Neither Iraqi concessions nor objections from leaders of traditionally friendly countries seem able to deter the United States government from its determination to take to the warpath against Iraq to impose “regime change”. This unprecedented defiance of world opinion is a challenge that can and must be met by the rise of a strong new international peace movement. The first task of such a peace movement is to develop and spread a clear view of the situation. This involves avoiding weak arguments and unsound positions that in practice serve as steps toward acceptance of the logic of war.
What is necessary first of all is an accurate evaluation of the real relationship of forces in the world today. The United States possesses a power of destruction unique in history. Its vast arsenal is constantly expanding, based on mastery of a wide range of technologies, conventional and unconventional, from nuclear weapons to biochemical and germ warfare capabilities. In the Middle East, its closest ally, Israel, is by far the strongest military power. But it must be kept in mind that the military and economic power of the United States is accompanied and promoted by another unprecedented advantage: a global supremacy in means of information and propaganda. U.S. domination of the world’s news media and entertainment industry has long shaped public perceptions of the United States as an essentially beneficent power, eager only to share its domestic happiness with less fortunate countries. Its chosen adversaries are portrayed as villains who enjoy doing evil for its own sake. Since it is comforting to believe that power is good, this view persists despite evidence to the contrary. The U.S. propaganda machine is so powerful that it dares spin forth the absurd idea that the United States is threatened by Iraq, when the reverse is obvious. Since September 11, Americans have been given a new identity as victims, which can be used to justify endless retaliation. Certainly, not even the Vietnamese, not to mention the millions of other victims of U.S. foreign policy over the past half century, have attracted so much media attention as the approximately 3,000 people who died in the attack on the Twin Towers. Systematic media bias in wartime is a fact established by numerous studies. It is well known that truth is the first casualty of war, and a peace movement must do everything to come to the aid of this particular victim through critical distrust of mainstream media and an effort to seek out and provide alternative news sources.
Advocating sanctions as an appropriate method of obtaining Iraq’s unilateral disarmament is not the way to a peaceful solution. The fixation on imposing unilateral disarmament on only one State in a heavily armed region characterized by numerous rivalries and conflicting claims to resources makes no sense. Should sanctions be lifted, Iraq could rearm. This implies perpetual sanctions against Iraq, with devastating consequences for the population, as pointed out by the directors of the “oil for food” program, von Sponeck et Halliday, despite efforts by the Iraqi regime to distribute the available food. A principled peace movement needs to press the demand for global disarmament, with the first confidence building concessions to be made by the most heavily armed and threatening powers: the United States globally and Israel on the regional level.
Unfortunately, it should be clear by now that a peace movement cannot look to United Nations resolutions for salvation. One of the earliest United Nations resolutions demanded that Palestinian refugees be allowed to return home. It has been totally ignored for decades, and Israel clearly and stubbornly rejects it. Yet nobody cites the need to enforce this resolution as justification for massive bombing of Israel or “regime change”. Such humanitarian resolutions can remain unobserved indefinitely. Moreover, the structure of the U.N. Security Council as well as the world relationship of economic forces undermine the capacity of the United Nations to act as a neutral body. All too often, its decisions are the product of deals between the Great Powers, used or flouted selectively.
Finally, it is too often forgotten that the United Nations was founded in order to “preserve humanity from the scourge of war”, justly considered the worst of evils to afflict the human community. If the United States succeeds, thanks to political and economic pressure, in convincing the Security Council to support their offensive against Iraq, this will not mean that the war is legitimate, but rather that the United Nations has betrayed its fundamental mission.
In light of the facts, it is absurd to present Iraq as a major threat to peace. Despite frequently unfriendly relations, none of its neighbors currently feels threatened. It is Iraq’s weakness rather than its strength than may make it a tempting target today. It is particularly cynical for Western governments that supported Iraq in its war against Iran in the 1980s, even providing chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein, to turn around now and cite that war to demonize their erstwhile ally. Iraq has neither the means nor the motive to strike the United States or Europe, nor is there the slightest reason to suppose that its leaders, whatever their faults, are prepared to commit national suicide by launching attacks against far superior powers, including Israel. After all, during the 1991 war, Iraqi leaders never resorted to using the non-conventional weapons which they possessed at the time. More generally, it is not true that governments (democratic or not) will use all weapons at their disposal rather than face defeat. The Soviet Union lost in Afghanistan and even dissolved itself without ever using its huge nuclear arsenal. The same is true for the Apartheid regime, and even the United States, probably the most violent country of all, lost the Vietnam war without using nuclear weapons. The general rule is that governments will use all necessary means to defeat weak enemies and think about retaliation, public opinion or long term consequences when facing stronger ones.
Sensible opposition to war has nothing to do with our opinion as to the nature of the Iraqi regime. The fact of having a regime considered a “democracy” cannot be carte blanche to wage war against any country considered a “dictatorship”. The United States emphasis on this distinction is selective. In the official U.S. view, not only are there good and bad dictatorships, but, even more telling, there are good and bad democracies. Menem’s Argentina was a good democracy because the population was splintered and demoralized, allowing the country’s wealth to be squandered. The Venezuela of Chavez is a bad democracy, since it attempts to husband the nation’s oil resources to improve the lot of the poor. In their eagerness to “defend democracy”, both the United States and the European Union hastened in April 2002 to support the blatant but ephemeral coup d’Ã©tat by the Venezuelan oligarchy against the democratic government of Chavez. The proclaimed desire to bring democracy to the Arab world by getting rid of Saddam Hussein is another masterpiece of hypocrisy. For decades, the United States, Britain and the West in general have favored the most backward autocracies and opposed progressive nationalism in the Arab world. The logic behind this preference has not changed. Any genuinely democratic Arab country would enforce its control over its own resources and would be more anti-Zionist than the current dictatorships and autocracies. Only in that way could it meet the aspirations of its population. One may doubt that this is what the West really wants.
