GULF WAR I ARCHIVES
Articles on the first Gulf war by Sam Smith unless otherwise noted from the Progressive Review
Why sanctions aren't the answer
The argument that sanctions -- not war -- are the way to bring down bloody dictators has gained wide acceptance among peace activists. Yet far from being a weapon for peace, sanctions are a weapon for war, often less discriminating than bombing.
Before last year's Gulf war, many in the anti-war movement endorsed sanctions as a "humane alternative" to military confrontation. Today an estimated one million Iraqi children are malnourished as a result of both sanctions and wartime destruction. Greenpeace estimates that 70,000 Iraqi civilians have died from starvation and disease since the fighting ended. That's 10 times more non-combatants than lost their lives during the war itself, and more are dying daily.
Iraq isn't the only country where US-sponsored sanctions are taking a human toll. Last October an embargo was imposed on Haiti following the anti-Aristide coup; now fuel is scarce, malnutrition is even more widespread than before, and thousands are desperately trying to flee. In the 1970s and 1980s sanctions against South Africa were widely supported by Western activists and the ANC. During the Gulf war many activists viewed sanctions as a reasonable middle ground between total war and non-intervention -- a way to get Iraq out of Kuwait without bloodshed. Today sanctions are the weapon of choice of President Bush's New World Order to force compliance from upstart regimes. The UN may soon threaten both Libya and North Korea with sanctions, and the US is considering intensifying the economic boycott of Cuba.
The events of the past year highlight the problems with this approach. To begin with, sanctions aren't humane. They are especially deadly for a semi-industrialized country like Iraq, which depends on imports for everything from food to medicines to essential machinery (a dependence deliberately heightened by the bombing of Iraq's infrastructure).
Today many Third World countries are increasingly dependent upon imports for the basic necessities of life. Haiti imports 80 percent of its food. In 1960, for example, the Middle East was a net exporter of food; by 1981, it was buying nearly 40 percent of all Third World food imports. Today, Oman imports 90 percent of its food; Iraq and Libya import 70 percent of theirs, Egypt and Tunisia 50 percent. Sanctions can be a far less discriminating weapon than even bombs. Food and medicine may officially be exempted from an embargo (as is the case with Iraq), but without export earnings, sanctioned countries don't have the money to buy them. The primary victims end up being civilians, while the impact on the ruling group is minimal.
Nor are sanctions ever an alternative to war. As Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell admitted in the case of Iraq, "sanctions and war were a seamless process." They served to soften up Iraq, buy time for the Allied military buildup and convince the world that the coalition had gone the last mile for peace (even after the decision to strike had secretly been made).
In the case of South Africa, peace activists saw sanctions as a means of waging non-violent warfare to bring down the apartheid regime. But the US government, when it finally came around to accepting sanctions, viewed them only as a way to push for certain reforms. And in the end, US sanctions (which cost the South African economy an estimated $30 to $40 billion during the 1980s) were never as airtight or comprehensive as those imposed on Iraq.
Many progressives, both Haitian and American, supported the embargo against Haiti. Yet according to Haitian activists, the embargo has been enforced selectively by the U.S. as a means to pressure not just the military junta but Aristide himself to moderate his demands. Haitians have expressed their readiness to sacrifice for liberation, but hardly to further U.S. goals.
The lesson is that it's impossible to see sanctions as a non-violent means of warfare against abusive regimes. Even in cases where governments accede to peace activists' demands to impose sanctions, they will use them only to further their own agendas. The legacy of the Gulf war is now clear: Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and bully, but U.S. intervention has proven to be a greater evil for the people. This is powerful testimony that peace activists should oppose any foreign intervention by the U.S. government, whether it's direct military involvement or selective use of sanctions. A great place to start is demanding the immediate and complete lifting of sanctions on Iraq, and calling for an end to their use against other Third World countries. - Pacific News Service
Questions from a press
briefing never held
When did George Bush and the Pentagon know the Iraqi military was so weak?
It was not just Saddam Hussein who claimed the war would be the Mother of Battles. The Pentagon, Bush and the American media all agreed. But the facts of the war, meagre as they are, suggest something quite different. Either US intelligence was awful, which is highly unlikely, or the administration deliberately misled Congress and the public as to the nature of the Iraqi threat, perpetrating a major propaganda hoax to justify military action and an easy victory.
From the start, the Iraqi response to the war was not that of a nation with an aggressive military plan and the force to back it up, but rather that of a weak country somewhat desperately attempting to jury rig a defense. Consider, for example:
- The near absence of any air engagement by the Iraqis. In fact, the major movement of the Iraqi air force was to the shelter of Iran.
- The lack of air defenses in Baghdad. Although the anti-aircraft batteries firing into the night looked impressive on television, they were largely of a primitive variety that didn't even have the range to reach the allied planes. US intelligence undoubtedly knew this before the war began.
- The reliance on SCUDS, missiles so outdated that if they were automobiles they would almost qualify for antique license plates.
- The lack of any meaningful offensives by Iraqi troops with the exception of one minor foray into Khafji. Even military officials admit that the tank battle at the end of the war was only designed to protect retreating Iraqi soldiers.
Most significant, however, was the failure of Iraqi troops to respond to the US ground offensive. The propaganda from the Pentagon was that the Iraqis were surprised by the skill, speed and size of the American force. It is far more likely that the passive response was due to an uncertain combination of other factors including the death and demoralization caused by the American aerial massacre, a conscious effort by outgunned Iraqis to reduce casualties in what they knew would be a defeat and a physical presence on the battlefield that may have been less than the Pentagon claimed.
That the administration lied to the public and the Congress is not mere speculation or paranoia. The March 5 Washington Times quoted a Defense Department official as saying, "A lot of what was said from here was carefully orchestrated disinformation." The administration, it would seem, not only prevaricated, but is now bragging about it.
What did the U.S. really know about Iraq's capabilities?
A great victory needs a enemy both willing and able to have prevented it. Otherwise the operation parallels not the annals of Patton, but such dismal excesses as the Italian bombardment of the hapless Ethiopians. There is now little doubt in which category the Iraqi war belongs.
In article written for Time magazine, Yevgeni Primakov, the Soviet negotiator, describes a remarkable exchange with Hussein on October 5. The Iraqi leader offered a long list of grievances against Kuwait, Israel and the west. Primakov then writes:
"Doesn't it seem to you that just like the Israelis, you have a Masada complex?" I asked Saddam. He nodded his head.
"But then your actions will to a great extent be determined by the logic of a doomed man?" I asked.
It seemed to me that Saddam also agreed with this, but he said nothing in reply.
Had Saddam truly planned to challenge American power he would have, for starters, moved into Saudi Arabia when the coast was clear. As one Pentagon official put it: "Had Iraq occupied Saudi ports and airfields, the buildup as we know it would have been impossible." The burning of the oil fields before the ground offensive started was another indication of the Iraqi assessment of the future of its gambit.
It is reasonable to assume that the Iraqis knew all along that they could not defeat the Americans and were simply bluffing while they played whatever political cards remained. What is more important, however, is that Bush and his government also probably knew it, but pretended they didn't.
The Iraqi army seems to have been like the children's nursery rhyme:
As I was going up the stair
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today,
I wish to heck he'd go away.
The administration and the media created an image of a force of a half million trained and tough troops arrayed against this country and its limited partners. The Republican Guards were never mentioned without being called "elite." There were 500,000 land mines in Kuwait, trenches of fire to stop tanks, the threat of chemical warfare mentioned in every news update, huge underground fortifications and so forth.
On almost every point the reality was dramatically at odds with the picture the Pentagon had painted. The massive Iraqi army, for example, simply disappeared into the sands. Even subtracting estimated number of POWs, deaths and desertions, the numbers do not quite compute.
Was the American massacre even larger than the shocking projection of 85,000 of a Saudi official? Had enormous numbers of Iraqi soldiers slipped back into their homeland even before the ground war started? Or had they never been there in the first place in the numbers that the Pentagon claimed?
