Gulf War II

by Gilles d'Aymery

August 26, 2002


"Shrouded in ambiguity and cloaked in deep secrecy, this administration continues to suddenly, and sometimes unexpectedly, drop its decisions upon the public and Congress, and expect obedient approval, without question, without debate, and without opposition."
-- Robert C. Byrd, U.S. Senator, (Democrat, West Virginia), June 29, 2002

There, there, oyez, oyez, oyez, at last we've got our smoking gun, at least according to Bill Safire, (1) "a score of terrorists" were captured last week in Northern Iraq, "including [a] Saddam agent, Saad, and [a] Qaeda operative, al-Kurdi." There's even a "Qaeda-Saddam joint venture" to produce "a form of cyanide cream that kills on contact." The ominous news has sent tremors all over the planet and the world trembles. The "signs" are indubitable, "terror's most dangerous supporter can be found in Baghdad." Friends and allies, open your mind, the future of humankind calls for a pre-emptive strike.

Didn't Rambo Rumsfeld remind the choir that "he [Saddam] even gassed his own people," the very same line used by papa Bush over a decade ago? The nuclear threat is back in full force. Remember, in 1990, he, Saddam, was almost there, the dreaded bomb incubating in secret vials hidden in deep underground labs. Now, he, Saddam, is at it again. "All of Iraq's nuclear scientists are still in place. None of the nuclear-bomb components they built before the Gulf War have been found. If Iraq could steal or buy plutonium or bomb-grade uranium, Saddam could have the Bomb in short order," says the Nuclear Control Institute. (2) "Experts" contend that he could have the bomb by latest 2005. (3) Let's not wait till he's become even more dangerous. Let's pre-empt! Just imagine the suffering the world would have been spared of had we pre-empted Hitler. After all, as Rumsfeld likes to say, we knew about Mein Kampf, then. Just imagine... Let's pre-empt and be done with it!

The venerable New York institution called in several editorials for a clear debate among the American people as well as among friends and allies on the merit of invading Iraq. The Times has long felt that baby Bush had yet to make his case. Baby Bush, as we all know, is a patient man and quite open to have people express their opinions. Sure enough, with the exception of two countries (the USA and Israel), over 190 nations have made their opinion known. Even the Brits want nothing to do with that one (though one suspects they'll eventually join the fun). But, no worry, The Times really meant a domestic debate and baby Bush, armed with his persuasive talents, will eventually manage to bring a few countries on board, say Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar, and possibly Jordan (a few $tens of millions will do the trick). So, friends and allies, open- or closed-minded notwithstanding, we can do without them. After all, didn't candidate Bush promise a more humble foreign policy during the 2000 presidential campaign? Cannot be more humble than this, can it?

No, the debate was meant to be national, within the context of the mid-term congressional elections, the 2004 horizon, the economic morass, and the boardroom scandals (hey, we've not heard much about the latter in the past few weeks...). And debate we have had aplenty from many quarters of the various corridors of power, past and present. The premises are set in concrete. Saddam is "bad, bad, bad," as papa Bush would say and we all want him six-feet under. This is not the object of the debate. Everybody in these vast stables of power agrees that Saddam must go. The question is not even about the principles surrounding the notion of "regime change" -- remember baby Bush when he was a candidate made certain that he would not get us into the nation-building business anymore; but of course, this was before his anointment by the Supreme Court, and pre 9/11, the course-of-history blockbuster. After all, the U.S. has long been in the regime change business (Allende, Castro, Noriega, Milosevic, Chavez, Taliban, Arafat, Mugabe, to cite a few successful and not-so-successful examples). It's a given, fully integrated in the cultural psyche of the country under the banner "the forces of good against those of darkness." No, this debate "that is now, thank heaven, bursting into full flower," to use Bill Keller's characterization, (4) is much more prosaic and plain: when to do it, how to do it and what to do with Iraq in the aftermath (remember, we ain't in the nation-building business, aside from Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan, etc.).

A serious critic of baby Bush and his neo-conservative court, interestingly enough, came from a loyal lieutenant of papa Bush (who has remained quite silent himself), Brent Scowcroft, papa's former national security adviser. Mr. Scowcroft, committing a crime of lese-majesty, dared to suggest that the evidence of new Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) was scant (others have suggested it is non-existent) and that Saddam could be contained and deterred; that this adventure could derail the "War on Terror," destabilize the entire region; that it was a risky proposition; that an international coalition was needed and international laws should be respected; and, compounding the offense to baby Bush, Mr. Scowcroft even suggested that it would make good sense to work first on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before taking care of Saddam. Coming from papa Bush's close quarters looked to many as a blow under the belt of baby. So, Bill Keller came to the rescue in a hurry and dispatched the old faithful to greener pastures by simply suggesting that "Mr. Scowcroft now makes his living advising business clients, some of whom would be gravely inconvenienced by a war in the Middle East. And by the way, he thought Saddam Hussein was finished after the Gulf War in 1991." (5)

