The U.S. Drive To War On Iraq

by Larry Everest

Z magazine, July - August 2002


The drumbeat for war on Iraq, coming from the highest levels of the U . S. establishment, began within days of September 11. The Bush administration's plans are still taking shape, but there is reportedly a growing determination to overthrow Iraq's government.

Various war scenarios and time tables are being discussed. The New York Times (4/28/02) reported that the Administration was developing plans for "a major air campaign and ground invasion, with initial estimates contemplating the use of 70,000 to 250,000 troops." This would take place in early 2003, "allowing time to create the right military, economic and diplomatic conditions."

A month later, the Washington Post (5/24/02) reported, "The uniformed leaders of the U.S. military believe they have persuaded the Pentagon's civilian leadership to put off an invasion of Iraq until next year at the earliest and perhaps not to do it at all," due to "the lengthy buildup that would be required, concerns about Hussein's possible use of biological and chemical weapons and the possible casualties." The Post noted that while the debate over tactics continues, the "Bush administration still appears dedicated to the goal of removing the Iraqi leader from power. "

Meanwhile, some war preparations are already underway. The U.S. Central Command has set up forward headquarters in the Gulf: the New York Times comments, "The military has not ordered a comparable march of senior tactical commanders to Southwest Asia since the Gulf War, in I991."

In December 2001, U.S. State Department officials toured the semi-autonomous Kurdish areas in northern Iraq to evaluate Kurdish military "capabilities," and the State Department convened a meeting of Iraqi dissidents and former military officers in May to explore a post-Hussein Iraq. In March, Vice President Dick Cheney traveled to 11 Middle East nations to drum up support for war on Iraq, which was also on Bush's agenda during his May trip to Europe and Russia. He claimed, "I have no war plans on my desk," and in the next breath declared "we've got to use all means at our disposal to deal with Saddam Hussein." In May the U.S. pushed through so-called " smart sanctions " to maintain pressure on Iraq.

The U.S. Global Agenda

Within days of September 11, a campaign was launched to link Iraq to the attacks and to the October 2001 anthrax mailings. No evidence was found, so government officials and mainstream pundits switched gears. Suddenly Iraq posed a grave danger because it supposedly possessed "weapons of mass destruction." Little was made of the fact that former UN arms inspectors state Iraq has largely been disarmed and Pentagon officials admit Iraq's military is one-third its 1990 size.

The hollowness, not to mention hypocrisy, of these justifications points to another, underlying U.S. agenda at work. U.S. goals in Iraq are both regional and global: installing its own regime in Baghdad would tighten the U. S. grip on Persian Gulf oil-and thus all who depend on it-and demonstrate to potential rivals that the U.S. is willing and able to crush its opponents. Iraq is a key step in redrawing the political map of the Middle East and stomping out rising anti-U.S. anger. Waging war on Iraq is also seen as a crucial test of the new Bush doctrine of recasting global relations to extend and solidify U.S. imperialist dominance for decades to come.

This agenda encompasses many strategic goals: monopolizing world energy sources, maintaining military superiority over potential adversaries, having open access to key global markets and vast sources of raw materials, and creating the conditions for the unchallenged exploitation of hundreds of millions of laboring people worldwide.

Bush supporters talk of "regime changes in six or seven countries," forcing deep social and political changes around the world, and moving from "containment" to "integration"-creating global structures that lock in U.S. predominance.

The Middle East is a focal point of these predatory designs. "In the Middle East and Southwest Asia," a 1992 Defense Planning Guidance states, "our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve U. S . and Western access to the region's oil."

Oil is a "strategic commodity"-vital to the functioning of capitalist economies and modern armies. Controlling the flow of oil means controlling those who depend on oil. It's the lifeblood of modern empire.

The heart of the world oil industry lies in the Persian Gulf, which contains 65 percent of the world's oil reserves, 34 percent of the world's natural gas reserves, and accounts for nearly 30 percent of the world output of each. The Gulf also has 70 percent of the world's excess oil production capacity, which the Energy Information Administration (2/01) calls even "more significant," because oil production can be quickly increased or decreased-preventing supply or price disruptions.

Bush's National Energy Policy report predicts that by 2020 the U.S. will import two-thirds of its oil, "recommends that the President make energy security a priority of our trade and foreign policy," and states, "Middle East oil producers will remain central to world oil security."

History Of Intervention

Until 1979, the U.S. could count on the Shah to rule Iran with an iron fist and be its loyal gendarme in the region. But his downfall and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, were severe shocks to U. S. power. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter responded by designating the Persian Gulf a vital U.S. interest, which it would go to war to defend.