Certainly some pool reporters were hard pressed to find the Iraqis or their defenses. One reported on Feb. 26: "Iraq's defenses seemed meager. Despite prewar descriptions of massive earthen berms, minefields and oil-filled trenches, Iraqi troops were found to be dug in largely around aging Soviet-made T-55 tanks surrounded by rudimentary trenchworks and bunkers that seemed designed primarily as defenses against bombing attacks... Other bunkers were dug deep into the desert pan and broadened into interconnecting rooms, but nowhere were they organized well enough to slow the Marine advance... At one point along the first Iraqi defense line, poorly laid anti-personnel mines could be seen sticking out of the sand in neat rows, making them easily disposable by US combat engineers. With no resistance to speak of at the first defense line and little at the second, the engineers swiftly cut lanes through all minefields in their path, allowing assault traffic to move smoothly from the moment the attack began."
Another pool reporter on the same guided tour wrote "The 24th [Infantry Division] began conducting reconnaissance missions across the border about a week ago to assess the strength of Iraqi troops deployed against them. What they found surprised them. There were few Iraqi tanks, troops or bunkers. And there were none of the mine fields, concertina wire or fire ditches that the Iraqis had put in place along Saudi border with Kuwait." The reporter quoted a helicopter pilot as saying, "Not only is there nothing there, there is absolutely nothing there."
NPR's Scott Simon, on a lengthy helicopter tour, could find no bodies and only 19 Iraqi tanks. He suggested that the ordinary soldier with his M16 had essentially no role in this conflict. Air power had done the work for them.
Further, early in the war there was a report that a television network had received foreign satellite photos that showed a stunning absence of Iraqi troops where they were meant to be. The photos were so out of sync with the conventional wisdom that the network declined to use the photos.
Because of the extraordinary press censorship and official lying, there is much we don't know about what was actually going on in the battlefield. We do know that arrayed against a minor military power -- the size of California with one-third less population and with no effective air force -- were 75% of America's tactical aircraft, 42% of its modern battle tanks, over a third of its army and 46% of its marines and aircraft carriers, plus significant support from over a score of allies.
We launched this war to stop the "new Hitler." When it was all over one general described the conflict this way: "You had a high school team playing the Super Bowl against the New York Giants and they got their ass whipped."
There is a massive metaphorical inconsistency here that deserves examination. When one considers this "great military victory," it is well to keep in mind that it had everything except a comparable enemy, may never have been a real war, and that our government apparently knew it all along.
Why did George Bush refuse repeated offers for a negotiated settlement?
When Saddam Hussein offered to withdraw from Kuwait in February, George Bush called the proposal "a cruel hoax." William Beeman, an anthropologist and PNS columnist, notes that Bush's claim that Hussein had put conditions on the withdrawal was simply not true. The post-war agenda that Hussein attached to his offer used terms drawing from the Arabic root rbt. Says Beeman: "This literally means tie but its more common use is relationship. In one form it can mean kinship tie. But in everyday parlance it is used to say things like `with regard to,' `relevant to,' and `pertaining to.' In no sense does the word ever mean condition.
"In short, Saddam's offer was genuinely different from earlier proposals. He was not establishing conditions for withdrawal from Kuwait, only listing issues which were `related' to settling the Gulf issue."
Hussein's February offer was only the last in a long string of peace feelers put out by Baghdad. As Beeman reported here last fall: "By late August, Iraq had sent three clear signals to the United States that they wanted to bargain. The first two signals were offers to withdraw from Kuwait, first if Israel would withdraw from the West Bank and second if the United States would withdraw entirely from the region. The third signal was given by Tariq Aziz... calling directly for negotiations. These were unmistakable opening gambits in the bargaining process."
But it goes back even further. On July 26, as Iraqi troops were moving towards Kuwait, Patrick Tyler wrote in the Washington Post:
"Iraqi President Saddam Hussein yesterday sent an urgent message to President Bush... expressing Iraq's desire to end the crisis in the Persian Gulf peacefully and avoid a confrontation with the United States, according to administration officials...
"The Iraqi message was conveyed yesterday morning when Saddam Hussein summoned US Ambassador April Glaspie for a rare audience. During it, Saddam Hussein said he felt `betrayed' that US warships in the Persian Gulf had been deployed for short-notice maneuvers intended, US officials said, to head off Iraq aggression toward its much smaller neighbor.
"Saddam Hussein told Glaspie that there was no need for a US military response and that he did not understand it..."
It was subsequently reported that Glaspie had dismissed the Kuwaiti dispute as a border matter in which the US had no interest. Glaspie herself was returned to the US and has been held incommunicado by the administration ever since.
From that time on, Bush assiduously rejected every diplomatic overture made by Iraq, although periodically claiming interest in a peaceful solution. According to the Primakov account, the Soviet Union made a number of efforts to settle the matter diplomatically, long before the last moments of peace.
Primakov and the Soviet government, as well as many Middle East specialists, understood that as bad as Iraq's invasion of Kuwait had been, a peaceful resolution of the conflict required dealing with Hussein's paranoia, his country's need for a retreat with dignity, and respect for Iraq's just grievances. Primakov notes, for example, that at his Oct. 5 meeting with Hussein, the Iraqi leader said that if he had to choose between falling on his knees and surrendering or fighting, he would choose the latter. These, from the start, were the only choices Bush gave him.
And Primakov quotes Hussein as saying:
"As a realist I understand the true state of affairs. Yet I cannot resolve the question of Kuwait if it is not tied up with the solution to other problems of the region... However, I want to make one thing clear. The time linkage and the process leading to a solution of the Palestinian problem are to be discussed at negotiations."
This represented an important modification of Hussein's position in August when he declared that the two problems should be solved in tandem. Now he was apparently willing to settle for serial consideration. To a minimally competent negotiator this was a step forward.
About two weeks later, Primakov arrived in Washington to talk with an administration that had not even bothered to establish any direct contacts with the Baghdad government with which it was so obsessed. He didn't receive encouragement. NSC head Brent Scowcroft, said Primakov, "was more interested in our perceptions of the situation in Iraq than in the proposals for getting out of the crisis." Bush seemed interested in another Soviet meeting with Hussein, but with the limited focus of informing the Iraqi "about the uncompromising position of the US."
Primakov moved on to London where he met with Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher commenced an hour-long monologue "in which she outlined in a most condensed way a position that was gaining greater momentum: not to limit things to a withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait but to inflict a devastating blow at Iraq, `to break the back' of Saddam and destroy the entire military, and perhaps industrial, potential of that country."
There was this exchange, according to Primakov:
"So you see no other option but war?" I managed to get in with difficulty.
"No," Thatcher replied.
Thus by late October, Primakov suggests, the allies had apparently decided on war. Everything that followed, including the congressional debate, was simply for show. Primakov's second meeting with Hussein (which produced further compromises) and subsequent Soviet efforts were, as far as the Bush administration was concerned, irrelevant.
Further light on this matter has been shed by an important article by Michael Emery in the March 5 Village Voice. During a four-month investigation of the war's beginnings, including a two-hour interview with Jordan's King Hussein, Emery developed a picture of the provenance of the war quite at odds with the public image. Just a few of his points:
The chief of Kuwait's security forces met with CIA chief William Webster in November of 1989, subsequently writing in a memo: "We agreed with the American side that it was important to take advantage of the deteriorating economic situation in Iraq in order to put pressure on that country's government to delineate our countries' common border. [The CIA said] broad cooperation should be initiated between us... [and] coordinated at a high level." The CIA admits that the meeting took place but denounced the memo -- seized by the invading Iraqis -- as a hoax. When Emery read the letter to King Hussein he said "he felt it accurately describes US policy toward Iraq and Iran."
Besides the Glaspie conversation, the US had given several signals of support for Saddam Hussein and indifference about Kuwait, including a Saddam-stroking visit by a senatorial delegation in April, Secretary of State Baker's congressional testimony that same month and statements by Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly. On July 31, for example, Kelly told a congressional subcommittee: "We have no defense treaty relationships with any of the [gulf] countries. We have historically avoided taking a position on border disputes..."
An important part of Saddam Hussein's anger came from a feeling that other Arab states had reneged on promises to help pay the debt incurred in the war against Iran, which he saw as a war in the mutual interest of these states. Emery's sources tell him that the Saudis and Kuwaitis had each promised $10 billion to Iraq.
