January 19, 2001

Inaugural Fireworks Over Iraq?

I hate to say I told you soreally I do, especially in this case – but reports are circulating that US military forces in Europe have been placed on alert status "Bravo" – and are about ready to go into action. Target: the Middle East. According to WorldNetDaily, US and British troops are headed to Israel "within a few weeks." WND's anonymous sources reveal that "at 2400 hours European time, Jan. 20," military alert status will be upgraded to "Charlie" – just a grade below red alert. Is it a coincidence that this is Inauguration Day? I don't think so. Here is a portent that goes beyond ominous: it is a clear indication of just what we gotten ourselves into.


Rumors of massive troop movements and the news, whispered in military circles, that Patriot missile batteries are slated to be moved to Israel, would seem to confirm the prediction I made in this space just the other day: that Iraq is the incoming administration's first and foremost candidate for US military intervention. Naturally, the US military is denying everything, but according to WorldNetDaily "the 69th Air Defense Brigade – a two-battalion Patriot missile brigade – is going through the process of deploying overseas, meaning leaving Europe, and they're going to Israel." This inside source goes on to say that

"It seems that the European Command is saying,'Once the 69th is deployed, this will send a signal to all terrorists that the U.S. is definitely taking sides in a fight [in the Middle East] that all sides now admit is a war.'" Furthermore, US troops stationed in Europe and now being deployed to Grafenwoehr, a massive training base in Germany, are "taking with them more than just enough stuff for a weekender. They're taking contamination outfits, protection gear, all of it – lock, stock and barrel."


As Dubya raises his hand to take the oath of office, will a rain of missiles (perhaps loaded with "depleted" uranium) come crashing down on the heads of the Iraqi people? I wouldn't be surprised in the least: it would, after all, be a fitting inaugural backdrop – kind of like a fireworks display – for an administration that telegraphed its intentions well before January 20. And now that he is about to take office, Dubya is hinting heavily that something a bit more definite (and deadly) than "re-energizing sanctions" may be in the works. In an interview with Reuters, he pooh-poohs the idea that countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, both of which agitated for an increase in oil prices, are to blame for America's growing energy crisis – oh no, certainly not. The blame – surprise, surprise! – must all go to Saddam Hussein: "I think it's too complicated to blame our friends. For example, one of the real wild cards in the world today is Saddam Hussein. He controls a lot of the output of oil and he is certainly not our friend. To the extent that prices are unstable, there are some who can affect the price who aren't friends of ours." Iraq, he said, could have a decisive effect on the price of oil, all by itself, by continuing to withhold supplies from the world market. The irony is that Dubya's comments drove up the price of oil more than Saddam could ever hope to on the strength of a single utterance.


During the campaign, Dubya vied with Gore in a contest to prove who would be tougher on Iraq, and it wasn't just bluster. Would the new President use force to "solve" the Iraq question once and for all? Asked this question in an interview with Reuters, Dubya replied: "If he crosses the line, the answer's yes. If we catch him developing weapons of mass destruction, the answer's yes." He's not even the President yet, and already Dubya is drawing a "line in the sand." Can Desert Storm II be far behind? Remember how all those "isolationist" Republicans and their intellectual fellow travelers among the right-wing punditi solemnly assured us that good ol' Dubya would get us out of Kosovo, and concentrate on the domestic economic and cultural issues that require his immediate attention? Yet, already, it seems, buttressed by Team Bush, including such military-corporate heavyweights as Colin Powell and Dick Cheney, he seems intent on following in his father's footsteps, aspiring to be the Foreign Policy President of the new millennium.


Speaking of Team Bush, did anybody notice – during the softball "questioning" of the secretary-of-state designate – how quickly Powell backed away from the Bushian campaign promise to get our troops out of the Balkan quagmire? Check out the transcript of Powell's testimony – a rambling and embarrassingly pretentious riff on everything from the wonders of the Internet to the role of the US as the "motive force" of global "democracy." Whereas once we were told, by Condolezza Rice and a number of well-meaning but self-deluded conservative columnists, that all we had to do was put Dubya in the White House, and Camp Bondsteel would soon be history, now the Republican administration is singing a far different tune. During the Senatorial love-fest staged in place of real confirmation hearings, Powell reiterated the famous "Powell Doctrine" – but leaving out the one key element of it that requires all military interventions be in the national interest. A telling omission. He also testified that "President-elect Bush has promised to look closely at our commitments in the Balkans, with the hope of reducing our troop levels there over time and in consultation with our allies." The word "withdrawal" did not pass the General's lips, not even as a goal to be reached sometime in the far distant future. Instead, in view of Dubya's most recent pronouncement on the subject, the whole campaign promise has been downgraded to a mere "reduction."


How much of a reduction , it seems, is largely, up to our European allies, who were in a panic over Bush's earlier statements and those of his advisors. Doubtless they are reassured that, no matter who sits in the Oval Office, Uncle Sam isn't going to hightail it out of there any time soon. The usefulness of the Balkans, in military and political terms, is too great, and I for one never took seriously the idea that the Republicans would give up Clinton's conquests so easily: especially in view of their special plans for the Middle East. The increasing vulnerability of US forces on the Arabian peninsula, and throughout the region, gives the Balkans a new strategic significance as the closest staging ground for grand-scale military operations in Iraq and environs.


Another fitting memorial to the tenth anniversary of the Gulf war – aside from another Bush beating the tom-toms for war with Iraq and the whole Arab world – is the news that the Kuwaiti "Constitutional Court" refused to even hear a case in which Kuwaiti women were suing to get the right to vote. While Kuwait's 1962 constitution grants equal rights to men and women, a law was enacted the same year barring women from voting or running for office. As American women – officers and soldiers – risk their lives, once again, safeguarding the Emir of Kuwait, let them wonder what kind of "democracy" they are risking their lives for.


This being the special "I-told-you-so" edition of "Behind the Headlines," I really wanted to delve into Balkan developments a bit more deeply, particularly the emergence of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica as a formidable counterpoint to US domination of the region. Alas, my deadline looms, and a few lines of gloating will have to suffice. My prediction that the new Yugoslav President would give no quarter to the NATO-crats turned out to be right on the money: His refusal to even meet with the odious Carla Del Ponte is a sharp and long overdue slap in the face to the "humanitarian" warmongers who launched a murderous assault on his nation. The only possible response is: "Bravo!"


I love how Aleksandar Popovic, the deputy president of Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, put it: according to a Reuters report, he said Ms. Del Ponte "did not have the stature to expect a meeting with the president as a matter of course, according to local media. 'Mr. Kostunica can receive presidents of state, prime ministers and Madame del Ponte is neither one nor the other. She is not even a foreign minister of a country or an ambassador who brings accreditations,' Popovic told B92 radio." That's telling her! Far from being an impractical idealist, a woolly-headed dreamer somewhat distanced from the rough-and-tumble world of political struggle, Kostunica turned out to be a fighter who will not be told whom to meet with, and whom not to meet with, by anyone: not La Del Ponte, not Zoran Djindic, not the US State Department. Here is a man who is virtually a towering figure compared to the pygmies who presently inhabit the world stage, a true patriot who puts the independence of Serbia first. We should have such politicians, if only God were willing.

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