Pre-Emption, Disarmament Or Regime Change?
Part II
Holger Jensen
Independent Foreign Affairs Analyst
October 7, 2002


So if pre-emption is unacceptable even to Washington’s staunchest allies, how about disarmament?

Administration officials point out that post-Gulf War resolutions required Saddam to get rid of all weapons of mass destruction, but U.N. weapons inspectors could not complete their mission – they were pulled out shortly before U.S. air strikes in 1998 because of Saddam’s failure to cooperate – so military action is justified to force Saddam’s compliance.

Disarmament is quite acceptable, even desirable, to the international community, Arabs included, but only under U.N. auspices with a resumption of inspections to find out what remains of Saddam’s arsenal and verify its destruction. Most foreign governments do not want the United States to be the sole arbiter of whether Saddam is complying.

Saddam has, in fact, agreed to a return of weapons inspectors under the terms of existing U.N. resolutions and offered them unfettered access to all suspected arms plants and storage facilities except his eight palace compounds. The agreement, hammered out between Blix and Iraqi officials in Vienna, called for an advance party of inspectors to arrive in Iraq within two weeks.

But this was unacceptable to the Bush administration, which says the inspectors cannot return until they are empowered by a tougher U.N resolution that calls for the use of force if Saddam is uncooperative.

The U.S. draft, backed by Britain but vigorously opposed by France, Russia and China – the three other council members with veto power – gives Iraq 30 days "prior to the beginning of inspections" to provide "an acceptable and currently accurate" declaration of all aspects of its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Any "false statements or omissions" would constitute a further "material breach" of its obligations and allow a U.N. member to use "all necessary means" against Baghdad – a diplomatic euphemism for military action.

Most Security Council members fear that allowing the United States to decide if Saddam is cooperating – when Rumsfeld has already characterized his promise to do so as "patently false" – is merely a cover for unilateral U.S. action without further U.N. authorization.

"Attempts to make the U.N. Security Council subscribe to automatic use of force against Iraq are unacceptable for us," said Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov.

But Bush has declared his intention to act with or without the Security Council’s blessing. "The choice is up to the United Nations to show its resolve," he said. "The choice is up to Saddam Hussein to fulfill his word and if neither of them acts, the United States in deliberate fashion will lead a coalition to take away the world’s worst weapons from one of the world’s worst leaders."

That may boil down to a coalition of three – the United States, Britain and Israel. And, for all his brave talk, U.S. lawmakers are equally leery of giving the president open-ended authority to wage war or to act unilaterally without the backing of the United Nations.

A House resolution sent to the International Relations Committee authorizes Bush to "use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines necessary and appropriate in order to 1) defend the national security interests of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq and 2) to enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq." It also requires Bush to certify to Congress that diplomatic and other peaceful means alone will not work.

In the words of House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, the resolution requires Bush to deal with Iraq "diplomatically if we can, militarily if we must."

A rival Senate resolution is even more restrictive, allowing Bush to use force only to make Iraq disarm, without mentioning White House charges that Saddam suppresses his own people, supports terrorism and threatens its neighbors.

Bush says he doesn’t want "a resolution that ties my hands." But the Senate says it won’t act on any resolution authorizing use of force without more information from the CIA about the justification for an attack and its consequences.

The Cost

Those consequences could be devastating in terms of worldwide opprobrium, foreign policy setbacks around the globe, increased terrorism, a spike in oil prices leading to certain recession and other economic fallout at a time when we can least afford it.

Last year’s terrorist attacks hammered the airline industry, national business confidence and New York City. They cost nearly $100 billion in the destruction they wrought, mainly to the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. And they prompted more than a quarter trillion dollars in new defense and security spending – that on top of an absurd farm aid bill that gives new meaning to the term "pork barrel politics" and a $1.35 trillion tax cut that totally squandered the healthy fiscal surplus Bush inherited from President Clinton.

