THE NOT-SO-NEW-WAR IN IRAQ
The US may soon wage war against Iraq whether or not UN weapons inspectors find evidence of what the Bush administration calls “Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.” As events in the Middle East theater will likely again illustrate, there is only one thing that matters to the US government. Not freedom or democracy, even though the US brandishes these words more fondly than any nation today. Not the wretched victims of tyrants and despots, even though the US has shown the world how deep its linguistic arsenal is when describing its concern for peoples brutalized by those it considers evil. For the leaders of the lone superpower today, the only interest that matters is what fattens their favored corporate pockets. Their message to the world is quite simple - if you are not helping our cause, you’d best stay out of the way.
However much the US government tries to conceal its true intentions in toppling Saddam Hussein with nice talk about freedom and democracy, it can never completely hide what motivates it most in its present desire to occupy Iraq -- oil. Currently possessing the second largest oil reserves in the world, Iraq’s oil production is expected in the future to surpass even what is currently generated by Saudi Arabia.
Oil and power
World requirements for Middle East oil are expected to double in the next two decades, and much of this demand is anticipated to take place in petroleum-addicted America. US corporate control of oil in locations such as the Middle East is therefore essential for an American government conscious of its superpower status and currently run by a President and Vice-President very close to big oil interests. This is the logic that continues to drive official US policy in the region and its neighbouring environs.
Many may be unaware that the US had planned to intervene not just in Iraq but also in Afghanistan and other Central Asian states prior to the September 11 tragedy in order to control areas with identified enormous petroleum reserves. Today, after the carpet-bombing of Afghanistan which punished victims of the Taliban more than the Taliban itself, the US maintains a military presence not just in Afghanistan but also in oil-and-gas rich Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. After the Afghan campaign, Iraq is obviously the next move in the Bush administration’s increasingly menacing gambit to shape the world according to its interests.
Iraq as prize
Just how big a prize is Iraq? It is huge - Iraq’s oil reserves are presently valued at nearly $3 trillion. Is it any wonder then that the team of George Bush junior, whose petrol-lineage goes back generations, is so focused on initiating and achieving a quick favorable outcome of hostilities in Iraq?
A recently released Deutsche Bank report, for instance, noted how US companies like Halliburton Co. would be among the firms that would most quickly benefit from a victorious US war in Iraq. Halliburton is one of the largest oil-servicing companies in the world today; it was run by Richard Cheney before he became the US Vice President. In fact, during the time Cheney was running the oil services company, Halliburton sold more equipment to Iraq than any other company.
Despite the call of the government of George Bush senior after the 1991 Gulf War to economically isolate the tyrannical Iraqi regime, US oil companies continued to do business with Iraq, with US imports of Iraqi petroleum even surpassing the amounts imported by the US from Iraq prior to the Gulf War. At the forefront of this petrol trade are companies like ChevronTexaco, which, since 1999 has given more than $1 million to the coffers of the Republicans, the party of Bush junior who is now preparing to invade Iraq. ChevronTexaco’s board included, until 1999, Bush junior’s National Security Adviser, Condoleeza Rice, who even has an oil tanker named after her and who today calls Saddam “an evil man.”
Reagan’s special envoy
In the war against terrorism, Bush said after September 11, “we’re going to hunt down these evil-doers wherever they are, no matter how long it takes.” A nation such as Iraq, said Bush, must not be allowed “to threaten our very future by developing weapons of mass destruction” such as nuclear and chemical and biological weapons.
For the moment, let us set aside the fact that the US alone has the distinction today of having waged nuclear war at least three times - against Japan, and against Iraq and Yugoslavia where the radiation from depleted uranium shells is still killing people. Let us not mind for now the fact that the US conducted chemical and biological warfare in its wars versus Korea, China, Cuba and Vietnam. Let’s just talk about one of the secrets which the US government has been loath to discuss. Let us talk about December 1983, when then President Reagan sent a special envoy named Donald Rumsfeld to meet with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad -- the same Rumsfeld who now sits as the US Secretary of Defense and who is currently mobilizing the US war machine against the man he now calls the “Butcher of Baghdad.”
