James Ridgeway, Village Voice
August 26, 2002
The word among wags in Washington is that George W. Bush
will invade Iraq right after the fall congressional elections, giving
himself time to get the war out of the way before his own presidential
campaign swings into gear. An attack before November would be difficult
because the desert would be too hot for troops to maneuver with all their
biochemical gear, or so the argument goes.
More importantly, launching an expensive -- and hard to
justify -- assault amid a suspect economy and heated midterm battles for
the House would be politically tricky, at a minimum. What's more, say
those who purport to know, the defense industry needs time to build up its
stock of smart bombs, run down in the razing of Al Qaeda strategic
positions and Afghan villages.
With all the press speculation focused on an attack in
February or March, an autumn shot might be a surprise. Since American
allies in the Middle East are skittish about letting us launch attacks
from their soil, aircraft carriers will be much more important than during
the Persian Gulf War. By November, five of them -- each carrying up to 85
planes, including 50 strikers -- will be near enough to carry out raids.
Finally, Bush's current major foreign-policy advisers, Ariel Sharon and
the rest of the Israeli right, are pushing the president to go for it.
They're even vaccinating hundreds of key emergency responders for
smallpox, just in case the Iraqi president retaliates with an
unprecedented biological assault.
"Any postponement of an attack on Iraq at this stage will
serve no purpose," Raanan Gissin, a senior Sharon counselor, told The
Guardian over the weekend. "It will only give Saddam Hussein more of an
opportunity to accelerate his program of weapons of mass destruction."
As a practical matter, while modest reservations against an
attack have been voiced by such luminaries as former Daddy Bush top aide
Brent Scowcroft and retiring House heavy Dick Armey, most of the criticism
is actually thumb-sucking by people like Henry Kissinger, who are skilled
at being on all sides all the time. The only real opposition in Congress
is from the right-wing Republicans. The Democrats are demure.
The political opposition, such as it is, pretty much thinks
war is in the cards. "My feeling is that the administration has staked so
much in it that they're going to have an awful hard time backing down,"
says Noam Chomsky, the MIT linguist and author of the anti-imperialist
treatise 9-11. "I suspect that they're putting such a heavy stake in it to
make it difficult to back down."
Chomsky says the current hawks are mostly recycled
Reaganites, bullies who steamrolled dissent in the '80s and can be
expected to do the same now. "Anytime they wanted to ram through some
outrageous program, they would just start screaming and Congress would
collapse," he says. "I mean, it's not just Congress; it's the same in
what's called intellectual discussion. Very few people want to be
subjected to endless vicious tirades and lies. It's just unpleasant, so
the question is, Why bother? So most people just back off."
Those Reaganites have had their own dealings with Hussein,
and they remain preoccupied with him now. They were there when the U.S.
helped Iraq with its chemical warfare against Iran, as The New York Times
reported on Sunday, letting the world in on what everyone in Washington
knew already. In fact, as Iraq gassed its enemy, the U.S. actually removed
the nation from its list of terrorist states and enthusiastically
increased military and other aid across the board to help Saddam beat the
fundamentalist Muslims in Iran.
Unlike Saudi Arabia, Iraq never was a predictable ally for
the West. In the early 1970s, Saddam signed a friendship pact with the
Soviets, nationalized the Iraq Petroleum Company, and strongly opposed
Israel. But in the face of Iranian fundamentalism, the U.S. sought ways to
curry favor with Iraq against Iran.
After re-establishing diplomatic relations with Iraq in
1984, the U.S. expanded its guaranteed agricultural exports to Hussein.
Saddam shifted away from collective farms and toward tree crops, chickens,
and dairy products, a changeover that went hand-in-hand with the
relocating of the population from the countryside to the cities. At one
point, the U.S. sold as much as 20 percent of its entire rice crop to
Iraq. And Saddam wasn't just buying food. In December 1990, Village Voice
writer Murray Waas documented the U.S. sales of military hardware --
weapons systems and helicopters -- to the Iraqis, shipments that armed
Saddam with weapons he later used against us in
the Persian Gulf campaign.
