'I don't know what to make of this Iraq thing," a colleague told me the other
The woman has reason to be confused. Congress is listening as the Bush administration
argues its case for a war on Saddam Hussein. Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair
has released a report claiming that Hussein is capable of launching a deadly attack
with 45 minutes notice. A former United Nations weapons inspector tours Iraq and
says the country has no major weapons. And a congressman charges that oil, not
the fear of Hussein's weapons, is the reason the president wants him out.
Hussein is a bad guy - a power hungry man who's made war on two of his neighbors.
But I've heard nothing to convince me that he's a threat to the safety of the
United States, or that he would use any weapons he may have against us - and run
the risk of being annihilated.
I don't know why he'd give weapons to our enemies, risking being found out
and facing the wrath of the United States. Nor can I envision him using them against
Israel, thereby risking a war in the Mideast that would drag in the rest of the
Arab world, not to mention the United States and Britain.
But I am bothered by what underlies the war talk. First, it bears the unmistakable
scent of imperialism. This is a debate between different visions of the United
States' role in the world. Do we have the right to overthrow regimes we don't
like because they get in the way of our interests? I think not.
The United States has a history of meddling in other countries' affairs, and
then leaving them to clean up the mess. For an example of a U.S.-engineered regime
change, look at the overthrow of Iran's government (because it dared to nationalize
British Petroleum) and the propping up of the shah. His reign brought misery to
the Iranians and led to the rise of the ayatollahs, the taking of American hostages
and bad relations with Iran until this day.
Second, our real aims are shrouded in hypocrisy. President George W. Bush
keeps saying Hussein is evil, that he gassed the Kurds, attacked his neighbors
and is developing terrible weapons. But the United States twice betrayed the Kurds
and backed Hussein in his war on Iran. This war isn't about keeping terrible weapons
from being developed but about who gets to keep them, since the United States,
Israel, Britain, Pakistan and India all have nuclear weapons.
Third, the Bush administration has failed to link Saddam Hussein to terrorism
against the United States. The roots of the Sept. 11 terrorists weren't in Iraq,
but in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, countries that, bizarrely, are now our allies.
But they have been amenable to U.S. control, while Iraq has not.
Fourth, every administration needs a bogeyman, an enemy to gather national
support against. When George Bush Sr. was called a wimp, he made war on Iraq and
ran his ratings up. When Bill Clinton was facing impeachment hearings, he bombed
Iraq, postponing the hearings and giving him a boost. Now George W. Bush, who
won a dubious election, looked weak in the days following Sept. 11 and has been
unable to get Osama bin Laden, is beating the war drums again.
The Gulf War wasn't about protecting Kuwait's sovereignty, but about securing
access to the oil in the region. So is this one. "They keep saying they want a
regime change because they want control of the oil fields," Washington state Congressman
Jim McDermott said recently.
And while he agrees that Hussein has repeatedly violated the UN's directions
to disarm, "that does not give us the right to peremptorily strike a country.
Once you go down that road, when does it stop?"
This war is being presented as a war against evil, but the real motives are
to protect oil and to protect Israel. The Bush administration should tell the
truth: that Hussein's a loose cannon who wants to control the Persian Gulf region
- not an evil thing in itself, except that the United States wants control.
Just say that, and see how it flies as a justification for war.
Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.