Fighting a full-scale war with Iraq would cost up to $9 billion a month, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. It has estimated that deploying U.S. forces to the Persian Gulf would cost up to $13 billion, and bringing them home about $7 billion. That’s just combat troops; the monthly cost of a postwar peacekeeping force – excluding humanitarian aid, reconstruction and the dismantling of weapons of mass destruction – would be $1 billion to $4 billion.

While acknowledging that "this debate should not be driven by how much it will cost U.S. taxpayers," Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said it was important to keep in mind that three months of combat with a heavy ground force and a five-year occupation by a large U.S. force could cost more than $272 billion.

The recent surge in violence in post-Taliban Afghanistan has served as a sobering illustration of potential chaos around the corner in Iraq. And most analysts believe Bush has yet to grasp the enormity of what lies ahead in the ethnic and religious rivalries of a post-Saddam Iraq. He has, for example, offered no concrete vision for the day after the end of Saddam. Nor has he addressed the conflicting interests of Iraq’s neighbors, some of whom are our close allies and principal oil providers.

The near-assassination of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a deadly car bomb in Kabul showed what can go wrong even when most of the world is behind an effort to take a country apart and put it back together.

To win a war in Iraq, analysts say, the administration must get over its allergy to nation-building and steel itself for a long haul in a country where the Shi’ite majority is bitter at Sunni domination and independence-minded Kurds in the north want to carve out their own nation.

Bush will have to win over an impoverished population that has suffered sanctions first imposed under his father. He will also need to ease widespread skepticism of the U.S. commitment among domestic critics of Saddam, whose bid to overthrow the Iraqi leader after the Gulf War collapsed when the United States withdrew support.

The Iraqi opposition, recently rehabilitated in Washington after years of being dismissed as squabbling mismanagers of U.S. funds, remains divided, totally inept and without widespread support inside Iraq. Some of its leaders are accused torturers and war criminals, former cronies of Saddam and not, to put it mildly, democratically inclined.

If Afghanistan is a litmus test, Iraq looks near the end of the scale of nation-building challenges. Vast swathes of Afghanistan are still left uncovered by an international peacekeeping force that has failed so far even to bring order to the capital, Kabul.

This despite overwhelming international moral and actual support for the U.S. war in Afghanistan – support that is distinctly lacking for a war in Iraq.

To much of the outside world, Bush’s inaugural promise of a "humble" foreign policy has turned out to be one big lie. They see him as trying to make the United States the world’s policeman, using the war on terrorism to forge a new foreign policy based on unilaterlalism, military power, first strike nuclear capability and an obsessive protection of American interests.

European allies fault Bush for his initial show of disinterest, or unwillingness to become involved in Mideast peacemaking, which allowed the Israeli-Palestinian crisis to explode from a small brush fire to a raging conflagration. They also object to his tearing up of international treaties; setting back the cause of moderates in Iran with a comic-book invocation of "evil"; and putting forward a potentially dangerous new first-use nuclear doctrine.

On his contempt for treaties, two American groups, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy agree that Bush has sent Washington on "a slide away from rule of law toward the rule of power."

Treaties he has violated, torn up or reneged on include the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Kyoto treaty on global warming, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological Weapons Convention, the International Criminal Court and the treaty banning antipersonnel land mines.

A 188-page study by the two groups determined that the United States "not only refuses to participate in newly created international legal mechanisms, it fails to live up to obligations undertaken in treaties that it has ratified." It charged the Bush administration with "drifting away from regarding treaties as an essential element in global security to a more opportunistic stand of abiding by treaties only when it is convenient."

Resentful of what they regard as U.S. bullying, other nations are quietly taking out their frustrations on other aspects of the Bush agenda.

Saudi Arabia turned aside U.S.-backed suggestions that the market should set the price of oil. European nations, annoyed by tax breaks given to U.S. corporations overseas, threatened to impose $4 billion in sanctions on American products.

