Resisting the War
by Stephen Shalom and Michael
Z magazine, November 2002
In trying to raise consciousness and inspire
activist resistance regarding the currently threatened invasion
of Iraq, critics repeatedly confront variations on relatively
few themes. The following article tries to distill these themes
into a series of questions and answers. We invite and welcome
reproduction in any form true to the original intent.
1. Are U.S. Ieaders correct in their characterization
of Saddam Hussein as a monster?
What most people mean by the term "monster"
is a leader who pursues policies that violate every norm of morality
and international human rights law. By this definition, Saddam
Hussein is certainly a monster: he has murdered thousands of political
opponents and tens of thousands of members of ethnic minorities,
repressed the population, and waged wars of aggression against
Iran and Kuwait. A second, hypocritical definition is that anyone
the U. S. government considers an enemy and insufficiently pliant
is a monster.
How can we tell which definition U. S.
Ieaders use? There are two simple tests. First, look at instances
of leaders in other countries who are violators of human rights,
but who serve U.S. interests. Are they branded as monsters by
the U. S . government, which
they would be by the first definition,
but not by the second? To take an example: Suharto of Indonesia
presided over killing at least half a million Indonesians and
some 200,000 East Timorese, but Washington did not denounce him
as a monster, rather it provided him with arms and diplomatic
support (even provided his army with names of Communists to wipe
The second test is to look at how the
United States characterized and treated Saddam Hussein before
August 1990, when he was serving U.S. interests. It was in this
period that his worst atrocities took place-his invasion of Iran,
his use of chemical weapons against both Iran and Iraqi Kurds,
his Anfal campaign of slaughter against the Kurdish population.
Again, Washington did not denounce him as a monster, rather it
provided him with economic aid, military intelligence, diplomatic
support, and equipment that could have been (and presumably was)
used for his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs.
Two of Hussein's atrocities deserve special
mention. In 1975, the United States which, together with Iran
and Israel, had been aiding a Kurdish revolt in Iraq, abruptly
cut off its support for the Kurds when the Shah of Iran, Washington's
close ally, struck a deal with Iraq. As Baghdad turned its full
wrath on the Kurds, many of the latter sought U.S. assistance
in obtaining asylum. In closed session testimony, Secretary of
State Henry Kissinger explained why the U.S. rejected their appeal
for help: "covert action," he declared, "should
not be confused with missionary work" (Select Committee on
Intelligence, 1/19/76 [Pike Report] in Village Voice, 2/16/76;
William Safire, Safire's Washington, New York: Times Books, 1980).
In 1991, in the aftermath of the Gulf
War, Hussein ruthlessly suppressed uprisings-encouraged by U.S.
propaganda broadcasts-of Kurds in the north and Shi'ites in the
south. U.S. officials permitted Hussein to use helicopters (U.
S. warplanes flew overhead watching Iraqi helicopters carry out
their slaughter) and refused to allow the rebels access to the
Iraqi weapons that the U. S. military had captured.
2. Are U.8. leaders right in their characterization
of Saddam Hussein as a threat to world peace and security?
Saddam Hussein, given no obstacles, would
probably hurt many more people by his actions than he already
has. But he knows that if Iraq does anything to seriously endanger
people outside its borders, it will be annihilated.
Hussein's military position is far weaker
today than it was before the 1991 Gulf War, a war in which his
forces were decisively defeated. Whatever Hussein's arsenal of
weapons of mass destruction, surely his nuclear, chemical, and
missile capabilities are fewer today than in 1990. At the same
time, regular over flights subject Iraq to far more intense and
intrusive surveillance than was the case prior to the Gulf War.
Yes, if an attack is unleashed on Iraq,
Hussein in desperation might launch missiles at Israel or Saudi
Arabia, but this is a very different matter from his launching
an attack out of the blue. Far more likely to wage war on their
neighbors are Israel or India, nations that are regionally dominant
military powers. Of course, only one nation in the world has actually
proclaimed its right to preemptively attack others, with or without
UN authorization, and that is the United States.
3. What are the connections between al
Qaeda and Saddam Hussein?
One cannot prove the absence of connections.
There are, however, good reasons for doubting any serious ties
between the two.
Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime has
been ruthlessly secular and has no love for fundamentalist groups.
