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Instead of War


Inspections, not war?

The world is saying no to war. But demanding inspections as an alternative might not be enough to derail the war.

This must be the most unpopular war in history. Anti-war marches on February 15 brought out a million each in Madrid and Barcelona, a million in London, 800,000 in Paris, over 100,000 in New York, 500,000 in Berlin, 250,000 in Sydney, and many, many more in actions all over the world.

When UN inspector Hans Blix and nuclear agency chief Mohammad El-Baradei made their reports on February 14, they changed no one’s minds. The US and those few governments who side with it (like the government of Spain, where 75% are against war, and the government of the UK that had the biggest march in history the day after) continued to press for war. The other European powers, in accord with their populations, continued to insist that war wasn’t necessary and that the UN inspectors should have more time.

The problem is in the means that are proposed in the UN for preventing war: More inspection, deeper inspection, with more planes, lower overflights, more interviews, more scrutiny, and more continuing monitoring to ensure that Iraq didn’t have and could never develop weapons.

The situation seems to be one in which the war party releases some uncompelling piece of evidence (such as the UK’s ‘dossier’ that was a mix of fabrication and plagiarism or Colin Powell’s PowerPoint photos of trucks), the inspectors reply that there is still enough co-operation to continue inspections, and the US waits. War fever is kicked up another notch in the media, troops continue to head to the Persian Gulf, and the world is made to believe that war is even closer. But all the while, Iraqis are still dying, quietly: from sanctions, from living in a country with a destroyed infrastructure, and from US-UK bombing raids that no one is talking about. And all the while, the anti-war movement grows.

Ken O’Keefe, a former US Marine who served in the first Gulf War, made a very compelling case in late December 2002 that tens of thousands of people from the US and Europe should go to Iraq to act as human shields. If they did so, he argued, they could prevent the war. The problem is, at what point could they declare the war prevented and go home? At what point can an anti-war movement declare a war prevented?

More, and deeper, inspections, cannot be the answer. No one wants weapons of mass destruction in the hands of dangerous men. But (leaving aside that there are plenty of such men in the world with just such weapons) putting a country under a microscope of ever-increasing intensity and threatening to destroy it if evidence, not of weapons but of ‘non-compliance’, cannot be the way to make the world a better place. A call for more intense inspections is not a call for a long-term, peaceful solution to this conflict, because there will never be a way for Iraq to prove that it could never develop weapons.

How, then, could a war be derailed? A security council resolution that held all countries to the same standards of disarmament, and the same inspections regime, would take the heat off of Iraq without denying the importance of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or the dangers of dictators like Saddam Hussein. Article 14 of Security Council Resolution 687 sees elimination of WMD in Iraq as a first step for disarming the whole region of WMD. If the anti-war movement can demand that governments continue to block the US in the United Nations, it can also demand a resolution (or fulfillment of an existing resolution) that can cool things off.

Saddam, not war?

If the anti-war movement is saying no to war and a US occupation of Iraq, we are also accepting that overthrowing Saddam Hussein is a long-term project for the Iraqi people and not for the US or even the UN, that the US cannot go and bomb populations and invade their countries to ‘liberate’ them.

Despite the tremendous hypocrisy of those making the claim, the strongest argument the war-mongers have in their favour is the one that says: “Saddam is a major killer and a dictator whose removal would be a blessing to the Iraqi people.” It is hypocritical because the people who argue that Saddam is a tyrant had no qualms about arming and supporting him through his worst atrocities in the 1980s. It is strong because it is true.

Iraq is ruled by a totalitarian, military dictatorship that has a terrible record of human rights violations. That dictatorship shares responsibility with the US and the UK for the suffering of the Iraqi people. The overthrow of that dictatorship by a people who have been tortured and starved for 12 years cannot be anything but a long term project. For Iraqis to have the strength to overthrow Saddam and replace him with a democratic regime, the war hysteria would have to disappear, the sanctions would have to be lifted, and the rebuilding of the country would have to occur. During such a scenario, Iraq’s regime would probably try to use the resources directed to Iraq for rebuilding to strengthen itself and its military. This is a harsh reality, but it is less harsh than the prospect of bombing, urban warfare, and US military occupation—all of which would further humiliate and enrage the Arab and Muslim world and provoke further terrorism in the long run.

