Thursday, December 8, 2005

Casus Belli

In the world according to Saddam, the unraveling of communism in Eastern Europe and Mikhail Gorbachev’s desperate plight in Moscow meant that the world was suddenly left with a single superpower. Saddam…surprised his fellow Arab leaders. The United States, Saddam said, “with its known capitalist approach and its imperialist policy…will continue to depart from the restrictions that govern the rest of the world.” With the retreat of their Soviet protector, Arabs would be in greater jeopardy than ever…“…the country that will have the greatest influence in the region through the Arabian [Persian] Gulf and its oil will maintain its superiority as a superpower without an equal to compete with it. This means that if the Gulf people, along with all Arabs, are not careful, the Arabian Gulf will be governed by the US will. If the Arabs are not alerted and the weakness persists the situation could develop to the extent desired by the United States, that is, it would fix the amount of oil and gas produced in each country and sold to this or that country in the world.”

Saddam Hussein, February 1990, at a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Amman, Jordan, prior to Gulf War I, quoted in Triumph Without Victory: The Unreported History of the Persian Gulf War, (US News and World Report Books, 1992, p. 16).

Hopper: “It's not about food; it's about keeping those ants in line.

A Bug’s Life (1998).

Yesterday, Tom Bevan over at Real Clear Politics teed-off on Chris Matthews’s Hardball dissection of Vice-President Cheney’s speech at Fort Drum, New Jersey. Mr. Bevin quotes Mr. Matthews as saying “I watched the vice president…and…I heard something different than we are just building a democracy over there. I heard we are fighting for American influence. It was a much more traditional position about geopolitics…He says we have a right to be there in force; we’re going to stay there. I thought he was staking a claim to the oil fields of Arabia…we belong there like we belong there in Texas or Wyoming.” (emphasis subtracted).

Mr. Bevan dismisses this as “wackiness.” I’d agree with him about the rantings re Texas and Wyoming, but as for “fighting for American influence” -- I’d have to say DUH. This was always the main reason to invade Iraq.

Speaking as an outside observer, an elector evaluating the claims of my country’s politicians, and, then, as now, a supporter of the invasion of Iraq. I never, ever believed that Saddam’s nuclear, chemical or biological weapons were an imminent threat, to the US at least – in 2003, so I never bought the WMD argument as a casus belli. Moreover, I don’t think anybody in the administration really believed this either. I certainly thought, along with virtually everybody else who had looked into the matter – that the Iraq invasion would uncover, at least chemical weapons, and evidence of a nuclear and biological weapons program.

My own opinion was that Saddam was lying low in the late 1990’s, (probably at least since President Clinton’s Operation Desert Fox) and in 2001-03, and waiting for UN sanctions to be lifted before resuming WMD efforts. But, again in common with everybody else who had any claim to knowledge on this issue, I always thought the invasion would uncover weapons – and am still not totally convinced that Saddam did not have a WMD program in 2003.

But this was never, for me, ample reason for war. The WMD business was simply the lowest common denominator that would produce UN and European support for war. Similarly, extending democracy and crushing a tyrant are both good things, but I never would have accepted them as legitimate causes for war with Iraq, either, at least the sole causes. Certainly these would be ample reasons for covert efforts to damage the regime, insofar as such was possible, but not reasons for an invasion.

Fighting for and extending US influence, for me, were the only reasons justifying war with Iraq in 2003. Liberals point to US support for Saddam’s Iraq in its war with Iran in the 1980’s as evidence of US hypocrisy on Iraq, but the liberals, unknowingly, are making my point. Had the Saddam regime continued what amounted to a pro-US policy in the early 1990’s: i.e. hostility towards the anti-US clerical regime in Iran; confining itself to mostly rhetorical support for the Palestinians; opposition to radical religious movements in the Sunni Arab world; and more-or-less good relations with the pro-US conservative monarchies of the Gulf, no doubt the US would have continued to hold its nose and deal with Saddam. And the US would have been right to do so: we have no Holy mission to democratize the planet: we are the friend of liberty everywhere, but the guardians only of our own.