Al Qaeda, for its part, considers its task the overthrow of all
governments in the region that are insufficiently Islamic. Certainly
Hussein's regime counts as such. (One might note that Iraq did
not have diplomatic relations with the Taliban regime. The only
countries that did have diplomatic relations with the Taliban
were U.S. allies Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan.)
Of course, hostile parties can sometimes
be useful to one another against a common enemy, but no evidence
has come to light of cooperation between al Qaeda and Iraq. Since
September I l, U.S. officials have been frantically looking for
some connection between the two.
On September 24, 2002, the British government
released a 55 page dossier laying out its case against Iraq. The
evidence was said to come from British intelligence and analysis
agencies, but also from "access to intelligence from close
allies." Surely this includes the United States and whatever
hesitancy the United States government might have about revealing
intelligence information publicly would not prevent it from sharing
such information with its closest ally. The dossier presented
zero evidence of any al Qaeda-Iraq links
In the last week of September, in the
face of international and domestic hesitancy regarding the rush
to war, U.S. officials again raised the specter of al Qaeda-Saddam
Hussein links. Rumsfeld said he had "bulletproof" evidence
tying the two together, but, significantly, he did not present
that evidence and admits that it wouldn't hold up m a U.S. court
There was one report, charged Rumsfeld,
that Iraq provided "unspecified training relating to chemical
and/or biological matters." The report apparently came from
Abu Zubaydah, a high-ranking al Qaeda prisoner who, according
to an intelligence source cited by Newsday, "often has lied
or provided deliberately misleading information." As one
U.S. official told USA Today, "detainees have a motive to
lie to U.S. interrogators: to encourage a U. S. invasion of Iraq,
the better to make the case that the United States is the mortal
enemy of Muslim countries."
This said, an attack on Iraq may well
play into al Qaeda's hands by destabilizing much of the Middle
East and, in the words of former General Wesley Clark, possibly
"supercharge" recruiting for the terrorist network (
4. Does Saddam Hussein have weapons of
No one knows what weapons Saddam Hussein
has. Most analysts assume that he has biological and chemical
weapons. No one believes he has nuclear weapons.
We can presume that the most damning claims
about the extent of his arsenal are contained in two recent documents:
the September 24, 2002 dossier issued by the British government
and an October 4, 2002 report by the CIA. There is good reason
for thinking these documents exaggerated. For example, the British
dossier identifies several once destroyed sites that it says have
been rebuilt by the Iraqis. But Hans Von Sponeck, the former UN
humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, visited two of these sites
and found that they were still destroyed. Other British reporters
visited some of the sites listed in the dossier (chosen by them)
and found nothing suspicious (Guardian, 9125102).
Even if these documents were not exaggerated
they would make a good case for inspections, not war.
5. Is it true that Saddam Hussein used
chemical weapons against Iran and his own people?
Yes. The British dossier and the October
4, 2002 CIA report give details of these actions, but they omit
one fact: that the U.S. and British governments were backing Hussein
when he committed these atrocities.
One should also note that Hussein's chemical
munitions are not the only weapons of mass destruction that have
been used in Iraq. Far more people have died- and are still dying-from
the diseases attributable to the U.S.-British sanctions than from
Hussein's mustard gas or tabun.
6. How should we deal with Iraq's weapons
of mass destruction?
Security Council resolution 687, the resolution
calling for the post-Gulf War destruction of Iraq's WMD systems,
noted in paragraph 14 that the disarmament actions "represent
steps towards the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone
free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their
delivery and the objective of a global ban on chemical weapons."
The acquisition of WMD by one state generally encourages, rather
than discourages, their acquisition by others. So the best method
for dealing with Iraqi WMD-both from the point of view of justice
and efficacy-is in the context of global or regional disarmament.
To the United States and many other WMD
states, however, serious disarmament is not on the agenda. The
United States is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
(NPT), which sets up a class of "have" and "have
not" nations, with the U.S. in the privileged "have"
category, but Washington has refused to meet its obligation under
the treaty to move towards disarmament; it has refused, for example,
to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that have-not nations
consider a minimal litmus test indicating a country's commitment
to the NPT.
