What's Left

March 25, 2003

While the war will have winners, Iraqis, and most everyone else, will be losers

By Stephen Gowans

American President George W. Bush said war on Iraq would liberate Iraqis from a horrible tyrant. And on the first day of the war the media assured us that Iraqis were welcoming the invaders. But it hasn't turned out that way.

Amnesty International estimates the war will kill 50,000 civilians, injure 500,000, leave 2,000,000 homeless, and put 10,000,000 in need of humanitarian assistance.1

How many will end up dead, injured, or driven from their homes remains to be seen, but it's clear this isn't a war in which only "the regime is ablaze," as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld lied.

It is war in which children have limbs blown off, skulls crushed, in which women are eviscerated and mothers scream in horror and old men weep in sorrow.

It is a war in which collaborators in the media explain away the horrors and attempt to absolve their governments of responsibility with moral sophistries and silly arguments.

Al-Jazeera documents the true face of the war, gruesome, loathsome, ugly, while warmongers in the West grit their teeth, and worry about how the images inflame Arab passions and undercut administration lies.

But the images, deemed offensive, are kept from the eyes of those in the West who are spoon-fed pablum about surgical strikes, and humanitarian weapons, and how this could be the most ethical war ever.2

You can't bomb, strafe, shoot at, and terrorize people and expect them to welcome you. You can't impair their water treatment facilities, cut off their electricity, and send them fleeing from their homes, and expect them to cheer.

And  now signs of resistance, of a visceral loathing of the self-proclaimed liberators, are everywhere in evidence.

Samar, an Iraqi schoolteacher, says:

"Everybody in Baghdad hates America. America will lose the war if it comes to Baghdad. The situation is very bad. The people are very sad and very angry. People will fight first for Iraq and second for Saddam. They know America is not good. What they say on television about the lack of support among Iraqis for the regime is lies."3

A man named Nawaf from Nasiriyah:

"No Iraqi will support what the Americans are doing here. If they want to go to Baghdad, that's one thing, but now they have come into our cities, and all Iraqis will fight them."4

Sadar Mohammed, whose uncle was killed by an American guided missile, has only questions.

"We don't understand. Why did America do this? My uncle was a kind man who would never have hurt anybody."5

Mohammed, a Kurd, explains, "When Saddam oppressed us there was a reason. We revolted against him and killed his soldiers. But we haven't done anything to the Americans for them to treat us like this." 6

Who do you prefer now, he's asked.

"We prefer Saddam."7

In Basra, an industrial city of 1.2 million, 100,000 children are at risk of disease, according to the United Nations Childrens Fund, because British troops cut off power to the city, shutting down water-treament facilities.8

In Nasiriyah, US Marines kill civilians who get in their way, and then blame Iraqi soldiers for drawing them into populated areas. "We will engage the enemy wherever he is,"9 Colonel Glen Starnes, the commander of the artillery battalion firing on Nasiriyah, says. Even if it means killing civilians.

Starnes knows there will no war crimes tribunals for American or British soldiers. They won't lose, and victors don't stand trial for war crimes.

Nor will there be a Nuremberg-style tribunal for the Commander in Chief, for the lickspittle Tony Blair, for the arrogant Donald Rumsfeld, or for the loathsome collection of co-conspirators who have manoeuvred their countries into committing the greatest of all crimes.

Crimes against peace: Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances; Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned above.10

Paul William Roberts, a writer for Harpers magazine, writes:

"No one should have to apologize for any insult hurled at Mr. Bush and his Wild Bunch, who were warned not to embark on imperial aggression yet ignored the warnings. You wouldn't object either, if you, too, could see the desolation they have made, or smell the ceaseless odors of burning, or taste the constant tang of fear on your own tongue, or feel the shuddering of your world as a million-dollar missile leapt up from the earth 100 yards away, escaping into the night behind a pillar of smoke and sparkling stars."11

"There will only be losers in this war, no winners,"12 says Ali Abul-Ragheb, the Jordanian Prime Minister.
Losers there will be -- of that, there can be no doubt. The Iraqis who are blasted away, who lose their eyesight or hearing or limbs, who lose loved ones or children -- they will be the losers. People carried off by disease because water treatment facilities were destroyed or couldn't operate - they will be losers. American and British soldiers, shot down, shot through the head, lost in battle -- they'll lose too. And their parents, at home, with nothing to remember their fallen sons and daughters by but with the flag presented to them after the funeral, will know that they too are losers. Americans and Britons will also lose, for the war will make them less secure, and increase the chances of future terrorist attacks. And it is they who will foot the bill for the war.

