What's Left

January 18, 2003

War Games

By Stephen Gowans

Louise Arbour, who was a prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia before she was appointed to Canada' Supreme Court, once said she learned early on that success depends on knowing how to play the game well.

This is hardly a revelation to those who have mastered "the game" and have been blessed with its rewards. The game, otherwise known as "the system," or simply "life," as in, "that's life, and life isn't fair," is that collection of unwritten rules, norms, and expectations that the most perspicacious quickly assimilate and the most grasping, immoral, and conscienceless use to their advantage.

War, or more particularly, the selling of it, is also a game.

The object of this game, for those strong enough to pursue it, is to impose policies on other countries that will benefit one's own country, or a small elite within, while making a case for war that's sufficiently compelling that the majority, (which probably won't benefit and may very well be harmed), goes along. If you can convince the majority of the need for war, you win. Fail in this task, and you lose.

The score is kept by pollsters, who ask questions like, "Do you think the President has made the case for war?" to keep tabs. If a majority says yes, you're well on your way to winning. If a majority says no, it's time to revisit strategy. Should a new casus belli be presented? Should public relations efforts be stepped up, or reoriented?

This may seem like a cynical view, but that the game is being played can hardly be denied. In fact, that a game is being played is widely recognized, even openly acknowledged. Almost all analysis of the "Iraq crisis" in the media is concerned, not with whether a war is legitimate, but with identifying a case that can be made for war that will get enough people, and allies, to back the slaughter as necessary. In other words, it's about "the game."

Take, for example, the views of John Keegan, writing in The Daily Telegraph.

Keegan is concerned. "Nearly 17 months after the Twin Towers attack" he writes, "American mobilization is nowhere near complete," which is to say, Bush is failing at the game.

"There is no international consensus for war," complains Keegan, "and expression of opposition to military action appears to be growing."

What's more, there is a "lack of a clear casus belli." Washington, he laments, "has failed to demonstrate a connection between Islamic terrorism and Saddam."

The connection, he admits, is "difficult to establish," but cares not whether there actually is a connection, only whether a connection can be established. Ruefully, he concludes it can't.

"Saddam is not Islamic," Keegan explains. "His Iraq is a secular state, despised by the puritan fanatics of al-Qaeda."

That means Bush has to look elsewhere for his casus belli. "Justification for carrying war to Iraq," Keegan concludes, "depends on demonstrating that Saddam is a threat to peace through his persistence in his weapons program."

[Since the United States must also be a threat to peace for its persistence in its own weapons program, and a far larger one given the size of the US arsenal, this is hardly a compelling justification. Or it is, and it implies the rest of the world should collectively launch a pre-emptive attack on a vastly more dangerous threat to peace named George.]
 
Keegan never asks why the causal sequence -- which has a search for grounds for war following the decision to wage war -- is inverted. Nor does he seem to care that if you have a good reason for war, you go to war; you don't spend nearly two years trying to identify a justification that people can get behind. Instead, he wonders, What arguments can be advanced to mobilize support? Those are the grounds on which the president needs to rest his case.

Almost from the very moment of the Twin Towers attack 17 months ago, when US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered his aides to search for an Iraqi connection, people who play the game well, Rumsfeld included, have been looking for a hook for Bush to hang his war on.

"A secret blueprint for US global domination reveals that President Bush and his cabinet were planning a premeditated attack on Iraq to secure `regime change' even before he took power in January 2001," revealed the Scottish weekly Sunday Herald on Sept. 15, 2002.

Drawn up for Dick Cheney (now vice-president), Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz (Rumsfeld's deputy), George W. Bush's younger brother Jeb, and Lewis Libby (Cheney's chief of staff), Rebuilding America's Defences: Strategies, Forces And Resources For A New Century, points to the desire of Bush intimates to establish a permanent American military presence in the Persian Gulf, using Saddam Hussein as the justification.

"The United States," says the report, "has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."

For well over a year, Washington insiders, including Joseph Lieberman, now running for the Democractic Presidential nomination, have been floating various justifications for war with Iraq as trial balloons -- a kind of  marketing research program to find out which excuse will allow the administration to win the game.

The very first excuse concerned an alleged meeting between Mohammed Atta, said to be the ringleader of the Sept. 11 hijackers, and Iraqi intelligence. The meeting, evidence for which was never very strong, was supposed to suggest that Baghdad participated in the planning of 9/11.

Next came dark hints that Saddam Hussein was behind the now largely forgotten anthrax scare (largely forgotten once it was discovered that the anthrax strain was of American military origin and that the chief suspect was a US scientist with links to the intelligence community.)

Twelve months ago, Lieberman played the" Iraq might use weapons of mass destruction against the US" card. "We believe we must directly confront Saddam, sooner rather than later," he said, because "for as long as Saddam Hussein is in power in Baghdad, he will seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction...[and] we have no doubt that these deadly weapons are intended for use against the US and its allies" (Globe and Mail, Jan. 16, 2002).

Last January, Henry Kissinger echoed Lieberman, urging Washington to raze Bagdhad because if Iraq's "weapons capabilities remain intact, they could in time be used for terrorist goals" (Globe and Mail, Jan. 16, 2002).

Senator Richard Lugar, making no secret of playing the "let's find a good excuse" game, told CBS's Face the Nation in August that "the president has to make the case that...to wait for the attack [from Iraq], to wait for the provocation, is to invite a very, very large disaster. My guess is that at the end of the day, that this is the case on which the war effort will rest. Bush can describe this very well with the illustration of these terrorists who flew into the World Trade Centre and into the Pentagon...that was pre-emptive without warning, fortunately without weapons of mass destruction" (The National Post, Aug. 12, 2002).

Also in August, Henry Kissinger, thinking of trading in the casus belli he had been driving since January, was taking a new model out for a test drive. Sure, there was no direct connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, oozed the unctuous Kissinger, but the September 11 attacks "would not have been possible but for the tacit co-operation of societies...that oppose terror but tolerate the hatred that produces terror." Read: Iraq. Washington's immediate policy, Kissinger went on, "must demonstrate that a terrorist challenge of a systemic attack on the international order produces catastrophic consequences for the perpetrators, as well as supporters, tacit or explicit" (The National Post, Aug. 13, 2002.) Translated: Bomb Baghdad. Those bastards must have tacitly co-operated with al-Qaeda.

For 17 months Washington's warmongers, Republican and Democrat, have played the game. For 17 months we've watched as they tried one justification after another, used innuendo, tried to whip up fear, uttered ludicrous arguments, tried on justifications, and asked, How does it look? And in that 17 months, the media have observed from the sidelines, both as play-by-play announcers, and colour commentators, telling us how well, or not, the administration and its Democrat janissaries are playing the game.

It's a great life, if, like Arbour, you like to play games and play them well, and damn the consequences if they're not part of the game. It's not so great if you're one of the consequences.

....

You may re-post this article, providing the text remains unchanged.

Join our e-mail list. Send an e-mail to What's Left and write "subscribe" in the subject line.

What's Left