The United States is also a party to the
Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). As a report for the Center
for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International
Studies noted, "After signing the treaty in 1993, Washington
largely ignored it, escaping national embarrassment only with
a last minute ratification just four days before its entry into
force. Moreover, the United States took steps to dilute the Convention
by including waivers in its resolution of ratification and implementing
legislation exempting U . S. sites from the same verification
rules that American negotiators had earlier demanded be included
in the treaty."
Among the exemptions were the U.S. president's
right to refuse inspection of U.S. facilities on national security
grounds. The United States is also a party to the Biological and
Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC), but efforts to improve compliance
with the treaty floundered after Washington blocked continued
discussions. Among other WMD states, Israel has refused to sign
the NPT or the BWC or ratify the CWC; India and Pakistan have
refused to sign the NPT; and Egypt and Syria have not ratified
either the CWC or the BWC.
But even though many nations act hypocritically,
it would still be a good thing if Iraq's WMD programs were effectively
inspected (not least, for establishing a precedent that could
be extended to others). Most everyone favors the inspection of
Iraqi WMD, other than Saddam Hussein and, as we can infer from
its actions, Washington. Everything the United States has done
for the last 11 years has had the effect of discouraging Iraq's
cooperation with inspections.
Security Council resolution 687 declared
that sanctions would be lifted when Iraq was disarmed, but the
United States promptly removed Hussein's incentive for disarmament,
when in May 1991 deputy national security adviser Robert Gates
officially announced that all sanctions would remain as long as
Saddam Hussein stayed in power.
After the inspectors were withdrawn in
1998 so U.S./UK bombing could proceed, it was discovered that
the United States had used the inspection teams for spying. Obviously,
Iraq would not be inclined to admit inspectors again, if the United
States was determined to attack Iraq no matter what, for in that
case admitting them would weaken Iraq's defenses in the face of
the inevitable assault. So an assurance from Washington that compliance
with UN inspections would forestall an attack would provide an
incentive for Hussein's cooperation. But, declared Secretary of
State Powell ("ABC News," 515/02), regardless of whether
inspectors are admitted, the United States "reserves its
option to do whatever it believes might be appropriate to see
if there can be a regime change." Then, when Iraq on September
16 declared its willingness to allow the inspection, the White
House replied: "This is not a matter of inspections. It is
about disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and the
Iraqi regime's compliance with all other Security Council resolutions."
Now the United States is trying to force
through a Security Council resolution on inspections that could
not possibly be accepted by Iraq-essentially allowing U. S. military
forces full access to Iraq and the right to unilaterally declare
Iraq in non-compliance, thereby allowing the U.S. to invade Iraq
with spies already in place to direct the attack (Guardian, 10/3/02).
Such a proposal could have no other purpose than to make sure
that inspections don't take place. Yes, Saddam Hussein has tried
to obstruct and manipulate previous inspections and loopholes
need to be closed-as inspections need to be imposed on all other
WMD states as well. But U.S. efforts here are not aimed at making
inspections effective, but at making them impossible.
7. Can Hussein fool the inspectors?
Maybe. But no inspectors at all are far
easier to fool than some inspectors. As best anyone can tell,
the inspectors in Iraq from 1991-1998 were far more effective
at destroying WMD than was bombing, either during the Gulf War
or in 1998.
One might ask, can't the U.S. fool inspectors-can't
India, Pakistan, China, Russia, France, and Israel? Dangerous
WMD arsenals in each of these countries are not subject to inspections
8. Can Saddam Hussein be deterred?
Suicide bombers or suicide pilots cannot
be deterred. They have already chosen death. But Saddam Hussein
has spent a lifetime trying to avoid death. In 1991 during the
Gulf War, Hussein withheld use of his chemical weapons. We don't
know if he was deterred by the U. S. (and Israeli) threats of
disproportionate and massive retaliation or by the realization
that using such weapons against coalition forces would guarantee
a U. S. march on Baghdad, but either way, he was deterred.
Are there some circumstances in which
Hussein would not be deterred? Yes, if he thought he was doomed
anyway, he might decide to kill as many of his enemies as possible.
So, ironically, the one circumstance most likely to elicit Hussein's
use of WMD is a war fought to depose Hussein in the name of nullifying
9. Bush claims he does not need Security
Council authorisation to legally attack Iraq. Is this true?