Despite having our own equipment at his disposal, Saddam
quite quickly went down to defeat -- a lesson not lost on Hussein's
military commanders or on neighboring nations. Chomsky argues the Iraqi
army would fare no better this time, but he warns against false confidence
on the part of the White House. The last time around, Mideast leaders
wanted Hussein out of Kuwait. This time, they want the U.S. out of their
affairs. "If I was in the Republican Guards, I'd just hide my rifle and
run," Chomsky says. "They're just going to get devastated. And I also
suspect that the guys in Washington may be right in their assumption that
the rest of the region and the world will be so intimidated that they
won't do anything. That's a possibility. On the other hand, the
whole place might blow up. It's just flipping a coin -- you've got no
The only certainty, it seems, is that the U.S. will attack.
"I think this war will happen, and I think it's likely to be right after
the midterm elections or sometime in winter 2003," says Chris Toensing,
editor of MERIP Report, which tracks the Middle East. The thinking of the
administration is that "the U.S. is strong enough that none of these
countries [Britain or the Middle Eastern allies] can mount an individual
challenge to the United States, and that they won't, and that they will
protest until the last moment, and when it becomes clear that the war is
going to happen, then they will be quiet and let it go on and assist in
various ways, either quiet or open. . . . The group of policy-makers
that's really pushing this forward, that's really driving the policy, the
really hawkish group, believe in American unilateralism as, not just a
necessity, but a virtue. It's the first principle of their international
Morton Halperin, senior director for Democracy at the
National Security Council under Clinton and a present director at the
Center for National Security Studies, thinks Bush will at least solicit
the support of Congress before going in, but not because of the War Powers
Act or any other legal requirements. "He will consult because people will
tell him that this is going to be very expensive, it's going to be very
complicated, we're going to have to stay there for a long time, and you
don't want to do it without having gotten the permission of Congress,"
says Halperin. "And at the end of the day they're not going to turn you
down." Turning dove on Iraq proved painful for Democrats before, he
says, and they're not about to take that chance again.
These days, the smartest opposition to attacking Hussein
comes from quarters like the left-leaning Foreign Policy in Focus, which
has published a point-by-point rationale on its Web site,
The war would be illegal, the group argues. The dispute
with Iraq over weapons of mass destruction rightly belongs to the UN, not
the U.S. If the U.S. on its own decides to attack Iraq because it violates
a Security Council resolution, then any other member of the Security
Council, acting on its own, can attack any other country, thereby creating
Our allies in the region oppose the war. Kuwait itself has
been mending fences with Iraq, which has agreed to respect Kuwait's
sovereignty. Kuwait is opposed to a new attack by the U.S.
There is nothing to show that the government of Iraq had
links to Al Qaeda or other anti-American terrorists.
None of the 9-11 hijackers were Iraqi, no major figure in
Al Qaeda is Iraqi, and no Al Qaeda funding has been traced to Iraq.
U.S. officials have admitted that there is no evidence that
Iraq has resumed its nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons programs.
After the 1991 war, all of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and delivery
systems were destroyed. Before UN inspectors were withdrawn in 1998, they
reportedly oversaw the destruction of 38,000 chemical weapons, 480,000
liters of live chemical weapons agents, 48 missiles, six missile
launchers, 30 missile warheads modified to carry chemical or biological
agents, and hundreds of pieces of equipment with the capability to produce
chemical weapons. "In its most recent report," writes Foreign Policy in
Focus, "the International Atomic Energy Agency categorically declared that
Iraq no longer has a nuclear program."
"Iraq's current armed forces are at barely one-third their
pre-war strength," the group argues, with a nonexistent navy and a tiny
air force. Military spending is one-tenth of what it was in 1990.
Iraq is not a military threat to its neighbors, most of
which have sophisticated air-defense systems. The think tank quotes
Israeli military analyst Meir Stieglitz, who noted in the Israeli
newspaper Yediot Ahronot: "The chances of Iraq having succeeded in
developing operative warheads without tests are zero."
Research: Joshua Hersh, Gabrielle Jackson, and Cassandra