Is Bush a War Criminal?
by Georg Hoffman-Ostenhof
Profil, Vienna, Austria,
Oct. 7, 2002
[World Press Review, December
There is only a single valid argument
in favor of George W. Bush's war policies: Negotiations with malefactors
like Saddam Hussein can work only when there is a believable threat
of violence behind them. In other words, the Iraqi dictator would
certainly not be prepared to let inspectors back into his country
were it not for America's saber rattling. This argument is especially
aimed at those who say that a war against Iraq is to be avoided
under any circumstances. That is what [German Chancellor] Gerhard
Schroder said during his election campaign-and he won because
of it. His rival, Edmund Stoiber, made the point that this would
weaken the potential threat to Saddam, and there was a kernel
of truth in what he said.
But this argument, in and of itself so
strong, has been undermined by the Americans from the very beginning.
It was always clear, and it is becoming even clearer, that this
is not really about doing away with Saddam's weapons of mass destruction,
however threatening. It is about removing Saddam from power. The
Americans want to send United Nations inspectors with broad powers
into Iraq, but not to track down and destroy arms storage sites
and production facilities. Rather, they are looking for an excuse
The draft resolution that Washington [originally
wanted] to push through the United Nations Security Council leaves
nothing to the imagination. If it is approved, it gives a green
light for an American occupation. American troops would accompany
the inspectors and would have landing rights at any location.
In addition, according to the American draft resolution, Washington
would retain the right to engage in open war against Iraq at any
moment without having to consult the U.N. again. What this means
is if Baghdad does not provide a complete accounting of its weapons
of mass destruction and missile program, or if it hinders the
inspectors, the member states of the U.N. will be justified in
utilizing "all necessary means to restore international peace
and security in the region." In other words: military intervention,
whenever the United States wants it.
Experts in international law are screaming:
The American plans would destroy the basis of the modern world
order that dates from the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which is founded
on the idea that recognition of national sovereignty is fundamental,
and without it, the world would sink into anarchy. Of course,
this fundamental doctrine of international law has been eroded
in the past. At a time when human rights have become more and
more the core of international politics, and "humanitarian
intervention" is on the agenda, the Peace of Westphalia is
obviously wavering. Things are in flux. But the planned Iraq adventure
is not even being camouflaged as a "humanitarian intervention."
It is instead openly declared to be a pre-emptive war. Let's leave
aside the fact that so far no one has been able to provide any
credible evidence that Saddam is in fact an immediate threat to
anyone (except his own people).The U.N. Charter, drafted by the
Americans and others in 1945, makes it clear that "the threat
or use of force against the territorial integrity or political
independence" of any state is illegal. And that is not all:
In the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders, "preemptive war"
was explicitly treated as a war crime. George W. Bush a war criminal?
Now, people surely will object, saying that all of these cornerstones
of international law have already been violated, many times over,
including by the United States. Was not the Vietnam War a war
of aggression? And what about the interventions in Latin American
That is true. But the United States has
always sought to cloak its military actions in the fabric of legitimacy
of international law-no matter how unconvincing these attempts
may have been. What is new about the current situation is that
the United States, even in its propaganda, is making no secret
of the fact that it is not concerned about international agreements
and rules. This break is a programmatic one-and to some extent
it is revolutionary. And that is why it is so dangerous. No one
in the world-not in Europe, not within the Arab states, and least
of all the Iraqi people-would shed a tear if Saddam Hussein were
to be overthrown or killed. But that is not the issue. A war on
Iraq waged under current conditions would create a precedent.
A precedent that would, in the final analysis, destroy all the
attempts of the past four centuries to pacify world politics or
to at least influence war and establish rules for it.
The gate to global chaos would be opened.
For however powerful the United States may be, creating a true
Pax Americana, in which the superpower brings peace and order
to every last corner of the world, is beyond its capacity. And
it is even less ready to undertake this. lt is the prime duty
of Europe-together with the U.N.-to stop the ultraright and irresponsible
revolutionaries who are now in control in Washington. Hopefully,
Europe will have the strength to do it.