What's Left

September 6, 2002


Sanity in a Maelstrom of Madness

By Stephen Gowans

Canada's Prime Minister Jean Chretien says that when he meets US President George W. Bush on Monday, he will bring up the issue of Iraq. "I will listen to him and after that I will argue with him and ask questions and I will come back to my cabinet."

If Chretien and his ministers are persuaded the United States has a valid case to launch a pre-emptive attack on Iraq, he'll move the issue of whether Canada should support the US  to Parliament for debate.

Chretien committed Canadian troops to Afghanistan, but on Iraq, he's been model of sanity in a roiling sea of madness. That, however, could change come Monday; Canadian prime ministers have a habit of buckling when pressed by US presidents. But so far the Canadian Prime Minister, like most world leaders, has shown none of Mr. Bush's ardor for war, arguing that three conditions must be met before a pre-emptive attack on Iraq can be justified, conditions it seems the United States is very unlikely to satisfy.

First, Iraq has to be shown to have acquired weapons of mass destruction.

It's unlikely Bush can make a strong case.

Former UN arms inspector Scott Ritter, an ex-Marine and Republican, says that before inspectors were withdrawn by his boss Richard Butler to clear the way for a US and British aerial attack on Baghdad, Iraq had been effectively disarmed. He doubts very much whether Iraq has, in the meantime, reconstituted its weapons program.  And pro-war hawks have used wishy-washy qualifiers, like "may" and "could" and "perhaps," as in "Saddam could be developing weapons of mass destruction" -- suggesting the administration's claim is about as solid as Attorney General John Ashcroft's boast that he thwarted a dirty nuclear bomb threat that never was.  With Iraq under a regime of crippling sanctions that block the importation of goods that could even be remotely used in the manufacture of weapons -- included medicines and chemicals for water purification -- the claim has more holes than a teen with multiple body piercings.

Chretien says the United States also needs to prove Iraq has the means of delivering nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, and more importantly, that it has the intention of doing so.  Chretien's foreign affairs minister Bill Graham points out that many countries have weapons of mass destruction. "You can't...attack them all," he says.

Nor can you attack, adds Chretien, just because a country's leader is unpleasant, or "evil" as Bush, and some left-wing critics argue. Indeed, were war justified on these grounds, it would be global and never ending.

"I don't think Saddam Hussein is a great democrat," Chretien says, "and I would prefer there is somebody else there." But he adds "the same can be said of other leaders," and that Saddam's personal failings hardly justify an attack.

Under international law, a pre-emptive attack is justified only if a country is under an imminent threat.

Matthew Rothschild, editor of the magazine The Progressive, says it's absurd to think Iraq poses a threat, imminent or otherwise.

"The United States has a $400 billion Pentagon budget; Iraq's military budget is about $4 billion.  The United States has thousands of nuclear weapons; Iraq doesn't have one yet, much less the means to deliver it. And even if Iraq obtained one nuclear weapon or two, would that present a 'mortal' danger to the United States? Remember, the United States managed to survive for four decades against an enemy with thousands of nuclear weapons aimed at us."

Moreover, Iraq is surrounded by US forces strategically placed throughout the Middle East and is within striking distance of US allies Turkey and Israel. Turkey, which shares a border with Iraq,  regularly makes incursions into the country, in pursuit of Kurd rebels. US and British fighter jets fly almost daily sorties over northern and southern Iraq, patrolling unilaterally declared -- and illegally imposed -- no-fly zones. A threat?

And when you consider the United States has been rattling its sabre for almost a year now -- according to CBS evening news, within an hour of the Sept. 11 attacks, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told aids that Saddam must be toppled, even though intelligence sources pointed to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network as being behind the attacks -- the claim that Iraq stands as an imminent threat to the United States is a gross inversion of reality: it is Iraq that's under imminent threat of attack by the United States, indeed, is being attacked almost daily.

That has implications no one -- including Jean Chretien -- wants to talk about: If Iraq were to launch a strike against the United States tomorrow, it would be entirely justified under international law. That doesn't mean international law is a crock. It means Washington's policy toward Iraq is arrant, naked, and reprehensible aggression, deserving of the world's condemnation.

Let's hope Chretien doesn't forget his principles come Monday.


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