On July 30, King Hussein, after a visit to Baghdad, flew to Kuwait to urge the ruling family to ease its attitude towards Iraq. Writes Emery: "According to both the king and another participant, despite Saddam's army on their border the Kuwaitis were in no mood to listen. Why were the rulers of this tiny city-state so sure of themselves? Apparently, the Kuwaitis thought they knew something the Iraqis didn't."
Then Sheikh Sabeh said, "We are not going to respond [to Iraq]...If they don't like it let them occupy our territory...We are going to bring in the Americans."
On August 2, King Hussein had a telephone conversation with Saddam Hussein in which he urged the Iraqis to withdraw. Saddam said, "Well I will withdraw, it is a matter of days, perhaps weeks." The king said, "No, don't talk about weeks, only a matter of days." Saddam then said the planned condemnation by Arab leaders in Cairo would not help.
King Hussein, who thought he had worked out a peace plan, believed that Egypt Mubarak sabotaged it by reneging on a pledge not to publicly condemn Saddam Hussein and that American and British pressure was behind this change of heart.
The question that must be answered is why Bush took such a perversely rigid position. Let us stipulate that Hussein was 95% in error. In that five percent were real grievances, the recognition of which might have saved tens of thousands of lives and enormous physical and environmental damage. But Bush would have none of it.
In this one instance we will not have to pay a proportionate cost of his intransigence. But consider this: what if Bush had been president at the time of the Cuban missile crisis and had applied the same principles? On second thought, forget it. If Bush had been president, we might not even be here to consider it.
The Cuban missile crisis was resolved because the Kennedy administration carefully took bits and pieces of Soviet positions as rambling and inconsistent as those of Hussein and used them to move the Russians towards a coherent and peaceful solution. The Kennedy team, of course, acted as though they were grown-ups with some moral core, not like teenaged hoods looking for a fight because it was all they knew how to do.
Certainly the current president's terminal adolescence helps to explain his behavior. Bush lives in a infantile world of good guys and bad guys, sorted out simply by their obeisance or obstinacy towards him.
His distaste for complexity also helps to explain his actions. Thatcher's early and persistent hawkishness contributed as well. Thatcher has been far more influential on the Reagan and Bush administrations than any member of Congress.
But something more may have been afoot: the possibility that the Pentagon and National Security Council had actually been out shopping for an enemy. There are indications, for example, that the Pentagon and the White House had considered a major military operation in the Andes, using the excuse of the war on drugs, but had rejected the plan as too risky. Castro's Cuba may have been eyed as a target -- and may be one yet. Then Hussein hove in sight. Or was pushed there.
Was April Glaspie baiting Hussein, knowingly or unknowingly, for Bush's Iraqi sting operation? Was it mere coincidence that prior to the Kuwait annexation, General Schwarzkopf and his command held a wargame based on the following scenario: What if Iraq invades Kuwait? Some of the strategy for the real-life adventure that followed was reportedly developed during that wargame.
If the game and the reality were connected it would not have been the first time. Prior to the Grenada invasion, the US military staged a wargame using a fictitious island that bore remarkable resemblances to the one that would be subsequently invaded.
We must at least consider the possibility that from an early stage, Hussein was being set up as the next Noriega in Bush's game of musical Hitlers and that the Iraqi dictator was just paranoic and egomaniacal enough to fall into the trap.
Can we talk about linkage now?
Of all the costly inanities uttered by the president over the past few months, none was less supportable than his argument that the Kuwaiti and Palestinian annexations could not be linked.
The fact that he was so desperate not to have them linked was a good indication that they were. It is not an unreasonable supposition that one of the forces that created Saddam Hussein in the first place was Arab bitterness over the decades-long failure by Israel and the west to give Palestinians the self-determination they deserve.
As the New Yorker recently put it, Hussein did not invent the grievances in the region, "and they will not simply disappear when he is eventually gone. In the Middle East, `linkage' is not some option to be debated. It is simple fact. The only real question is how many more wars will have to be fought and how many more lives will have to be lost before that fact is recognized."
That Hussein seized the issue out of self-interest and demagoguery is irrelevant. While demagogues may abuse a cause, their demagoguery does not prove it wrong. It merely adds one more insult for the cause to bear.
If Bush had not been so overflowing with hubris that he was unable to recognize the relationship between Palestine and Kuwait, he might have managed a truly great stroke: resolving two world-wrenching issues with one agreement. It was one more opportunity missed.
With the irony of history, however, the very success of the American effort may, in the end, force Israel's government to relent in its unsupportably cruel policy towards the Palestinians. It now makes neither moral nor strategic sense. Missiles do not respect buffer zones.
Why has the Palestinian cause been so neglected for so long? The politics of the Israeli and the US government have obviously been critical. But those of the progressive ilk have also played a role. Many, out of deference to American Jewish allies, have looked the other way, soft-pedalled rhetoric, found excuses, and sought shelter in vague expressions of hope for a resolution over an indeterminate time span.
On the merits, however, the Palestinian cause has been just as worthy of our time and effort as, say, the abuse of blacks in South Africa. Certainly, as we have seen in recent months, its international consequences have been greater.
Now not only has our government engaged in an immoral war but the causes of America's progressive movement have been severely damaged, in part due to our politeness over the Palestinian issue. We can no longer avoid it. We have become part of the linkage.
If there is one good thing that can come out of this miserable adventure, it is that American progressives will no longer be reticent in the face of this traditional taboo, that the progressive movement will find as much heart and courage to pursue Palestinian self-determination as it did the cause of black South Africa. We must tell Israel it is wrong as loudly as we tell our government it is wrong, not only because we believe both to be wrong but because of our faith in their capacity to be right.
How well did US weaponry really work?
Getting the answer to this is not an exercise in military exotica. It could determine how successful the Pentagon and the defense industry are in retaining control of America's economy and politics.
For example, military propagandists have been touting the success of the Stealth fighters. If conventional fighters had incurred high casualties and the Stealth hadn't there would be a case for the Stealth. But, in fact, neither incurred significant casualties and the Stealth was basically engaged in the same work as conventional fighters at far greater cost.
Eugene Carroll Jr. of the Center for Defense Information raises another question about our air power. Carroll points out that on Jan. 30, General Schwarzkopf reported that US aircraft had flown 790 sorties against 33 bridges in Iraq. He then showed films displaying the magnificent accuracy of the bombs. Carroll's question is "If every bomb hit a bridge, why was it necessary to make 790 attacks?" This equates to 12 attacks against each bridge, even assuming that half the sorties were by support aircraft.
Then there is the sainted Patriot missile, whose public relations triumph illustrates why car manufacturers spend so much time figuring out what to call their new models. The reality of the Patriot, however, is far less appealing than its name.
In the first place, the Patriot, contrary to congressional and media opinion, has nothing to do with Star Wars. The argument that the Patriot proves the validity of SDI is like saying that a tricycle proves the validity of a solar-powered car.
Secondly, the Patriot has yet to be tested against either aircraft or a modern missile. We only knows that it works pretty well against an outmoded, slow missile with no counteractive devices.
The Patriot aims for its target with the aid of radar. It is designed to damage the missile rather than to vaporize it. The problem is relatively simple with a SCUD in which the warhead and the body of the missile stay together. But with a modern missile, the warhead or warheads detach from the rest of the missile and the Patriot has to decide what to seek. In the case of an aircraft target, one would not have the smooth trajectory of a missile, making targeting more difficult. Thus, the Iraq experience has given us little information about the Patriot vs. anything but the ancient SCUDs.
In addition, we were repeatedly told that the Patriot missiles blew up incoming SCUDS and that the stuff falling to the ground was "debris." Depending on where the missile was damaged, the debris might or might not have included the warhead itself. In the case of the attack on the US barracks, officials admitted that the warhead had landed. But in how many other cases of SCUD attacks was the "debris" actually the warhead?
Many weapons systems were in the Gulf and will be credited as having proved themselves even though this is far from the case. Two important examples are the Bradley vehicle and the M1 tank. Because they were not tested in a real war, we do not know whether the critics concerns about the armor protection of the Bradley is justifiable. Nor do we know whether the M1 could function under true battlefield conditions. Its one good workout was against a demoralized, retreating Iraqi force in which the enemy tanks were outnumbered more than two to one.