Then Mr. Keller carried on to counter each point. "One lesson of 9/11 is that we may not really know when imminent [the Iraqi threat] is until it's too late;" i.e., don't wait for the evidence. As Rambo Rumsfeld, whose love of bon mots is well known, said, "the absence of evidence does not mean the evidence of absence..." "When Saddam has a nuke, he can hold us at bay while he does as he likes;" i.e., deterrence will not work. If it's a risky proposition now it can only get riskier later; i.e. let's not wait. "We should be pushing for a highly intrusive inspection regime, with a deadline -- not that Saddam will comply, but because if he does not the grounds for attack will be founded on international grievance;" i.e., now we have the Law on our side (as though we ever cared about it...). Surely, it would be helpful to have the international community on board if only to rebuild Iraq after the war. Certainly, "the road to Baghdad leads through Jerusalem," "a more evenhanded, good-faith American effort to get peace on track there would help our credibility with the Arab world when we take on Iraq;" and, finally, Mr. Keller concludes, the president "needs to lay out his evidence, articulate a clear, compelling rationale, be honest about the risks and seek formal approval from Congress. When he does this, he deserves as fair a hearing as his critics are getting now." (6)

It took a "liberal" columnist from The Times to sugarly do the venomous work of the neo-conservative palace. Talk about collusion! Bill Safire, Bill Keller, same combat! Let's pre-empt! Mr. Keller will undoubtedly get a free pass to the next White Cave party organized by baby and his lovely wife. Mr. Safire, when he does not talk about the dictatorial leanings of the USA Patriot Act, (7) has an open invitation to the august table.

Is the debate clear enough? It's all about perception and appearance -- in other words, a PR game. The administration needs a casus belli, (8) whether a Qaeda-Saddam smoking gun or a new UN resolution on drastic inspections that will be refused or not upheld by the Iraqi regime allowing, if necessary, to call upon Article 51 of the UN Charter (right to self-defense) and it needs time to put in place the proper military components in the region. That's what baby Bush's patience is all about. Time. The debate, taking the form of an argument and counter-argument (e.g., Scowcroft-Keller) calls for an encompassing conclusion which James Baker, papa's former secretary of state, is more than happy to provide in this Sunday morning edition of The Times. (9) Simply put, "peace-loving nations have a moral responsibility to fight against the development and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by rogues like Saddam Hussein." "History will be an unkind judge for those who prefer to do business rather than the right thing." The conclusion, like our introduction, is crystal clear. Let's do it!

When will baby Bush follow the course of his hawkish handlers, once the PR has rallied the public and demonstrated the convergenge toward action, remains a speculation. However, if or when he does start Gulf War II (10) after having laid out "the evidence and articulated a clear and compelling rationale," people will want to recall the evidence and clear and compelling rationale that led to Gulf War I. And consider the result.

· · · · · ·


1.  William Safire, "Saddam And Terror," New York Times Op-Ed, August 22, 2002.  (back)

2.  http://nci.org/sadb.htm -- To be fully accurate the NCI could acknowledge that "All of Iraq's nuclear scientists are still in place," except for the myriad defectors; and the NCI could also wonder why "none of the nuclear-bomb components they built before the Gulf War have been found," in spite of years of inspection. Did they exist to the extent it was claimed in the first place or was it part of the PR campaign? But, eh, this would not be PC, right? And, definitely, if Iraq could steal some of the Russian or American, or Israeli, French, British, Chinese, Pakistani, Indian -- did I forget anyone? -- nuclear arsenal, that would simplify their task... A syllogism here, a syllogism there, and one would think that the Iraqi regime is even more dangerous today, in spite of a decade of the most severe economic sanctions, than it was in the late eighties and early nineties.  (back)

3.  Julian Borger, "Iraq 'close to nuclear bomb goal'," The Guardian (London), August 1, 2002. "Senate hears dire warnings by dissidents." "Saddam Hussein will have enough weapons-grade uranium for three nuclear bombs by 2005, a former Iraqi nuclear engineer told senators yesterday, as the US Congress held hearings on whether to go to war."  (back)

4.  Bill Keller, "The Loyal Opposition," New York Times Op-Ed, August 24, 2002.  (back)

5.  Ibid.  (back)

6.  Ibid.  (back)

7.  The USA PATRIOT ACT of 2001 or H.R. 3162, is a carefully selected acronym for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Interpret And Obstruct Terrorism." Don't you love the work of those PR people!

Bill Safire did express his views in regard to earlier actions taken by baby Bush. For instance: "The Uniform Code of Military Justice demands a public trial, proof beyond reasonable doubt, an accused's voice in the selection of juries and right to choose counsel, unanimity in death sentencing and above all appellate review by civilians confirmed by the Senate. Not one of those fundamental rights can be found in Bush's military order setting up kangaroo courts for people he designates before 'trial' to be terrorists." William Safire, The New York Times, Nov. 26, 2001.

"Misadvised by a frustrated and panic-stricken attorney general, a president of the United States has just assumed what amounts to dictatorial power to jail or execute aliens." William Safire, The New York Times, November 15, 2001.

See, Un-American, Fly-Shit Melody - 12/10/01  (back)

8.  Daniel Schorr, "In search of a casus belli," The Christian Science Monitor, August 9, 2002.  (back)

9.  James A. Baker III, "The Right Way to Change a Regime," New York Times Op-Ed, August 25, 2002.  (back)

10.  Keep in mind that Gulf War I has never really ended. Iraq remains under regular U.S. and British air attacks (see When's The Last Time The U.S. Bombed Iraq?) and has been under a sanctions regime for over a decade. As Michael Stowell reports in Tree Folk, "the bombing of Iraq has already increased to at least a couple of times every week and more civilian and public buildings have recently been destroyed; people have been hurt and killed." So one can argue that Gulf War II has already begun.  (back)



Iraq on Swans


Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.

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Published August 26, 2002
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