage. We seek instead to create a balance of power that favors human freedom: conditions in which all nations and all societies can choose for themselves the rewards and challenges of political and economic liberty. In a world that is safe, people will be able to make their own lives better. We will defend the peace by fighting terrorists and tyrants. We will preserve the peace by building good relations among great powers. We will extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent.

One is reminded of words written by songwriter Phil Ochs over three decades ago: “So, like it or not, you will have to be free, ’cause we’re the cops of the world.”

Additionally both documents contain extensive discussion of weapons systems and the need to increase military spending. The authors of “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” have many complaints about the Clinton administration’s military policies. None of this is new; it is the traditional Republican litany, which has become a right-wing article of faith since 1964.

What is new, however, is the open acknowledgment that the policies of “containment” and “deterrence,” which were the foundation of Cold War foreign policy are now inadequate to the needs of the U.S. ruling class. “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” says:

…America’s strategic goal used to be containment of the Soviet Union; today the task is to preserve an international security environment conducive to American interests and ideals. The military’s job during the Cold War was to deter Soviet expansionism. Today its task is to secure and expand the “zones of democratic peace”; to deter the rise of a new great-power competitor; defend key regions of Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East; and to preserve American preeminence through the coming transformation of war made possible by new technologies.

In its “Key Findings” it puts forward the following objectives — and remember that it was released in September 2000, four months before George W. Bush became president and a full year before the attack on the World Trade Center:

Today, the United States has an unprecedented strategic opportunity. It faces no immediate great-power challenge…At no time in history has the international security order been as conducive to American interests and ideals. The challenge for the coming century is to preserve and enhance this “American Peace.”…In particular we need to:

Establish four core missions for U.S. military forces:

·   Defend the American homeland;

·   Fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars;

·   Perform the “constabulary” duties associated with shaping the security environment in critical regions;

·   Transform U.S. forces to exploit the “revolution in military affairs” [that is, the advances in the technology of killing people — T.B.].

The overriding objective is “to preserve and enhance this ‘American Peace,’” often expressed by the Latin term Pax Americana, an obvious reference to the Pax Romana imposed on the Mediterranean world by the Roman Empire during the first several centuries A.D. — a “peace” imposed by brutal and overwhelming military force, and not only on the so-called “barbarians” but on the Roman citizens as well. And it must be remembered: this “peace” eventually collapsed, along with the empire which imposed it.

The October 11 New York Times confirms the existence of a White House plan for an occupation of Iraq. David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt report: “[The plan] would put an American officer in charge of Iraq for a year or more while the United States and its allies searched for weapons and maintained Iraq’s oil fields. [Emphasis added.]

(Gen. Tommy Franks, now in charge of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has been mentioned in press reports as the “American officer” most likely to be installed this way as the new ruler of Iraq.)

The New York Times report continues: “For as long as the coalition partners [sic!] administered Iraq, they would essentially control the second largest proven reserves of oil in the world, nearly 11 percent of the total.”  [Emphasis added.]

The Times report adds: “In a speech on Saturday [October 5], Zalmay Khalilzad, the special assistant to the president for Near East, Southwest Asian and North African affairs said, ‘The coalition will assume…responsibility for the territorial defense and security of Iraq after liberation.’”

Shades of George Orwell! The imposition of U.S. military rule on a sovereign country equals “liberation.”

Khalilzad, incidentally was formerly an executive of the Unocal oil corporation, and was assigned by the Bush administration to be in charge of Afghanistan while arrangements were made to install Hamid Karzai as the new U.S. puppet ruler in Afghanistan. (Karzai, too, was formerly an employee of Unocal!)

Khalilzad, in his October 5 speech, assured his listeners that the Bush administration’s long-term goal would be to have a “representative democratic government” in Iraq. The Times quoted another Bush official as saying that Iraqis could “assist” the U.S.-imposed military administration “perhaps through a consultative council.” Later there would be an “American-led” civilian administration. “Only after this transition would the American-led government hand power to Iraqis.”

That could take many years. A U.S. military government ruled Japan for six and a half years after World War II, the Times points out, and it also reports: “The plan…calls for war-crime trials of Iraqi leaders and a transition to an elected civilian government that could take months or years.”

Disagreements Within the Government and Among Allied Capitalist Governments

During the summer months the U.S. media were full of reports of disagreements within the Bush administration concerning what to do about Iraq. We were informed that there was a “hard-line faction” led by Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, which favored unilateral pre-emptive war on Iraq, the sooner the better, and a “moderate” faction, led by Secretary of State Powell, which opposed attacking Iraq without the support of U.S. allies in Europe and the Middle East and without authorization by the United Nations. The debate began to attract more interest when such foreign policy veterans as Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Bush the Elder, and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, expressed their agreement with Powell’s views.