You may recall the long shots of America's military might rolling across the desert. Those strange looking large vehicles, appearing like something out of a Mad Max movie, were the fueling trucks for the M1. They are very important because the M1 gets only about two gallons per mile [sic] even on the military equivalent of a freeway.
A typical M1 tank battalion consists of 58 tanks plus 16 ten-ton fueler trucks, 25 quarter-ton trucks and 31 2° ton trucks. The tanks, of course, are well armored. Their vehicular support staff, is not. In a real war, an enemy, especially one with air power, might simply destroy the fueler trucks to disable a tank battalion.
These are just a few examples of why an honest analysis of weapons performance in the desert is essential.
Of course, if it is the intention of the American empire to go to war (as has recently been the case) only against third world countries with third rate militaries, then many of these weapons are, in fact, more than adequate. One's only remaining concern is how much taxpayers are paying for the psychic pleasure of massacring obstreperous non-white dependencies with tools originally designed to protect us from the Evil Empire.
What's an atrocity?
The concept of an atrocity is one that is subject to as much political manipulation in time of war as is the word patriotism. Generally speaking, in a war both sides commit atrocities, but only the enemy's are so described. Universally speaking, war itself is an atrocity.
Keeping in mind Dylan Thomas's comment following an air raid that "after the first death there is no other," here a list, compiled from the British section of Amnesty International and other sources, that might prove helpful in consideration of the subject:
Iraq: Torture, rape and random murder of an unknown number of Kuwaiti citizens. Endangering large numbers of citizens for an expansionist adventure of puerile motive. Deliberate oil spills and setting fire to hundreds of oil fields. Prior examples of extreme brutality include use of chemical warfare on Kurds and Iranians, resulting in thousands of deaths.
United States & allies: Initial reports from Iraq indicate that the civilian death toll may be in the tens of thousands. Early estimates of Iraqi military deaths from the US massacre against its army range from a low of 25,000 to a high of 100,000. Apparently, many of these deaths were caused after Iraq agreed to leave Kuwait and was in the act of doing so. To put these figures in some perspective, American combat deaths in Vietnam over a nine year period were approximately 47,000. The Iraqi deaths occurred in less than a month and a half. Other recent American atrocities include the killing of hundreds or thousands of innocent Panamanian citizens during the invasion of that country [For a chilling account of the invasion, see the recent report, This is the Just Cause, published by the Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in Central America, A.P 189, Paseo del los Estudiantes, San Jose, Costa Rica.]
Soviet Union: Brutal repression of independence movements in various republics.
Saudi Arabia: Amnesty International reports that Saudi Arabian security forces have tortured and ill-treated hundreds of Yemeni nationals since the Gulf crisis began. Common Saudi tortures include beating the soles of the feet, sleep deprivation and hanging by the wrists accompanied by beating.
Israel: Placing Palestinian population of over one and a half million under house arrest during the course of the war, unable to shop, harvest, work, study or recreate. Numerous Palestinian civilians deaths over the years due to air bombardment, military attacks and individual assaults.
Syria: Systematic torture of political prisoners. Methods include rape, forcing objects in the anus and threats to sexually abuse prisoners' families.
Kuwait: Early reports of torture, rape and other brutality towards Iraqi prisoners and suspected sympathizers. A March 6 AP report recounted beatings with typewriters and chairs, cigarette burning, and fingernails pulled out.
Turkey: Favored tortures include hosings with ice cold water and electric shocks to the genitals. Turks who opposed the government's Gulf policy have been jailed. For example, Nevruz Turkdogan was arrested in Ankara for distribution of a journal of the Women's Association for Democracy. Despite pleading with the police that she was pregnant, she was severely beaten and thrown into a dark cell with a wet, concrete floor. She lost her baby in the prison toilet.
Said Amnesty International: "During the 1980s, Amnesty reported human rights abuses not just from Iraq but from every country in the Middle East. The world's governments had the opportunity to deal with these issues, but they did not. They paid no attention to the human rights records of countries to which they gave military, security and police assistance, despite the facts that such aid was being, or could be, used to commit further violations."
The administration and the pundits said it wasn't another Vietnam. They were, of course, correct. As one historian has noted, the Spanish American War is a far better analogy, both in terms of military aims and the use of war as a psychic boost for a troubled country. But the Iraqi affair also has certain similarities with the War of 1812: Hawks from the south and west herding the nation to war, an embargo, claims that the embargo wasn't working, the wanton destruction of a capital city, the targeting of command and control centers (such as the White House and the Capitol) and the major battle occurring after a peace plan had been worked out in a third country. Like the recent conflict, the War of 1812 settled none of the issues that caused it and, in time, hardly anybody could remember why we fought it.
What we've lost already
Operation Budget Shield: America has been suckered into a war to make the world safe for huge defense budgets. While oil has played a role, it appears to have been more of an excuse than a fundamental cause. At its heart, this war is really a jihad by the defense industry for continued control of the US Treasury.
America's military-industrial complex was the one clear loser with the end of the Cold War. Neither Grenada nor Panama were convincing enough demonstrations of the need for a massive military in the face of growing talk of a peace dividend and economic conversion. A major world crisis could save the defense budget for years to come, especially if it could be demonstrated that the runaway costs of the defense establishment had produced weapons that actually worked.
Sen. Arlen Specter recently expressed a conventional congressional view: "When the time has come for the necessity to project strength, we have done it in a phenomenal and historic way." Added Sen. Stephen Symms, "It restores a lot of credibility from all the doubters who said that all this money has been wasted." And Symms added that the benefit would not merely accrue to conventional weapons systems: "I think the one program that will receive a tremendous boost from this will be SDI," a prediction confirmed a few days later by George Bush's annual address and atypical nods to Star Wars by liberal legislators. Ironically, the proximate cause of this new enthusiasm for SDI was the success of the Patriot missile against SCUD missiles, the latter an idea some quarter of a century past its time. Unnoted by either politicians or press was the fact that the Patriot was actually developed prior to Star Wars.
There are other aspects of what has become the world's most expensive test marketing program that have received far less attention than they should. Consider, for example:
- Different types of fighter planes are carrying out essentially the same mission. The major difference is that the some are several times more expensive than others.
- Aircraft that Congress bought because of their all-weather capability are being kept on the ground in bad weather
- The B-1 bombers --$27 billion worth -- aren't in the Gulf at all even though they were first put in service in 1986. The entire fleet of these planes was grounded for an entire month recently because of a series of problems such as engine failure, including an explosion that caused an engine to drop off a plane during a training flight. The B-1, revived by Ronald Reagan with nationalistic fervor after the project had been scrapped by Jimmy Carter, was designed to carry nuclear bombs. So far it has been certified to carry only one type of conventional bomb. Meanwhile, as $27 billion of weaponry sits idle, the Air Force carries out its bombing missions with B-52s, first commissioned in the 1950s.
- Many weapons systems --such as the Patriot --may work but are vastly overbuilt for the job they are carrying out and untried for the job for which they were designed.
- Other weapons systems have yet to be tested in battle, or could have been purchased at far less cost from allied countries, or are lacking adequate support equipment - such as the M-l tank that gets about 8-9 gallons to the mile and whose supply trucks are too few in number and inadequately armored.
.The war, like a great Indian potlatch ceremony, is wasting our military wealth at a staggering rate. When it's allover , the lobbyists will be back arguing for replacing weapons systems that didn't work, improving (at enormous expense) those that did and inventing new ones for the next military escapade.
Little of this is getting through to the public given a military censorship that is extending even to previously released weapons performance data and a disinterest in much of the media in anything other than the wonders of the Patriot.
The cost of this military trade fair will not be limited to the billions actually expended in the war . It will include the expense of extravagant military budgets for many years to come. The costs will be covered not only by new taxes but by a long-term strangulation of badly needed domestic programs of every variety. Massive expenditures on weapons systems will also further America's economic decline. Economics writer Robert Kutner points out that since the 70s, when this country went heavily into high tech weaponry, our share of the global consumer electronics market has dropped from 70% to 5%.
There will be little resistance to this budgetary scam by members of Congress. Not only will the war be used for continuing justification of large defense budgets, but military expenditures will, as in the past, be carefully and cleverly disbursed to make Congress hostage to the whim of the Pentagon and its kill-PACs. For example, only nine states in 1989 received less than one million dollars in expenditures for portions of the B-2 bomber program. Three of our largest states --New York, California and Texas --received over $1 billion each. Few politicians can push themselves away from that much of pork.
