jacdon at earthlink.net jacdon at earthlink.net
Sat Aug 31 13:19:33 MDT 2002

The following article will appear in the Sept. 1 email issue of the
Mid-Hudson Activist Newsletter, published by the Mid-Hudson National
Peoples Campagn in New Paltz, NY, jacdon at earthlink.net


By Jack A. Smith

Will nearly total opposition from Washington's international allies,
serious splits within U.S. ruling circles, and the growth of the
domestic antiwar movement suffice to prevent President George Bush from
launching an aggressive, preemptive war against Iraq?

Not yet, but maybe.  The strength of this swiftly gathering dissent
represents an unexpected obstacle to White House plans to violently
overthrow and replace the Baghdad government with a client regime
subordinate to its dictates. But the neoconservative cabal directing
Bush administration policy has launched a public relations counterattack
-- largely to secure domestic public opinion in support of yet another
war -- based on a gross exaggeration of the potential "terrorist threat"
from Iraq.

In a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Aug. 26, advertised as the
Bush administration's rationale for a new war, Vice President Dick
Cheney attempted to mislead and frighten the American people into
supporting an unprovoked attack on Iraq.  He depicted this relatively
small, languishing country of 23 million people, decimated by 11 years
of draconian U.S. sanctions that have taken approximately 1.5 million
lives, as a virtual superstate, implicitly as powerful as the former
USSR at its zenith.  The government of President Saddam Hussein, he
said, is about to "seek domination of the entire Middle East, take
control of a great portion of the world's energy supplies, directly
threaten America's friends throughout the region and subject the United
States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail.... There is no doubt
Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction; there is no doubt
that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies
and against us."  Cheney's comments exceeded some of the worst
anti-Soviet diatribes of the Cold War years.

As is the Republican regime's custom, Cheney offered not a sliver of
proof to support his alarming allegations, cultivating the strong
suspicion that they are fabrications intended to coerce both allies and
domestic public opinion into supporting a new military adventure.
Following the tragic events of last Sept. 11, administration sources
advanced the notion that Iraq was implicated in the terror attacks
against the Pentagon and World Trade Center -- without proof.  Soon
after, it was implied that Baghdad was behind the anthrax scare --
without proof.  In more recent months, the White House has accused Iraq
of producing and planning to deploy chemical-biological weapons --
without proof.

Now the administration is charging that the Hussein government plans to
launch a nuclear war even though it has never presented evidence that
Iraq possesses such weapons, delivery systems or intentions.  The
repeated administration allegation that Saddam Hussein is in any way
associated with the Al Qaeda network is perhaps the most ludicrous
charge of all.  Al Qaeda despises Hussein because he is attempting to
lead a modern secular society in contradiction to a fundamentalist
state.  Indeed, along with Bush and Cheney, Al Qaeda also calls for the
overthrow of the Baghdad government.

In the end, all the administration's pretexts devolve to one premise --
get rid of Saddam Hussein, proof or not.  "He is an evil man," intoned
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice speaking of Hussein Aug. 17,
as though that subjective characterization alone justified a war.
Urging swift action, with or without evidence of wrongdoing, she
intoned, "History is littered with cases of inaction that led to have
grave consequences for the world."

At this stage, bamboozled by relentless government propaganda, a
majority of the American people support President Bush's expressed
intention to launch a war to eliminate the Iraqi government, but this
could dissipate.  A Fox News poll in August "found that 69% of Americans
support military action to remove Hussein while 22% oppose it (9% not
sure)."  Support drops to 52%  "if it means thousands of American
soldiers' lives would be lost."  And it falls to 49% "if it means a war
lasting up to five years." A Washington Post-ABC News poll in mid-August
showed that 69% "supported taking some form of military action to force
Hussein from power." This fell to 57% in case of a U.S. invasion of Iraq
with ground troops, which 36% opposed.  But if the war "were to produce
significant U.S. casualties, support plummeted to 40% and opposition
rose to 51%," according to the Washington Post.

Obviously, the Bush administration is aware that any confrontation
beyond the rigidly circumscribed post-Vietnam syndrome wars the U.S. has
favored in recent decades (overwhelming power against a disadvantaged
adversary, short duration, few American casualties, and a non-conscript
military) could produce negative political consequences.  So far,
Washington has expressed interest in four separate attack scenarios
against a vastly  weaker Iraq, engaging anywhere between 50,000-200,000
troops and relying primarily on decisive advantages in technology,
communications and sophisticated weaponry.  Even so, the Iraqi army
would be a tough opponent when defending its own homeland, especially in
the block-to-block defense of its cities.  Speaking to reporters in
Beirut Aug. 30, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said that if
Washington launched a war "Iraq will fight tooth and nail to defend its
territory.  Iraq is not Afghanistan and the U.S. administration is aware
of that."

