things you thought you could count on: the prevailing westerlies,
temperatures according to the season. Forget it. Washington now
controls the weather. That chill you ve felt in your bones despite
the calendar is a cold wind blowing east to west. It is the breath
of war. It carries the message, "Prepare for war." Yes,
the Bush administration really intends an unprovoked invasion
of Iraq. Yes, our government has actually come to talk openly
of plans for overthrowing foreign governments, and to do so without
stirring immediate public outrage, without sounding alarms in
the media, alarms in the universities. But the fire burns, nonetheless,
with or without the alarms.
years ago, D.H. Lawrence philosophized: "If people lived
without accepting lies, they would ripen like apples," a
metaphor for living full, satisfying lives. Lawrence, of course,
wasn t writing about foreign policy, but about the Victorian values
that still bound English attitudes and behaviors. He saw the ropes
cutting the skin; he saw the blood. Military and foreign policy
planners pushing for an invasion of Iraq are no less aware of
the ropes that bind American minds today, and they are intent
on tightening the bonds.
the devil really is the great deceiver, then the Bush administration
is one of his most fervent disciples. Consider four major lies
of the present public relations campaign. First, the lie of clear
and present danger. Condoleeza Rice told it in typical fairy tale
imagery on August 15th, "If Saddam Hussein is left in power
doing the things he s doing now, he ll wreak havoc again. This
is a threat that will emerge in a very great way. History is littered
with cases where inaction has come back" to haunt people.
The message here is quite clear: "An enormous threat looms
on the horizon. As we go out to meet the challenge, don t hamper
our efforts to disarm it." It is a code language written
in condensed symbols. It is not meant to be considered thoughtfully;
it is meant to evoke an habituated response.
what are the "things" Saddam Hussein is doing, and what
is the "havoc" he wrought and where? Perhaps Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld can shed light on this. He told reporters
recently it was "safe to say" that Iraq has developed
mobile biological weapons laboratories. "They move around
a lot of things to avoid detection or, if not detection, at least
to avoid having them attacked." He gave no evidence of this,
but we are well beyond the point where we hold our policymakers
to proof. What evidence there is actually runs counter to the
argument that the Iraqi government has WMD capabilities. What
we know, according to Scott Ritter, is that UNSCOM destroyed 90%-95%
of Iraq s WMD from 1991-1998. What we know is that the IAEA declared
Iraq free of nuclear weapons programs. UN weapons inspectors left
Iraq in Dec. of 1998, in advance of the furious 4-day bombing
campaign known as Desert Fox. We also know that former Secretary
Of Defense William Cohen said in briefing the incoming Bush administration
on January 10, 2001 "Iraq poses no threat to its neighbors."
We know the Iraqi conventional military capacity is the smallest
in the region. And we know that while it may take only a bathtub
and a chemistry set to create certain biological or chemical agents,
it entails a great deal more than that to arm weaponry with those
agents and deliver them effectively to a target. Instead of threatening
Iraq with a massive military invasion based on the speculation
that it is developing WMD, the Bush administration should be doing
everything in its power to ensure that weapons inspectors return.
This includes negotiating openly in good faith, which brings us
to the second lie.
second lie is two-part, and it runs something like this: a) time
and again in the years after Iraq invaded Kuwait, the US has done
everything it could to negotiate in good faith with Iraq; b) the
Iraqi government cannot be trusted. Isn t this what the sanctions
regime and weapons inspections have been all about, an honest
and painstaking attempt to hold Iraq accountable to reasonable
and essential UN resolutions, for the benefit of humanity? This
is the message, but the reality is something else altogether.
Even a mere glance at the official record shows that the US has
repeatedly blocked efforts by other security council members to
ease or lift the sanctions, efforts aimed at relieving widespread
Iraqi civilian suffering. It was the presence of US spies on the
UN weapons inspection team that contributed to the collapse in
1998 of the weapons inspection process, not long before its likely
completion. And it is the US which violates Iraqi sovereignty
daily by flying war planes over two-thirds of its countryside,
without any legal authority, bombing it frequently, and often
hurting or killing civilians.
is our enemy," we are told repeatedly, understanding without
being told that one does not negotiate with the enemy. Saddam
Hussein, we are told, is merciless, diabolical, a maniacal dictator
who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Over and over we
hear: "Look what he did to his own people! He gassed them!"
Thus sweep dialogue and negotiation off the table. How can you
have dialogue without trust, and who can trust such a villain?
Three years ago, after returning from a trip to Iraq, I spoke
to a group in Healdsburg, California. When I introduced my topic,
a woman in the audience clarified rhetorically "Iraq: that
s enemy territory, isn t it?" She had gotten the message.
