The U.S. Drive To War On Iraq
drumbeat for war on Iraq, coming from the highest levels of the
U.S. establishment, began within days of September 11. The Bush
administration’s plans are still taking shape, but there is
reportedly a growing determination to overthrow Iraq’s government.
war scenarios and timetables are being discussed. The New York
Times (4/28/02) reported that the Administration was developing
plans for “a major air campaign and ground invasion, with initial
estimates contemplating the use of 70,000 to 250,000 troops.”
This would take place in early 2003, “allowing time to create
the right military, economic and diplomatic conditions.”
month later, the Washington Post (5/24/02) reported, “The
uniformed leaders of the U.S. military believe they have persuaded
the Pentagon’s civilian leadership to put off an invasion of
Iraq until next year at the earliest and perhaps not to do it at
all,” due to “the lengthy buildup that would be required,
concerns about Hussein’s possible use of biological and chemical
weapons and the possible casualties.” The Post noted
that while the debate over tactics continues, the “Bush administration
still appears dedicated to the goal of removing the Iraqi leader
some war preparations are already underway. The U.S. Central Command
has set up forward headquarters in the Gulf: the New York Times
comments, “The military has not ordered a comparable march
of senior tactical commanders to Southwest Asia since the Gulf War,
December 2001, U.S. State Department officials toured the semi-autonomous
Kurdish areas in northern Iraq to evaluate Kurdish military “capabilities,”
and the State Department convened a meeting of Iraqi dissidents
and former military officers in May to explore a post-Hussein Iraq.
In March, Vice President Dick Cheney traveled to 11 Middle East
nations to drum up support for war on Iraq, which was also on Bush’s
agenda during his May trip to Europe and Russia. He claimed, “I
have no war plans on my desk,” and in the next breath declared
“we’ve got to use all means at our disposal to deal with
Saddam Hussein.” In May the U.S. pushed through so-called “smart
sanctions” to maintain pressure on Iraq.
U.S. Global Agenda
days of September 11, a campaign was launched to link Iraq to the
attacks and to the October 2001 anthrax mailings. No evidence was
found, so government officials and mainstream pundits switched gears.
Suddenly Iraq posed a grave danger because it supposedly possessed
“weapons of mass destruction.” Little was made of the
fact that former UN arms inspectors state Iraq has largely been
disarmed and Pentagon officials admit Iraq’s military is one-third
its 1990 size.
hollowness, not to mention hypocrisy, of these justifications points
to another, underlying U.S. agenda at work. U.S. goals in Iraq are
both regional and global: installing its own regime in Baghdad would
tighten the U.S. grip on Persian Gulf oil—and thus all who
depend on it—and demonstrate to potential rivals that the U.S.
is willing and able to crush its opponents. Iraq is a key step in
redrawing the political map of the Middle East and stomping out
rising anti-U.S. anger. Waging war on Iraq is also seen as a crucial
test of the new Bush doctrine of recasting global relations to extend
and solidify U.S. imperialist dominance for decades to come.
agenda encompasses many strategic goals: monopolizing world energy
sources, maintaining military superiority over potential adversaries,
having open access to key global markets and vast sources of raw
materials, and creating the conditions for the unchallenged exploitation
of hundreds of millions of laboring people worldwide.
supporters talk of “regime changes in six or seven countries,”
forcing deep social and political changes around the world, and
moving from “containment” to “integration”—creating
global structures that lock in U.S. predominance.
Middle East is a focal point of these predatory designs. “In
the Middle East and Southwest Asia,” a 1992 Defense Planning
Guidance states, “our overall objective is to remain the predominant
outside power in the region and preserve U.S. and Western access
to the region’s oil.”
is a “strategic commodity”—vital to the functioning
of capitalist economies and modern armies. Controlling the flow
of oil means controlling those who depend on oil. It’s the
lifeblood of modern empire.
heart of the world oil industry lies in the Persian Gulf, which
contains 65 percent of the world’s oil reserves, 34 percent
of the world’s natural gas reserves, and accounts for nearly
30 percent of the world output of each. The Gulf also has 70 percent
of the world’s excess oil production capacity, which the Energy
Information Administration (2/01) calls even “more significant,”
because oil production can be quickly increased or decreased—preventing
supply or price disruptions.
National Energy Policy report predicts that by 2020 the U.S. will
import two-thirds of its oil, “recommends that the President
make energy security a priority of our trade and foreign policy,”
and states, “Middle East oil producers will remain central
to world oil security.”
1979, the U.S. could count on the Shah to rule Iran with an iron
fist and be its loyal gendarme in the region. But his downfall and
the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, were severe shocks to U.S. power.
In 1979, President Jimmy Carter responded by designating the Persian
Gulf a vital U.S. interest, which it would go to war to defend.
U.S. also encouraged Iraq’s 1980 invasion of Iran. Over 1 million
people were killed in the ensuing 8-year war, but it served U.S.
purposes by weakening both sides and preventing them from causing
trouble in nearby Gulf states. Henry Kissinger summed up the U.S.’s
cold-blooded attitude: “too bad they can’t both lose.”
emerged from the war feeling its Arab neighbors were in its debt.
