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   Arrogance is Humility

Countdown to Disaster:

The Consequences of an Iraqi Misadventure

Remarks by Dr. Paul Atwood at a meeting of CPPAX in Boston (Citizens for Participation in Political Action), December 7, 2002. A brief bio of Dr. Atwood is at the end of this article.

“...our nation, and the world, have reached a critical turning point. And now is the time for those who take democracy and the future of our nation and the world seriously to raise their voices to warn those who are sleepwalking of the dangers ahead, to raise public consciousness, and to turn the ship of state before it crashes on the shoals of war and disaster.”
I fear that we are embarking upon another deadly misadventure in which desires and fantasies on the part of a small number of administration advisers about private gains are overriding rational judgments about costs and long-term consequences.

I find it very instructive, and something the media largely ignore, that such opposition as does exist within the administration to invading and occupying Iraq comes from those members who actually served in uniform in Vietnam. Though his opposition is muted now, Colin Powell originally demurred. Undersecretary of State Richard Armitage served two tours in Vietnam and is on record as strenuously opposing war with Iraq, and former national Security Adviser Gen. Brent Scowcroft has said that such a war would unleash “Armageddon” in the Middle East. Numerous high-ranking general staff officers are also on record in opposition to war.

Almost all of those in the Bush Administration who do favor war are men who also favored war with Vietnam but who found it expedient to find ways not to have to bear any burden or make any sacrifice themselves. Vice-President Cheney has infamously said that he “had more important priorities” than serving in uniform. He and Paul Wolfowitz and others were perfectly happy to have other less fortunate young men, and some women, do the dirty work of killing and of sacrificing their lives for the cause. And now they are willing to do so once again.

Cheney claims that Saddam is a threat to world peace, yet as Secretary of Defense in 1991 he played a central role in enabling Saddam to remain in power and in the process betray the Kurds and Shiites of Iraq—that is, those who have been his primary victims all along.

The Ignored Report
In the very week before the resolution vote the Central Intelligence Agency issued a report declaring that Saddam Hussein was highly unlikely to use any weapon of mass destruction that he MAY possess UNLESS he was attacked first. It is now established that the question of Iraq was relatively low on President Bush’s list of concerns even after September 11. Numerous intelligence assessments have reiterated that Iraq played no role in 9-11, and that there is no direct evidence that Saddam Hussein has provided any assistance to Islamic terrorists. This makes sense since he trusts no one outside of a small select circle, and the Islamists see him as an apostate.

The reality—in the face of growing antipathy to the US throughout the Muslim world, at a time when domestic demand for oil is growing, when continuing access to Saudi oil may be endangered—is that it has become imperative to those in the seats of power to re-acquire control over the world’s second largest proven reserves of oil.

So the impetus for “regime change” has come from a very different direction. The administration of George I said that Saddam was allowed to remain in place because the United Nations had provided no mandate for toppling the regime. Only Iraq’s expulsion from Kuwait had been mandated.

Given the political realities of the early 1990s it is more accurate to say that Saddam was deliberately allowed to remain in power because the US wanted him to. He was still the best bulwark for containing Iran’s Shiite fundamentalism, as well as the growing Sunni Islamist movement so dangerous to the stability of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. His dictatorship also prevented Iraq from disintegrating. This fact is key.

It Helps To Know the History
In the early 1970s, in great part because of a plan drawn up by Saddam when he was an Iraqi vice-president, Iraq nationalized its oil industry thereby taking it out of the control of western oil companies. In 1964 the CIA and British intelligence cooperated in the assassination of Gen. Abdul Kassem for making a similar attempt. The problem of how to get Iraq’s vast oil reserves back under western auspices was a matter constantly under discussion. But when Saddam became Iraq’s president in 1978 the threat of Shiite fundamentalism caused Washington to tilt toward Iraq and the US backed Iraq’s war with Iran. At some levels of analysis it was thought that Saddam could be brought around to some accommodation.