But there are others, on whom the war will smile. Not Iraqis, who we were told would cheer the invaders. We've seen that's a lie. The real winners are the people who stayed at home, and lobbied for the invasion, and planned the battles, and directed the war, who will line their pockets with lucrative contracts to rebuild the infrastructure they direct the Pentagon to devastate, who will take advantage of the business opportunities the war creates, who will fill new orders at a handsome profit to replenish the Pentagon's depleted reserves of munitions and cruise missiles, who will collect the dividends from sales of Iraqi oil -- they will win. Never let it be said that there are no winners in wars. There always are.

Would wars like this end if warmongers were ousted and tried and locked away? Locking up Bush and putting a Democrat in the White House wouldn't take away the incentive defense contractors have to use their clout to exaggerate threats to national security and push the Pentagon into wars. It wouldn't stop large corporations with investments in foreign lands from insisting that governments intervene militarily whenever those investments are threatened, and nor would it make CEOs and bondholders and shareholders any less likely to smile on the Pentagon being pressed into service to open up markets abroad and to secure access to vital resources, like oil.

Bush is a loathsome, reptilian, liar, but even so, were he toppled from power, there would still be plenty of other people whose ownership and control of the economy would not only give them an incentive to push the country into other wars, it would also furnish them with the connections and access to the means of influence and persuasion that would allow them to do so.

We don't live in democracies. Decisions aren't made by you and me, and they're not made on our behalf.

"In democracies governments are supposed to represent the people, so that there shouldn't be a need for massive protests to get the government to do what the public wants done. We shouldn't see 'democratic' governments trying furiously to drag their country into actions that people oppose - and that many oppose passionately - even after being subjected to intense propaganda and disinformation."13

But massive protests haven't got governments to do what the public wants done. Which means, protesting alone, won't stop this war, and nor will it stop the impending wars against Iran and North Korea which an administration official told the New York Times are in the works.14

The solution to preventing serial crimes against peace is political and proactive, aimed at change, rather than apolitical and reactive, aimed at resistance. It will have to consist, first, in ousting Bush and Blair. But it will also have to involve overturning a vastly unequal distribution of wealth, power, control and ownership that puts a small group of potential winners in the position of being able to manoeuvre a large group of potential losers (the rest of us) into fighting, paying for, and supporting wars that dispossess another large group of losers, Serbs, Afghans, Iraqis...North Koreans, Iranians....of their land, labor, markets, resources and lives.

There is much that connects us to the people who live in countries our leaders target for war, much that sets us apart from Bush and Blair and the dominant politico-economic class they represent.

1. March/April 2003 issue of "Amnesty", Amnesty International UK's magazine, quoting warnings by UN humanitarian agencies.

2. Margaret Wente writes, "The US-led coalition forces are trying something new in the history of war. They're trying to kill as few people as possible, even enemy troops. They're trying to wage war ethically. This may turn out to be the most ethical war in history." "The unreality of reality TV," The Globe and Mail, March 25, 2003.

3.  "Attack on bus full of Syrians called 'appalling aggression'," The Globe and Mail, March 25, 2003

4. "Marines wade into dreaded urban battle," The Globe and Mail, March 25, 2003.

5. "Luke Harding in Halabja, northern Iraq" The Guardian, March 24, 2003.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. "Besieged Basra short of water; UN fears humanitarian disaster," The Globe and Mail, March 25, 2003

9. "Marines wade into dreaded urban battle," The Globe and Mail, March 25, 2003.

10. Principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal, 1950

11. "Hypocrisy stalks the land," The Globe and Mail, March 25, 2003.

12. Ibid.

13. Edward Herman, "War-makers, Bribees, And Poodles Versus Democracy," February 18, 2003, www.zmag.org

14. "Pre-emption: Idea With a Lineage Whose Time Has Come," The New York Times,  March 23, 2003.


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What's Left