Published on Sunday, March 17, 2002 in the Toronto Sun
Dr. Strangelove With a Texas Drawl
by Eric Margolis
Last week was not a good one for the Bush administration's crusade against evil. First came news of the government-issued visas for two of the 9/11 hijackers. Next, much ballyhooed Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan turned out to be a dud. Only a handful of al-Qaida or Taliban fighters - and 14 civilians - were killed, at a cost of eight Americans dead and over 40 wounded. Hundreds of other al-Qaida/Taliban once again escaped to fight another day.
Worse, exiled King Zahir Shah, whom America intends to restore to the throne of Afghanistan, said the U.S.-led war in his nation was "stupid and useless" and should be called off. The U.S. media ignored this damning comment.
While the U.S. and its allies swatted shadows in Afghanistan, the Mideast was spinning out of control. Palestinian suicide bombers killed scores of Israeli civilians. Twenty thousand Israeli troops and 100 tanks rampaged through Palestinian territory, killing over 100 civilians and fighters in scenes that recalled the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising or Soviet tanks in Budapest in 1956. A recent poll showed a shocking 40% of Israelis favoured ethnic cleansing of Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza.
The usually cautious UN Secretary General Kofi Annan took the unprecedented step of demanding Israel end its "illegal occupation" of Palestinian territories and to cease assassinations, bombings, demolitions and the humiliation of Palestinians. He called on Palestinians to halt their suicide bombings. Annan made it clear he believed Israel was violating the Geneva Convention and international law.
This carnage came just as U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was beginning a Mideast tour to drum up support for an invasion of Iraq, which appears slated for September - when stockpiles of U.S. precision munitions are replenished and the summer heat abates. His timing was awful. Britain's Tony Blair, America's most faithful satrap, gave only half-hearted backing to the plan as his Labour party split over a new war against Iraq. Other usually compliant allies - Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates - strongly opposed war against Iraq. Cheney was told there would be no Arab coalition against Iraq unless there was relative peace in Palestine.
Accordingly, the Bush administration for the first time openly endorsed a Palestinian state, after previously vetoing similar UN Security Council resolutions. Bush, and pro-Israel super-hawk Cheney, who had previously dismissed Palestinians as "terrorists" and opposed a Palestinian state, were forced to shift gears and promise a "viable Palestinian state" to mollify Arab allies. Bush even showed support for the sensible peace plan being advocated by Saudi Arabia. However, cynical Arabs recall the U.S. also promised a viable Palestinian state before attacking Iraq in 1991, but failed to make good on its word.
Then, another bombshell exploded under the administration. The Los Angeles Times published a leaked Pentagon document, the secret Nuclear Posture Review, which widened the list of nuclear targets to seven nations and lowered the threshold for U.S. use of nuclear weapons. The list included Russia and China, "axis of evil" baddies North Korea, Iraq, and Iran, plus Libya, and Syria.
The review calls for use of U.S. nuclear weapons in the event of a conflict with China over Taiwan, an attack by Iraq against Israel, war in Korea, or, ominously, "surprising military developments."
It is appropriate for the U.S. to quietly use the threat of its nuclear arsenal to deter any nation from launching nuclear, chemical, or biological attacks on America. But now, the administration is clearly planning to use tactical nukes against underground bunkers and troop formations - in other words, moving from traditional deterrence to the kind of offensive nuclear war advocated by the Pentagon's Dr. Strangeloves during the Cold War.
This piece of lunacy will surely motivate nations on Bush's target list to rush to acquire nuclear and/or biowarfare weapons in order to forestall possible U.S. nuclear attack, thus defeating the campaign to limit nuclear proliferation. China will now be forced to accelerate its nuclear missile development.
U.S. plans to attack Iraq with nuclear weapons in the event of a war with Israel show just how deeply the Bush administration has fallen under the spell of Israel's Gen. Ariel Sharon and his far right Likud party. Why should the U.S. start a nuclear war on Israel's behalf when Israel has 200 nuclear weapons and one of the world's most powerful armed forces? Why target Syria, which poses zero threat to the U.S., while ignoring India, which is fast developing a nuclear-armed ICBM that can reach the USA?
The U.S. previously vowed never to use nuclear weapons against nations that did not possess them. Now, Bush's crusaders are planning to not only break this pledge, but threaten to use tactical nukes to vaporize opponents around the world.
This act of folly is a sign of the growing frustration of the administration over its inability to catch Osama bin Laden, shut down al-Qaida, pacify Afghanistan and deal with hatred of the U.S. throughout the Muslim world.
Nuking Baghdad won't solve the Mideast's problems. In fact, VP Cheney may find on his trip that far more Mideasterners fear America's nuclear weapons than Saddam Hussein's non-existent ones.
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