American public left in dark on US war aims in Iraq
- American public left in dark on US war aims in Iraq
By Patrick Martin
6 August 2002
The discussion that has broken out in official Washington over when and
how to go to war with Iraq is in no sense a genuine public debate.
Representatives of various factions of the ruling eliteBush administration
officials, congressional leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties,
the military-intelligence establishmentare weighing in. But the American
people are excluded. There is no genuine democratic content in these
discussions, which include, among other topics, intensive consideration of
how to manipulate public opinion.
The very terms of the debate at Senate hearings held July 31-August 1
revealed the cynical and sinister character of the congressional
proceedings. Speaker after speaker agreed that Saddam Hussein should be
removed as Iraqi ruler and that the United States government had the right
to carry out a policy of regime change in a country on the other side of
the world. The only differences expressed were over the best methods for
accomplishing this goaland the best means for selling such a war to the
The official US debate might be entitled, with apologies to Pirandello,
Six Wars in Search of a Pretext. The entire political and media
establishment agrees on the goal of war with Iraq. But different factions
propose rival scenarios.
Some advocate the Afghan model: the use of high-tech weaponry, CIA spies
and a small force of US troops on the ground, combined with massive air
power. Others, particularly in the Pentagon, see something more akin to
the 1991 Persian Gulf War, with half as many troops, perhaps 250,000, to
occupy the country. Another proposal is for tank columns to race from
Kuwait to Baghdad, targeting only the Iraqi Republican Guards, in the
belief that regular Iraqi army troops will not fight for Saddam Hussein. A
fourth version is an airborne assault on the Iraqi capital, aimed at
decapitating the regime by killing the Iraqi president. A scenario
involving a military coup and the assassination of Hussein also has its
The political pretext for hostilities with Iraq keeps shifting, as the
Bush administration seeks, so far unsuccessfully, to find a pretext that
can stampede the public behind its war plans.
On one day war against Iraq is necessary because UN weapons inspectors
have been absent from the country since 1998, and Baghdad has supposedly
resumed the development of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
(However, when Iraq offered last week to readmit the inspectors, the Bush
administration immediately rejected the proposal).
The next day Husseins removal from power is declared a must because the
Iraqi ruler already has weapons of mass destruction and may give them to
Al Qaedaalthough the enmity between the Islamic fundamentalism of Al Qaeda
and the secular nationalism of Husseins Baathist regime is well
A day later it turns out that Hussein must be removed because he might use
weapons of mass destruction against American targets himself (although
that would be suicide for his regime) or against Israel (which possesses
an estimated 200 nuclear bombs).
On the morrow Hussein is declared a threat to his Arab neighbors and to
the supply of oil from the Persian Gulf to world markets, despite the fact
that Iraq signed a boundary agreement with Kuwait giving up all claims on
the emirate, and that all of the Gulf states publicly oppose an American
attack on Baghdad.
By the end of the week, Saddam Hussein is declared responsible for the
September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,
justifying a retaliatory war.
This latestand most desperateattempt to manufacture a casus belli was
reported by the Los Angeles Times August 2. The newspaper wrote that the
White House and Pentagon had decided to endorse claims that suicide
hijacker Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi official in the Czech Republic
several months before September 11, although both the CIA and FBI have
dismissed the Czech report as unproven and unfounded. As the front-page LA
Times report made clear, the Bush administration made its decision not as
a result of new intelligence information, but because it felt the need for
a September 11 link to generate support for its war plans.
The reason for this thrashing about in search of a pretext for war is the
fact that the real motives cannot be revealed to the American people. The
preparations for war have a twofold cause: the drive by the American
ruling elite to establish unchallenged control over Persian Gulf oil, the
most important strategic prize in the world, and the desire of the Bush
administration to divert public attention from the mounting social and
political crisis at home, expressed most clearly in the corporate scandals
and the plunging stock market.
At the Senate hearings, both Democrats and Republicans expressed concern
that the Bush administration had failed to devise a workable plan for
military operations, mobilize support internationally, or rally American
public opinion behind an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Republican
Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska asked, Would we further destabilize the
entire Middle East if we took military action against him? Who would be
our allies? And what kind of support would there be inside Iraq? These
kinds of questions are critical. You could inflame the whole Middle East
Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, a Democrat from Delaware, voiced
confidence in assurances from the Bush administration that there would be
no overt military moves against Iraq until early in 2003. He said he would
be very, very surprised, adding that President Bush is nowhere near making
the hard decision as to when and how. But in a subsequent appearance on
the NBC program Meet the Press August 4, Biden said that ultimately the
decision would be for war, and that Bush would be able to make a case for
it to Congress and the public.
In his opening statement, the committees ranking Republican, Richard Lugar
of Indiana, painted a somber picture of the consequences of war in the
Persian Gulf. This is not an action that can be sprung on the American
people, he said. We must estimate soberly the human and economic cost of
war plans and postwar plans.