No. The UN Charter prohibits nations from
using or threatening force against other nations with only two
First, Article 51 permits self-defense,
but only "when an armed attack occurs." Clearly, there
has been no armed attack by Iraq against the United States. Some
argue that self-defense includes the right to strike an enemy
who is about to launch an attack. Clearly there is no basis for
claiming that an Iraqi attack is imminent. If U. S. assertions
that Iraq might have nuclear weapons by the end of the decade
are taken as adequate grounds for allowing anticipatory self-defense,
then Lebanon would have the right to attack Israel, and vice versa,
and Pakistan would have the right to attack India, and vice versa,
and just about any country would have the right to attack almost
any other country.
The second exception to the Charter's
prohibition against the use or threat of force is action taken
under the authority of Chapter VII. That is, the Security Council
may, under Chapter VII, authorize the use of force in pursuit
of international peace and security. So if the Security Council
were to pass a resolution authorizing an attack on Iraq, that
attack would be legal (which is not the same as just). But there
has been no resolution authorizing an attack, as yet. In 1990,
after all sorts of bribery and pressure from the United States,
the Council authorized action in resolution 678 to expel Iraq
from Kuwait. U.S. officials claim that this resolution is enough
to legitimize U.S. military action against Iraq today, but that
is preposterous. Resolution 678 authorized member states to use
all necessary means "to uphold and implement resolution 660
(1990) and all subsequent relevant resolutions." Resolution
660 called for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait and the subsequent
relevant resolutions are listed at the beginning of 678 and consist
of the series of resolutions relating to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait
passed between resolutions 660 (August 2) and 678 (November 29,
1990). U. S. officials maintain that "all subsequent resolutions"
includes anything having to do with Iraq passed after August 2,
1990 and thus includes all the post-Gulf War resolutions relating
to arms inspectors. Such a claim cannot be taken seriously. Resolutions
don't authorize the use of force to uphold resolutions not yet
passed. They don't authorize individual member states to determine
for themselves whether Iraq is in compliance with any particular
resolutions. That's the responsibility of the Security Council.
After the Gulf War, resolution 687-accepted
by Iraq-mandated the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
But nothing in that resolution authorized any use of force or
the right of any individual state to determine Iraqi compliance.
If the U.S. view prevailed, then Israel, for example, could have
legally attacked Iraq any time after November 1990, if it decided
that Iraq wasn't complying with subsequent resolutions.
A final U.S. argument is that Iraq remains
in violation of some 1990 resolutions relating to Kuwaiti prisoners
and property and thus can still be brought to account under resolution
678. But at the March 2002 Arab League Summit, every Arab state,
including Kuwait, signed an all-sided rapprochement with Iraq,
including specific arrangements for the return of Kuwait's stolen
National Archives and prisoner exchanges.
Thus there is no legal basis for a U.S.
attack on Iraq without explicit Security Council authorization.
We reiterate, however, that Security Council authorization determines
legality, not morality.
10. Has Iraq violated many Security Council
Yes. But it is not the only country to
do so. Other countries, including close U.S. allies like Israel
and Turkey, have been in violation of Security Council resolutions.
Of course, the number of violations by U.S. allies would be far
larger, if it were not for the fact that the Security Council
has a totally undemocratic voting procedure that gives Washington
(and four other nations) the power to veto any resolutions of
which it disapproves. Still, that others violate UN resolutions
is not a justification for Iraq to do so.
11. What are the likely consequences of
a U.8. attack on Iraq?
Administration officials assure us that
the consequences will be positive. The Iraqi people will welcome
their "nearly bloodless" deliverance and "democracy"
will spread throughout the region. These are possible, but the
first is by no means certain and the second extremely unlikely.
Under some scenarios, Iraqi troops will refuse to fight and Saddam
will be defeated swiftly. But one cannot exclude the possibility
of intense urban fighting (with the U.S. using overwhelming air-power
to obliterate all resistance), which would mean many civilian
casualties. As for Middle Eastern democracy, the corrupt authoritarian
regimes of the region will probably hold on to power by the imposition
of greater repression-that is, by becoming less rather than more
democratic. If the threat to these regimes gets more serious,
we can expect to see Washington increase its support for dictatorial
rule, for there's no chance that the U.S. would tolerate a new
government in Jordan or Egypt or Saudi Arabia that came to power
by opposing the U.S. war in Iraq.
