America's next war may be deadlier


by  Mahir Ali

Dawn , Pakistan, 13 March 2002

Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG), ,  13  March 2002


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Six months from now, by the time the first anniversary of the demise of the World Trade Centre towers rolls around, the United States is likely to be embroiled in another war. That war will have nothing whatsoever to do with the outrage perpetrated on September 11 last year. It will be even dirtier and deadlier than the war in Afghanistan, And it will be unprovoked.

The rhetoric emanating of late from the White House in Washington and its branch office at No 10 Downing Street in London suggests that an assault against Iraq is all but inevitable. Even the somewhat lame excuse that will be invoked as justification is known in advance. Emerging from his warren for a diplomatic foray, US vice-president Dick Cheney will this month be seeking support in the Middle East for his nation's naked aggression. Next month Tony Blair will undertake yet another journey of obeisance, to be briefed by George W. Bush on the Pentagon's plans.

Apparently, one of the reasons why the Iraqi chapter of the so-called war against terror cannot commence earlier than September is because stockpiles of the crucial 1000-pound "smart bombs" have been depleted as a result of the Afghan conflict and cannot be replenished before then.

This means that the US munitions plants will be working overtime to produce weapons of mass destruction, so that Saddam Hussein can be suitably punished for allegedly seeking to do the same. That would make an ideal theme for the theatre of the absurd. As would the fact that the Land of the Brave also does not wish to expose its troops to the heat of the Arabian summer - Iraq will, in other words, be too hot to handle before autumn. Unlike Afghanistan, where until recently the US has been reticent about committing troops on the ground, up to 200,000 soldiers may participate in the race towards Baghdad.

And what has Saddam done lately to deserve such special treatment? Well, we are told he has been a very naughty boy: he has been playing with dangerous toys once more. Doesn't he realize that only Uncle Sam and his friends are allowed the privilege of handling nuclear and chemical weapons? Why, his backroom chums have even been converting trucks into missile launchers. They must be rewarded for their ingenuity by being blown to kingdom come.

Is there any evidence, irrefutable or otherwise, that Iraq is on the verge of acquiring nuclear technology, or that it has built up stocks of chemical or biological agents? Well, we have the word of Emperor George and his chief courtiers. Isn't that enough?

Actually, no, it isn't. Mainly for two reasons. First, it's hard to suppress a condescending smirk every time the name "Bush" and the word "intelligence" occur in the same sentence; besides, the information-gathering abilities of US secret agencies have been shrouded in considerable doubt ever since Mohammed Atta and co caught them completely unawares, and various aspects of the war in Afghanistan have reinforced that suspicion.

Secondly, it should by now be patently clear to all but the blindest of Uncle Sam's votaries that Washington is inclined to be extremely economical with the truth. And it wasn't the September 11 outrage that set its pants on fire.

Does it follow that Saddam is a paragon of Arab virtue who deserves unconditionally to be defended against the shock troops of imperialism? Of course not. He is a vicious dictator responsible for unspeakable cruelties, not least against Iraqis. Wouldn't his removal from power be, in that case, a very good idea? It certainly would - but at whose behest and by what methods?

With a defence (that euphemism ought to be ruled particularly inapplicable in the American case) budget equal to 40 per cent of world military spending, the US may indeed be almighty, but it is not God. (That may be news to Blair and his Australian counterpart, John Howard, but shouldn't come as a surprise to the rest of us.) Until a more democratic international forum can be set up, the United Nations is the only body with any right to pronounce judgement on deviants. Were a clear majority in its General Assembly to decide that a particular dictator ought to be ousted, if necessary by use of force, a standing UN army should be available to carry out that decision.

The US would be an unacceptable substitute under any conditions, but it is especially so under an unelected, rapacious and rabidly right-wing administration.

Although the 1991 Gulf War was also essentially a US venture, it did at least have Security Council sanction. It is extremely unlikely that any such cover will be available for the action replay.

Eleven years ago, notwithstanding the long list of charges against him, the Takriti dictator was allowed to remain at the helm of a country that, according to the hype, had been bombed back to the Stone Age because Dubya's daddy was worried about the shape a post-Saddam Iraq may assume. There will presumably be no such compunctions this time around, even though the US still has little idea of the long-term consequences.

Iraq is 65 per cent Shia - and, not surprisingly, Iraq's Shias enjoy Iran's sympathy. It is therefore hardly likely that the post-Saddam scenario would include a purely democratic dimension, given that Iran, too, is a founding member of Bush's "axis of evil".

Then there is Turkey - a Nato member inclined towards a cosy relationship not just with the US but even with Israel, yet determined to deny democratic rights to its substantial Kurdish minority. It would hate to see Iraq's Kurds, who have been enjoying a degree of autonomy under UN protection, being accorded any special privileges, let alone a state of their own.

Needless to say, Turkey's repression of the Kurds has rarely, if ever, incurred Uncle Sam's wrath. Saddam's use of chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds, on the other hand, rated a mention in the largely ridiculous "axis of evil" oration. Bush didn't, however, mention that his father's administration continued to support and arm Saddam even after convincing evidence had emerged of the atrocities at Halabja. He was, after all, still engaged in a gratuitous war against Iran.

If the Saddam regime is indeed still engaged in manufacturing nuclear and chemical weapons, it would suggest that the sanctions imposed after the Gulf war have completely failed - despite costing hundreds of thousands of lives, mainly those of children, a price well worth paying in the words of Madeleine Albright.

It is believed that when renewal of the sanctions comes up before the UN in May, Iraq will be badgered to allow arms inspectors access to all suspected weapons sites. Should Baghdad not agree to the teeniest clause, it will be threatened with war. Iraq, which was engaged in talks with the UN at the time of writing, has said that it would cooperate with inspectors, provided they weren't US spies. This is not an outlandish rider: there is plenty of independent proof that the previous arms inspection regime did indeed involve activities not sanctioned by the UN.

The problem is that this time the US is not, as an administration official anonymously put it, 'prepared to take yes for an answer'. No matter what Baghdad accedes to, it will never be enough.

The world has not witnessed a stronger empire than the US since the Romans. This is arguably the most portentous consequence of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today there are American bases not just in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan as well - which would have been unthinkable just over 10 years ago.

This empire is dedicated solely to ensuring the military and economic supremacy of the US. It does not care a whit for Iraqis, Afghans or Pakistanis. It is willing, whenever it is deemed necessary, to violate its own principles - the recent 30 per cent tariff on steel imports clearly does not square with the free trade imperative, but that does not unduly bother Bush, Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

The problem is not just that hardly anyone is willing to tell the US where to draw the line, but that whenever someone plucks up the courage to do so, the US takes malicious pleasure in ignoring the caution.

The campaign in Afghanistan has in many ways been a disaster; the interim administration notwithstanding, the country is in a mess.Iraq will be much worse, regardless of whether or not the US is able to fulfil its objective of gaining control, at least by proxy, of that nation's prodigious petroleum resources.

Chances are that the American empire will expand across much of the world before receiving its come-uppance - as eventually it must. You and I may not be around to witness a world in which being American does not entail being more equal than everyone else, but it will happen. And then history books will cite the fate of Iraq as an obvious example of imperial overreach.


Copyright  2002 Dawn, Reprinted for fair use only.

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