War Makes No Sense

Address given by Ali Abunimah at the Interfaith Gathering for Peace, Stetson Chapel, Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, Michigan, on 23 February 2003

All of us are here today because we are concerned about the prospect of war. But how many of us are aware that this country has been at war against Iraq for more than twelve years? We are told that Iraq is a threat because it has weapons of mass destruction. How many of us remember that in 1991 the United States pulversied Iraq, destroying not just military targets, but water treatment and sanitation plants, bridges and electrical stations?

This, combined with twelve years of punishing sanctions have led even according to the most conservative United Nations estimates to more than a million deaths. When US Secretary State Madeleine Albright was asked a few years ago if she thought half a million deaths was a price worth paying for the policy towards Iraq, she did not challenge the number. She simply said “we think it’s worth it.” Most of the victims have been Iraqi children under five, the elderly and the sick. Now we are contemplating an even more devastating attack against a greatly weakened population. Sanctions are in effect a weapon of mass destruction.

After twelve years of this kind of warfare, in which Iraq has not been able to defend itself the Bush administration is now telling us that Iraq is such an imminent threat to our safety here that we must attack it at once even if the whole world is against us. They offer three main reasons and I want to spend just a few minutes looking at each one because we need to know how to deconstruct them because the media are failing miserably to do the job they are supposed to do.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

The new inspectors have searched hundreds of places all over Iraq, and tested more than 300 chemical and biological samples and found absolutely no evidence that Iraq possesses banned chemical, nuclear or biological weapons. All the sites that US intelligence said had weapons turned out to be empty, and some of the inspectors recently told CBS news that the information they were getting from the US is ‘garbage.’ The UN inspectors said that the satellite images that the US presented were worthless.

The inspections are continuing and as long as inspectors are there, Iraq has no possibility of developing anything. All of the countries that border Iraq are against this war. I just recently from Jordan, where people feel no threat at all from Iraq. But they are very worried about what the United States is planning to do in their back yard. Even Israel’s army chief, General Shaul Mofaz, says that Iraq presents no real military threat to Israel.

Inspections work. Even the US has admitted that the inspections which took place from 1991 to 1998 destroyed more Iraqi weapons than all the US bombing ever did. Iraq today represents no threat at all. Remember in 1991, when the US said Iraq had the fourth largest and most powerful army in the world? That army lasted one hundred hours against the US. Today the Iraqi army doesn’t even have a fraction of the strength it had in 1991.

While we talk about Iraqi weapons, people around the world are alarmed that the United States is the only country in the world that is threatening to use nuclear weapons against others, and is now about to embark on a program to build more nuclear bombs that can be used against non-nuclear countries. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his coterie have dropped the Cold War nuclear doctrine of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ known as ‘MAD’ — which was designed to ensure nuclear weapons would never be used — and replaced it with something called ‘NUTS,’ which stands for ‘nuclear utilization theory.’ They are determined that nuclear weapons should be used, and the United States should once again be the first country to use them. Is this the way to be secure?

Iraq – Al-Qaida Links

They are telling us there is a link between Iraq and Al-Qaida. We have been so misled by our media that more than half of Americans believe Iraq was involved in the September 11 attacks, and that some or all of the suicide hijackers were Iraqi. In fact none of them were Iraqi, and not even the US government claims that Iraq was involved in the September 11 attack

The US has failed to present evidence linking Iraq and Al-Qaida. In fact all the world’s intelligence services, including the CIA, the British, even Israeli intelligence say there is no evidence of a link. There is plenty of evidence that Iraq and Al-Qaida are enemies. Evidence has even been faked by this government. Colin Powell alleged terrorists linked with Saddam are operating in the part of Iraq not controlled by him were running a ‘terrorist poison factory’ in northern Iraq. But when journalists from the BBC and ABC and others went to the site, they found nothing but some empty huts that could not possibly have been what the US said they were. Powell also cited a “fine” British intelligence file in his speech.

The British media quickly revealed that the document was nothing more than a ham-handed propaganda piece, a cut and paste job by public relations staff, not intelligence analysts, made up of published articles and plagiarized bits of a student paper more than twelve years old. This story was virtually ignored in the United States. These are just a couple of examples of the many misleading and false statements made by government officials to drum up support for war. When he spoke to the Security Council on 5 February, Powell called Iraq’s 12,000 page declaration false, and challenged, “who will rise in defense of this false declaration?” Unfortunately, too many people in the US media are prepared to sit silently in the face of Powell’s false declarations.

Usama Bin Laden and the Taliban leaders have not been caught. They have not even been kicked out of Afghanistan, they have just gone into hiding who knows where. So what do we have to show for the war on terrorism? They have us ducking for cover with rolls of duct tape. One of the good things was that the war on terrorism brought together so many countries to work together with the United States. That has been destroyed now by reckless policies that are alienating the world and fuelling anti-American feelings, even among America’s closest allies.