Until recently, the Bush administration was counting upon the
international unity and domestic patriotism galvanized by its so-called
war on terrorism to neutralize opposition to its larger intention to
transform the tragedy of Sept. 11 into an exercise in empire-building
abroad and far-right programs at home.  Domestic opinion was controlled
by frequent suggestions of impending terror attacks and daily injections
of hyperpatriotism from the corporate mass media.  The "opposition"
Democratic Party's flag-waving capitulation to President Bush's
conservative leadership in foreign, military and "homeland defense"
affairs played directly into White House hands, conveying the impression
to the American people that there was no alternative to the Bush-Cheney
policy of endless wars, huge defense expenditures and sharp curtailments
in civil liberties.

In recent weeks, however, two important developments have undermined
Bush's merry military march to Baghdad and to other "axis of evil"
targets if possible -- (1) unusually  intense allied opposition and (2)
an evolving conflict among those who rule America.  In addition, these
factors are energizing antiwar forces which are gearing up for massive
protests against a war with Iraq.

First by ones and twos, then by the score with the approach of August,
nearly all Washington's closest allies and war-on-terrorism coalition
partners refused to be dragged into supporting a war against a country
not remotely connected to Sept. 11 just to satisfy what had obviously
become an obsession for the far-right warhawks surrounding a
hubris-sodden president.  Only Israel subscribes totally to Bush's
aggressive intentions.  British Prime Minister Tony Blair's inclination
to prostrate himself before America's King George has been subverted by
opposition within the political system back home.  He may not be
permitted to grovel on this issue. And no other country publicly backs
what German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder termed Washington's military

All the Arab countries, including those needed to supply airfields and
other military support systems for an invasion, have expressed
disapproval.  A Saudi diplomat told the BBC Aug. 29, "There is a war in
Afghanistan; a war between Israelis and Palestinians; a war against
terrorism.  We do not want another war in Iraq."  Kuwait, which was
invaded by Iraq in 1990, opposes a war.  Iran, which was forced into a
nearly decade-long war with Iraq in the 1980s, opposes an attack on the
Baghdad government.  The Kurds in northern Iraq, with major grievances
against Saddam Hussein, have taken steps to avoid entanglement in
Washington's war planning.

Not one European ally supports a war to overthrow the Iraqi leader.
Speaking out boldly Aug. 29, French President Jacques Chirac excoriated
"attempts to legitimize the unilateral and preemptive use of force....
This runs contrary to France's vision of collective security, a vision
that is based on cooperation among states, respect for the law and the
authority of the Security Council."  Most of these traditional U.S.
allies support the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq but reject the
concept of a preventive war.  If there is to be a war, many insist, it
must first be approved by the UN Security Council, which includes among
its members France, Russia and China, each of which opposes a new war
and enjoys veto rights.  Britain's Blair government is now emphasizing
the need for weapons inspectors and no longer promotes Bush's demand for
"regime-change" -- an Orwellian euphemism for the violent overthrow of a
sovereign government.

The dispute within the Bush administration over Iraq policy, which has
been going on since last September,  metamorphosed in August into a
split within the right-wing and the ruling class in general.  This is
not a fight between war hawks and peace doves.  In terms of Iraq and the
demonized Saddam Hussein, there are hardly any doves in positions of
influence or power in America.  It is a battle among the hawks over the
best means of asserting U.S. hegemony in the Middle East with its huge
oil resources, and the most fruitful path to pursue the course of empire
in this post-Soviet era of the single superpower.   The struggle is
taking place openly within the party in power.  The leadership of the
Democratic Party, likewise boasting an infestation of hawks, is watching
from its roost, awaiting advantageous political winds before soaring
aloft in whatever proves the most opportunist direction.