The Senate hearings adjourned August 1 and will resume in September with
testimony from administration officials. Similar hearings will begin
before the House International Affairs Committee, chaired by conservative
Republican Henry Hyde of Illinois, who headed the impeachment effort
against President Clinton. Hyde said that a full-scale invasion of Iraq
may not be the best course of action, and urged serious debate on whatever
plan is eventually proposed by the White House.
The American press continues to cite deep divisions within the Bush
administration over the war plans. The Washington Post reported August 1
that Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are
pushing most forcefully for aggressively confronting Hussein, arguing that
he presents a serious threat and that time is not on the side of the
United States, while Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director
George Tenet are asking skeptical questions about a military campaign,
especially about the aftermath of what most in the administration assume
would be a fairly swift victory.
Much of the senior Army and Navy command has opposed an immediate strike
at Iraq on practical grounds, lining up with Powell, the former chairman
of the joint chiefs, in an unusual alliance between the State Department
and the uniformed side of the Pentagon, elements of the government that
more often seem to oppose each other in foreign policy debates.
The Post account said that at a July 10 meeting of the Defense Policy
Board, a civilian advisory group that has spearheaded the drive for war as
soon as possible, officials voiced frustration with military opposition
and called for a few heads to roll in the Army command.
The criticism of Bushs policy towards Iraq voiced by Army generals,
Democrats and liberals has nothing to do with opposition to American
aggression. Rather, the concern is that the administration is proceeding
recklessly, without making the preparations necessary for a protracted and
bloody struggle and without sufficiently considering the international
ramifications of such a war.
There is particular concern over the vehement opposition to a US war
expressed by most of the European countries and by longtime US allies and
stooges in the Middle East itself. French President Jacques Chirac and
German Chancellor Gerhard Schrder, voicing the common view of the European
governments, except for Great Britain, said July 30 they would support a
US war against Iraq only if it was endorsed by the UN Security Councilan
unlikely event given that France, Russia and China all have veto power
King Abdullah of Jordan visited Washington August 1 and met with Bush at
the White House. During a stop in London on his way to the talks, he gave
press interviews declaring that US officials were making a tremendous
mistake if they ignored international opposition to an invasion of Iraq.
[E]verybody is saying this is a bad idea, he said. If it seems America
says we want to hit Baghdad, thats not what Jordanians think, or the
British, the French, the Russians, the Chinese and everybody else.
Abdullah rebuffed claims by US officials that they would use Jordan as a
staging area for troop movements into Iraq and air strikes on that
country. Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said, Jordan has made
it clear it cannot be used as a launching pad, and added, we have not been
In a column published August 1 in the Washington Post, Samuel Berger,
national security adviser in the Clinton administration, warned against
the danger of a Bay of Pigs in the Persian Gulfi.e., an ill-prepared
attack that results in a military and political debacle.
Berger wrote, [W]e must define the necessary objective more broadly than
simply eliminating Husseins regime. We must achieve that in a way that
enhancesnot diminishesAmericas overall security. The former Clinton aide
expressed particular concern over the destabilization of other regimes in
the region, concluding, It would be a Pyrrhic victory, for example, if we
got rid of Saddam Hussein only to face a radical government in Pakistan
with a ready-made nuclear arsenal.
Similar concerns were voiced in an August 3 editorial in the New York
Times, which appealed to Bush to talk candidly about why he feels military
action against Iraq may soon be necessary, and what the goals, costs and
potential consequences of a war would be. Expressing fear of the
consequences of even a successful war, the Times noted, Military victory
in Iraq would leave Washington temporarily responsible for guiding the
future of a major Arab oil-producing country in the heart of the Middle
East. The first challenge would be preventing Iraqs dissolution... A
splintered Iraq would tempt Iran, frighten Turkey and perhaps lead to
The Times concluded, with typical sanctimony, that a unilateral US attack
on Iraq must be preceded by democratic deliberation and informed
decision-making. However, there is no assurance that the Bush
administration will even seek formal congressional sanction for military
Both Biden and Lugar said they expected Bush to do so, as his father did
in 1990 before the first US war in the Persian Gulf. Two Senate Democrats,
Dianne Feinstein of California and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, introduced a
resolution July 30 calling on the administration not to initiate a war
with Iraq without congressional consent. Republican Arlen Specter
introduced a similar resolution two weeks earlier, but Republican Minority
Leader Trent Lott said the White House could launch a war on Iraq on its
The US Constitution explicitly reserves the power to declare war to
Congress, but this provision has been largely ignored by American
presidents throughout the Cold War and its aftermath. The last war
declared by Congress was World War II, and US governments have waged wars
in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan, and dispatched troops
for lesser combat in dozens of other countries, either with no
congressional vote at all or with resolutions that fell short of an
outright declaration of war.
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