Resisting the War

by Stephen Shalom and Michael Albert

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 out).

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 of law.

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 (
NYT, 9/24102).

4. Does Saddam Hussein have weapons of mass destruction?

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 at all.


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 his WMD.


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 exceptions.

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 resolutions?

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 about 400,000."

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 against Iraq?

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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