The administration's far right, led by Bush, Cheney, and Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, assisted by ultra-conservative veterans of
the past Reagan-Bush administrations, believes the U.S. is so supremely
dominant militarily, politically and economically that it has the right
to pursue its narrow interests regardless of the views entertained by
the rest of the world, including its closest allies. What this faction
needed was a sufficient provocation for taking action and broad backing
from the American people.   The Sept. 11 catastrophe fulfilled this

The Bush administration's subsequent war on terrorism has accomplished
little to disrupt the several hundred member Al Qaeda network, but it
has used its mandate to invade and occupy Afghanistan, empowering
another client government of its own choosing and acquiring permanent
military bases throughout Central Asia.   The next target for the
far-right is Saddam Hussein, a former U.S. ally who might be blameless
for Sept. 11 but cannot be forgiven -- especially by the Bush Dynasty --
for surviving the one-sided Persian Gulf war and killer sanctions.
Destroying the Baghdad government will allow Washington to rule Iraq
through a hand-picked regime, thus allowing the U.S. not just to
purchase but to control the flow of oil in a country that is situated
upon the second largest petroleum reserves in the world.  Ousting
Hussein -- even if the process is illegal and immoral -- will also
constitute proof positive that any weaker country which stands up to
Uncle Sam will be cut down by the most awesome military machine in

The newly vocal elite opposition to this administration policy, with few
exceptions, does not dispute Washington's right to oust President
Hussein or to wage a preemptive war, or an illegal or unjust war, or to
the continual expansion of empire, for that matter.  Nearly all these
political figures  (and they range from former Secretary of State Henry
Kissinger,  to House majority leader Dick Armey, to Sen. Chuck Hagel,
to two key figures in the administration of President Bush the Elder --
former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and former Secretary of
State James A Baker) are Republicans and are backed in their criticism
by a number of other rightists, including National Review magazine, for
example.  A number of establishment newspapers  appear to be tilting in
the direction of these critics.

In general, these conservatives have joined forces with Secretary of
State Colin Powell and some uniformed Pentagon leaders in insisting that
the administration avoid a precipitous attack that might liquidate the
international coalition of countries that support Washington's war on
terrorism.  In addition, they fear that Bush's war plans are reckless
and may blow up in the administration's face, destroying the national
consensus behind the war on terrorism and potentially generating a mass
antiwar movement and a revival of the political left.

House Republican leader Armey, who is retiring after nine terms
representing Texas, came closest of all these rightists to an antiwar
position when he opposed Bush's war plans in these words in August:  "My
own view would be to just let him [Hussein]  bluster...all he wants.  As
long as he behaves himself within his own borders, we should not be
addressing any attack or resources against him.... We Americans don't
make unprovoked attacks against other nations."  Armey's views were
similar to those of the small libertarian sector of the Republican

The arguments from Scowcroft and Baker are particularly important in
terms of conservative politics because of their influence within the
ruling class.  Both of them remain close friends of former President
Bush and were among the chief architects of the Persian Gulf War (along
with Powell).  Some commentators have suggested that the elder Bush may
have encouraged his old friends as a means of pressuring the younger
Bush to contrive a less adventurous policy.

Scowcroft fired his whiff of grapeshot across the White House lawn by
publishing an article headlined "Don't Attack Saddam" in the Aug. 15
Wall Street Journal.  After noting that "Saddam Hussein is a menace,"
but pointing out that "there is scant evidence to tie Saddam to
terrorist organizations, and even less to the Sept. 11 attacks," the
former national security adviser argued:  "Given Saddam's aggressive
regional ambitions, as well as his ruthlessness and unpredictability, it
may at some point be wise to remove him from power.  Whether and when
that point should come out depends on overall U.S. national security
priorities.  Our preeminent security priority -- underscored repeatedly
by the president -- is the war on terrorism.  An attack on Iraq at this
time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global
counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken.... We simply cannot win
that war without enthusiastic international cooperation."

Baker followed with an article in the New York Times Aug. 25, headlined
"The Right Way to Change a Regime."  While not opposing military action
to depose Hussein, he advised that "we should try our best not to have
to go alone, and the president should reject the advice of those who
counsel doing so.  The costs in all areas will be much greater, as well
as the political risks, both domestic and international, if we end up
going it alone or with only one or two other countries."  He urged
Washington to "advocate the adoption by the UN Security Council of a
simple straightforward resolution requiring that Iraq submit to
intrusive inspections anytime, anywhere with no exceptions, and
authorizing all necessary means to enforce it." In other words, the U.S.
should obtain Security Council support before launching a war against

Congressional Democrats have largely remained uncritical of the
administration's war plans.  All of the six possible candidates for the
Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 support the notion of
"regime-change" in Iraq, and have either backed the call for war or have
avoided the issue so far. They include former Vice President Al Gore,
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, House Minority Leader Richard
Gephardt, Sen. John Edwards, Sen John Kerry and Sen. Joe Lieberman.

