May 25, 2000

Endless Enemies:
From Kosovo to Iraq

There was something entirely appropriate in the White House’s efforts to pressure human rights organizations to come out in support of Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey. In this era of "humanitarian intervention," human rights outfits and the military-media complex march in lockstep. Last spring during the bombing offensive against Yugoslavia, Human Rights Watch was perpetually on hand – popping up on CNN or releasing statements to the press – justifying NATO’s armed aggression with horror stories of Slobodan Milosevic’s alleged "genocide." What better way to justify the blowing up of buses filled with children than with solemn pronouncements about War Crimes Tribunals in the Hague whose warrants need to be executed? Warrants against Slobodan Milosevic that is, not the NATO bombardiers. To those who felt cheated out of a "ground invasion" last year, General Barry McCaffrey must seem a hero. In 1991 he alone stood up to do in Iraq what the "on to Baghdad" armchair warriors had been baying for. He set out to smash Saddam Hussein’s "war machine." He cut off the retreating army and unleashed massive firepower on a ragtag force of defeated, demoralized Iraqis.

The same crowd who last year were signing petitions pleading with Bill Clinton launch a "ground invasion" were in 1991 fiercely attacking George Bush for ending the so-called "turkey shoot" just two days after the entry of US forces into Kuwait. The United States was allowing Saddam’s military machine to escape! That the Iraqi army ran away as soon as they saw the US forces arrived did nothing to dim the ardor of the armchair warriors. Had George Bush heeded their hysterical advice there would have been many more incidents like the ones Seymour Hersh describes. Waging a war against people who are fleeing for their lives is certainly not the bravest of enterprises and has a tendency of being somewhat bloody. There is a sight even less edifying that that of a conquering army beating the living daylights out of much weaker opponents thanks to its infinitely superior weaponry. And that is the self-righteous zeal by which it justifies every atrocity with tales of "Hitlers" who need to be stopped in their tracks. Imagine the horrors that would have taken place during the seizure and occupation of Baghdad! US forces would still be there today, alternately hoisting into – and kicking out of – power a variety of stooges, sneaks and toadies. In the meantime, Human Rights Watch would be telling us about how dramatically the human rights situation has improved. US AID and the National Endowment for Democracy would be busily funding fraudulent elections in which only pro-American Arabs could take part. George Soros and Rupert Murdoch would take over the media outlets and feed the hapless Iraqis a steady diet of soaps, quiz shows, sport, talk shows…oh and lectures about "democracy."

Yet the brutality of the Gulf War was as nothing compared to the murderous onslaught on Yugoslavia. Lawful force is rarely as lethal as unlawful force. In 1990, unlike last year, the United States had some justification in going to war. The initial act of aggression back then was perpetrated by Iraq. Last year the initial act of aggression was perpetrated by the United States. Whatever one may think of the Al Sabah fiefdom known as the state of Kuwait, it was a sovereign member of the United Nations. It had every right in international law to invoke Article 51 and ask any nation in the world to come to its defense. In addition, the force that the United States used to dislodge the occupying Iraqi army was in accordance with a number of United Nations Security Council Resolutions. Unlike every other Administration since the Second World War, that of George Bush sought and obtained Congressional authorization for US military action. All this, needless to say, served to enrage the warriors at the Wall Street Journal and National Review. They foamed at the mouth at the notion of a United States bound by international law. As they see it, the United States should be able to do whatever it wants to do whenever and wherever it wants to do it, and that’s all there is to it. Nor should any President bother about going to Capitol Hill to seek the support of the "535 Secretaries of State" – to use the cliché of those years. Thus began the "neo-conservative" flirtation with Bill Clinton.

Perhaps it had something to do with the personalities involved, but the ‘neo-conservatives" proved to be an extraordinarily ungrateful lot. For Bill Clinton gave them the US foreign policy of their dreams. Unlike George Bush, Clinton has never bothered with the United Nations. The daily bombing of Iraq that the United States has been carrying out for the better part of the last decade has never been authorized by the United Nations. The sanctions on Iraq remain in place, even though the majority of the UN Security Council wants them gone. Neither the UN Security Council nor Congress ever authorized the aggression against Yugoslavia. Clinton’s world – like theirs – is full of "rogue states" and "falling dominoes."

Yet Clinton’s war and George Bush’s war did have something in common. Both wars served as pretext for the assertion of US imperial power. Iraq had invaded Kuwait. Though there was legal justification for going to war, the fact is we do not go to war every time one country invades another. Even the newly-aggrandized Iraq posed no threat to the United States. Iraq may have posed a threat to Saudi Arabia. But the United States has always been heavily committed to the survival of the Royal House of Saud. It is extremely unlikely that Saddam Hussein would have tried his luck against this US client state. As for Iraq supposedly controlling vast reserves of oil, basic economics would suggest that there was little Iraq could do to affect the price of oil. Since Saddam Hussein badly needed dollars to rebuild his country, it was highly unlikely that he would want to withdraw oil from the world markets. If anything, he would have probably overproduced and thus driven down oil prices. In any case, even if he had withdrawn oil from the world markets, there were enough producers to make up for the shortfall. To be sure, there was always the possibility that the ungrateful Saudis would have teamed up with Iraq to cut back oil production and thus drive up world prices. No doubt it was just this sort of independent policy making on the part of its client states that the United States sought to avert when it launched the war on Iraq. Crushing Iraq would ensure United States dominance in the region for decades to come.

This is why the pre-Gulf War diplomacy was as meaningless as the Rambouillet "talks" – though perhaps not quite so transparently dishonest. Just before the War, there was an opportunity that would have allowed Iraq to withdraw completely from Kuwait without the launch of a single cruise missile. Columnists and editorial writers shrieked that this would be interpreted by the world as a victory by Saddam. It would be a shot in the arm for the ailing Soviet Union. Yet it was obvious that the Iraqis wanted out. Nonetheless, the Bush Administration rejected any possibility of a peaceful resolution that would have denied the United States the opportunity to exert itself. As it turned out, the Gulf War was a huge disappointment. After all the scare stories about Saddam as the latest "Hitler" and his invincible war machine, all we saw was Arab boys running for their lives. A somewhat shocked George Bush put an end to the pointless slaughter.

Text-only printable version of this article

George Szamuely was born in Budapest, Hungary, educated in England, and has worked as an editorial writer for The Times (London), The Spectator (London), and the Times Literary Supplement (London). In America, he has been equally busy: as an associate at the Manhattan Institute, editor at Freedom House, film critic for Insight, research consultant at the Hudson Institute, and as a weekly columnist for the New York Press. Szamuely has contributed to innumerable publications including Commentary, American Spectator, National Review, the Wall Street Journal, National Interest, American Scholar, Orbis, Daily Telegraph, the Times of London, the Sunday Telegraph, and The New Criterion. His exclusive column for appears every Wednesday.

Go to George Szamuely's latest column from the New York Press.

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To the "neo-conservatives" as well as to General Barry McCaffrey, this was a traumatic event. McCaffrey went on to massacre defenseless Iraqis en masse, doubtless to justify to himself the waging of this one-sided non-war. As for the "neo-conservatives," having whipped up hysterical fervor against the supposed determined enemy – the subsequent justification for huge arms expenditures – it seemed we had nothing much more to worry about than a weak, impoverished Third World State. A fervent search for enemies was swiftly undertaken. Happily, within a few months the flak-jacketed, soft-featured Potomac bombardiers were to discover new – and with luck, more formidable – adversaries: Radovan Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic.

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