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The Iraq crisis in context

By Ulli Diemer
March 12, 2003

A rogue state, heavily armed with weapons of mass destruction, openly contemptuous of international law and the United Nations, and with a lengthy record of threatening and invading other countries, has plunged the world into crisis.

How should the world respond to this threat? What can we do about the United States and its undisguised imperial ambitions?

While governments, and tens of millions of ordinary citizens around the world, work hard to avert war, the war has in fact already started. U.S. and British planes are bombing Iraqi defences in the no-fly zones on a daily basis to pave the way for their planned invasion. American special forces are already on the ground inside Iraq, poised to take over the oil fields as soon as the invasion begins. U.S. troops are active in the demilitarized zone between Kuwait and Iraq - in violation of the UN ceasefire agreement - ripping open the fence along the border to clear the way for U.S. tanks.

To be accurate, though, what is being prepared is not a war, but a slaughter. Despite all the rhetoric about Iraq's weapons, the fact is that Iraq is essentially defenceless against the American juggernaut. According to the U.S., 80% of Iraq's military capacity was destroyed in the 1991 war. Twelve years of disarmament and sanctions have further reduced that capacity. It is worth remembering that in the 1991 war, when Iraq's military was far more powerful and better equipped that it is now, Iraq's entire armed forces were able to kill fewer than 100 American soldiers in combat. The U.S. and its allies, meanwhile, killed some 100,000 Iraqi soldiers, including large numbers who were fleeing or trying to surrender, and including many who were deliberately buried alive by U.S. tanks with ploughs mounted on the front. Gleeful U.S. soldiers referred to their spree of killing defenceless Iraqis as a "turkey shoot". No wonder that the U.S. insists that its personnel be exempt from the jurisdiction of any international court established to prosecute war crimes.

U.S. plans for this war -- that is, for its attack on a country that can't fight back -- call for massive bombing on a scale never seen before. Hundreds of cruise missiles, to give just one example, are to be launched in the first days of the attack. Those who survive the initial onslaught will be struggling to survive in cities from which there is no escape, and in which the water supplies, the sewage systems, and the electrical grids, have been deliberately destroyed. The U.S. leadership, by its own account, is utterly indifferent to the human costs of its actions. Asked after the 1991 war how many Iraqis had been killed by U.S. forces, then-General Colin Powell shrugged off the question with the comment "It's really not a number I'm terribly interested in."

What the U.S. leadership is very interested in, however, is the spoils of war. American companies are already being awarded contracts for rebuilding the infrastructure which the U.S. is planning to destroy. Plans are in place to take control of Iraq's oil and use the proceeds to reimburse the U.S. for the expenses it incurs in destroying Iraq. Oil concessions in Iraq purchased by French and Russian firms are to be taken over and handed to U.S. oil companies with close ties to President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and other senior administration officials.

The ambitions of U.S. power are by no means limited to Iraq, though the Iraq crisis does mark a turning point. The U.S. is openly declaring that it is no longer interested merely in being the predominant power within a system of international institutions that allow other countries a degree of autonomy and power with which to pursue their own interests. The rules are to be changed fundamentally. The U.S. is now proclaiming that it intends to run the world as it sees fit, bound by no multilateral institutions, and by no rules other than the ones it itself proclaims, and which it is free to change or ignore as its short-term interests dictate. The United Nations will be allowed to continue to function only if it is content to be an instrument of U.S. policy. The World Trade Organization must adopt policies dictated by U.S. corporations, or it too will be sidelined.

Even more frighteningly, the U.S. is declaring that it no longer intends to abide by the international treaties which prohibit the use of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, and which outlaw any military use of space.

The U.S. is actively developing and testing new generations of chemical and biological weapons. Significantly, it has refused to ratify the international treaty outlawing chemical weapons. When Iraq submitted its recent report on its weapons programs to the United Nations, U.S. officials immediately took the report out of the hands of UN officials and censored it before allowing it to be released to the members of the UN. The censored portions detailed the materials and expertise which Iraq received from U.S. and British companies in developing its chemical and biological weapons program.