Rumsfeld met with Saddam in 1983 based on a clear agenda -- to arrange the re-opening of the US embassy in Iraq “in order to secure better trade and economic relations” with the “Butcher of Baghdad” and to firm up plans to run a pipeline from Iraq to the Jordanian port of Aqaba that would benefit mainly the US giant Bechtel Corporation. This is just one half of the story, however. When Rumsfeld met with Saddam in 1983, he was fully aware that Iraq had already initiated that year the use of mustard gas - the deadly blister agent - and the lethal nerve agent tabun (the first recorded use of the nerve agent in history) in its war against Iran. Rumsfeld was to meet with Saddam again in March 1984, ironically on the same day that the UN released a report exposing Saddam’s use of poison gas against Iran.
Did the US government decry Saddam’s use of what are called today “weapons of mass destruction?” No. The Reagan administration did a curious thing: it armed the man George Bush senior describes as “a brute ... who used poison gas on his own people.”
Arming the Butcher of Baghdad
In 1982, Iraq was removed from the US list of states that support terrorism. This paved the way for the sale to Iraq in 1983 of 60 Hughes helicopters that could be weaponised within hours of delivery. Then US Secretary of State George Schultz lobbied for the delivery of “crop spraying” Bell helicopters that are believed to have been used in the 1988 gas attack of Iraqi troops on a Kurdish village which killed 5,000 people. It is interesting to note that four months later, the US firm Bechtel corporation inked the contract to build a massive petrochemical plant that would give Saddam the capacity to produce chemical weapons.
During the period when Saddam’s troops were using poison gas against Iranians, then Vice President Bush senior intervened personally to ensure that the US Export-Import Bank guaranteed loans to Iraq worth $500 million to build an oil pipeline. In 1988, the year Saddam was gassing thousands of Kurds, President Bush senior provided the Butcher of Baghdad with $500 million in US government subsidies to buy US farm products. The year after the genocide, Bush senior doubled this subsidy to $1 billion and sent with the package germ seed for anthrax, more helicopters and “dual use materials” that could be used for making the very chemical and biological weapons that the Iraqi despot is accused today of harboring. European companies also supplied Iraq with “dual use materials” which Saddam’s regime easily purchased based on loans guaranteed by the US agriculture department’s Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). German firms even sold Iraq whole “dual use materials” factories - capable of mass-producing poison gas - on the strength of the CCC’s credit guarantees.
Sponsoring biological warfare
According to a US Congressional subcommittee investigating US exports to Iraq, from 1985 to 1990, “the US government approved 771 licenses for the export to Iraq of $1.5 billion worth of biological agents and high-tech equipment with military application.” A 1994 US Senate report also disclosed that US companies were licenced by the US commerce department to export biological and chemical materials, including bacillus anthracis and clostridium botulinum (the source of botulism) while the American Type Culture Collection company made 70 shipments of the anthrax bug and other pathogenic agents.
If Saddam Hussein’s government is indeed the evil regime (and it is) that the Bush government says it is, what do we call those responsible for arming the Butcher of Baghdad?
History’s cruel lessons
It is important to bring out these little known facts about US complicity with the Iraqi regime to stress key points. It is crucial to strip a US government preparing for war of the supposed noble intentions it has without shame used to legitimize its impending occupation of Iraq. The looming war in Iraq is not a just war; it is an ugly war fueled by America’s imperial ambitions to control Iraqi oil, tighten its grip on the world’s most important resource and impress once more on everyone the costs of defying the world’s remaining superpower. As we have shown, it matters little if a country is ruled by a monster like Saddam; the only important yardstick for the US government is whether or not one serves the economic interests ruling Washington.