In other words, if overthrowing Saddam Hussein is the goal, the only alternative to a US invasion and occupation (that would install a US client) is a long-term, difficult, uncertain project based on rebuilding Iraq and empowering the Iraqi people against the wishes of the Iraqi regime.

Sanctions, not war?

The millions who marched out of a just desire to prevent the terrible, overwhelming violence of war (in Iraq) will soon have to come to grips with the terrible, quiet violence of sanctions, hunger, and preventable disease (in Iraq and elsewhere).

Indian economist Amartya Sen showed that historically, famines do not take place in countries with a relatively free press and a relatively democratic government. This is because public opinion in such countries cannot tolerate famine: the press ensures that the people find out, the people ensure that the government acts, and the government is able to procure food and distribute it. But people die slowly and quietly of hunger and preventable disease, by the million, every year. It could be that ‘public opinion’ is caring and sophisticated enough to force action against famines, but not yet sophisticated enough to see or act against the silent, drawn-out massacres that are happening in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa or Asia.

War is like famine. Today millions of people are marching because they do not want to see Iraq destroyed by bombs. But US policy in Iraq and Afghanistan and US-Israeli policy in Palestine show there are many ways to punish countries and many ways to kill people. Under the surface of war hysteria, Iraqis continue to die, horribly and pointlessly, of hunger, preventable diseases, and the ‘low-intensity’ violence of a bombing raid here or there. Add the ‘low-intensity’ violence of unexploded cluster bombs and warlords and the same is true of Afghans. Add the ‘low-intensity’ violence of house demolitions, incursions by tanks and Apache helicopters, assassinations by car bombs and F-16s, and the same is true of Palestinians. If ‘public opinion’ can rage against a long series of omissions and deceptions and silent deaths the way it rages against massive lies and mass deaths, it can protect these people, too. It has to.

An unstable situation

The US government cannot keep this up forever. But that means the peace movement has to be more persistent, not less.

While Hans Blix and Mohammad El-Baradei were reporting to the United Nations, another routine humiliation was happening at a US airport. The front page story of the February 14 Toronto Star said:

“A Toronto woman coming home from India …was pulled aside at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, accused of using a fake Canadian passport, denied consular assistance and threatened with jail. Instead of jailing her on Jan. 27, an INS officer cut the front page of Cruz’s passport and filled each page with “expedited removal” stamps, rendering it useless. She was photographed, fingerprinted, barred from re-entering the U.S. for five years and immediately “removed.” Not to Toronto, but to India, where she had just spent several weeks visiting her parents. It took four days, and help from Canadian officials in Dubai and a Kuwaiti Airlines pilot, to get her back home.” (Through the UK this time)

This is one of a million stories of remarkable abuse by immigration officials, law enforcement, and the US military since 9/11. But the US depends on immigrants and foreigners to clean its buildings, to grow and harvest its food, to drive its cabs, to program its computers. The humiliation of immigrants, visitors, and indeed of people from the third world in their own countries did not start in September of 2001. But it has taken on an intensity that could be unsustainable. How long before people stop flying through the US? Before the fear of being disappeared in the US overrides economic opportunity in a potential immigrant’s calculation? Before people see an American in the street and cross to the other side out of fear?

The US has ruled the world by force, yes, but also by convincing many people that it really was a force for democracy, freedom, and opportunity. Even in countries that have suffered because of the US, myths of America’s prosperity and freedom, and the hope of being able to go to America for a better life, have a powerful hold. Today the US is busy convincing the world that it is a force for destruction, fear, and humiliation, within and without. Opposition to this in the US and all over the world is growing, showing that this stance is unsustainable.

There is actually only one thing that could keep the US on this trajectory of humiliating and threatening the world. Another terrorist attack, that would be a tragedy for Americans and everyone else, undermining the movements for peace and justice in the world, sending us into another spiral of terrorism and war. If you spoke out for the first time over the war in Iraq, you cannot be silent until the US changes course. The stakes do not get higher than this.

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