At the same time, current U.S. military planning documents now openly discuss using nuclear weapons in preemptive strikes against states which it considers constitute a threat to its 'security'.

Most dangerous of all for the survival of the planet are the schemes for the militarization of space which the Dr. Strangeloves in the U.S. administration are now recklessly pushing forward. Weapons of mass destruction are to be kept in permanent orbit, ready to be used at a moment's notice against rogue states which are seen as a threat to the U.S. The people who can't manage to bring their own astronauts back alive assure us that they can keep nuclear weapons safely orbiting above our heads with no chance of anything going wrong.

The U.S. rulers would like nothing better than if the rest of the world were to step into line behind them, governments and citizens everywhere united in their appreciation for the wisdom, benevolence, and generosity of the United States in taking on the task of running and policing the world single-handedly. Unfortunately, foreigners -- and American citizens, too -- can be profoundly ungrateful, and so measures are sometimes called for to deal with dissent and opposition. The U.S. is not shy about applying these measures.

Civil liberties are being massively infringed in the name of preventing terror. The country which already imprisons more of its citizens than any other is now picking up suspects and locking them up without trial and without access to lawyers or the courts. Detention facilities are being set up outside the U.S. so that prisoners in the war on terror can be held without the limited protections still offered by U.S. law. Torture is being openly sanctioned. The use of torture itself is not a new thing -- the U.S. School of the Americas has a horrific record of training torturers -- but previously the use of torture was at least officially denied or dismissed as an aberration. Now it is being openly used and justified as a handy tool in the war on terror.

The U.S. believes that its preponderance of military and economic power is now so great that it can afford to act unilaterally. It believes it can tear up the existing system of international institutions in which it accepted some limits to its freedom to act in exchange for the support of allies who also received a share of the benefits.

In asserting its claim to global hegemony, the U.S. is acting both out of greed and out of desperation.

The logic of greed is simple: why be content with the biggest piece of the pie when you're strong enough to take the whole pie?

The desperation comes from the fact that the U.S. economy is in dire straits, propped up by military spending and unequal trading relationships maintained by U.S. muscle. Bush's tax cuts for the rich -- the people whose campaign contributions bought the Republicans the presidency and control of Congress -- are plunging the U.S. government into a fiscal crisis of unprecedented proportions. The deficit is set to grow year by year, with a cumulative deficit of $1.82 trillion expected over the next ten years. With no economic growth, and tax increases ruled out, the money can only come from assets that the U.S. is able to seize abroad - assets like Iraq's oil.

The danger for the U.S. in what it is doing is that it leaves other nations no other option except to resist. If there is to be no pretence of multilateral co-operation, then other governments are forced to act as best they can to protect their own interests. The U.S. may find that its economic vulnerability cannot be overcome simply through the application of brute force.

Politically, too, the U.S. government is vulnerable, as are the few governments, like Britain's and Spain's, that support the U.S. in its Iraq policy despite the wishes of the overwhelming majorities of their populations. Not surprisingly for a President who came to power through a highly dubious election fraud, President Bush is openly contemptuous of the principle of democratic accountability. Expressing himself in his inimitable way, he told reporters in February: "Democracy is a beautiful thing, and that people are allowed to express their opinion. I welcome people's right to say what they believe." But, he said, "The role of a leader is to decide policy based upon the security." Which, translated, means: "I'm going to attack Iraq no matter what."

For all that, though, the people of the U.S. have the power to bring about a regime change in their own country. Those of us in other countries can make a difference by pushing our own governments to oppose this war, and by showing the American people, including those many Americans who also oppose this war, that their government is leading them into dangerous international isolation. Americans who are opposed to the war need us to speak out to support their cause, and we need them to speak out to support our common cause.

We can reject a new world order based on brute force. We can, and must, join together to work for a peaceful, just, and democratic world.


Ulli Diemer
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Also available in Greek.
También disponible en español: La crisis de Irak en contexto.
Aussi disponible en français: La crise Iraquienne en context.
See also War in the Gulf, on the 1991 Iraq War.

Subject Headings: International Relations - Iraq - U.S. Imperialism - War