Indeed, this is the deadly lesson that has been surely learned by the Taliban, whose very members, including the terrorist Osama bin Laden, were once financed by the US government. Before the US government tried to wipe them off the face of the earth, bin Laden and company were regarded by then president Reagan as “freedom fighters ... the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers” when they were still fighting in Afghanistan America’s battle against the Soviet Union. Even the fundamentalists call for jihad, simultaneously abhorred and feared today by the Bush government, was once upon a time equated by Washington as a kind of dagger of freedom to be plunged into the breast of the Soviet tyranny. Jihad has not been used for hundreds of years according to the distinguished scholar Eqbal Ahmad; the term was only resurrected with America’s help to provide Osama’s mujahideen with a moral context in their war versus the Soviets. Once the Russians were driven out, the US swiftly forgot about Afghanistan. Today, a little over a year after the US ‘war on terror’ punished mostly Afghan victims of the Taliban, Afghanistan is already yesterday’s problem, abandoned once more by the US to drug barons and warlords.
Expect more war?
A 1997 report by the US Department of Defense states how “historical data show a strong correlation between US involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States.” By itself, the conclusion of the report is nothing new to people who have kept track of the results of US foreign policy, yet it is highly revealing. A department associated with initiating foreign interventionist activities has now begun to realize the deadly consequences of US government interference with the affairs of other countries. The conclusion is thus unavoidable - rather than make the world more secure, the US government’s ‘war on terror’ is in fact making its own citizens, along with the rest of us, more vulnerable to terrorism.
According to William Blum, a former US State Department officer, since 1945 the US “has attempted to overthrow more than 40 foreign governments, and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements struggling against intolerable regimes” many of which were propped up by the US government. In the Middle East, the US continues to embrace Ariel Sharon, Israel’s own butcher who masterminded in 1982 the cold-blooded slaughter in Lebanon of hundreds of Palestinian refugees, mostly women and children. Sharon is the present Prime Minister of Israel, a state determined to annihilate the Palestinian people. Notwithstanding numerous condemnations by the UN Security Council for its protracted massacre of Palestinians, Israel continues to receive billions of dollars from the US each year along with the diplomatic support of Washington due to the role it plays as America’s gendarme against obstinate Arab governments. These are but some of the reasons that have spawned the awesome cruelty of a growing number of desperate elements in the Arab world determined to bring the US, and Israel, to their knees.
US hatred is not confined to the Middle East. Asia, for instance, once populated by US-propped despots like Suharto and once the locus of US government atrocities, continues to harbor feelings of animosity towards America. The same situation prevails in Latin and Central America.
US destroyed the most effective weapons vs. terror
As the horrible 9/11 on the US has proven, America’s vaunted military might is useless in the face of a decentralized and frighteningly deliberate terrorist network. The only effective weapons that could be used to bring down groups such as al-Qa’eda have been destroyed by the US itself.
In December 2001, the US government effectively terminated the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention when it killed a proposed enforcement and verification mechanism in the pact that could have been used to decisively neutralize Saddam Hussein and create the basis for the genuine eradication of biological and chemical weapons all over the world. (The US feared that the Convention may be used on US biotech companies). The US continues to block global efforts to set up an International Criminal Court designed to prosecute individuals and organizations that have perpetrated crimes against humanity - crimes of wickedness epitomized by bin Laden and al-Qa’eda. The US could have initiated the end of the bloody history of oil by supporting the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, which intends to significantly reduce the consumption of petroleum and thus avert dangerous climate change. Instead, the Bush administration withdrew from the treaty and castigated it for “attempting to change the American way of life.”
Only one way to resist
If we seek lasting solutions to today’s increasingly deadlier conflicts, remaining silent on the US government’s ‘war on terror’ and its intentions to invade Iraq cannot be an intelligent option. Unless we add our voice in opposition to American aggression, it will be the Bushes and bin Ladens who will speak for us. There is only one way to resist the US government’s intention to plunge the world into more war, as the film-maker John Pilger counsels, and that is by speaking out and urgently.