What's Left

January 27, 2003

No contortion too extreme in support of US imperialism

By Stephen Gowans

UN inspections of Iraq, which the US administration has been backing for the last few months, are now, we're told, useless. "Looking for a smoking gun is a fool's mission," says former chief UN weapons inspector David Kay. And US Secretary of State Colin Powell points out that it's impossible "to look under every roof and search the back of every truck in a country the size of California."

The shift from supporting inspections, to calling them into question, came on the eve of inspectors delivering a report to the UN that said no evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction had been found. The inspections have failed to furnish Washington with what it has been so assiduously looking for -- a pretext to oust Saddam Hussein by means of a military invasion. Hence, the shift. If inspections can't provide the pretext, inspections must be denounced as "a fool's mission."

What's more, the absence of evidence is being taken to underscore the need for urgent military action, rather than signifying that Washington hasn't a case. "How much longer can we wait?" newspaper columnists ask, echoing the US State Department in their accustomed way.

That Iraq has weapons of mass destruction is to be accepted as axiomatic. Washington, we're assured, knows that Iraq has weapons, even if it won't say how it knows, preferring instead to refer vaguely to intelligence reports whose nature can't be disclosed lest "important sources be compromised."  Instead, we're to accept the word of the US government at face value. If inspectors have failed to find weapons, it's because Iraq isn't co-operating, not because weapons don't exist. And if Iraq isn't co-operating, it must be attacked.

The thinness of Washington's case should be obvious. Not only can the US administration not establish that Baghdad intends to attack the US (or backed the Sept. 11 attacks), it can't even show that Iraq has the means to do so.

Washington's misnamed "pre-emptive" strike, which seems all but inevitable, is to be authorized by what Powell calls the United States "sovereign right to take military action." If the United States has a "sovereign right" to trample the sovereignty of other nations, haven't other nations the sovereign right to defend themselves, or has 'sovereign' come to mean the rights of a sovereign, the US, over its subjects, the rest of the world?

The US practice, which becomes stronger as each day passes since the demise of the Soviet Union--the last bulwark against Washington jackbooting around the globe unchecked--is to behave as if it is a sovereign. Accordingly, Washington exempts itself from whatever treaty it wishes, and violates whatever law it desires, secure in the knowledge there will be no repercussions (save future terrorist attacks to be exploited to justify more of the same.) With what is now a military larger than that of all other countries combined, the United States does what it wants, the only constraint being its citizens' intolerance of US military casualties (accompanied by a blithe disregard for the slaughter of foreigners.)

International law, which the US and its favored allies--Israel chief among them--now regularly flout, is to be treated as a constraint on the sovereign's subjects alone, subject to exemption where the sovereign specifies; the exemption is permanent in its own case. Accordingly, the Pentagon can plan wars of aggression and the commission of war crimes, without a peep of protest from the country's misnamed "free" press or from allies firmly ensconced within Washington's imperial orbit.

CBS says that on the first day of the attack, the Pentagon will rain 300 to 400 cruise missiles on Baghdad. On the second day, it will do the same. The Iraqi army is expected to be so "shocked and awed" by the massive devastation that it will put up little resistance, allowing US forces to roll into Baghdad with few US casualties.

By all accounts, Iraqi casualties will be immense. Civilian infrastructure, including electricity and water and sewage treatment facilities, will be "taken down." The outcome, for the second time in a little over a decade, will be epidemics of cholera, pertusis and other waterborne illness. Numberless Iraqis will die from lack of medicines, inadequate medical care, and malnutrition.

There's something surreal about reading newspaper reports about this. The destruction of civilian infrastructure--that is, the commission of war crimes--is openly anticipated.  Civilian casualties are expected to number in the tens, and possibly hundreds of thousands. And yet the phrase "war crimes" is never uttered, at least, not in connection with US plans. The Pentagon, we're to believe, doesn't commit war crimes, this being the sole preserve of Washington's official targets.

Slobodan Milosevic, one such target, languishes in a former Nazi prison at the Hague, accused of war crimes by a US-controlled court, which crimes, if he actually committed, are narrower in scope than those CBS says the US proposes to commit in Iraq, and did commit in the Persian Gulf War (see Thomas Nagy, "The Secret Behind Sanctions," The Progressive Magazine, Sept., 2001.)

Milosevic is routinely excoriated by America's moderate leftists for the war crimes they are certain he committed, while his defenders are mocked as supporters of a brutal, genocidal dictator (notwithstanding the fact that even NATO is no longer prepared to accuse Milosevic of genocide.) Their own government's war crimes, which are often openly admitted to by US officials, and therefore need not, unlike the charges against Milosevic, be proved, are not denounced with half the energy committed to denouncing Washington's foreign policy targets. As moderate leftists have a habit of doing, they seek to come to terms with their own country's imperialism.

On Iraq, their position follows these lines: "'We' should get rid of Saddam, because he's a brutal dictator who's as evil as they come. We don't support Bush's war, but that doesn't mean we wouldn't support a war that would oust Saddam if it was done for the right reasons and in the right way. After all, Saddam's ouster would benefit Iraqis and Iraq's neighbors."

The problem is that it doesn't necessarily follow that Saddam's ouster would benefit Iraqis and Iraq's neighbors. That depends on who and what replaces Saddam. And need it be said that the Iraqis whose lives are swept away in the war to oust Saddam will hardly benefit?

Moreover, there are a few things we can be pretty safe in making assumptions about: Saddam's Arab nationalism won't be replaced by participatory economics, or socialism, or social democracy, and while multiparty elections may follow someday, it won't be multiparty elections free from domination by the wealthy, or free from Washington's meddling to keep Iraq on the track of unceasing subordination to US capital.

What will follow, in time, is "the best democracy money can buy," imposed on Iraqis from without, along with subordination to the IMF, the WTO, and the annexation of Iraq's oil resources to the US economy; that is, a sham democracy. And a permanent US military presence in the country is assured.

Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive Magazine, once said that the White House is the media's foreign policy assignment editor. The media focusses on whatever foreign policy issue the White House says is important, overlooking those Washington doesn't mention. The same can be said about America's moderate left, which takes its cues from Washington on which regime is to be reviled, and which is to be ignored.

Saddam is no friend of ordinary Iraqis, it's said, and was put in place by Washington. Leftists, the argument goes, should therefore be discussing ways to oust him. But by the same reasoning, we should be talking about a war to replace the DOS government in Serbia, which is no friend to ordinary Serbs, and was put in place by Washington, as well. And what of Afghanistan's current government (also installed by Washington), or Pakistan's dictatorship? Should we be talking about a war to replace Musharraf? The Saudi and Kuwaiti monarchies: where's the discussion of the war to replace them?

If there is no discussion on getting rid of other authoritarian, absolutist, and majority-unfriendly regimes, it's because Washington hasn't threatened them, and if, and until they do, America's moderate left will, every once in a while, utter a mild denunciation, but won't engage in its accustomed ritualistic denunciation of Washington's enemy du jour, or broach a discussion of what kind of war "we" could support against Washington's next target.

Of course, anyone who proposed to discuss the waging of "just" or "altruistic" wars to oust the world's absolutist governments would be called insane.  Which is precisely why the moderate  left shouldn't be doing to same with Iraq.

And let's get real. Washington isn't going to wage a war for altruistic reasons, no matter how much Powell, with jaw dropping audacity says, "we seek nothing for ourselves other than to help bring about security for people that have already suffered too much."

Only in a country whose citizens had been thoroughly indoctrinated could such obvious nonsense be uttered without calling forth great gales of derisory laughter.

And only in such a country could leftists look for something even mildly progressive in their own country's imperialism.

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