Casualties: In the first month of fighting: .2500 American citizens died --of AIDS
2100 American babies died in their first month of life.
810 American children died because of poverty.
150 American teenagers committed suicide.
270 American children died of gunshot wounds.
About 650,000 children worldwide died of malnutrition or ill health.
These deaths would, of course, have occurred whether or not there was a war, but the cost of the war insures that they will continue to occur without the benefit of round-the-clock media coverage, multibillion dollar budgets, the call-up of any reserves to do something about it.
Meanwhile, as of February 6, only three dozen Americans have been reported killed or missing in action. No firm figures have been released for casualties of ordinary human beings. As the Washington Times noted recently, "the Gulf conflict is becoming the country's first 'clean war' in which a discussion of killing is taboo."
In the first two weeks of the war there were more than 30 press briefings at the Pentagon and the US Central Command without an official estimate of how many Iraqi military, let alone civilians, had been killed No one yet knows not only how many civilians have been killed as direct result of "surgical strikes" but how many will die as a result of damage to such human lifelines as water supplies and power stations. A study of wars in the 1950s, however, found that 52% of the casualties were civilians. By the 1980s the proportion of civilian casualties had increased to 85%.
Estimates of casualties in the Kuwaiti invasion itself vary from Amnesty International's figure of hundreds to the 7,000 casualties claimed by Kuwait nationals. By comparison, civilian casualties if America's invasion of Panama vary from 200 (the Army's figure) to independent estimates of approximately 4,000. Of course, Panama occurred a whole year ago and the UN General Assembly resolution denouncing America's "flagrant violation of international law" didn't carry the same weight as UN opinions these days.
The environment: One of the most costly aspects of the war will never be fully accounted for. To give you some idea, however, during the Iran-Iraq war one oil spill resulted in the destruction of 15% of the Persian gulf shrimp industry. The spill in January was at least six times larger .
The chief of Jordan's council on science an( technology estimates that oil-well fires could( increase the emissions of carbon dioxide by 5% causing the region's weather to become cooler and more rainy. There is the potential of affecting the Indian monsoons, which could cause a disaster for hundreds of millions of people. It is no inconceivable that the climate of the whole world could be affected.
On the more mundane level, we are systematically destroying two countries in the name of freedom. As aviation historian Richard Pipe put it: "We're going to crater the place. We're going to make it look like a giant moonscape."
And the damage is not just being done abroad. At the end of January the government announced that it would waive legal requirements for assessments on the effect that Pentagon projects have on the environment. This could not only quell questions of pollution from military installation but greatly ease military acquisition of new bombing: and test sites strongly opposed by environmentalists. As Gary Cohen, director of the National Toxic Campaign Fund, points out: "The Pentagon and its contractors are already the most pervasive and protected polluters in the nation."
At this point we are uncertain whether we are facing an ecological holocaust or merely an environmental disaster. In either case, the environment is already one of the biggest losers of the war. And, of course, the war has distracted our attention from other matters of more long-range consequence than the restoration of the Emir of Kuwait. For example, in the first month of fighting approximately one and a half million acres of rainforests were destroyed. Nobody had time to notice.
Other aggression: While we do not know exactly what payoffs the Bush administration made to various countries to obtain their cooperation in the war against Iraq, it is clear that two of the major beneficiaries were Syria and the Soviet Union. The former obtained a whole country, Lebanon, in return for its support and the Soviets got at least an implicit green light for repressing the emerging Baltic republics. Further, the Israelis have intensified their apartheid, using the cover of the war to get away with putting over a million and a half Palestinians under house arrest. At this point, we are losing the battle for national independence by at least a five to one margin.
The corporate state: In recent years, America has been sliding dangerously close to the sort of corporatism practiced by Nazi Germany and Mussolini's Italy, in which the economy is controlled by an oligopoly in cooperation with the state. This is almost inevitable in a country with so much of its production devoted to the military .The war is both an symbol and a subsidy of the defense industry's continued dominance of the economy. Under both the Reagan and Bush administrations complimentary policies have been pressed including relaxation of anti-trust enforcement and deregulation. An example is the airline industry where deregulation's early consumer gains, such as increased routes and lower fares, are disappearing as carriers are merged or driven out of business. Even more dramatic is the current effort to deregulate banking, which --if successful --would create a financial oligopoly to match the industrial one. The war provides both an excuse and concealment for such activities.
Constitutional government: War inevitably transfers domestic authority from democratic institutions to the military and from legislative bodies to the executive. Once this authority has been transferred, it is hard to restore it to its proper place. One high law enforcement official has already been quoted as saying that security procedures instituted for the war will remain in place long after it is over.
This is not a trifling matter. The last three administrations have developed chilling plans for establishing martial law in the US during an ill- defined "national emergency ." With the exception of a few journals, like the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Miami Herald, most of the media has paid little attention to this. Even during the allegedly thorough Iran-Contra hearings, the moment the veil on these plans was lifted, committee chair Daniel Inouye rushed to push it back:
Rep. Brooks: Colonel Noth, in your work at the NSC, were you not asked, at one time, to work on plans for the continuity of government in the event of a major disaster?
Brendan Sullivan [North's counsel]: Mr. Chairman ?
Sen. Inouye: I believe that question touched upon a highly sensitive and classified area so may I request that you not touch on that.
Rep. Brooks: I was particularly concerned, Mr. Chairman, because I read in Miami papers, and several others, that there had been a plan developed, by that same agency, a contingency plan in the event emergency, that would suspend the American Constitution. And I was deeply concerned about it and wondered if that was the area in which he had worked. I believe that it was and I wanted to get his confirmation.
Sen. Inouye: May I most respectfully request that matter not be touched upon at this stage. If we wish to get into this, I'm certain arrangement can be made for an executive session.
From what is publicly known, there are plans to effectively suspend the Constitution under circumstances that are exceedingly vague but could easily develop in a situation like the Gulf crisis, especially if guerilla actions occur in this country. Despite Sen. Inouye's remarkable contention, there is no matter that is more properly the concern of the American citizenry.
Sanctions: Unnoticed in all the rhetoric and analysis of the Gulf war is the fact that economic sanctions against Iraq are still in place. We will never know whether sanctions alone would have worked not because we tried war instead, but because we tried war in addition.
The war, in fact, would be immensely more difficult were Iraq able to be resupplied as the Chinese resupplied the North Koreans. Iraq is surrounded by countries at least partially involved in the embargo and --unlike many earlier attempts at sanctions --virtually all of Iraq's trade and financial relations are subject to sanctions.
Even if Iraq leaves Kuwait, we will unlikely be able to determine whether it left for military or economic reasons, although the credit will inevitably be given to the military.
To see that this is more than a talking point; consider this summary from Time magazine of the effects of sanctions as of Jan. 15:
- Iraq will run out of foreign-currency reserves by spring.
- The embargo has cost Iraq 50% of its GNP . .Bread, sugar and soap are rationed
-.Imports have been reduced by more than 90%.
- Per capita food consumption down from 3100 calories a day to 1800 per day.
- The country's military effectiveness will begin to decline in six to 12 months.
Civil liberties: Since this war is being fought in the name of freedom, it is worth noting what has happened to domestic freedom in recent weeks:
- The Justice Department is considering registering, photographing and fingerprinting Iraqis in this country.
- The FBI has conducted numerous sorties on Arab-Arnericans to suggest they cooperate with the agency's anti-guerilla activities. The Arab- Americans involved have naturally regarded this as insulting and a considerable intrusion on their freedom.
- In order to visit your elected representative on Capitol Hill you must not only submit to x-ray scanners but have one's coat searched by police. There is serious consideration being given to placing a fence around the Capitol to further limit access to elected officials.
- The freedom to travel, as perceived by Arnerica.ns, has declined markedly with a drastic reduction in international air travel. At one college in England, American students are being advised to stay away from the Hard Rock Cafe, Mcdonald's and American Express as they are considered prime targets for attacks.
- In order for the President to safely deliver his annual address, a four square block cordon sanitaire was established in around the US Capitol.
