by John Chuckman
Reprinted from YellowTimes.org.
America's press is full of plans for attacking Iraq. That fact alone should make readers pause and think. Is that the way a great power prepares for a major invasion?
Now, almost no one on the planet likes Saddam Hussein. He is a grim, bloody figure; not just another strong-man. His government routinely threatens entire families of prominent Iraqis who spend time abroad and might consider not returning, a tactic borrowed from Stalin's reign of terror.
Saddam has gassed thousands of his own Kurdish people and thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of Iranian soldiers. But in the sphere of international relations, moral considerations count for little. After all, his most brutal acts were carried out under a long period of America's smiling favor. Saddam, like so many torturers and murderers from Shah Pahlevi to General Pinochet, was fine so long as he served the right interests.
Despite his having fallen into disfavor, the hard fact is he remains a serious threat to no one but his own people.
The noises we hear about invasion provide a measure of Mr. Bush's ineptness at his job. His Secretary of Defense argues publicly with newspapers about what is fit to print.
But on a less superficial level, there is simply no reason to attack Iraq. There is not a jot of evidence that Iraq is associated with al Qaeda. Promoting nonsense like an Axis of Evil might carry weight with America's superstitious, lunatic fringe, particularly its large Texas chapter, but it is ridiculed by all the world's hard-nosed statesmen and pragmatic observers. It's not as though the U.S. has ignored Saddam since Bush père kissed the White House good-bye. The CIA spent huge amounts of money trying to foster opposition forces in Iraq, only to see Saddam's troops roll up their efforts, adding another statistic to the CIA's long record of poorly-conceived projects.
The CIA's propensity for these kinds of projects, what we might call its Bay-of-Pigs Syndrome, results from the unthinking demands America's political leaders so often make of it. Almost the entire record of America's post-war interventions reflects bitter domestic politics and ideology rather than genuine threats to genuine American interests. Here is prima facie evidence, if any were needed, of chronic, poor national leadership resulting from an antiquated, money-corrupted political system.
The U.S. has been bombing Iraq regularly at low intensity for a decade, using the rationale of enforcing its "no-fly zones." These zones were conceived at least in part to humiliate Saddam and encourage his overthrow. A powerful blockade - embargo is the nice word - of Iraq has also been in place for all those years (something which unquestionably contributed to the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi children despite the tiresome apologists at the State Department).
The fact that Saddam remains firmly in power after years of effort tells us something about his grip on Iraqi society. There is no opposition worthy of the name. The "progressive" press in the U.S. has carried dump-truck loads of articles about Bush and Iraq. The most recent convoy of them has Bush using war in Iraq to cover a sour economy before either upcoming Congressional elections or his own effort at reelection.
But despite the stock market's performance, the American economy is not all that sour. It is actually in reasonably healthy condition by a number of measures. But for some people now, only historically-ridiculous levels of stock-market performance over the last decade are judged as healthy. This kind of expectation is simply a new twist on "I want it all, and I want it now!" A very popular sentiment in America.
Things are "going down the toilet" when yuppie 401Ks are doing badly. Upper middle-class America is angry and is stomping its expensively-tennis-shoed foot about what counts: its portfolio.
It is a simple fact that markets do not like uncertainty. Part of what has happened to stocks reflects Mr. Bush's own actions and policies. He is correctly perceived as inept, although few Americans will say so publicly in a situation reckoned as a state of quasi-war. From the limited perspective of the stock market, Bush's offset to ineptness has been a willingness to let business do pretty much as it wishes. While stocks climbed and balance sheets seemed honest, a lot of people thought that was fine policy.
Generally overlooked, too, is the simple fact that stock markets do not like wars and rumors of wars. And Bush is "staying the course," like a mule in the only rut of a path it knows, concerning his poorly-defined war on terror, involving any number of countries and an indefinite future.
Leaders abroad are almost unanimous in rejecting Mr. Bush's grade-school ideas for dealing with Iraq. Since a few other countries - Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Germany - paid much of the bill for Desert Storm, it means that this time the U.S. is going to pay its own bills in a far more demanding conflict. This is not something stock markets like.
If there is one thing America's politicians learned from Vietnam, it is that we don't put "the boyz in hawm's way." That phrase has become a stock recital at the first hint of any intervention. Allies are told with numbing predictability that "we bombs an' rockets 'em, but you all gots to fight an' occupy 'em." The fifty-eight thousand Americans who died as part of the mighty work of killing three million Vietnamese and smothering their country with landmines and Agent Orange, work conducted in its early phase with most Americans living as though they were watching a football game, still transfix America.