The U.S. also encouraged Iraq's 1980 invasion of Iran. Over 1 million people were killed in the ensuing 8-year war, but it served U.S. purposes by weakening both sides and preventing them from causing trouble in nearby Gulf states. Henry Kissinger summed up the U.S.'s cold-blooded attitude: "too bad they can't both lose. "

Iraq emerged from the war feeling its Arab neighbors were in its debt. After all, Iraq had fought to protect Saudi Arabia and Kuwait from the subversive influence of Iran's Islamic Republic, which claimed to be the true defender of Islam and routinely denounced the Gulf's pro-U.S. monarchies.

Instead, Iraq discovered that Kuwait was overproducing its oil quota, thus undercutting Iraqi oil revenues and also slant drilling for oil into Iraqi territory. After warning the U.S. Ambassador that the situation was intolerable and that Iraq would take action-and hearing that this would pose no problem for the U.S.-Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

The U. S. quickly reversed course and condemned the invasion, and six months later a U.S.-led coalition stormed into Iraq. The goal was not simply to force Hussein's troops from Kuwait, but to destroy Iraq as a regional power, bolster U.S. clients Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and send a message to rivals, regional states, and the world's people: as George Bush I put it, there's a "New World Order" and what the says goes.

In March 1991, immediately after the Gulf War, Iraqi Shi'ites in the south and Kurdish fighters in the north rose against the Hussein regime. The U.S. had encouraged them to revolt, but then stood back and allowed Hussein's helicopters and ground forces to crush the rebellion.

The first Bush administration feared revolution in Iraq would hurt U.S. interests by creating greater instability and perhaps lead to Iraq's fragmentation. U . S. nightmares included bolstering Iranian influence in Iraq's Shi'ite south; or a Free Kurdistan in the north, encouraging the Kurdish struggle in neighboring Turkey, a key NATO ally.

These tears drove U.S. policy throughout the 1990s. There were attempts to overthrow Hussein, including a 1996 CIA coup plot and a 1998 assassination attempt by cruise missiles. But U.S. policy under Bush I and Clinton was to weaken and contain Iraq through punishing sanctions, intermittent military strikes, and maintaining a large military nearby.

But there were deep contradictions in U.S. sanctions policy, and its linkage to weapons inspections. UN Resolution (687), which authorized sanctions, also stated that upon compliance they "shall have no further force or effect." Yet the U. S. refused to ease, much less lift, sanctions even as Iraq complied. Instead the U.S. "moved the goalposts," adding new conditions for Iraq to meet. As Clinton put it, "sanctions will be there until the end of time, or as long as he [Hussein] lasts."

This U.S. duplicity, plus the enormous suffering inflicted on Iraqi civilians, led to growing worldwide opposition and an erosion of the U.S.'s Desert Storm coalition. The U.S. case for maintaining sanctions was largely based on forcing Iraq to disarm, and intrusive and bullying UN inspections were instituted after the Gulf War to strip Iraq of any "weapons of mass destruction."

Iraq mainly complied with the inspections. UN inspectors report that 95 percent of their work destroying Iraq's nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons was completed. Yet Iraq received no benefits in return.

In the late 1990s, it was exposed that the "arms inspections" were being secretly used by the U.S. to gather intelligence for assassination attempts and coup plotting. These developments further eroded international support for U.S. belligerence toward Iraq. The inspection program collapsed in 1999 when Iraq refused to allow inspectors to return, following the punishing military strikes of Operation Desert Fox in December 1998. Meanwhile, Iraq gradually rebuilt its ties with other world powers and states in the region.

Iraq's neighbors began to ignore sanctions. Trade with Jordan, Turkey, Syria, and Egypt grew-and became important to their economies. Iraq's oil reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia's in size and potential profitability, so Russia, France, and China worked to secure a piece of the action. Iraq has now granted these countries some $6 billion in import contracts. Russia signed a 23-year deal to develop Iraq's West Qurna oil field-potentially worth $20 billion. By 2001, German exports to Iraq had increased four-fold, to 1.2 billion marks.

In 1996, the U.S. was forced to allow Iraq to resume oil sales via the oil-for-food program. Although Iraq's oil revenues are still held by the UN and its imports tightly controlled, its reported oil income rose from $4 billion in 1997 to $18 billion in 2000.

Many former members of the Gulf War coalition have reopened embassies in Baghdad and in 1998 Iraqi officials attended their first Arab League meeting in a decade.

Growing Clamor To Strike

In U. S . government eyes, the continued survival of the Hussein regime was creating problems in the Middle East and tarnishing America's standing as the globe's dominant imperialist superpower. There was talk of the "collapse" of the U.S. Iraq policy and a growing clamor for decisive action-well before September 11.

In 1998, former high-ranking officials wrote then-President Clinton an open letter calling for Hussein's ouster: "Current American policy toward Iraq is not succeeding, and that we may soon face a threat in the Middle East more serious than any we have known since the end of the Cold War." Ten signers now hold top posts in the Bush administration, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his assistant Paul Wolfowitz.