- The American press is currently under the most severe censorship since World War II-
- Waiting in the wings is a plan drawn up for then vice-president George Bush in 1986 for the roundup and deportation of "suspected terrorists." According to the Washington Times: "It reportedly has been discarded but could be reinstated by a presidential declaration. The plan called for up to 1,000 suspected terrorists to be held at a US Bureau of Prisons detention center at Oakdale, La., and up to 5,000 in tents at other locations in southern states." The Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II were there because they, too, were considered suspected terrorists.
The budget: Only a few months ago, the future of the Republic was said to hinge on an agreement between Congress and the White House to reduce the deficit. Forget it. Today a report from the Congressional Budget Office that this year's deficit will be a record-breaking and mind-boggling $29 billion only rates a few inches in the New Media Order.
Culture: Despite American protestations that they're being careful, there are some initial indications that priceless cultural and religious sites are being damaged and destroyed. In a letter to US News & World Report, Carra Ferguson O'Meara, a Georgetown University fine arts professor, notes that Iraq was home of "humanity's first cities and earliest temples... Its most ancient sites... are close to the frontier near Kuwait... Many of the most precious objects are in the museum at Baghdad, perilously near the Iraqi defense ministry... We must ask ourselves whether we have the right to jeopardize the survival of this irreplaceable cultural and historical legacy that is of importance not only to Iraq but to all mankind."
Integrity: George Bush speaks or the war on Iraq with all the integrity of Marion Barry speaking of the war on drugs. Pentagon officials deny civilian targeting and then, when the photos are shown, explain it away with vague claims of proximity to military sites. The media accedes to extraordinary censorship without a decent fight Liberal members of Congress who voted for continued sanctions struggle publicly suppress any doubts they may have about this madness in a pointless implicit apology for having done the right thing.
The integrity of language is taking a solid beating as well, led by the Pentagon where soldiers are no longer killed -"Only "KIA." And the public has found refuge in circular thinking, proclaiming support for "our troops" as though this support was somehow divisible from support from what "our troops" are doing. This often well-intentioned effort to avoid the sort of crummy treatment Vietnam vets received, is being heavily used by the American right and the media to develop a false image of American unity not only behind the troops but behind the war they are fighting.
To be sure, many of those in the Gulf are there because, sadly, the military offered them the single best hope for economic survival. But easily manipulated expressions of "support" can do them little service. Jesse Jackson put it in the right context when he said, "We need to support our troops when they are not troops. We can not just love them when they are abroad; we must love them at home." And we must support our troops by keeping them alive, not dead, wounded or tortured. By bringing them home.
Refugees: When the battle erupted in Khafji, American media gave intense coverage to the story. But you had to listen long and hard to learn that the first battle of Khafji was already over when the war started, the 50,000 resident of the town had to leave --silent, unnoticed casualties of the New World Order. No one knows the final refugee total, but experts expect at least one to two million people to be displaced by the war.
The Middle East: The Middle East is being disrupted, disarranged, and destroyed by this conflict. It will take years to straighten out the mess. Jimmy Carter estimates 30 years; former JCS chief Admiral William Crowe says 40 years, "whether we like it or not." The contour of post-war developments is speculative at this point, but here is one scenario offered last November by Middle East commentator and anthropologist William Beeman:
Even if the conflict drags on for years, Iran will be seen by the people of the region as the one nation that did not capitulate to the United States, thus retaining its integrity. Its military forces remain strong and its economic prospects are equally bright. In the light of the Saudi Arabian acquiescence to US military occupation, and Iraq's likely weakness in the future, Iran will stand alone as the dominant regional power. Saudi Arabia under its current monarchy will never again regain the influence it has had in the past among Arab nations. Nor will it retain its influence in OPEC. It will always be suspected of representing American interests. With Iraq weakened or dismantled, Iran will thus become the principal spokesman for Middle East oil interests. To reap these benefits, Iran need only sit back and wait... The more thorough the US route of Saddam Hussein, the greater long-term rewards for Iran. This must be deliciously ironic for Iranian leaders who, having been labeled by Washington as fanatic out'aws, are now rewarded by every move the United States makes.
America's reputation: The disproportionate response to Iraq's annexation of Kuwait is sure to rank as one of the history's great acts of military brutality. It is likely in fact. that the main purpose of the excessive military censorship is not to hide US failure but its wanton, destructive success. America will pay for this power-drunk rampage, in big ways and small, for years to come. .
In sum, the war in its first weeks has caused extraordinary damage to world peace. the earth's ecosystem. the freedom of various peoples deemed of less importance than those of Kuwait, the freedom and rights of American citizens, national integrity and simple human dignity.
The irony is. of course. that the war is being fought in the name of the very values that are being sacrificed to the cause of military victory. The Bush administration is killing to save lives. endangering oil to save oil, lying to defend truth, suppressing to protect freedom, encouraging an ecological holocaust to save the earth.
A year ago a remarkable world revolution was underway. Most of the world's inhabitants had lived their entire lives in a world dominated by either the fear or reality of war. Now for the first time one could foresee a world at peace.
When Soviet tanks rolled across the hopes of Hungary, it took decades for that country to recover. Now the tanks and planes of American empire are rolling across the hopes of the world and we must begin all over again to make peace a habit rather than a dream.
This then is George Bush.s greatest sin: He killed world peace while it was still an infant. --Sam Smith, March 1991
Letting Bush get away with it
Within a year of taking office, George Bush had invaded Panama, violating not only the US Constitution, but the UN Charter, the Charter of the Organization of American States, the Nuremburg Principles, the Panama Canal Treaty and various other international laws. His drug war has been a jungle of constitutional violations and evasions. Less well known, largely because the press has chosen to ignore it, has been Bush's war against open government. Several million Americans in government and the defense industry have been pressured into signing gag agreements despite a congressional prohibition on spending money for such a purpose. Bush has quietly, and with few media murmurs, embarked upon a policy of putting as much of the United States government under cover as he can, clamping down on whistleblowers and attempting to make security clearances arbitrarily unobtainable or revokable without due process.
All this, of course, is before we get the answers to how deeply George Bush was involved in Iran-Contra and or whether he was part the scheme to delay the release of the hostages in Iran until after the 1988 election. And before, of course, his proposed commencement of war against Iraq without the congressional declaration the Constitution clearly and simply requires.
Yet despite this astonishing record, Bush does not deserve all the blame. The dirtiest secret in Washington is the extent to which those institutions intended to provide a counterweight to excessive executive power have capitulated to that power. As far as any issue remotely touching on `national security' is concerned, Washington practices three-monkey politics: Congress prohibits no evil, the courts punish no evil; and the press reports no evil.
Thus it is not surprising that for more than three months after the Iraqi invasion, George Bush had a clear field to pursue a policy adolescent in its inspiration, hypocritical in its rationale, counter-productive in its goals, hyperbolic in its rhetoric, incoherent and inconsistent in its justification, and reckless in its risks.
There were, of course, the few in Congress and the media who understood what was going on from the start. Fifty some members of Congress prepared a legal brief challenging the president's right to make war without legislative consent. Scott Armstrong wrote an article for the Columbia Journalism Review listing 64 questions that reporters were failing to ask about US policy towards Iraq.
But the tone of the early press coverage was set by the Chicago Tribune, which bleated on its front page August 8:
In a single stroke Tuesday, George Bush... brought the mantle of leadership back to Washington.
That same day, notes Extra!, the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne managed to produce some subtle if anachronistic seminal red-baiting:
Soviet support for US moves has quelled criticism on the left.
And as late as November 30 the New York Times reported:
The House Speaker, Thomas S. Foley of Washington, and the House Republican Leader, Robert H. Michel of Illinois, told Mr. Bush at a private White House luncheon that he might prevail in Congress if he pressed for a vote now, but could fall short of a clear-cut mandate to use force against Iraq this winter, and might well set up a divisive debate among lawmakers. They advised Mr. Bush not to call a special session of Congress on the Persian Gulf.
This summed up both the prevailing morality and courage of official Washington in the first months of the crisis. Here we had the Democratic Speaker essentially telling the President that it's okay to trash the Constitution. The question is not what the law says; it's a matter of whether you've got the votes. And God forbid that we should have a divisive debate over whether to put 400,000 American troops at risk for a cause not even its advocates can explain, let alone defend. The undeniable thrill of war had been felt and who could resist it? As General Sherman wrote his wife, "I begin to regard the death and mangling of a couple thousand men as a small affair; a kind of morning dash."
