AMERICAN war drums are beating for the impending destruction of Iraq. US military units from infantrymen to B-1 bombers have been mobilised from last month, and Britain on Tuesday called up 1,500 reservists for the Gulf.
American and British officials have also been touring this region to solicit support for the war. On Wednesday, US Under-Secretary of State (Arms Control and International Security) John Bolton visited Malaysia, followed by British Secretary of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) Jack Straw on Friday.
War is seldom taken lightly by any country’s government, and Asians are wary of toppling a foreign government anywhere. Just last week the Philippines, long a US military ally, dismissed the US call as mere speculation.
Bolton said Malaysia was in “complete agreement” with the United States that Iraq must comply with UN resolutions, when the question was really about whether Malaysia would endorse a war against Iraq.
In Jakarta, Straw was told to lay off Iraq, as Britain is once again reduced to a US accessory.
It’s a tough job selling an unpopular war, and nobody should have to do it. There is popular opposition to war around the world, including the United States itself.
Disagreement exists even within senior ranks of the Republican Party. For example, Brent Scowcroft, National Security Adviser in the first Bush administration, does not consider chemical weapons to be “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD).
Scowcroft is also among those who want the United States to work through the United Nations rather than going it alone or with a few allies.
Meanwhile, UN arms inspectors continue to search in vain for Iraqi WMD, supporting former weapons inspector Scott Ritter’s testimony that Iraq no longer has such weapons.
Of all the wars ever imagined, this one appears to have the least possible justification. Muslim-majority countries like Malaysia and Indonesia would make prized allies, but the current outing by Bolton and Straw, like door-to-door salesmen on a regional hard-sell, is unlikely to see many takers.
Policy minds in Washington remain closed to the prospect of Iraq being innocent of the charges. Commentators like Harley Sorensen, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, reviewed Bush war plans and discovered that US forces will invade Iraq regardless of what happened.
US officials last year tried to make UN arms inspections so demanding as to provoke their rejection by Iraq, justifying a US attack, but Iraq turned the tables by admitting the inspectors.
Then Washington pressured team leader Hans Blix to kidnap Iraqi scientists, which Blix firmly refused.
These hiccups for Bush have forced his administration into some amazing turns of logic.
For example, the US is insisting that Saddam must prove he does not possess WMD by showing he has them, otherwise he would be presumed to have them.
In Kuala Lumpur, Bolton said highly sophisticated US surveillance systems incorporating spy satellites could pin-point Iraqi arms sites, and that the information had been passed to the UN inspectors.
He, however, stopped short of explaining why, if these sites existed, the inspectors have not found them.
The anti-war arguments of experts like Scott Ritter, a specialist in detecting and disabling WMD, have been ridiculed in Washington but never seriously disputed. In turn, the pro-war arguments reveal their own inadequacy.
Last year, Washington tried to link Iraq with al-Qaeda in hopes of justifying a war against Baghdad. With analysts and even the CIA saying no such link existed, the accusation against Iraq turned to its alleged possession of WMD.
In his Kuala Lumpur stopover, Bolton said because Iraq contravened UN resolutions, action had to be taken.
However, this does not explain why action had to be war, why the United States rather than the United Nations should be acting, and why countries like Israel that also broke UN resolutions should be excused.
It was also said that the war against Iraq would not detract from the one against terrorism, since such campaigns could not be separated.
This is the talk of the ideologist rather than the strategist, the rhetorician rather than the tactician, in ignoring priorities and the optimal allocation of war resources.
Another argument-as-justification was that since the Afghan war has made life better there, with the introduction of elections, the same should happen in Iraq.
However, Afghanistan is still very unsettled, things may not be better for many people, it is presumptuous to think that war did them a favour, and the situation could be much worse in Iraq.
Above all, bringing democracy to Afghanistan was not a reason to bomb it.
If the tragedy of Sept 11 had not happened, the Taliban and al-Qaeda would still be ensconced there, the happy recipients of years of US support, just like Saddam Hussein when he committed his worst crimes.
Saddam is also accused of not declaring his WMD stocks, and it was said that 12 years is a long time for a superpower to have to wait.
However, US and British attacks on Iraq have not stopped for 12 years, with frequent bombings, strafing, crippling sanctions and a “no fly zone” imposed against UN norms.
In trying to explain away the softer US approach to North Korea, despite a diplomat’s private admission that Pyongyang is more advanced in its nuclear capability, Bolton avoided mention that Iraq sits near Israel and possesses vast reserves of oil – quite unlike North Korea.
He said North Korea was “different” because other countries were trying to mediate there.
However, it is doubtful if any country or even the United Nations would be allowed to mediate in Iraq and spoil the chances of war, since the UN has effectively been shunted aside and its functions usurped.
Bolton argued that the UN is no better than the US in dealing with Iraq. But for a senior official to ignore the difference between an internationally acceptable UN action and a unilateral, self-serving US move is quite telling.
In 1992 during the first Bush presidency, a secret document outlining US war plans around the world for extending US hegemony was produced.
When news of it leaked out, it was so controversial that Bush Sr hastily distanced himself from it.
Bolton also pooh-poohed the idea that a US plan existed to invade Iraq even before the current Bush presidency.
However, the record shows that the 1992 draft led to a detailed study by a right-wing Republican group, Project for a New American Century (PNAC), leaked to a Scottish newspaper last September.
The PNAC study, Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Focus and Resources for a New Century sees permanent US military bases worldwide, including South-East Asia and Iraq.
The study was completed in September 2000, months before Bush was declared the incoming president.
Several of the 27 persons who produced the PNAC study are major beneficiaries of the oil and armaments industries, and even of Enron. At least six of the 27 now occupy senior positions in the Bush government.
A central PNAC objective is promoting US power around the world to keep Europe in sync, Japan in tow, and a new China (hungry for oil to fuel its industries) incapacitated.
Most of the PNAC recommendations are said to be already Bush administration policy or are in the pipeline.
Some PNAC members produced the book Present Dangers, advocating US military action in countries even where no threat exists, to seize the moment for global dominance before any power can emerge to achieve parity or balance.
The book was condemned even by Republicans like Prof Walter McDougall, who said such plans would only alienate allies, confirm the rhetoric of enemies and create new enemies.
But a leading PNAC member, Donald Kagan, is a Yale academic who says Washington should act like the cowboy Gary Cooper in the movie High Noon.
He traces the most serious US problems to disruption of its oil supplies, so Washington must act to control oil sources in the Gulf.
Kagan accepts the terrible deaths and destruction from wars that the plan would require, but argues that these are acceptable costs for US global domination.
Another member of the PNAC who is now in government is John Bolton.
In the 1990s, George Bush Sr advocated a powerful “New World Order.” What is more apparent now, however, is an overpowering new world odour.
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