We Are Sleepwalking Into a Reckless War of...

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Posted by Tony from 63-93-74-167.lsan.dial.netzero.com ( on Friday, September 27, 2002 at 10:12PM :

Published on Friday, September 27, 2002 in the Guardian/UK
We Are Sleepwalking Into a Reckless War of Aggression
by Seumas Milne

The world is now undergoing a crash course of political education in the new realities of global power. In case anyone was still in any doubt about what they might mean, the Bush doctrine (set out last Friday in the US National Security Strategy) laid bare the ground rules of the new imperium. The US will in future brook no rival in power or military prowess, will spread still further its network of garrison bases in every continent, and will use its armed might to promote a "single sustainable model for national success" (its own), through unilateral pre-emptive attacks if necessary.

In the following week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused the German chancellor of "poisoning" relations by daring to win an election with a declaration of foreign policy independence. Even the Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy felt moved to accuse the US of "imperialism". But it has been Al Gore, winner of the largest number of votes in the last US presidential election, who blurted out the unvarnished truth: that the overweening recklessness of the US government has fostered fear across the world, not at what "terrorists are going to do, but at what we are going to do".

Some, however, are having trouble keeping up. In parliament, many MPs seem determined to sleepwalk into a war of aggression, hiding behind the fiction that all will be resolved if United Nations weapons inspectors are allowed to go in and finish the disarmament of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. Tony Blair was at pains to soothe their anxieties on Tuesday, as he will be next week at the Labour conference in Blackpool. The aim, he assured them, was simply to get rid of weapons of mass destruction under the auspices of the UN. If the regime changed as a byproduct, so much the better. But yes, Saddam Hussein could save himself by compliance.

It's only necessary to listen briefly to the chorus of administration voices in Washington insisting on the exact opposite, however, to realize this is a fraud - and that Blair knows it. From the president downwards, they have made utterly clear that regime change remains their policy, and force their favored method - with or without a UN resolution and whether or not Saddam complies with inspections. And they are the ones making the decisions.

What is actually happening is that Blair, as Bush's senior international salesman, is providing political cover for a policy which is opposed throughout the world, using the time-honored New Labour methods of spin and "sequencing": drawing his government and MPs into a succession of positions intended to lock them into acceptance of the final outcome. So while Rumsfeld - the man who as President Reagan's envoy came to Baghdad in March 1984 to offer US support to Saddam, on the same day Iraq launched a chemical weapons attack on Iranian troops - rages on about a "decapitation strategy" for his former allies, Blair has been busy promoting Britain's dossier of assertion, conjecture and intelligence speculation to soften up public opinion for war.

There is nothing whatever in the dossier, as the former Tory foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind said this week, to suggest that Iraq is any more of a threat than it was in the days when the US and Britain were arming it - in fact the opposite, as would be expected after 12 years of sanctions and seven years' weapons inspections.

But more importantly, the Iraqi government's announcement that it intends to allow UN inspectors free and unfettered access has already stolen the dossier's rather modest thunder. After all, it should soon be possible to put its claims seriously to the test. That is presumably why Bush immediately threatened to veto the inspectors' return without a new, more aggressive UN resolution and why Condoleezza Rice has been trying to revive discredited claims of links between Iraq and al-Qaida.

In spite of Russia's insistence yesterday that inspectors can go back without a new UN resolution, Blair at least is convinced that support can be won for a more hawkish form of words. Given the threats and bribes that are routinely used to corral crucial votes - and the carve-up of Iraq's oil that the US has been dangling in front of Russia and France - that seems entirely possible.

What is highly unlikely, though, is that any resolution will be passed explicitly authorizing invasion, occupation and regime change - in violation of the UN charter - which is what is actually intended. Expect, instead, some implied threat of force, which could then be used to create provocations, trigger an attack and be claimed as UN authorized. But it would be nothing of the sort. Nor would it reflect the genuine will of the international community, but only further serve to discredit the UN as a cipher for American power, to be used or discarded as and when convenient.

That process was accelerated this week when the only Middle Eastern state with an advanced program of weapons of mass destruction - nuclear-armed Israel - refused to comply with a UN security council resolution demanding an immediate end to its destruction of Palestinian compounds in Ramallah because it said it was "one-sided". No action is expected. But then Israel is a serial flouter of UN security council resolutions - and some resolutions are treated more seriously than others.

The planned US invasion of Iraq will increase the threat of war throughout the world. By legitimizing pre-emptive attacks, it will lower the threshold for the use of force and make aggression by powerful states more likely. It will encourage nuclear proliferation, as states rush to get hold of some protective deterrent. It will damage the fabric of international law and multilateral treaties. It will encourage terrorism by pouring oil on the flames of anti-western rage.

It also risks creating a humanitarian disaster in Iraq - on top of the terrible human toll exacted by sanctions. Nor is it easy to believe that a US-orchestrated regime change in Iraq will lead to democracy, or that the US would be likely to accept the kind of government free elections might produce. The last time Britain and the US called the shots in Baghdad, in 1958, there were 10,000 political prisoners, parties were banned, the press was censored and torture was commonplace.

For the US, this war is not mainly about Iraq at all, but about the implementation of its new doctrine and the reconstruction of the entire region. For Tony Blair, it is about his "article of faith" in the centrality of the American relationship and the need to pay a "blood price" to maintain it. For the British people, across the political spectrum, it should highlight the moral and democratic necessity of starting to loosen what has become a profoundly dangerous alliance.

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002

-- Tony
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