In early December, however, the tone of the political and press discussion of the crisis changed dramatically. With Bush having doubled our troop commitment and called up the reserves, the constituents were getting restless. The gap between what was happening on the tube and what was happening down the street closed markedly. Two out of three former chairs of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and seven of eight former secretaries of defense urged Bush to go slow and give sanctions time to work. And in his mild mannered way, a former president, Jimmy Carter, alluded to what others were too busy to notice: in a world growing rapidly beyond war, the greatest remaining warmongers were Saddam Hussein and George Bush.
The cavalry of the ordinary concerned and the Gray Berets of the establishment had come to the city's rescue giving many in Congress and the press new convictions about which to have some courage.
Bush has spoken of Hitler in connection with this affair. But when you speak of Hitler you bring up memories not only of small countries being crushed, but a large country being crushed by a leader with contempt for its institutions, its democracy and the decent sharing of ominous decisions. You bring up memories of an intimidated legislature and a cowed press. And you bring up memories of brutal actions also carried out in the name of a new world order. It is a dangerous metaphor to arouse. As The New Yorker wrote on December 10: "From the beginning President Bush's policy in the Gulf. . .was better suited to a dictatorship than to a democracy."
Maybe it's all just another Bush deception. Maybe when it's over, the President will buy the Iraqis out of Kuwait the same way he bought dozens of countries into the UN resolution. But in one respect he has clearly shown his hand: he'll do whatever he can get away with. And much of Congress and the media will help him. -- Sam Smith
The failure of Congress extends far beyond its inordinately slow reaction to Bush's excesses. The Constitution calls for Congress to declare a war and not, by common consent, simply to ignore it. For example, a war supported by a wimpy do-what-you-got-to-do-George resolution, however, would not give Congress cover; it would merely make it a co-conspirator against the constitutional law.
Yet to an increasing number of people in power in Washington, whether Republican or Democratic, in government or in journalism, the Constitution is simply irrelevant to current concerns. Such carefully debated sections as the one that vested war-making powers in the Congress are implicitly considered, as General William Odom explicitly said recently, "old formalities obsolete for most situations."
Thus George Bush can announce that "I have an obligation as president to conduct the foreign policy of this country in the way I see fit," and no one in power challenges him, despite more than a half-dozen clauses of the Constitution that contradict his contention, including those relating to the power of the legislature, treaty-making, regulation of commerce, war powers, the raising of an army and navy, the organization and calling forth of the militia, and tariffs.
Arthur Schlesinger Jr, in the November 12 New York Times, wrote:
Secretary Baker suggests that the president's role as commander in chief has become a sufficient source of authority to go to war. The Framers would hardly have accepted this argument. In the 69th Federalist, Alexander Hamilton observed that the commander-in-chief clause granted the president no more than the command of the armed forces -- in contrast to the British king, whose power `extends to the declaring of war and to the raising and regulating of fleets and armies -- all which, by the Constitution under consideration, would appertain to the legislature.'
Law professors Leon Friedman and Burt Newborne added on December 2 that the delegates to the constitutional convention overwhelmingly rejected Pierce Butler's proposal that the president be given power to declare war. Eldridge Gerry of Massachusetts said that "he never expected to hear in a republic a motion to empower the executive to declare war." George Mason of Virginia said the executive is "not safely to be trusted with it" and that he was for "clogging rather than facilitating war; but for facilitating peace."
Ironically, the president of the Soviet Union has declared that for his country "the use of armed forces outside the country without sanction from the Congress is ruled out categorically, once and for all. The only exception will be in the case of a surprise armed attack from outside." It would appear that Mr. Gorbachev is more a strict constructionist than many in Washington.
The Iraqi situation is only the latest and most visible sign of the indifference of the media and Congress to fundamental constitutional issues. You may not be aware, for example, that at the end of the last session Congress passed legislation that essentially legalized many of the worst crimes of Iran-Contra. It would give the president power to conduct covert operations and to use corporations and foreign countries to do so, thus allowing the president to carry out private wars and operations without Congress even having the leverage of withholding funds. Only 70 members of the House stood with Barbara Boxer when she attempted to prevent the covert action legislation. Did the media that spent hours and pages on the Iran-Contra rise as one to tell Americans about this? Not until Bush vetoed the legislation, and then mainly to give credibility to his incredible argument that the legislation would tie his hands. -- Sam Smith
Whose war is it?
George Bush's behavior in this affair is bizarre even by presidential standards, let alone constitutional ones. He has barely consulted the joint chiefs of staff while making a commitment of American troops close to that in Vietnam. When Defense Secretary Cheney made a televised announcement that the US might be sending more troops to Saudi Arabia, Gen. Colin Powell learned of it while on his way back from the Middle East. And the president has clearly not consulted Congress.
The question inevitably arises: whose war is this going to be? Sununu's? Cheney's? Millie's?
Some of the speculation has bordered on the grotesque. The emir of conventional journalism, David Broder, wrote on November 18: "It is almost impossible to imagine a more serious, calm, cautious, rational and prudent set of people than those the president has assembled,"
The New York Times's R. W. Apple Jr., who got off to a bad start in August characterizing Bush as "tough" and "statesmanlike," had recovered enough by December to write:
Right from the start, foreign policy professionals have complained that Mr. Bush, something of a foreign policy professional himself, has drawn the circle too tight, limiting discussions of really important positions to himself, Secretary of State James A. Baker 3rd, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Brent Scowcroft, his national security advisor.
One foreign editor on the case described the vision of the White House as being as though looking through a "rifle sight." There is no apparent consideration of long-term effects, cultural factors, the links with other regional issues or history. I suspect that for George Bush, invading Iraq would not really be a war at all, but as with Noriega, more of a personal match -- tennis by other means. An old preppie treating the whole world as his country club.
It produces odd and scary results, such as the serial explanations for our Gulf presence offered by administration figures, some of them even in contradiction as when Lawrence Eagleburger said he thought the war was "about oil" and Cheney said that was "hog-wash."
As late as the end of November, the administration couldn't decide what this business was about. In the manner of the GOP stumbling on Willie Horton, the convenient and unsupportable discovery of Iraq's iminent "nuclear capability" (after a New York Times/CBS poll showed that 54% of the public thought this was a good enough reason to take military action) seemed a temporary godsend. Wrote the Times on November 26:
An Administration official said the survey results had been noted by the White House, which is also looking for an argument that will sway the public.
The sentence is familiar. We've read it dozens of times during political campaigns, although in campaigns not as many people get killed. What we have been seeing is the way war would be if it were planned by a political consultant. -- Sam Smith
George Bush's Second Annual War
Why what you think about it doesn't make any difference
For all their differences, the people of America and Iraq have something in common: they live in countries led by men both capable and willing to use military force in an arbitrary fashion and beyond constitutional restraint. Twice in less than a year, George Bush has demonstrated this. Twice he has made us hostage of his grandiose and archaic vision of America's role in the world, without consultation, without debate, without even a token nod to the Constitution, which gives Congress, and not the President, the power to declare war.
War, for America, has become a game of dealer's choice, with the president as dealer. The public, the Congress and the media have little to say about the matter. With the presidential decision backed by massive propaganda, the Congress is scared into submission; pumped up by the prospect of war correspondence the press falls enthusiastically into line; and left without analytical leadership the public is offered no alternative but blind acceptance.
This is a relatively new phenomenon in American history, a product of our postwar imperial era. Most prior American involvement in wars was preceded by extensive public debate. The closest parallels to current American military policy were the Mexican war and the Spanish-American war, both wars of empire. Even in these cases, however, the war was precipitated by a direct attack on American forces. Ironically, these two conflicts,resulting in the acquisition of Texas, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, also remind us that Saddam Hussein did not invent the idea of annexation.
The Korean War was the first war we entered without a direct attack or substantial public discussion. Although American troops had been withdrawn and Dean Acheson had found South Korea outside the American Pacific "defense perimeter," Harry Truman quickly decided that the invasion had been directed by Moscow and restored South Korea to protectorate status. We found ourselves in our first war of dealer's choice.