During the 2000 elections George W. Bush and Democratic candidate Al Gore both called for overthrowing Iraq's government. In January 2001, a member of the Bush team spoke to the global, tone-setting considerations of U.S. actions toward Iraq: "Ideally, the first crisis would be something with Iraq. It would be a way to make the point that it's a new world" (New Yorker, 1/22/01).

In July 2001, the Wall Street Journal called for the U.S. to "take swift and serious measures to remove Saddam Hussein from power." The Journal also reported, "Senior officials have held almost weekly meetings on the issue to discuss whether to push for the [Hussein] government's ouster. "

Then came September 11. U.S. rulers were confronted with both a necessity to lash out and an opportunity to try and realize longstanding ambitions. Barely a week had passed before high-level officials and advisers were meeting behind closed doors.

According to the New York Times ( 10/12/01), on September 19-20 the Defense Policy Board, a "tight-knit group of Pentagon officials and defense experts outside government, met for 19 hours to discuss the ramifications of the attacks of September 11. The group agreed on the need to turn on Iraq as soon as the initial phase of the war against Afghanistan was over. "

The group included deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and former high-ranking officials such as William Bennett, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Newt Gingrich, and Richard Perle. Gingrich declared that the U. S. needed a major geopolitical victory in response to the attacks. "Bombing a few caves in Afghanistan" wasn't going to do it, he said, but overthrowing Iraq's government would.

U.S. threats of war on Iraq have sparked a rash of controversy and debate. Other world powers have loudly objected: "There is no indication, no proof that Iraq is involved in the terrorism we have been talking about for the last few months," declared Germany's Deputy Foreign Minister. "This terror argument cannot be used to legitimize old enmities."

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated, "Any attempt or any decision to attack Iraq today will be unwise and could lead to a major escalation in the region." Saudi leaders and Jordan's King Abdullah have spoken out against the war, and Turkey's President Sezer warned, "Turkey attaches great importance to preserving Iraq's territorial and national integrity. "

The Washington Post (3/11/02) reported that these comments "represent a growing consensus among regional leaders that the risks of an attack on Iraqi pres Saddam Hussein far outweigh any threat he may pose."

No doubt many of these objections are designed to give political cover to regional states, which may end up assisting the U.S. They are demands that other countries' concerns are taken into account by the U.S. (such as Turkey's demand that the U.S. protect Iraq's territorial integrity, or Russia's that its contracts and interests be respected).

Yet such opposition also reflects the potentially explosive consequences of war on Iraq. Those holding the reins of power in Washington are certainly aware of these dangers-whether the fragmentation of Iraq, rising instability, or unintended shifts in regional power balances. Yet they've responded to every criticism with renewed determination to push ahead, even if the U.S. does so alone.

Installing a pro-U.S. regime in Baghdad could give the U.S. more direct control of Iraq and its oil wealth, and prevent it from exerting independent influence, especially with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Knocking down the Hussein regime would also strike at other major powers, such as Russia, China, and France, who seek greater regional influence, demoting them to a clear, humiliating second tier status. One Russian oil executive worried, "If the Americans start military operations against Iraq we may lose a contract, and American oil companies will come in our place. No one has ever said the opposite."

Some in the U.S. power structure see war on Iraq as a way of crushing Arab nationalist aspirations. One Wall Street Journal column ( 12/19/01 ) stated bluntly: "America's superpower image was decisively cracked in the Middle East by the failure of Washington to checkmate Saddam extinguish the hope that has fueled the rise of al Qaeda and the violent anti-Americanism throughout the Middle East, we have no choice but to re-instill in our foes and friends the fear and respect that attaches to any great power. Winning the war in Afghanistan will not do it alone...only a war against Saddam Hussein will."

A former Reagan official spins out this post-war scenario: "Syria comes to terms. The Saudis will conform. Iran will be surrounded by American forces, and the mullahs will have to make concessions to the moderates. There will be a settlement between Israel and Palestine." Then he warned, "I'd say fantastic-if it happens. Whatever happens, Bush cannot afford to fail. At the end of the day, we must have a stable, pro-Western government in Baghdad" (the New Yorker, 3/11/02).

Events may yet derail the U.S. march toward Baghdad. If not, the establishment's wildly ambitious plans might backfire. Israel's brutal invasion of the West Bank in April sparked protests unseen in a decade, as well as worldwide revulsion and opposition. Any attack on Iraq would add fuel to that fire and U.S. allies in Riyadh, Amman, Cairo-or elsewhere- could end up paying the price.

The one certainty in all this is that if the U.S. does go to war, the Iraqi people will once again be the primary victims. People around the world-especially those of us living in the U.S.-must oppose such an unjust and cruel war with all our hearts.


Larry Everest is a correspondent for the Revolutionary Worker newspaper. In 1991 he produced the video Iraq: War Against the People.

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