George "War" Bush is a weak president who wasn't even elected and as of one year ago had no mandate to lead, let alone to implement the extreme Right-wing agenda which is all that he and his closest advisers understand. After Sept. 11, 2001, Bush became a war president whose popularity, inflated by patriotism and fear, made it possible for the Bush junta to get practically everything it wanted. But the surprisingly quick collapse of the Taliban, apparent by late November, created a crisis: if the "War on Terrorism" were over, Americans would soon rebel against Bush's suspension of civil rights, increase of the military burden, international belligerence, sagging economy, and assault on popular values. The junta knew it needed another big war.
The decision to invade Iraq was taken in January, and Bush has not deviated from this course. Current military deployments, bombing and ground operations inside Iraq are aimed at a steadily escalating war, to culminate in a major invasion achieving "regime change" before the end of the year. Politics may be permitted to delay the invasion by a month or two, but military considerations will determine the precise timing; New Moons occur at the beginning of November and December, and five aircraft carrier groups are expected to be within range by November. It is politics that is determining that there will be a war this winter, since the next window of military opportunity would be another year away, and by then Americans would have shaken off their post-9/11 shock
-- and with it the Bush dictatorship.
The junta's original intention was to build up quietly and force-start the war, bypassing any sort of debate about the wisdom or justification of an unprovoked war of aggression. That plan was short-circuited by the Biden hearings at the beginning of August, which were intended to generate support for the war but instead produced a torrent of criticism from Republican legislators and former military and national security officials, as well a rising tide of protest from European and Arab capitals, and from the American public. The junta's initial response was to lie low and take stock of the opposition. Then, the Cheney speech of Monday, August 26 signaled the beginning of a counteroffensive.
Although opposition has only intensified over the past week, the American establishment is getting the message that this war is a "Go."
It's one thing to express concerns about a particular "policy option," quite another to stand up and oppose a US war that is apparently going to happen.
At the same time, the Bush junta may have been stupid enough to imagine it could pull off a stealth war buildup without generating significant opposition, but it is not so stupid as to ignore widespread opposition once it has materialized. Therefore the junta will make a political course correction for stage-managing the war -- but will remain fixed on an invasion in the window between October and February.
Our "national debate" began with the question, "Does Congress need to pass a resolution if the president decides to go to war," but people soon began to ask "Is a war of aggression a good idea?" Since the answer to that is uncomfortably obvious, we now hurry on to "Is naked aggression a good idea, or do we need a fig leaf?" The Bush junta is beginning to see the wisdom of the fig leaf position. Accordingly, it will seek some kind of assent from Congress, and if possible, the UN.
Brent Scowcroft (Wall Street Journal, August 15) urges that "we should be pressing the United Nations Security Council to insist on an effective no-notice inspection regime for Iraq -- any time, anywhere, no permission required." That really shouldn't be much of a problem, since UNSCR 687, the original inspections resolution (April 1991), demanded "immediate on-site inspection" of any site named by the inspectors, and 707 (Aug. 1991) demanded "immediate, unconditional, and unrestricted access" -- language repeated in 1284 (Dec. 1999). UNSCR 1409 (14 May
2002) reiterates the demand for implementation of 1284. Thus, as recently as May, the Security Council has been willing to do what Scowcroft thinks "we should be pressing" it to do, and one might ask why it would be difficult - or necessary - to do it again.
Of course, none of these resolutions has authorized the use of military force to compel Iraqi compliance. James Baker (New York Times, Aug. 25) and Richard Holbrooke (Washington Post, Aug. 27) both stress the need for an "all necessary means" resolution. This would make the difference between a legal war and an illegal one, but in the video labyrinth of this postmodern world, that distinction is unlikely to count for much.
If the Security Council now adopts a new resolution demanding inspections, even one that doesn't authorize force, Bush and the media will be free to pretend it means the promised war has UN backing and to treat anyone who questions that as obviously insane.
Bush would then be likely to get from Congress what he can't get from the UN: a deadline, and endorsement of "all necessary means" after the deadline. Security Council members would have been trapped into complicity, since they would have known that Bush would use the new resolution to justify war. European and Arab states would have been provided a fig leaf for acquiescence, and even some level of cooperation with the US, as would probably be necessary in the cases of Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait and Qatar, and might also be expected of Britain.
The bottom line is that, absent effective opposition from the people, most especially the American people, Bush can go ahead with this war -- and he will, because otherwise his presidency will collapse. Devising a fig leaf for naked aggression is primarily intended to contain public opposition, without which Congress and the UN will probably play along.
It is left to us to stop this impending disaster.
Mark Avrum Gubrud is a graduate student in physics and organizer of the
Peace Forum at the University of Maryland, College Park.