On August 23rd, at a weekly curbside vigil where we held a sign
that asked, "Do You Want the US to Attack Iraq?" a 15
year old quipped in response "Yeah, let vengeance have the
day. Get them back for what they did to us!" He d gotten
the message, too.
know how to relate to an enemy: we defend ourselves, and if necessary
we attack. What would we do if we didn t have any enemies? This
is more than a fanciful question, because the "enemy"
we call Saddam Hussein is to an important degree an American creation
not only in the literal sense, that the US helped him into power
and has provided him with military intelligence and weaponry,
but more importantly the popular image of Saddam Hussein as a
"menace," a "bogeyman" has been portrayed
so starkly and held before us so steadfastly that it is fixed
securely in the popular American consciousness.
Saddam Hussein would attack the U.S. if given the chance, however,
is a matter of speculation. What we do know is that he never has.
We also know if we are listening to people like Denis Halliday
and Hans von Sponeck that the Government of Iraq (GOI) has cooperated
fully in the implementation of the Oil-For-Food program this despite
the humiliation of having to ask for permission whenever they
want to buy something, despite the frustration of having to go
through a cumbersome foreign bureaucracy just to spend their own
money, and despite having to pay the salaries and living expenses
of this imposed bureaucracy. They have not redirected funds, they
have not misused goods, and they have not intentionally allowed
humanitarian items to sit, unused, while people suffered. We also
know, if we have read a 1998 UN Food and Agriculture (FAO) report
that the GOI established a national system of food rationing after
the Gulf War. It did so in the face of sudden and catastrophic
food shortages brought on by the international economic embargo.
By doing so, it averted catastrophe for its people. According
to the FAO, "widespread starvation was avoided through an
effective public rationing system, which provided minimum quantities
of food to the population." It was this same system upon
which the UN piggybacked in implementing the Oil-For-Food program.
The UN has used this system as a model for developing countries
in other parts of the world.
of course isn t to suggest that the GOI is blameless or without
responsibility. And certainly the brutal repression of ethnic
minority groups is a state crime, a gross violation of human rights.
What this crime tells us most clearly, however, is that the GOI
is a military dictatorship; it maintains power by silencing opposition.
When threatened, it may react with any violent means at its disposal.
But it doesn t mean in and of itself that the GOI cannot and will
not negotiate in good faith with the US and with the UN Security
anyone in this equation has a right to consider anyone an enemy,
surely the GOI has the right to consider the U.S. its enemy. It
was U.S. military strength after all that devastated the Iraqi
civilian infrastructure in the Gulf War, in what any sane person
can see was a criminal use of overwhelming force. Indeed, war
itself was unnecessary, and might well have been avoided if the
U.S. hadn t thwarted regional diplomatic efforts and ignored Saddam
Hussein s "serious" offer to withdraw peacefully from
Kuwait, facts that were not lost on the Iraqi government at the
time and certainly have not been forgotten.
third lie is that the desire to overthrow the Iraqi regime is
rooted in humanitarian zeal. It is, as George Bush said last week,
"in the interest of the world." The fact that most of
the international community including every Arab nation, Russia,
China, Germany, and France has expressed opposition to such a
move has left him undeterred in his belief. A few weeks ago, Donald
Rumsfeld committed an even grosser misrepresentation when he argued
that toppling the Iraqi regime is in the best interest of the
Iraqi people. "Twelve years ago, Iraqi people were among
the best educated and most highly skilled in the region. Today,
millions of the most educated and skilled Iraqis have left the
country, fleeing this regime." Take out this regime, he said,
and these people will gladly return to play a major role in "rebuilding
Iraq." Another constellation of fairy tale images to feed
the popular imagination: the big friendly woodcutter disposing
of the wolfish tyrant; refugees returning, full of gratitude,
to renew their homeland.
brings us to the fourth lie, the most egregious: the failure to
speak honestly about the likely impact on civilian life of a massive
invasion. What Rumsfeld in his fanciful assertion didn t mention
was the brutal air assault that is likely to precede any ground
invasion, once again no doubt targeting essential civilian infrastructure
such as the electrical grid; the predictably bloody ground war
itself; and the foreign occupation that will follow it. Can we
really bend our minds to believe that this is a necessary first
step in rebuilding Iraq? If the U.S. wants to help Iraq rebuild,
it can start by lifting economic sanctions, and rather than threatening
further damage it can commit sizable donations toward repairing
Iraq s devastated infrastructure. Other countries will surely
follow this lead.
Rumsfeld also seems to have forgotten that Saddam Hussein was
in power 12 years ago when Iraq boasted such a large class of
well-educated, highly-trained citizens. And he is wrong about
the reason for the departure of Iraqi skilled workers and intellectuals,
most of whom fled not the repressive regime but the oppressive
sanctions which have destroyed the Iraqi economy. I doubt they
feel any depth of gratitude to the United States, the architect,
builder, and enforcer of the sanctions. Gratitude is engendered
by free and open relations, fair dealings, and respect. Despite
all that our government has done, it may not yet be too late for
dialogue and negotiation. The Government of Iraq may yet be willing
to give the U.S. another chance.
Smith-Ferri is a member of Voices
in the Wilderness, a campaign to end the war against Iraq.
He is planning to return to Iraq in mid-September.