But Saddam, after his stalemated war with Iran, chose to turn away from a somewhat pro-US foreign policy, and go into business on his own. Lets give the devil his due: Saddam did this for the best of good reasons – a bid for his own empire. Deeply in debt to Kuwait, with no Soviet Union to queer his pitch, Saddam decided to eliminate his money problem by robbing the bank. On 2 August 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

Saddam occupied, plundered and brutalized a US client state. Had Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait been allowed to stand, no pro-US government in the region could have deemed itself secure, and all would have hastened to align themselves with Saddam. Read the quotation above – Saddam understood precisely what he was doing: with the demise of the Soviet Union, the choices for the Persian Gulf were an American empire, or his own. Had his gambit worked, Saddam, overnight, would have controlled directly or by proxy, almost all Middle Eastern oil outside Iran, and graduated to the class of major world mover and shaker, a real Nebuchadnezzar, not a minor-league dictator.

Such a result would have been even more certain had Saddam, following a brief pause for re-supply of his Republican Guard formations – proceeded beyond Kuwait and taken physical possession of the Saudi oil fields and ports. It is difficult to see how the first President Bush could have mounted Desert Storm then, even had he wanted to. Saddam must spend nights in his prison cell regretting his hesitation.

But Saddam didn’t, Bush Senior did, and Saddam and Iraq were defeated. Rather than making the best of things and accepting his defeat, Mr. Saddam obeyed the cease fire terms only insofar as he was forced, and elected to play patty-cake with Osama, shelter scum like Abu Nidal and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, pay stipends to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, and allow his intelligence organization to operate terrorist training camps.

But on 11 September 2001, the rules changed. The United States learned that it could no longer afford to suffer the existence of unfriendly regimes that wanted nuclear weapons, and, at the least, turned a blind-eye to anti-US terrorists; in a part of the world containing the most vital of strategic minerals. On 20 September 2001, the Baath regime in Iraq was warned by President Bush:

Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other
we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime. . .

. . . This is not, however, just America's fight. And what is at stake is not just America's freedom. This is the world's fight. This is civilization's fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.

We ask every nation to join us. We will ask, and we will need, the help of police forces, intelligence services, and banking systems around the world.

(emphasis in bold supplied)

Saddam and his secret police’s flirtings with our enemies were known. The Saddam regime had a proven track-record of continuous anti-US hostility, both rhetorical and otherwise, after Gulf War I; not to mention aggression against its neighbors, including pro US states. In the post-9/11 world, the burden was thus on the Saddam regime to prove to America that it was safe to allow it to survive.

If Saddam Hussein wanted to keep his seat, his course was clear: prove to the US government’s satisfaction there was no possibility that Iraq wanted to obtain WMD’s; arrest or kill terrorists and anti-US persons within his borders; cease the rhetorical war against the US and its allies; accept and comply completely with all cease fire terms of Gulf War I; and order his intelligence and secret police authorities to assist the Americans against Al Qaeda. Absent these or similar steps, no amount of games in the UN were going to save him.

Had Saddam done these things he would no doubt be sitting in his palace in Baghdad, a happy tyrant. But Saddam elected instead to serve as a central-casting example of a Bad Guy, an obnoxious, open, proud and publicly defiant anti-American dictator. His deposition and hanging are the reasons for this war: when he hangs dead from a noose: he will be the perfect object lesson as to the consequences of playing games with Uncle Sam. Of course the war was about “extending our influence,” about “educating” Middle Eastern regimes on proper behavior and getting them to do our terrorist hunting for us. DUH.

Of course, Americans don't like the idea of Empire. We drive foreign cars, drink German beer, wear clothes made in China, and guzzle Saudi oil like Coca-Cola, but God forbid we call a spade a spade and admit that the USA is a world empire. Of course it is, as much as Britain or Rome ever were. But we have to disguise it. This, of course, explains the difficulty President Bush has encountered explaining the reasons for the Iraq War: it's simply not politic to say that the reason for the war was to hang Saddam so that we could frighten other sovereign states into doing what we tell them. But it is, none the less, quite true.


Anonymous said...

Very true. It's unfortunate that MOST people do not understand any of these facts. Alternatively, it's very unfortunate that the media are not interested in the truth or reality, but in a manner of egregious overreaching, have their own message to deliver.

So wish this piece was the news and the fabric of the history texts our children use.

Anonymous said...

Biff said:
Like it really made since to leave that nut case that close to a resource that drives the economies of the world.

It was and is about influence. Influence of our wishes to the countries in that part of the world, and the reality of the influence their oil has on us and the effects through our economy to the rest of the world.