The movement against a US war in Iraq continues to gather momentum worldwide, as the prospect for war itself approaches. BUNN NEGARA considers the developments behind this phenomenon, including some of the reasons why such a war is so unpopular.
THE groundswell of public opinion around the world against a US war in Iraq grows each day as war prospects loom. Popular protest and policy pugnacity are locked into a spiral of mutual enhancement.
Observers in the US itself say that compared to the last great war protest – against the Vietnam War – the sentiment and commitment this time are broader, deeper and better sustained. It is also notable that massive protests this time have emerged even before the “official” outbreak of war, unlike the 1960s and 70s scenario.
In practical terms, this means that popular opposition to the impending war is set to multiply exponentially once the planned devastation of Iraq begins. Since the US was unable to continue with the Vietnam War in the face of massive protests and disillusionment at home, the future of such a war today is doubtful even after it has begun.
The reasons why public protests against the war are stronger now range from the mobilisation of popular dissent through the Internet to the global resonance the protests enjoy, both of which are mutually reinforcing. But what is at least as significant is the convergence of various groups, motivations and interests in blocking a hasty unilateral war.
Pacifists who oppose all wars march alongside multilateralists who demand prior international approval for war. They are joined by anti-imperialists, US “isolationists”, anti-militarists and UN constitutionalists who baulk at a precipitate war.
The Bush-Blair war axis has isolated itself from much of the world, including significant majorities in the US and British populations. Opposition runs the gamut of the political spectrum, while international notables from the pope to Nelson Mandela have spoken out against the war-to-be.
In Britain, the personal rating of pro-war Prime Minister Tony Blair dropped last month to its lowest level in years at minus 20 points. In the US, a poll just three days ago showed that George W. Bush would lose 44-48 to any designated Democratic Party leader if an election were held now.
Part of Bush’s unpopularity comes from a weak US economy. As the economy is set to deteriorate further when war settles in, things are likely to get worse for the Bush team.
But by far the main reason for the massive protests against US belligerence, whether at official UN or street level, is the weakness of its case for war. The best war apologists so far, Blair and Secretary of State Colin Powell, have seen their respective “dossiers” and UN presentations revealed as farce and wither under serious scrutiny.
At first Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was portrayed as an evil and murderous tyrant, essentially a replay of the earlier Bush Sr. administration’s position. This theme continues as a powerful sub-text of the whole play, and few would dispute that Saddam is a less than savoury character.
However, virtually all the known atrocities attributable to Saddam had occurred in the first decade of his rule, when the US and Britain actively armed and supplied him. These Western governments knowingly aided and abetted Saddam throughout the 1980s, making them at least as culpable for his crimes.
Saddam was handy at keeping Iran’s Islamic revolution at bay, even if he felt he had to use poison gas to do it. His secular rule in Iraq also meant putting down unruly Kurds and Shi’ite Muslims, and so Washington and London were happy to accommodate.
These are more than footnotes in history, however. They prompt questions about why the US and Britain are now seeking his ouster – has he simply outlived his usefulness and become too difficult to control, like Panama’s Noriega, Indonesia’s Suharto and countless others in the Third World?
Another rationale offered by the war axis for toppling Saddam is that he had used terrible weapons “against his own people.”
Apart from the dated nature of this allegation, happening at a time when the US and British governments were helping him to do it, the charge itself is technically wrong.
As some American analysts have pointed out, Iraq is an ethnically heterogeneous country in which Saddam’s Sunni Muslims are a minority. The Kurds and Shi’ites he is said to repress are not quite “his own people.”
Next, Saddam is said to harbour terrorists and have ties to al-Qaeda, prime suspects in the Sept 11 terror attacks. The problem is that Saddam’s secular regime and al-Qaeda extremists are incompatible, and no evidence has been found to establish a linkage despite the most extensive intelligence network in the world working overtime.
Rumours last year that an al-Qaeda emissary had met a representative of Baghdad was refuted by the CIA itself. Meanwhile, the world remains unconvinced of yet another allegation.
Saddam is also said to be “seeking to acquire” nuclear weapons, and “may” give (nuclear, biological or chemical) weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. But it is reasonably well established that he neither possesses nuclear weapons nor has he ever felt inclined to give them to terrorist groups he cannot possibly control – although the latest moves by Bush could just push him beyond the edge to do it.
The words “seeking” and “may” are in fact indirect admissions that Saddam does not yet have these weapons. To wage a war destroying a country based on what its leader seeks to do or may possibly do at some point in future is not justifiable for most countries in the world.
A standard rationale for war is that Iraq today represents an imminent threat to the United States. This is a vague and general allegation which ignores the fact that no Iraqi missile can reach beyond the territory of its neighbouring countries, well short of America’s eastern seaboard.
According to US Congressman Ron Paul, Iraq’s military force today is minuscule: its navy and air force effectively non-existent, and its army reduced to a fifth of its original strength. From Unesco, it is learnt that hundreds of Iraqi children are suffering and dying each day from sanctions imposed on the country.
Another charge laid against Iraq is that Saddam is oppressing the people and keeping them in poverty. But compared to most of its feudal neighbours that have long been Western allies, Saddam’s socialist-inspired system has seen better distribution of wealth and afforded more opportunities to women.
However, many of the country’s gains have been lost or curtailed as a consequence of war and sanctions. These limits continue to be imposed long after their initial demand that Iraqi forces quit Kuwait had been met.
After alternating between charges of terrorist complicity and possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Bush last week tried to sell his war against Iraq as a way of bringing freedom and democracy to West Asia. Still, most people in the region might first want the freedom and democracy to decide whether to suffer such a war at all.
Baghdad has also been accused of violating UN resolutions for years. But the world can see that while another country like Israel can violate UN resolutions and get away with it, sometimes even rewarded by its US patron in the process, Iraqis have to suffer and die instead.
Some US diplomats have even argued that Saddam must be punished because he has built lavish palaces for himself. If that is reason enough to wage war on another country, much of the world will be in perpetual conflict.
Other glaring inconsistencies and double-standards remain rampant: Israel along with the United States and its allies can have weapons of mass destruction, but not anyone else they happen to dislike. Smaller countries on the UN Security Council (non-permanent members) are being pressured to agree to war, while others like Turkey, India and the Philippines are offered vast amounts of cash to come along.
The 150-km limit imposed on Iraqi missiles is also to ensure that Israel stays out of range, although six other countries close to Iraq, all Muslim nations, remain vulnerable. The distance limit, which comes to less than 100 miles with a full missile payload and active warhead, would also fall short of US forces stationed in the Gulf once war starts, denying Iraq a defensive missile capability.
A hasty and unilateral war has been condemned by religious and community leaders as unjustified and immoral. On practical grounds, it would also be senseless and irrational.
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