After all, Iraq had fought to protect Saudi Arabia and Kuwait from
the subversive influence of Iran’s Islamic Republic, which
claimed to be the true defender of Islam and routinely denounced
the Gulf’s pro-U.S. monarchies.
Iraq discovered that Kuwait was overproducing its oil quota, thus
undercutting Iraqi oil revenues and also slant drilling for oil
into Iraqi territory. After warning the U.S. Ambassador that the
situation was intolerable and that Iraq would take action—and
hearing that this would pose no problem for the U.S.—Iraq invaded
Kuwait in August 1990.
U.S. quickly reversed course and condemned the invasion, and six
months later a U.S.- led coalition stormed into Iraq. The goal was
not simply to force Hussein’s troops from Kuwait, but to destroy
Iraq as a regional power, bolster U.S. clients Saudi Arabia and
Kuwait, and send a message to rivals, regional states, and the world’s
people: as George Bush I put it, there’s a “New World
Order” and what the U.S. says goes.
March 1991, immediately after the Gulf War, Iraqi Shi’ites
in the south and Kurdish fighters in the north rose against the
Hussein regime. The U.S. had encouraged them to revolt, but then
stood back and allowed Hussein’s helicopters and ground forces
to crush the rebellion.
first Bush administration feared revolution in Iraq would hurt U.S.
interests by creating greater instability and perhaps lead to Iraq’s
fragmentation. U.S. nightmares included bolstering Iranian influence
in Iraq’s Shi’ite south; or a Free Kurdistan in the north,
encouraging the Kurdish struggle in neighboring Turkey, a key NATO
fears drove U.S. policy throughout the 1990s. There were attempts
to overthrow Hussein, including a 1996 CIA coup plot and a 1998
assassination attempt by cruise missiles. But U.S. policy under
Bush I and Clinton was to weaken and contain Iraq through punishing
sanctions, intermittent military strikes, and maintaining a large
there were deep contradictions in U.S. sanctions policy, and its
linkage to weapons inspections. UN Resolution (687), which authorized
sanctions, also stated that upon compliance they “shall have
no further force or effect.” Yet the U.S. refused to ease,
much less lift, sanctions even as Iraq complied. Instead the U.S.
“moved the goalposts,” adding new conditions for Iraq
to meet. As Clinton put it, “sanctions will be there until
the end of time, or as long as he [Hussein] lasts.”
U.S. duplicity, plus the enormous suffering inflicted on Iraqi civilians,
led to growing worldwide opposition and an erosion of the U.S.’s
Desert Storm coalition. The U.S. case for maintaining sanctions
was largely based on forcing Iraq to disarm, and intrusive and bullying
UN inspections were instituted after the Gulf War to strip Iraq
of any “weapons of mass destruction.”
mainly complied with the inspections. UN inspectors report that
95 percent of their work destroying Iraq’s nuclear, chemical,
and biological weapons was completed. Yet Iraq received no benefits
the late 1990s, it was exposed that the “arms inspections”
were being secretly used by the U.S. to gather intelligence for
assassination attempts and coup plotting. These developments further
eroded international support for U.S. belligerence toward Iraq.
The inspection program collapsed in 1999 when Iraq refused to allow
inspectors to return, following the punishing military strikes of
Operation Desert Fox in December 1998. Meanwhile, Iraq gradually
rebuilt its ties with other world powers and states in the region.
neighbors began to ignore sanctions. Trade with Jordan, Turkey,
Syria, and Egypt grew—and became important to their economies.
Iraq’s oil reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia’s
in size and potential profitability, so Russia, France, and China
worked to secure a piece of the action. Iraq has now granted these
countries some $6 billion in import contracts. Russia signed a 23-year
deal to develop Iraq’s West Qurna oil field—potentially
worth $20 billion. By 2001, German exports to Iraq had increased
four-fold, to 1.2 billion marks.
1996, the U.S. was forced to allow Iraq to resume oil sales via
the oil-for-food program. Although Iraq’s oil revenues are
still held by the UN and its imports tightly controlled, its reported
oil income rose from $4 billion in 1997 to $18 billion in 2000.
former members of the Gulf War coalition have reopened embassies
in Baghdad and in 1998 Iraqi officials attended their first Arab
League meeting in a decade.
Clamor To Strike
U.S. government eyes, the continued survival of the Hus- sein regime
was creating problems in the Middle East and tarnishing America’s
standing as the globe’s dominant imperialist superpower. There
was talk of the “collapse” of the U.S. Iraq policy and
a growing clamor for decisive action—well before September
1998, former high-ranking officials wrote then-President Clinton
an open letter calling for Hussein’s ouster: “Current
American policy toward Iraq is not succeeding, and that we may soon
face a threat in the Middle East more serious than any we have known
since the end of the Cold War.” Ten signers now hold top posts
in the Bush administration, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
and his assistant Paul Wolfowitz.
the 2000 elections George W. Bush and Democratic candidate Al Gore
both called for overthrowing Iraq’s government. In January
2001, a member of the Bush team spoke to the global, tone-setting
considerations of U.S. actions toward Iraq: “Ideally, the first
crisis would be something with Iraq. It would be a way to make the
point that it’s a new world” (New Yorker, 1/22/01).