That fantasy ended abruptly when Saddam made his play for Kuwait and its oil. The claim of Iraq to Kuwait had some measure of validity since the boundaries of both Iraq and Kuwait had been drawn by the British for the benefit of the British and Iraq claimed that Kuwait had been administered by the Turks as part of Iraq’s province of Basra and should revert to Iraqi control.

Remember that Washington raised no objections to Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor—quite the contrary—or to Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus, or to Israel’s virtual annexation of the West Bank, and many other examples. Whatever the case, Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait suddenly gave it control over oil reserves so vast that it could, if allowed to stand, send the international pricing system into disarray.

Had the danger of Iraq’s fragmentation not been so acute it seems likely that the first Bush administration might have opted to remove Saddam but there was no one to replace him. Bush’s key advisers wanted Iraq’s Sunni dictatorship to remain in place expressly to forestall Iraq’s disintegration. Had the Kurds of the north seceded and established a separate state that would instantly have occasioned Turkey’s Kurds to join it, along with Syria’s and Iran’s, thus sending the entire region into chaos. It so happens that the bulk of Iraqi oil is in the Kurdish north.

The majority Shiites of southern Iraq would also have opted for independence. In sum, Iraq would have disintegrated along with any immediate hope of re-acquiring control of Iraq’s oil. So some dictatorship would have to remain in order to forestall that. The Bushites would have preferred Saddamism without Saddam but no one trustworthy was on hand. When it became clear that the Kurdish and Shiite uprising of 1991 could lead to such disintegration the US suddenly pulled back, taking such measures only as would forestall continued mass slaughter, but which left Saddam in power.

Who’s Really Got the Nukes?
The current Bush administration’s admonitions about Iraq’s possession of nuclear weapons ring hollow as well. Whether Iraq has such a weapon is very much in doubt although it has long been known to be seeking to acquire them. The US has said that this would violate the principle of nuclear non-proliferation, if not the treaty itself. Yet Israel actually possesses nuclear weapons in such numbers as to be able to destroy every Muslim capital on earth and Israel had them first. While Israel has stated that it would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East in fact it has done so.

Defenders of Israel’s nukes claim that such weapons are necessary for a state that is surrounded by implacable enemies. Yet, the fact remains that once Israel had nukes those neighbors themselves felt deeply threatened. Moreover, numerous Israeli politicians have said unofficially that Israel is prepared to employ the so-called “Samson option,” i.e., if Israel faces a military crisis it is prepared to take the rest of the Mideast with it. Israel’s conventional forces are more than a match for all the Arab armies combined and would be in an even better position if the U.S. would stop arming Egypt and Saudi Arabia with sophisticated weapons.

In the perverse logic of nuclear realism, when one’s enemy has the doomsday weapon then one must have it as well. The continued proliferation of nuclear weapons—extra-legally as Israel and others have done—virtually ensures copycat measures and Iran and Syria and Libya all are moving in the same direction. Yet one hears virtually nothing about any of this. Nor do we hear calls for Israel or Pakistan to destroy its weapons of mass destruction.

The claim that Saddam’s possession of other WMDs in the form of chemical and biological weapons is equally hypocritical. When Saddam developed these weapons in the mid-1980s he did so with the aid of US and European companies with the full knowledge of Washington. When he actually used these weapons against Iranians and against Kurdish civilians the United Nations General Assembly instantly condemned these atrocities. But the US abstained, effectively giving its assent to these crimes.

In 1984 Donald Rumsfeld was President Reagan’s special envoy to the Middle East. He sat down with Saddam, cozily drank coffee with him, and said NOTHING about these crimes against humanity. For Rumsfeld to claim now that Saddam’s possession of such weapons constitutes a threat is Machiavellian hypocrisy of the first order.

Rumsfeld also condemns Saddam for the environmental havoc he wreaked in the Gulf War. This brought to mind the fact that Secretary Rumsfeld, as a four term congressman, and later economic adviser to president Nixon consistently voted for or supported allocations to the war in Vietnam which enabled 19 million gallons of herbicides to denude forests encompassing the area of Massachusetts, and 12 million tons of bombs were dropped on a nation made up largely of barefoot people. Today Vietnam has the highest rate of birth defects in the world owing to what the international scientific community described as “Ecocide” committed in Vietnam.