12. Are the claims of civilian deaths
in Iraq, resulting from the sanctions, exaggerated?
There is debate both on the number of
deaths in Iraq under the sanctions and the cause of those deaths.
Save the Children UK and a coalition of other NGOs recently issued
a report that summarizes the conflicting estimates: "UNICEF,
in a widely publicized study carried out jointly with the Iraq
Ministry of Health, determined that 500,000 children under five
years old had died in excess numbers in Iraq between 1991 and
1998, though UNICEF insisted that this number could not all be
ascribed directly to sanctions. UNICEF used surveys of its own
as part of the basic research and involved respected outside experts
in designing the study and evaluating the data. UNICEF remains
confident in the accuracy of its numbers and points out that they
have never been subject to a scientific challenge.
"Prof. Richard Garfield of Columbia
University carried out a separate and well regarded study of excess
mortality in Iraq.... Garfield concluded that there had been a
minimum of 100,000 excess deaths and that the more likely number
was 227,000. Garfield now thinks the most probable number of deaths
of under-five children from August 1991 to June 2002 would be
Some supporters of the sanctions argue
that any humanitarian suffering is a result not of the sanctions,
but of Hussein's manipulations of the sanctions regime. There
is no doubt that Hussein bears some of the responsibility for
the situation. However, as the Select Committee on International
Development of the British House of Commons noted (1/27/00), this
does not "entirely excuse the international community from
a part in the suffering of Iraqis. A sanctions regime which relies
on the good faith of Saddam Hussein is fundamentally flawed."
13. Aren't the sanctions essential to
prevent Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction?
Not if we are to believe the U. S. and
British governments, which claim that Hussein has been able to
rebuild his WMD programs by easily evading the sanctions.
Blocking weapons transfers and WMD components
makes good sense-and not just to Iraq. But the sanctions regime
in Iraq blocks far more than military supplies. In July 2002,
$5.4 billion worth of goods were being held up, almost always
at the insistence of the United States or Britain, covering such
supplies as water purification systems, sewage pipes, medicines,
hospital equipment, electricity and communications infrastructure,
and oil field equipment.
14. Do the American people support a war
If asked do you support the United States
preventing Iraq from killing you or your parents or your children,
a considerable majority of Americans will certainly say yes.
If they are asked, should the United States
attack Iraq-a country it has already devastated for over a dozen
years with hundreds of thousands of casualties-in order to violently
steal for ourselves direct control over the resources of another
country, it is reasonable to guess that a majority of Americans
would say no.
As we write, reports suggest that about
70 percent of the British population, by polls, oppose the war
plans, despite the British government being the only one in the
world solidly behind Bush. Two things seem to explain the British
anti-war sentiment. One, the planes that crashed into buildings
on 9-11 didn't do so in London. Two, Britain has a mass-circulation
press that is conveying more actual truths and morally civilized
reactions to the ongoing events than are being conveyed in the
U.S. Reaction in the U.S. is behind, but is catching up.
15. Why does the U.S. government want
to go to war against Iraq?
Because Iraq's leader is not in Washington's
hip pocket anymore, where he was, when Washington liked him quite
a lot, while he was committing his worst crimes.
Because Iraq is the world's second largest
reserve of oil, which the U.S. government would like to control,
particularly given the instability of Saudi subservience.
Because around the world, country after
country, suffering the accumulating damage of corporate globalization,
is being pressured by its population to extricate from the American
Empire's hold over their policies. Waging violent destruction
on Iraq sends a message regarding just how high the price will
be for extrication from U.S. domination.
Because anything remotely resembling a
legal and moral approach to international problems is ridiculed
and rejected by U.S. elites because legal and moral approaches
to international problems would, in case after case, lead to outcomes
contrary to their agendas and interests.
Because intense focus on Iraq is serviceable
to Bush and Company seeking to divert attention from the U. S
economy and corporate corruption leading up to the November U.
S. elections; and the Administration is hoping to undermine social
spending, which is strongly favored by the population, in the
interest of tax cuts for the rich, which are strongly opposed
by the population.
Michael Albert is sysop of ZNet and the
author or numerous books, the latest being Parecon (Verso) and
Trajectory of Change (South End Press); Stephen R. Shalom ' teaches
political science at William Patterson, NJ. His latest book is
Whose Side Are You On? (Longman).
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