July 2001, the Wall Street Journal called for the U.S. to
“take swift and serious measures to remove Saddam Hussein from
power.” The Journal also reported, “Senior officials
have held almost weekly meetings on the issue to discuss whether
to push for the [Hussein] government’s ouster.”
came September 11. U.S. rulers were confronted with both a necessity
to lash out and an opportunity to try and realize long- standing
ambitions. Barely a week had passed before high-level officials
and advisers were meeting behind closed doors.
to the New York Times (10/12/01), on September 19-20
the Defense Policy Board, a “tight-knit group of Pentagon officials
and defense experts outside government…met for 19 hours to discuss
the ramifications of the attacks of September 11. The group agreed
on the need to turn on Iraq as soon as the initial phase of the
war against Afghanistan was over.”
group included deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and former
high-ranking officials such as William Bennett, Jeanne Kirkpatrick,
Newt Gingrich, and Richard Perle. Gingrich declared that the U.S.
needed a major geopolitical victory in response to the attacks.
“Bombing a few caves in Afghanistan” wasn’t going
to do it, he said, but overthrowing Iraq’s government would.
threats of war on Iraq have sparked a rash of controversy and debate.
Other world powers have loudly objected: “There is no indication,
no proof that Iraq is involved in the terrorism we have been talking
about for the last few months,” declared Germany’s Deputy
Foreign Minister. “This terror argument cannot be used to legitimize
Secretary General Kofi Annan stated, “Any attempt or any decision
to attack Iraq today will be unwise and could lead to a major escalation
in the region.” Saudi leaders and Jordan’s King Abdullah
have spoken out against the war, and Turkey’s President Sezer
warned, “Turkey attaches great importance to preserving Iraq’s
territorial and national integrity.”
Washington Post (3/11/02) reported that these comments
“represent a growing consensus among regional leaders that
the risks of an attack on Iraqi pres Saddam Hussein far outweigh
any threat he may pose.”
doubt many of these objections are designed to give political cover
to regional states, which may end up assisting the U.S. They are
demands that other countries’ concerns are taken into account
by the U.S. (such as Turkey’s demand that the U.S. protect
Iraq’s territorial integrity, or Russia’s that its contracts
and interests be respected).
such opposition also reflects the potentially explosive consequences
of war on Iraq. Those holding the reins of power in Washington are
certainly aware of these dangers—whether the fragmentation
of Iraq, rising instability, or unintended shifts in regional power
balances. Yet they’ve responded to every criticism with renewed
determination to push ahead, even if the U.S. does so alone.
a pro-U.S. regime in Baghdad could give the U.S. more direct control
of Iraq and its oil wealth, and prevent it from exerting independent
influence, especially with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Knocking down
the Hussein regime would also strike at other major powers, such
as Russia, China, and France, who seek greater regional influence,
demoting them to a clear, humiliating second tier status. One Russian
oil executive worried, “If the Americans start military operations
against Iraq we may lose a contract, and American oil companies
will come in our place. No one has ever said the opposite.”
in the U.S. power structure see war on Iraq as a way of crushing
Arab nationalist aspirations. One Wall Street Journal column
(12/19/01) stated bluntly: “America’s superpower image
was decisively cracked in the Middle East by the failure of Washington
to checkmate Saddam Hussein…to extinguish the hope that has fueled
the rise of al Qaeda and the violent anti-Americanism throughout
the Middle East, we have no choice but to re-instill in our foes
and friends the fear and respect that attaches to any great power.
Winning the war in Afghanistan will not do it alone…only a war
against Saddam Hussein will.”
former Reagan official spins out this post-war scenario: “Syria
comes to terms. The Saudis will conform. Iran will be surrounded
by American forces, and the mullahs will have to make concessions
to the moderates. There will be a settlement between Israel and
Palestine.” Then he warned, “I’d say fantastic—if
it happens. Whatever happens, Bush cannot afford to fail. At the
end of the day, we must have a stable, pro-Western government in
Baghdad” (the New Yorker, 3/11/02).
may yet derail the U.S. march toward Baghdad. If not, the establishment’s
wildly ambitious plans might backfire. Israel’s brutal invasion
of the West Bank in April sparked protests unseen in a decade, as
well as worldwide revulsion and opposition. Any attack on Iraq would
add fuel to that fire and U.S. allies in Riyadh, Amman, Cairo—or
elsewhere— could end up paying the price.
one certainty in all this is that if the U.S. does go to war, the
Iraqi people will once again be the primary victims. People around
the world—especially those of us living in the U.S.—must
oppose such an unjust and cruel war with all our hearts. Z
Everest is a correspondent for the Revolutionary Worker
newspaper. In 1991 he produced the video Iraq: War Against