We should distinguish between opposition to war based on practical and short term arguments and opposition based on clear principles. There is nothing principled, on the contrary, in opposing war because it may cost too much, because it may cause casualties to our side (or even to the Iraqis), because it may destabilize the region, in short because it may not work as described by its sponsors. Such “practical” arguments were timidly voiced in mild opposition to the Kosovo and Afghanistan wars. When the triumphant victors were able to point to “success” (real or unreal, and ignoring the collatoral disasters), all the Hitchenses of the world could shout: “See I told you! It wasn’t so hard”, and the case for peace was further weakened. It is almost impossible for a superpower such as the United States to “fail” utterly in a war against an incomparably smaller and weaker adversary such as Yugoslavia, Afghanistan or Iraq. At the very least, it can claim victory over smoldering ruins. At best, in Iraq, the United States may succeed in engineering a putsch or an insurrection supported by a massive blitzkrieg. Again, one must keep in mind all aspects of the relationship of forces. The United States has managed time and again to get its way by force: regime change in Grenada, Nicaragua, Yugoslavia, among the most recent. Each success is an incitement to more.
The peace movement needs a global perspective. For the United States, the Cold War was far from being a simple defensive struggle against communism. It was part of a drive toward “opening” the world to U.S. influence that began well before communism and continues, stronger than ever, after communism. The Cold War was an episode in what can be called the Latin Americanization of the world, that is, the replacement of Europe by the United States as the center of the imperial system and the substitution of neo-colonialism for colonialism. Neo-colonialism allows the traditional pillage and exploitation of Third World resources and labor to continue (with the additional drain of brainpower to make up for the deficiencies in our education system), while allowing a formal political autonomy and as corollary, a relative delegation of tasks of repression. A nice definition of this system was provided by Lord Curzon, who was the British foreign secretary after World War I. In the Middle East, he wanted an “Arab facade ruled and administered under British guidance and controlled by a native Mohammedan and, as far as possible, by an Arab staff . . . There should be no actual incorporation of the conquered territory in the dominions of the conqueror, but the absorption may be veiled by such constitutional fictions as a protectorate, a sphere of influence, a buffer state and so on”.
The U.S.-backed coups overthrowing Arbenz in Guatemala, Mossedegh in Iran, Goulart in Brazil, Allende in Chile, Soekarno in Indonesia and Lumumba in Congo are only the most spectacular incidents alongside a multitude of various pressures as well as the mechanism of debt which have imposed “regime change” and submission on one country after another. In Iraq, the U.S. aim is simply progressing to more unabashed use of force in its campaign to extend this system to every recalcitrant country on earth. The real question is; what will come next? The overthrow of Arbenz and the replacement of Mossadegh by the Shah were not particularly bloody; but the first event was at the root of an extremely bloody civil war in Guatemala and the other led to the overthrow of the Shah by the present rulers of Iran, whose religious fundamentalism is hypocritically denounced by the West. It is doubtful that the rule of Amid Karzai, who needs American bodyguards just to stay alive, will lead to a stable regime in Afghanistan. After the demise of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, the British tried to rule Iraq through an Arab facade and that is exactly what provoked a revolution that led to the present Baath regime. So, the real question for the war party does not deal with the immediate future but rather with their long term plans. How are you going to maintain your rule? Colonialism has been tried and collapsed almost everywhere (the only place where it still exists is in the Occupied Territories, a glittering success). Neo-colonialism is, in human terms, an abysmal failure (see the model-Latin America) and is likely to collapse, for essentially the same reasons that colonialism collapsed. Such collapses tend to be bloody and painful. This is then cited by the ousted rulers to retroactively justify their rule, while in reality it demonstrates the harm done to societies by prolonged exploitation by foreign powers.
The movement against corporate globalization ought to be in theforefront of the opposition to war. The reason is clear: any country that would actually attempt to carry out certain of the measures called for by that movement — such as writing off unfair debt and restoration of important public services — would immediately get the same treatment as Iraq or Yugoslavia. This might start with measures of economic retaliation or political subversion, but when all else fails, war is the trump card held by the dominating power. Only by making war politically impossible will it be possible to build an alternative global system based on justice and equal rights.
It would be a mistake to fail to speak out clearly for fear of being isolated. The United States has never been so strong militarily, but it is rapidly losing any moral or intellectual credibility. The battle of ideas can be won by those who do not hesitate to speak the truth, without concessions to a phantom “public opinion” created by servile media. The objections voiced by many governments to U.S. belligerence are mild indeed compared to the feelings of ordinary citizens all around the world. Even in Europe, U.S. arrogance is arousing strong opposition. In the rest of the world, not only in Arab countries but in Africa, Latin America and Asia, millions of people admire bin Laden today and will hail Saddam Hussein as a hero once he is attacked by the United States solely because they will seem to be the strongest symbols of resistance to the arrogance of power, to oppression and exploitation. The only way that we in the West can overcome such a fruitless polarization is by providing our own clear and radical opposition to our own governments, in terms that can lead to a fresh and honest dialogue with Third World people revolted by the prevailing world system as well as with increasingly alienated immigrant populations in our own countries. The peace movements in the rich countries and the liberation movements in the Third World have been debilitated by twenty years of economic and military violence and by “humanitarian” ideological intimidation. By coming together around shared objectives of peace and justice, both can find a fresh burst of strength and hope to build a genuinely international movement for a better world.
Fyma, 2, Chemin du Cyclotron
B-1348, Louvain la Neuve