In the case of Vietnam, Eisenhower's choice (the wisest) was to stay out; Kennedy's choice was to dabble and Johnson's choice was to enter the fray. The American "defense perimeter" had become the boundaries of the "free world," but -- as to this day -- the decision whether to defend a particular corner of that world had become a presidential prerogative. The three different approaches to Vietnam reflected not so much change in geopolitics as change in the personalities in the White House.
This personalization of the power of war is the most dramatic sign of America's drift from constitutional and democratic principles that stood it in good stead for more than a century and a half. Although it is regularly argued that the shift is simply a reaction to a more complex and dangerous world, particularly the existence of nuclear weapons, in fact each of America's military adventures since World War II -- large or small -- has had more in common with 19th century expansionism than with the nuclear holocaust so feared by all. These were wars and adventures to fix the boundaries of the American empire and to prevent the Soviets and Chinese from expanding theirs. In the two major wars fought under these new rules, the debate over our purpose and goals took place in the midst of the fighting. Significantly, one of these wars ended in a stalemate, the other in American defeat.
Since Vietnam, we have contented ourselves with such quick and easy targets such as Granada and Panama. The most generous view of these misbegotten affairs is that they had a sublimating effect on the White House's military instincts. Unfortunately, the Gulf crisis suggests this is too optimistic. In fact, it appears that they merely whetted the appetite of the administration and the public for more.
The Gulf crisis is certainly more. Although planned on much the same simplistic premises as Granada and Panama, the implications of America's action in the Middle East are anything but simple. In one swift military move, for example, America has vastly increased Arab hatred of this country and greatly complicated the Palestinian issue. These problems will remain whether the administration's show-and-tell act succeeds or not. While there appears to still be time for both sides to back away from their bravado and belligerence, Bush's hyper-reaction to the Kuwait annexation makes the prospect at best problematical.
A year before we landed on the dunes of Saudi Arabia, few would have guessed the coming eruption. By way of example, the Washington Post mentioned Iraq twice in August 1989 and Kuwait not all. As late at July 1 of this year, The Post was assuring us in a headline: "New Middle East War Seen Unlikely; Threats, Saber-Rattling Abound, but Deterrents Curb Both Sides." And on July 26 The Post paraphrased a Bush official as saying that "the prevailing administration view was that Saddam Hussein was bullying Kuwait and had no intention of invasion." In any case, there was no hint from media or the White House that Iraq, as later alleged by the president, was on the cusp of posing a threat to our whole way of life.
As occurred with Libya, Grenada and Panama, critical national interest was redefined almost overnight. Once again, the hate bites poured out of the White House, the troops were called up, and the media faithfully flacked the new found cause with the fervor of a recent convert to the Church of Scientology.
Perhaps, on some wall in the National Security Council offices, there is a map defining those countries we will defend to the death and those, in the words of Palestinian journalist Hanna Siniora elsewhere in this issue, we will just "let rot." If so, the markings must be erasable. As recently as July, the president vetoed legislation slapping Iraq on the wrist for using agricultural credits for the purchase of military weapons. In September of 1988, when some senators wanted to invoke trade sanctions against Iraq for its gassing of Kurdish rebels, the president threatened a veto and the matter was dropped. And one year earlier we were busy reflagging Kuwaiti tankers to protect them from the country everyone knew was the real danger in the Middle East, Iran.
A US News & World Report article from the time seems eerily up to date:
The plan seemed so simple at the outset. . .The sheer spectacle of American power would be sufficient to discourage further Iranian aggression in the Persian Gulf. Over time, tensions would ebb. Instead, a nightmare scenario for the US may be unfolding. . . .Seldom has the Persian Gulf's tinderbox atmosphere been more explosive or events there so directly threatening to American interests. . . . As the potential dangers become more obvious, White House aides are privately pointing fingers, trying to fix blame for what now looks like one more foreign policy misadventure. `I don't think anybody thought through what we were doing,' said one senior official. `Then people started to focus on it, trying to figure out: why are we getting ourselves into this? By then, it was so far down the road that you had to close ranks.'
It is not difficult to perceive of more sensible responses to the Iraqi problem than those concocted by Pentagon bulls in the global china shop and national security advisors confusing their virility concerns with the national interest. We could, for example, have taken our own rhetoric seriously and developed a true multi-lateral approach. We could have encouraged a much more prominent role for the United Nations and the Arab nations. We could have responded to the several feelers put forth by the Iraqis for negotiations with other than name-calling and vilification. We could have consulted with those with whom we are in alliance, rather than bullying them. We could have seized the opportunity to work out a several-sided solution to the crisis, including settlement of the Palestinian situation.
But such alternatives are irrelevant when there is no way to make them heard. The angst over the events in the Middle East comes not just from the danger these events present, but from the fact that, until it is too late, there is so little we can do about them. Should a full-scale war develop, we will be there, much as we were in Vietnam, confused in our purpose, uncertain in our strategy and unconfirmed in the righteousness of our cause.
It is not enough to say that Saddam Hussein is an evil man. His character, after all, was fixed and well known long before the Kuwait invasion. Was he less evil when he used chemical weapons on the Iranians than when he used conventional -- and hardly opposed -- forces against the Kuwaitis? Where was the White House outrage, the cabinet delegations to foreign leaders, the American sabre-rattling then?
It is not enough to belatedly claim allegiance to the UN Charter and principles. Certainly, a basic principle of non-intervention has been broken, but after Grenada and Panama and our coddling of Israel, what claim do we have before the Iraqis: that the invasion and annexation of weak neighboring territories is the prerogative of the United States and the Soviet Union? And what of Iraqi claims to Kuwait blithely ignored in the big power deal that gave it independence in 1961?
There could have been a moral core to the reaction to Iraq had the United States acted with more humility and less hypocrisy. There is genuine cause for outrage at the Iraqi action, but it is sullied by the self-serving and reckless American reaction to it.
But then this business isn't really about morality at all. It's about oil. And not even cheap oil. In fact, since the US has been throwing its weight around in the Persian Gulf the price of a barrel has risen from $10 a barrel in 1986 to $18 a barrel after the Iraq-Iran war to $30 a barrel the last time I looked. How this protects the interests of America is a little hard to see, but it certainly helps the oil producers. Further, as TRB pointed out in The New Republic in 1987, "Former Navy Secretary John Lehman estimates that the share of the Reagan-era military buildup specifically designed to make good on the so-called Carter Doctrine -- that the United States will protect Mideast oil supplies by force if necessary -- is costing American taxpayers about $40 billion a year. . . . Our protection is costing roughly ten dollars a barrel."
This crisis is also about the welfare fathers of a bloated military and defense industry desperately looking for a justification for themselves. It's about growing economic problems in this country and about a war against drugs that has failed and how to make people forget about these things. It's about scaring the Congress into the Bush budget. It's about reviving nuclear energy. It's about a nation so past its imperial prime that it sends its ministers around the world hawking limited partnerships to underwrite the activities of its mercenaries.
It's about a Europe and Japan, the former 80% dependent and the latter fully dependent on oil imports, laughing on the way to the bank as the US, defends their interests.
It's about worrisome political polls. And it's about an administration that governs by voodoo politics -- sticking its propaganda pins into opponents as mild as *Michael Dukakis and as despicable as Saddamm Hussein, hoping that its incantations will distract the public from what's really going on.
It is finally about a Congress, a media and a public that has surrendered the right to decide when to wield this nation's terrible swift sword -- surrendered it to those who increasingly treat military adventurism as a policy of first resort, even as the economic foundation that this adventurism pretends to defend crumbles, indifferent to the cavalier and foolhardy bravado of George Bush and company.
If there is a war there seems no doubt that it will be an extraordinarily mean and dirty one. Having entered it without moral intention, its only moral will likely be that we should have thought and talked more about it first. -- Sam Smith, October 1990
If Saddam Hussein is Hitler,
then James K. Polk
and William McKinley were...
In 1845, President Polk sent General Zachary Taylor to annex Texas, using about half the US Army. Within a year we were in a war that then Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant described as "one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation." One of the reasons for the Spanish-American war was to "liberate" Cuba. Assistant Navy Secretary Theodore Roosevelt's view was, "I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one." The war allowed America to annex Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, Hawaii, and the Philippines