LONDON: Don’t say they didn’t warn us. Even as debate is raging on both sides of the Atlantic over the threat of war against Iraq, US leaders have already declared their hand. George Bush’s defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, announced that the US could not afford to wait for “additional” evidence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programme before taking action.
That followed national security adviser Condoleezza Rice’s insistence that “we certainly do not have the luxury of doing nothing” about the “powerful moral case” for regime change.
And earlier this month Bush himself boasted he would use all the tools at his disposal to topple this “threat to civilization”, who was “thumbing his nose at the world”.
All three were in conclave in Texas on Wednesday, as US military preparations mount in the Gulf, bombing raids by British and US warplanes on southern Iraq intensify and war fever pushed oil prices over $30 a barrel.
With the failure to capture Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar, the overthrow of Saddam has become the ‘war on terror’. And the US administration shows every sign of pressing ahead in splendid isolation.
First the pretext was Iraq’s non-existent links with Al Qaeda and September 11. Then it was the anthrax attacks in the US, which turned out to be a domestic problem.
Then it was the longrunning dispute over Iraq’s drastically depleted chemical and biological weapons capacity and its resistance to the return of UN weapons inspectors. But now that Saddam has begun to signal a climbdown on inspectors, they seem to be something of a side issue after all. As John Bolton, the US under secretary for arms control, blurted out, the “regime change” policy “will not be altered, whether inspectors go in or not”.
And according to General Wesley Clark, Nato’s commander during the Kosovo war, the Bush administration’s hawks concede in private that Iraq is no threat to the US.
Meanwhile, it is increasingly widely acknowledged that the only circumstances in which Saddam is now likely to pose a threat to his neighbours is, ironically, if he faces es a full-scale American invasion. The implication of all this could not be clearer. The US is committed to overthrowing the Iraqi regime, not because of terrorism or weapons of mass destruction or brutal internal repression, but because it is an obstacle to the imposition of a new pax Americana on the world’s main oil-producing region.
The last-ditch argument by the war party is that a US attack would at least give the Iraqi people what they want. No doubt many Iraqis passionately hope for an end to the rule of Saddam Hussein. But testing Iraqi opinion on the prospect of a new war, or anything else for that matter, is impossible in current circumstances.
What we do know is that the Iraqi opposition itself has become increasingly polarized over the expected US attack. Both main influential Islamist parties are opposed to a US attack, as are the communists — the largest political force in Iraq before Britain and the US helped Saddam’s Ba’ath party to power in the 1960s.
The fact that even those who are directly funded by the CIA and Pentagon — the Iraqi National Congress and Iraqi National Accord — feel obliged to adopt various euphemisms and circumlocutions when expressing support for their paymasters’ plans, suggests that a foreign invasion may not be as popular on the ground as some like to imagine. Given the horrific human toll exacted by more than a decade of sanctions and bombing, that should hardly come as a surprise.
Despite the unease in Washington, the likelihood must nevertheless be that he will do so, with only the timing seriously in question. The administration is now so publicly committed to the destruction of the Iraqi regime that the political damage to Bush could be fatal if Saddam Hussein were still waving his rifle from a Baghdad podium in 2004.
But war on Iraq is not written in the stars. Of course, the government has yet to make a case for war and the battle for public opinion will only begin in earnest when Bush decides to strike.
If and when that happens, expect a string of terrifying revelations of previously unknown Iraqi weapons and real or imagined atrocity stories designed to win over the middle ground. But opponents of this war have already stolen a march on the government and their aim will be to achieve at least some British disengagement from a US attack, by sharply raising the cost to Blair of defying domestic opinion.
Maybe Bush and Blair will get lucky. Perhaps the threat of invasion will trigger the coup that Saddam’s terror has always prevented. Maybe the regime will collapse in good order, with barely a shot fired and general celebrations. But they won’t be counting on any of it.—Dawn/The Guardian News Service.