Published on Wednesday, October 2, 2002 by CommonDreams.org
Considering Motives for Gulf War II
by Rick Stahlhut
Citizens can influence the decision whether to attack Iraq. This requires understanding our administration's likely motives, which are not necessarily the stated ones. Although this task may seem overwhelming to busy Americans, it is nevertheless worthwhile, given that many soldiers and innocents will die if we attack.
History helps. Early in World War I, Woodrow Wilson was reelected on a pacifist platform. But he believed we should enter the war, and thus created the Creel Commission to turn public opinion. It worked.
In 1928, Edward Bernays, a commission member, recorded lessons learned in the important book "Propaganda." A founder of public relations, Bernays promoted his ideas throughout government and industry for decades.
His premise: "Ours must be a leadership democracy administered by the intelligent minority who know how to regiment and guide the masses." This is accomplished, his book briefly explains, through methods like: the recruitment of thought leaders, the "manipulation of patriotic opinion," and movies, "the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda in the world today."
Bernays's philosophy endured. In 1962, it surfaced with Operation Northwoods, in which our top military leaders proposed faking a "Cuban terror campaign" so the US could attack Cuba. During Vietnam, in the fabricated Gulf of Tonkin incident and deceptions revealed in the leaked Pentagon Papers.
Examining Gulf War I brings us up-to-date. Then, as now, the official mission was to get Hussein, the latest Hitler -- but when the war ended, he was still there. Going after Saddam personally would have cost American lives, we were told. But then Iraqi rebels tried to depose Hussein, and our troops stood down as Saddam crushed them.
PR firms were hired to promote the war -- described in detail in John MacArthur's book, "Second Front." For example, the fall of the real Kuwait, a dictatorship which was probably stealing Iraqi oil, was not likely to create a great deal of sympathy here. Hill & Knowlton, then the world's largest PR firm, was hired to invent and deploy the now infamous incubator story, in which the Kuwaiti ambassador's daughter falsely claimed to have witnessed Iraqi soldiers dumping newborn babies out of hospital incubators and leaving them to die.
Five years later, Bush senior's advisor Brent Scowcroft told the BBC that the war was really about oil. Not surprising. Weak dictators are preferred for maintaining stability and oil flow in the region. Hussein's flaw, despite the PR, was not his crimes, but that he'd become too strong and independent. The strategy, apparently, was to weaken him, but not remove. With rebels dead and civilians devastated by our sanctions, a weaker Hussein would not be overthrown.
Given this background, we can make assessments and predictions about Gulf War II, should it occur.
The administration seems desperate for war. With opposition mounting, an incubator incident seems likely, a Tonkin or Northwoods, possible. Linkage to terrorism, the obvious tactic. Timing, our only clue.
A stated objective is regime change. But change to what? Democracy, if the US stands for human rights. Another dictatorship, says history -- or a puppet government as in Panama and Afghanistan.
Another stated objective is dismantling weapons of mass destruction. But the US supplied Hussein with materials for many such weapons, and our leaders were unconcerned when he used them in the 1980's. Furthermore, weapons inspector Scott Ritter -- a Bush-voting ex-Marine -- says his team was very successful at destroying them.
Oil, always in the background in the Gulf, may be in the foreground again. Although American access to Iraqi oil is good, the Russians and French have the inside track. The war's primary objective may be to capture Iraqi oil fields and hand them over to US corporations. This might explain Iraq's recently announced $40 billion economic cooperation deal with Russia -- Iraq's attempt to make our real objectives more problematic.
And the war could have a Wag-the-Dog component, as plausibly as Clinton's attacks on Iraq and Sudan during the Lewinsky affair. This administration certainly needs distractions.
We live in the age of Bernays, but with effort, we can still monitor and influence our leaders. As the world becomes increasingly enraged by US actions, it's important we do.