Some perspective is appropriate: it should be understood that the disagreements within the Bush administration and the broader “foreign policy community” have never been fundamental. None of these gentlemen and ladies has questioned the “right” of the United States to impose its Pax Americana on the entire world. None of them is expressing any support for the right of the Iraqi people to self-determination, their right to live in peace and security without outside intervention, nor are any of them acknowledging their own responsibility in the creation and consolidation of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. There should be no mistake: Bush, Cheney, Powell, Scowcroft, Rumsfeld — and their political “opponents” on the Democratic side — have fundamental agreement on the objectives of U.S. foreign policy. They only disagree on the best means to achieve their common goals.

The only reason it makes a difference whether the United States has the support of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, France, Germany, or Russia in an invasion of Iraq is that, in the opinion of Powell and those who agree with him, broad international support makes it more likely that the United States will win. It lowers the political cost, and probably the financial and even human cost, for the United States. There is no disagreement within the government or the ruling class as a whole that it would be preferable to invade Iraq with the sanction of the United Nations and the support of important European and Middle Eastern allies. The disagreement has been whether to make such an invasion conditional on a broad alliance. Rumsfeld and Cheney favor invading Iraq regardless of whether any other country (besides Israel and Britain) agrees or not. Powell’s opinion has been that the risks of “going it alone” are too high, and that more effort should be made to build a broad international consensus for a forced “regime change” in Iraq.

One of the responsibilities that goes with the office of president of the United States is that of developing compromise and building consensus within the government and convincing the population as a whole that the “national interest” as defined by the government is their interest as well. George W. Bush clearly has no desire for either the Rumsfeld-Cheney faction or the Powell faction in his administration to “win.” Rather, his objective is to forge a compromise that everyone in his administration can support, which can win approval from the Congress, and then inspire “national unity.”

Bush’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly on September 12 contained many concessions to the position held by Powell and those advisers from the previous Bush administration who are urging restraint. Bush assured the delegates that the United States wished to avoid war and certainly had no desire to act without United Nations approval. The response was better for Bush than he could have dared to hope. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned Saddam Hussein and other countries that if Iraq does not allow UN representatives to inspect Iraqi sites for “weapons of mass destruction” the UN has the “responsibility” to sanction the use of force. President Jacques Chirac of France has also softened his opposition to an attack on Iraq.

Bush reiterated these points in a speech in Cincinnati on October 7. This speech was designed to win congressional approval for war, and it was successful. On Thursday, October 10, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution authorizing Bush to order a military strike against Iraq, and on Friday, October 11, the Senate followed suit. The Republicans were unanimous in support of Bush. Democrats voted in sufficient number for the resolution that the decision can be truly called bipartisan. Bush’s concessions to the “moderate” point of view, however, have made war more likely, not less. By unifying his own cabinet and then getting a bipartisan resolution — whose language is the result of debate and compromise between the Democratic and Republican caucuses — the administration has ensured that it may go to war with a consensus of the capitalist political leadership. And this is very dangerous.

It remains to be seen whether the exposure of Bush’s long-term plans for occupation of Iraq will cause that consensus to break down. Rumsfeld has attempted to deflect questions about it, telling reporters that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and New York Times reports should not be taken seriously. So far, he is the only member of Bush’s administration to respond.

Working people have no interest in supporting an invasion of Iraq under any conditions. It makes no difference whether the United Nations or the U.S. Congress or anyone else passes a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. We reject it, and we reject it unconditionally. The only people who have any right to settle accounts with Saddam Hussein are the people of Iraq, Sunni Muslims and Shi’i Muslims, Arabs and Kurds. The only right anyone else has is to stay out.

It is an encouraging sign that at this early stage of war preparations public support for this war is remarkably low. Only a small majority approves of a military attack on Iraq in polls conducted by the capitalist polling organizations, and that number becomes a significant minority if the United States acts alone. More importantly, antiwar organizing has begun in earnest, and already successful demonstrations have occurred in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other cities, organized primarily by a coalition called “Not In Our Name.” National demonstrations in Washington and San Francisco are planned for October 26. Many unions have passed resolutions in opposition to the growing war threat (see Labor Against War on Iraq on the Labor Standard website), and even AFL-CIO president John Sweeney is urging the Bush administration to exercise “caution.”

Bush may have been successful in convincing people of his own class to support his war moves, but he has not convinced American working people. If he decides to turn his threats into an actual assault on the Iraqi people, the organizing and mass action which has already begun must be expanded into a powerful movement which can give the U.S. government the clear choice of getting out of Iraq and staying out or risking the development of a working-class-based movement which could force the United States out. That movement has already begun to grow.

October 14, 2002