In Afghanistan, the U.S. carpet-bombed the front while the Northern Alliance fought on the ground. A few thousand American special forces, guys who break into peaceful villages with stun grenades and guns blazing, supported by fighter pilots ready to bomb the hell out of anything that moves, have been involved since, mainly in trying to locate Taliban and al Qaida leaders the Northern Alliance appears to have missed, or, as some suggest, to have let go for bribes.
In Iraq, there is nothing even remotely resembling the Northern Alliance. Talking about opposition forces there sounds badly out of touch, like some pathetic dreamer discussing internal German opposition in 1940.
This means that Americans will have to do the fighting as well as the paying. A sudden revelation here has spurred the magnificent Senator Biden (memorable for his absurd Judge Thomas-Anita Hill hearings and for his once plagiarizing a speech of Neil Kinnock) to demand more public debate before the killing begins.
People do tend to become rather grim about being invaded and having their homes bombed. Invasion is quite another matter compared to bombing conscripts out on the desert in Kuwait where they probably didn't want to be anyway. Immense bombing played a key role in Desert Storm. For fear of a humanitarian reaction, we were never told how many tens of thousands were incinerated waiting under sand-bunkers as the only protection against B-52s. Some have suggested one- to two-hundred thousand.
You can't do that in a city like Baghdad unless you want the entire world's condemnation. Plus, soldiers as well as civilians tend to support the government of the day when invaded, no matter how bad it is. Witness the fierce heroism of Russians serving the monster Stalin against Germany.
We also have Israel standing menacingly in the shadows of any such war. If Saddam truly believes his regime is to be utterly destroyed, what will stop him hurling whatever he has (which is not much but certainly includes some poison gas) against Israel? Relatively ineffective as such an attack might be, Israel's nuclear response would have earth-shattering consequences.
Gerhard Schroeder, whose country paid a hefty portion of the bill for Desert Storm, has come out campaigning against American intervention in Iraq. This is not an unimportant development. It adds considerable weight to opinion in Europe that America is threatening actions whose consequences it stubbornly refuses to consider. Even Mr. Blair, that ever-dependable British butler on the Bush ranch, shows some reservations about his role in this one.
So far as the Arab world goes, a full-scale invasion of Iraq is likely to generate an emotional fire-storm that is in no one's interest. Jordan's king, a sensible and moderate man, has already warned both in private meetings and in public that invasion is a very unwise course. Important countries in the Middle East almost certainly would experience severe, possibly destabilizing, shock waves.
One would in the past immediately have mentioned the vastly-important Saudi Arabia. But there are signs that the Bush people aren't too concerned about that. A recently-leaked think-tank document, something that clearly reveals the way these people talk in private, refers to Saudi Arabia as the "kernel of evil." (It sounds as though Mr. Frum, disgraced speechwriter for the "Axis of Evil" speech, is still getting work somewhere in Washington.)
Mr. Bush's undefined talk about an Axis of Evil and his Texas-loner doctrine of the right to intervene preemptively anywhere he chooses, talk aimed at the rattlesnake-worship wing of the Republican party, has already served to improve relations between Iran and Iraq, former bitter enemies. Now, both countries have interests in acquiring nuclear weapons and both have huge oil reserves to finance their ambitions. Does it make any sense to drive them together? North Korea, too, with its very significant missile-technology and previous efforts at producing nuclear weapons is vaguely threatened as part of Bush's axis. This is foreign policy by an idiot.
The weightiest consideration against an invasion of Iraq remains the political consequences of large receipts of filled body-bags. It is almost inconceivable that a nation which high-tailed it out of pathetically-poor Somalia after a small engagement of its own making can accept the cost of fighting the substantial armed forces of Iraq on home ground in the absence of any highly-motivating reason.
Even some American generals and television-military commentators understand this. Lastly, Iraq's vast oil reserves make it a far more important country than poor Afghanistan. Yet all America has succeeded at doing in Afghanistan is to topple a regime that gave it stability. Its quickie-replacement president shows every evidence of instability with a recent assassination attempt and a specially-assigned praetorian guard of fifty American special forces men. An unstable regime in Iraq is not in most of the world's interest. And long-term American occupation would be regarded, as it should be, in the most threatening way by many Middle Eastern states.
So the CIA will continue spending millions on plans to topple Saddam, and Bush will continue to tell dad on each call home that he is determined to erase the stain from the family's escutcheon, but Iraq will not be invaded. And the matter will end just as T.S. Elliot said it would.
At least I very much hope so, for all our sakes.
John Chuckman encourages your comments: jchuckman@YellowTimes.org. YellowTimes.org encourages its material to be reproduced, reprinted, or broadcast provided that any such reproduction must identify the original source.