The Bush-Cheney regime strongly opposes going to the United Nations for
several reasons, not the least being that the Iraqi government may agree
to inspections, thus undercutting the pretext for military action.  In
any event the Security Council would oppose a war unless the U.S. was
able to furnish concrete proof of its allegations about Baghdad's
possession of weapons of mass destruction and intention to use them.  In
his Aug. 26 speech, which he repeated to another group of veterans a few
days later, Cheney directly opposed Baker's suggestion about weapons
inspectors and UN involvement.  He argued without any pretense of logic
that it would be dangerous to delay offensive action by resuming
inspections because Hussein would simply deceive the inspectors and
build weapons of mass destruction in secret.

The extraordinary opposition of allies and public criticism from leading
conservative political figures have had several effects so far.

1.  It has obliged the Bush administration to pretend that it seeks a
public debate, now that it has become impossible to completely suppress
one.  This may finally embolden some Democrats to speak out against
Bush's warmongering, a happenstance that would have a major impact on
public thinking after a full year of jingo conformity.

2.  A number of Senators from both parties have now begun to insist that
the Bush administration explain its intentions  clearly in testimony
before congressional hearings.  They are also demanding that the White
House consult with Congress about the Iraq situation.  After months of
ignoring Congress, White House sources revealed at the end of August
that Bush is prepared to engage in a dialogue.  The administration, of
course, will now seek to strengthen its hand by obtaining congressional
support for an attack on Baghdad.  If this support is forthcoming, war
seems probable. Bush has made it entirely clear, however, that he has no
intention of requesting a declaration of war from Congress.  Despite
being a constitutional requirement, the last time Congress declared war
was in 1941; all the following wars and military actions were ordered by
the White House, with or without congressional approval, much less a
declaration of war.  At this stage, the government maintains it has the
authority to launch a war on the extremely dubious basis of a 1991
congressional resolution endorsing the Persian Gulf war, and last year's
vote to support the war on terrorism. This could prompt a widening of
the inchoate debate.  Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold insisted
Aug. 29 that if there is to be a conflict, Congress must issue a formal
declaration of war.  Sen. Patrick Lahey (D-Vt.) announced the same day
that "there should be a full debate and a vote.  That is what the
Constitution prescribes and that is what the American people expect."

3.  Until now, the White House has avoided any mention of the United
Nations in relation to its attack plans because it fears the Security
Council will insist that efforts first be made to secure the return of
weapons inspectors. Secretary General Kofi Annan made the world
organization's view clear a few days ago by declaring that "the UN is
not agitating for military action."   In the face of allied criticism
and demands from what the New York Times terms "the Republican
mandarins," Bush  is now depicted by aides as contemplating the
possibility of  inviting some form of UN involvement in his war plans.
Working with the UN -- at least until a propitious political moment is
discovered to launch an attack -- is considered a last resort if the
opposition continues to mount.  The president is expected to address the
UN early in September.  The views expressed in this key speech
undoubtedly will be influenced by how the ruling circles and the
political system have responded to Cheney's campaign to whip up public
enthusiasm for a war.  So far, according to a New York Times editorial
Aug. 29, "Cheney failed to offer convincing answers to questions that
give many Americans pause about using military force to oust Saddam
Hussein.  The White House has yet to meet the difficult burden of
showing why Iraq's weapons programs, including its efforts to develop
nuclear arms, require an American invasion."

Another outcome of the recent uproar about Iraq and its ramifications
throughout society is that it will strengthen the antiwar movement.
The increasing beat of Washington's war drums, combined with allied
opposition, elite criticism, and congressional motion, are expected to
swell activism in coming months.  Major demonstrations against an Iraq
war, organized for Oct. 26 by the ANSWER coalition, are anticipated to
draw huge numbers, expressing not just doubts about the best means of
pursuing imperial interests but clear-cut opposition to an illegal,
immoral and imperialist war.  Coming at this time, mass protests are
likely to resonate more clearly and forcefully in the public mind than
at any time since Bush launched his war on terrorism.

Publicly, President Bush is insisting that his government has not
decided with finality whether to pursue its "regime-change" war plans.
Naturally the White House would prefer to capture at least some allied
support for an attack on Baghdad, but acting unilaterally in defiance of
world opinion is hardly unique for this administration.   Clearly, the
open conservative split and the possibility of a serious public debate
on the issues may force Bush and Cheney to modify their timetable for
aggression.  But the principal ingredient in this mix is domestic public
opinion, which still favors a military adventure against Iraq.  If this
begins to wane in the next weeks and months -- and the antiwar and left
movements have a major role to play in this regard -- Bush could
conceivably decide against a new war at this time.

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