The real deal does not involve Saddam’s criminality. When his criminality was useful it was employed and used by Washington in the most cynical fashion. The reality—in the face of growing antipathy to the US throughout the Muslim world, at a time when domestic demand for oil is growing, when continuing access to Saudi oil may be endangered—is that it has become imperative to those in the seats of power to re-acquire control over the world’s second largest proven reserves of oil.

Talk of bringing “democracy” to Iraq has a pleasant ring to it. But genuine democracy in Iraq would lead the majority populations there—the Kurds and Shiites—to opt out of any union with their hated Sunni masters, and that is not going to be allowed precisely because that would not allow western re-control of the oil reserves. So the realistic scenario is a war against Saddam and massive occupation of Iraq far into the foreseeable future.

While President Bush has bowed somewhat to international and domestic pressure to seek international consensus, even as UN inspectors arrive in Baghdad he has ordered hundreds of thousands of troops into the region, calling up tens of thousands among the reserves and National Guard units, deploying vast armadas of ships and aircraft, expending billions of dollars, and negotiating with client regimes like Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait and others for basing rights. Meanwhile oil companies and oil service companies, including Haliburton, Vice-President Cheney’s old company, are already meeting to divide the expected spoils.

Obviously the hawks in charge of this gambit believe they can carry it off. In the midst of a global crisis involving deepening anti-Americanism in the Muslim world people like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz et al. are willing to conduct a full-scale attack on an Arab people. This seems a recipe made to order to recruit endless jihadists to the cause of anti-Americanism and endless terror. Moreover, these strategists have also implied that they would use their bases in Iraq to “stabilize” the rest of the region, meaning that their next likely targets are Iran and Syria.

Far from being a cakewalk, war with Iraq portends endless legions on the frontiers, stretched along an Islamic front almost 3000 miles long, endless streams of KIAs and casualties, the even greater militarization of the American way of life and therefore the corruption of our ideals, including a renewed draft down the line, and eventually what the Yale historian Paul Kennedy has termed “imperial overstretch” a point wherein the cost of maintaining empire will be more than the proceeds empire is intended to produce.

War also means more suffering for the Iraqi people who have already been immiserated by the Gulf War of 1991. I hope we all remember the callous and cynical remarks made by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who when questioned about the deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five answered coldly that the price was “worth it.”

So our nation, and the world, have reached a critical turning point. And now is the time for those who take democracy and the future of our nation and the world seriously to raise their voices to warn those who are sleepwalking of the dangers ahead, to raise public consciousness, and to turn the ship of state before it crashes on the shoals of war and disaster.

In many ways we have an advantage today that people like us did not have in 1964 when President Johnson lied to the public about events in the Tonkin Gulf. A viable, potent peace movement is already underway. I am sure that as the scenario I’ve just painted plays itself out, that more and more citizens will come to see that just as our war in Vietnam was not a struggle to bring democracy to Vietnam, but to impose our will there, so this renewed war in the Persian gulf is a pure power play masquerading as a crusade for human rights and democracy that will suck our nation into a quagmire that will make Vietnam seem but child’s play.

Whether we collectively reach this conclusion before a profound tragedy ensues will depend to a great extent on our ability to make our voices heard wherever we live and work.


Dr. Paul Atwood, Research Associate at the William Joiner Center for War and Social Consequences, is a lecturer of American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and Visiting Lecturer at Bridgewater State College.

One of the original founders of the Joiner Center, Atwood is a former Marine and holds degrees from Umass-Boston, Harvard and Boston University. He has edited the Joiner Center publications on the consequences of warfare and is the author of articles on the Vietnam War in Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia. Dr. Atwood can be reached through CPPAX: burke@fastq.com.


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This story was published on January 8, 2003.
  
JANUARY 2003
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