Brazil, which flatly said it would not back unilateral U.S. action in Iraq, upped its steel exports to offset high U.S. tariffs imposed by Bush. And no major European allies have signed onto a U.S. request that they shield Americans from the new war crimes tribunal.

To keep Americans out of the clutches of the ICC, the United States threatened to end U.N. peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and other hot spots, then launched an effort to strike independent agreements with nations. So far, agreements have been reached with 12 countries including a reluctant European Union. But 79 nations have ratified the treaty that created the court, including key NATO allies.

Mideast Fallout

Arab states whose support would be crucial to building a new Iraq are opposed outright. And they may show their displeasure by flexing their oil weapon.

Last year according to the US Energy Information Administration, 59 percent of our oil was imported. Less than half of crude oil imports (48 percent) came from the Western Hemisphere – 19 percent Venezuela, 15 percent Mexico, 14 percent Canada – and 30 percent came from the Persian Gulf – 18 percent Saudi Arabia, 9 percent Iraq and 3 percent Kuwait.

Yes Virginia, Iraq. Despite sanctions Iraq is allowed to sell oil under a U.N.-administed oil-for-food program and we’ve been buying it, in effect bankrolling the enemy we’re about to go to war with. The rest of our imported oil comes from Africa, Russia and Central Asia.

The Bush administration is trying to double our imports of oil from Russia, Central Asia and Nigeria to lessen our dependence on Mideast oil but that is only a short-range solution. The fact is that our oil imports are climbing, our production is dropping, despite temporary relief provided by Alaska’s North Slope, and our dependence on imported oil is growing.

Oil imports have doubled since the mid-1980s. We’re currently using 12 million barrels a day and that’s expected to double over the next 10 years, according to the most reliable forecasts. The Middle East is the only region that can meet this growing thirst for oil. It has two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves – estimates range from 66 to 77 percent – while the United States only has 2 percent and Russia about 5.

The rest of the world’s oil reserves – 16 to 28 percent depending on which estimates one believes – are shared between Venezuela, Nigeria, Canada, Mexico, Central Asia and Southeast Asia.

The other advantage the Middle East has is that the cost of finding and developing oil there is less than $1 a barrel – sometimes only 10 to 20 cents – compared to a per barrel cost of $5 to $8 in other parts of the world, including the United States. In other words, it’s cheaper to import Arab oil than to develop oil fields elsewhere, and much of that elsewhere has only limited reserves that will run out long before Arab reserves.

So, short of developing alternative energy sources, we’re stuck with our dependence on Arab oil for the forseeable future.

Over the past three decades, our dependence on all oil imports has cost us about $7 trillion. Right now we’re sending about a quarter million dollars overseas daily to buy oil, basically transferring our wealth to the owners of foreign oil – and we’re extremely vulnerable to price spikes.

There have been three major price spikes in recent history – a tripling of oil prices after the Arab-Israeli war of 1973 (which was a direct result of our pro-Israel foreign policy), another doubling of oil prices in 1979-80, due to cuts in Iraqi and Iranian production, and a short doubling of oil prices in 1990, just before the Gulf War.

Each of those price spikes caused a recession in the United States, the last one thankfully short because the Saudis bailed us out by increasing production and lowering prices again.

If the Arabs cut production to protest an invasion of Iraq, you can be damn sure we’ll see another price spike – without another bailout by the Saudis. Even if they don’t, economists warn that a successful war against Iraq with no serious political consequences would likely raise the price of oil from its current $30 a barrel to at least $40 a barrel.

Higher oil prices reduce our economic output, cost jobs and weaken our economy by forcing us to send our wealth overseas again – basically enriching countries that have become very hostile to our foreign adventures. It will, in the words of some economists, be "The Mother of all Recessions."

Then there’s the cost in American lives. As retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni points out, there’s "a hell of a good reason why generals are cautious ... When politicians make mistakes, soldiers pay for those mistakes with their blood."

