Last night (March 19, 2003), our president announced a war to the nation and the world. Let us be clear about what this war is and what it is not.
This war is not the result of a failure of diplomacy.
This war is not a pre-emptive war.
This war is not about weapons of mass destruction.
This war is not about terrorism.
This war is not about the liberation of the Iraqi people.
Nations typically engage in diplomacy to avoid having to go to war. After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, numerous attempts at diplomacy were made by France, the Soviet Union, and the Arab League. They all foundered, primarily on the intransigence of the first Bush administration. In this case, the second Bush administration tried to use “diplomacy” to create a war out of whole cloth, making no attempt to negotiate with Iraq. In fact, as Iraq made concession after concession — as it became increasingly clear that whatever pitiful arsenal Iraq had could be found and dismantled if inspections were allowed to continue — U.S. attempts to strong-arm other countries into supporting the war became increasingly crude and coercive. Although those attempts mostly failed, they were hardly aimed at preventing the war.
In order to pre-empt a threat with war, there must be some credible reason to believe that the threat exists and that no other strategies will address it. A threat involves capability and intent. In this case, the Bush administration was not able to show that Iraq has the capability, and no attempt was made to show that it had the intent to attack.
Weapons of Mass Destruction:
As time passed, the administration’s lies, half-truths, and distortions became increasingly ridiculous. From scare stories about an “unmanned aerial vehicle” that turned out to be a glider held together with spit and baling wire, to forged documents claiming that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger, nothing has held water. Claims of mobile biological laboratories were refuted by weapons inspectors, as were claims that Iraq had or was about to get nuclear weapons. And, of course, ongoing inspections would have ensured that no arsenal could be built.
This claim is even more absurd. The best the Bush administration could come up with was a Jordanian militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a member of Ansar al-Islam whose ties to either al-Qaeda or the Iraqi government are completely unsubstantiated. A recent British intelligence assessment concluded that there is no link between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
The United States does not care about true democracy for Iraq. In 1991, when a popular uprising after the Gulf War threatened to oust Hussein’s government, the United States intervened to keep Hussein in power. The reason, as officials explained later, was that the United States wanted a military coup to preserve what Richard Haas of the National Security Council called “Saddam’s regime without Saddam.” Since 9/11, the Bush administration has funded a coup attempt in Venezuela, installed a puppet regime in Afghanistan, and cracked down on basic democratic protections in the United States. It would be ironic if the administration wanted democracy for Iraqis but not for Americans. U.S. plans for Iraq clearly involve establishing yet another puppet regime.
So, what is this war? It is an act of premeditated aggression. It is part of an attempt to put the tremendous energy reserves of the Middle East more tightly under American control. It is the key stage in the building of a new empire. It is part of a long-term attempt to establish more clearly than ever the rule of force in international affairs and sweep away any role for international law or institutions beyond those in service to the empire.
Another fact we must remember: This war did not begin last night.
March 19, 2003, was simply the start of a new, more intense phase of the U.S. attack on Iraq that has been going on since the end of the 1991 Gulf War, through the harshest economic embargo in modern history and through more than four years of regular bombing.
Already, hundreds of thousands — possibly more than a million — innocent Iraqis have died in this ongoing assault. As we count the civilian causalities from this newest phase, they must be added to this roster of the dead so that the costs of the U.S. war will not be obscured.
This is crucial to understand, because when U.S. military forces topple the government of Saddam Hussein, we shouldn’t be surprised if ordinary Iraqis cheer. Their celebrations will not be about only the demise of a dictator but about the hoped-for end of a regime of fear and deprivation imposed by the United States, in which parents have been forced to watch children die of malnutrition and disease caused by the enforced poverty created by the embargo.
And, finally: Just as the war against Iraq did not begin last night, the larger war for empire will not end with Iraq. Other nations, notably Iran, are already on the target list. Bush administration officials talk of remaking the map of the Middle East. Beyond that is the desire to counter the rising power of China.
The American takeover of Iraq likely cannot be stopped. But just as there has been a time for war, there can come a time for justice if we — the citizens of the empire — recognize that this battle may be lost, but there is still a world to win.
Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas and author of “Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Analysis from the Margins to the Mainstream” / His pamphlet “Citizens of the Empire: Thoughts on Patriotism, Dissent, and Hope” can be downloaded for free at http://www.nowarcollective.com/citizensoftheempire.pdf Rahul Mahajan is a doctoral candidate in physics. Both are members of the coordinating committee of the National Network to End the War Against Iraq.