In the last 17 months, two disasters have brought Americans together in mourning: the 9/11 attacks and the crash of the space shuttle Columbia. Authorities at the highest level are trying to understand each case in order to serve the best interests of the nation. A war has been fought against the Taliban hosts of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Civilian and military authorities all over the world are cooperating to find, foil, capture and bring to justice the co-conspirators in the crimes of September 11 and associated outrages. Steps are also being taken by engineers and scientists to figure out what went wrong at NASA. Dishonesty and political cover-ups will presumably not be tolerated. Open discussion before congressional committees and the press will ensure that the facts of the case, however embarrassing or actionable, are carefully probed and publicly debated. Something close to the truth will be discovered.The truth about the conflict between the United States and Iraq is radically different.
In a break with Anglo-American traditions and international law based on a century of painful experience (three world wars – two hot, one cold), the Bush administration is bent on the “preemption” of hypothetical Iraqi actions. Most of the world opposes this policy, as do a great many Americans, for a variety of reasons, even if they consider Saddam’s regime cruel and dangerous. Eventually the real basis for the rush to arms will be revealed (and it is not an oil grab; see Don Hepburn, page 29). At the moment, however, there is a murky subtext and a flimsy cover story that baffle all but the insiders whose interests they serve – and some Middle East specialists (see the symposium, page 1).
Because modern warfare is so horrific and omens about this war’s aftermath and U.S. staying power so negative, there should be sharp questioning of administration policies. But the major media have in large part been cheerleaders for the government. In order to preserve their access, it is said. No one wants to be outside the elite circle, ignored or subject to the withering Rumsfeld ridicule. There are, however, some signs that this might be changing. In the pro-war Washington Post, veteran journalist Robert Kaiser reported in detail (page 1, Sunday, February 9) about the manipulation of the Bush inner circle by Ariel Sharon since 9/11 (it’s us against the terrorists; freedom and democracy against the forces of evil, etc.). John Judis also analyzed the relationship in the January 13 American Prospect. Even more eyes probably saw the February 10 issue of TIME in which Joe Klein wrote the following:
[Israel] is a part of the argument [for war] that dare not speak its name, a fantasy quietly cherished by the neo-conservative faction in the Bush administration and by many leaders of the American Jewish community. The fantasy involves a domino theory. The destruction of Saddam’s Iraq will not only remove an enemy of long standing but will also change the basic power equation in the region. It will send a message to the Palestinians too: Democratize and make peace on Israeli terms or forget about a state of your own. In the wackiest scenario, it will lead to the collapse of the wobbly Hashemite monarchy in Jordan and the establishment of a Palestinian state on that nation’s East Bank. No one in the government ever actually says these things publicly (although some American Jewish leaders do).
Klein might have added that the reason no one ever says those things publicly is that the cost of being mislabeled an anti-Semite is so high. No one in public life can afford it. Thus the Israel-centered policy of “regime change” in Iraq followed by the re-formation of the whole “arc of crisis” is not being attacked as it deserves. No one even bothers to point out the absurdities in the best-case scenario. Polls continue to show that many
Americans, in spite of hard evidence to the contrary, actually think Saddam Hussein had something to do with the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and therefore support military action to get rid of him.
How does a war against Iraq serve U.S. national interests, exactly? A credible explanation (in an article by a professor at the University of Colorado, Ira Chernus, located on the web at www.CommonDreams.org) comes from Harlan Ullman, a “defense intellectual” who was formerly the U.S. Navy’s head of extended planning. The intent is to create massive “shock and awe,” to “scare the enemy to death.” Not just the Iraqis, but the Palestinians, the Jordanians, the Iranians, the Syrians, the Egyptians, the Saudi Arabians and any others in the region or beyond it who do not fall in line behind the American juggernaut. The analogy with Hiroshima suggests itself, as the use of bunker busting nukes might be part of the demonstration, should Iraq be desperate enough to use chemical or biological agents against U.S. troops or Israel. All this is being planned, not to protect the American homeland from the weak Saddam Hussein, but to consolidate an American hegemony in the Middle East that will permit Israeli settlers to keep the land they are stealing from the Palestinians.
The United States may indeed strike Iraq with the full force of its deadly weapons, both the smart and the dumb. Then what? Are we all hat and no cattle, as the Europeans believe? Can the United States be trusted to stay the course and rebuild Iraq? How will Washington deal with the collateral damage to the region entailed in the American assault on Iraq, especially the probability that Israel will both join the fray and use the fog of war to seize yet more land from the Palestinians? Allies of the United States wonder why the administration has chosen to add to the grievances that fuel Islamist terrorism rather than marshal the peoples of the world to curb it. Perhaps because it suits Bush to be a war president going into the next election, especially in view of the pessimistic long-run budget forecasts.
There have been some last-minute attempts to slow the runaway war train. Jessica Tuchman Mathews, head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has published some wise suggestions for disarming Saddam without war – giving the weapons inspectors the goods on the WMD, permitting over-flights by U-2 spy planes and bombing suspicious targets when investigation is thwarted (Washington Post, Sunday, February 9). This may be too little too late, notwithstanding the resistance displayed by Security Council members France and Russia. The president has been maneuvered by the neo-conservative hawks on his team into a position from which he cannot now back down without losing a prohibitive amount of face.
In this moment of foreboding, the current issue of the journal contains several articles critical of the status quo in the Arab/Muslim world (see Zanoyan, Barsalou, Amuzegar). These societies are changing, and leaders like Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah are trying to lead this evolution. Modern forms of political organization are more likely to be accepted if they are organic and not imposed by an imperial power (see Malik). But analysis of our own government’s policy is our bailiwick, and this issue features a comprehensive and exhaustively documented report on the exorbitant costs of American Middle East policy over the past half-century (by economist Thomas Stauffer, the only person who could have brought all these details together). Looking at the region today, few would claim we got value for money.