Zinni is one of many military men urging caution on Iraq, saying unilateral action could damage American interests worldwide, destabilize Arab regimes once friendly to us and provide a dangerous digression from the war on terrorism which could, in fact, spawn more terrorism.

In his words, "Always shoot the wolf on the sled first. We’ve got enough wolves on the sled to shoot; let’s not be popping some off in the woodline if we don’t need to, unless we’re absolutely sure it’s necessary."

Israel is a wild card in all this. Arabs have long been asking us why we expect Iraq to comply with U.N. resolutions when Israel has been flouting them for 35 years without us doing anything about it.

If Israel sits out this second Gulf War, like it did the first, we may get away with it. But if Israel responds to an Iraqi missile attack and becomes an "active" U.S. ally in the war, or if Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon uses it as an excuse to get rid of the "Palestinian problem," we’ll suddenly find ourselves with a lot more Arab enemies – and terrorists – than we ever imagined.

Sen. Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said if the Israelis became involved "it becomes an Arab-Israeli war." No Muslim nation, including such critical allies as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, could then support the U.S. effort against Iraq, even behind the scenes, and "you would find probably every embassy in the Middle East burned to the ground."

Sen. Richard Shelby, ranking Republican on the Senate intelligence committee, said any retaliation by the Israelis could mean "a widespread war in the Middle East. And we’d be perceived as fighting side-by-side with the Israelis against all the Arab interests, and the war could spread."

One joke currently making the rounds in the Middle East: Why did it take so long for Bush to prepare his Middle East policy speech in June? Because, Arabs jest, it had to be translated from Hebrew. It reflects how people in the region, from officials to ordinary folk, perceive – and resent – U.S. policy.

Arab anger is rising over a U.S. "war on terrorism" that appears to give Israel a free hand to crush a Palestinian uprising, while targeting Iraq and demonising Muslims and Arabs. From Beirut to Baghdad, many Arabs see themselves as victims of a U.S.-Israeli alliance and U.S. aid to Arab governments such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia is seen, at street level, as more a cause for shame than gratitude.

Palestinians also fear that Sharon will use the Iraq war as an excuse to implement "transfer" – a euphemism for mass expulsion of all Palestinians who are not willing to live under Israeli occupation.

"All the signs indicate that Sharon’s mind is set on exploiting the preparations for war on Iraq to destroy the Palestinian Authority and the peace process," senior negotiator Saeb Erekat recently told Reuters. "I’m afraid that once war breaks out Sharon may...even go further by trying to transfer Palestinians outside the West Bank and Jerusalem and Gaza Strip."

As evidence of this, Palestinians point to the acceleration of Jewish settlement building in the occupied territories and Sharon’s appointment of a Cabinet minister who openly advocates "transfer."

Effie Eitam, who now heads the National Infrastructure Ministry, responsible for overseeing Jewish settlement in the West Bank and Gaza, says Palestinians who would not agree to live under Israeli occupation without a state, without a government and without an army should be forced to go to neighboring Jordan, which he believes should become the Palestinian state.

Sharon himself once espoused the "Jordan is Palestine" solution but claims to have moderated his views – a claim some Israelis find suspect.

Last month, 99 Israeli academics published a letter in the Guardian newspaper of Britain saying they were "deeply worried by indications that the ‘fog of war’ could be exploited by the Israeli government to take further action against the Palestinian people, up to full-fledged ethnic cleansing.

"The Israeli ruling coalition includes parties that promote transfer of the Palestinian population as a solution to what they call ‘the demographic problem.’ We call upon the international community to pay close attention to events that unfold within Israel and in the occupied territories, to make it absolutely clear that crimes against humanity will not be tolerated, and to take concrete measures to prevent such crimes from taking place."

Bush’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, at least symbolically, has not helped matters. It stirred widespread rage in the Arab world and reinforced the impression that Israel is, in the words of one Syrian official, "America’s spoiled brat."

Part I – Part II – Part III

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