Leaving aside the lack evidence, it is clear that a US attack on Iraq is the answer to Bin Laden’s prayers — if indeed he prays. It will make the US be seen as an unjust power that uses force as a first resort, only against those who are weak. Why are we so ready to go to war against Iraq, a country which cannot defend itself, while we insist that only diplomacy can resolve the nuclear dispute with North Korea?

Democracy for Iraq and Human Rights

When all the other arguments fail, those who support war say that what they really want is to liberate the Iraqi people. I wish I could believe them. Remember that for decades the United States supported Saddam Hussein when they knew he was a cruel tyrant.

It was the US that provided Iraq with combat helicopters and billions of dollars in loans. It was an American company called American Type Culture Collection, based near Washington DC, which with US government approval sold Iraq the seed stock for Botulinum toxin, E. Coli and anthrax in the mid-1980s. All of this when the US knew exactly what Saddam was doing.

It was even the same people who are in charge today and their associates. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Iraq several times in 1983 and 1984 and met Saddam personally at the request of President Reagan.

Rumsfeld reestablished US relations with Iraq, and provided Iraq with intelligence and other assistance. Rumsfeld even met Saddam on one day in 1984 when Iran was reporting that its troops were being attacked with poison gas. So this country, unfortunately, is in a very poor place to advocate for Iraqi rights. And what is being planned? The Washington Post reported on 21 February that the US plans to administer Iraq by direct rule. Americans will govern a country of 24 million people! That’s like they’re suddenly ruling Canada except that its half way round the world and they don’t speak the language!

And look at the record. More than a year after the US launched the war against Afghanistan, there is no stability or democracy there. The government of Afghanistan barely even controls the capital, and cannot survive without US troops. The rest of the country is governed by warlords and chaos, and the ordinary people are suffering terribly. We don’t think about that because our media have moved on to a newer, fresher, more exciting war.

And other countries? The US went into Somalia in 1992. Somalia doesn’t even have a government today, let alone democracy and more than half a million people there face starvation. The US went into the Balkans in the 1990s. US troops are still there today. The US went into Haiti in 1994. Haiti is still in chaos, with endemic political violence and instability and eighty percent of the people living in abject poverty. The list goes on and on. And ask the people of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinians who live under Israeli military rule what their human rights and democracy are like. All of the governments that rule over them are fully backed by the United States and they are all amongst the world’s worst abusers.

We have to ask ourselves why so many people in the world see American talk of human rights and democracy as so much hypocrisy.

The planned war is not about Iraq, not about weapons of mass destruction and not about Al-Qaida. It is the fulfillment of an agenda of an extremely hawkish group of people who have been planning it for a decade, and who today have positions of power in the Pentagon. This group, which surrounds Donald Rumsfeld, have been expounding their vision from right-wing think tanks for more than a decade. Their goal is global hegemony and power at any cost. And the cost to all will be high. Their goal is to reshape the Middle East to serve only the interests of the United States and Israel, as many Israeli leaders have gleefully acknowledged. It will finalize the tranformation of this republic into an empire.

Already, the US has troops stationed in about half the countries on earth. Such a level of engagement to be maintained may one day require reinstitution of the draft. Are you ready to send your sons and daughters to Iraq, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and other countries their schools don’t teach them about?

At home, under the guise of the war on terror, basic civil liberties are being stripped away. Immigrants and refugees, especially those from Arab and Muslim countries, and even US citizens, are facing measures unprecedented since the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. Few are prepared to speak out against these policies for fear of being labeled unpatriotic, or appearing weak in the face of a terrorist threat. Remember that no one spoke out on behalf of Japanese Americans either, not even the ACLU, when they were being rounded up and taken from their homes by government agents. Last week, New York City witnessed the largest ever demonstration in living memory, calling for peace. Did you know that the Justice Department and the City of New York tried to ban it? How long will it be before they succeed and what will we do if they do?

Our commitment

War is not the answer. Nobody wants war. Not the people of Iraq, not the people of the world. A Pew Research Center for the People and the Press survey published on 20 February finds that 39% of Americans oppose a war with Iraq. That’s two-fifths of the people, or 112 million people. That is a greater number of people than voted for George Bush and Al Gore combined! Around the world tens of millions of people have made known their views. They realize what this government refuse to understand. War makes no sense.

Let’s make two commitments. First, to go from this place and bring this message to our friends, family and neighbors, and to build the momentum against war. Second, let us make a commitment to come back if a war starts each of us bringing five or ten more people, to make sure the world hears our voices for peace.

I want to end with words from Kathy Kelly, one of the coordinators of the Voices in the Wilderness campaign, who is currently in Baghdad, where she intends to stay through a war or until peace is secured. Writing from Baghdad, Kathy says,

“It is too soon to answer our friends who ask if there will be a war, too soon to declare that war is inevitable. Crucial days ahead offer people throughout the world a momentous opportunity to prevent bloodshed and destruction. The novelty of such a triumph would never wear off. It could usher all of us toward the political maturity required to survive our shameful capacity for annihilation.”

Thank you.

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