The threat of war with Iraq

The Hon Mr Pallo Jordan

Paper presented at the Harold Wolpe Memorial Trust forum meeting held on 22 October 2002 in Cape Town



A few caveats

Iraq, like every other member state of the UNO, should and is expected to abide by Security Council resolutions.

Weapons of mass destruction are a curse, and the world would be a better place without them. This applies whether these are in the hands of Iraq, Britain, France, Chain or the USA. South Africa is the only country that possessed these weapons and unilaterally destroyed them!

We as a country and I personally are deeply committed to the struggle to rid the world of international terrorism. But in pursuance of that war there should be no double and triple standards that permit certain countries to set up, train, equip and finance international terrorists groups for use against countries and governments that they have targeted.

The USA is an open society – with freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of information. It’s a country that holds regular elections – which are free and fair most of the time – in a law-governed society with a written constitution. In fact, I dare say I would have been unable to prepare for today’s discussion if this were not so. In that respect the political arrangements in the USA are infinitely better than those in Iraq (and a host of other countries).

Criticism of US foreign policy now or in the future should not be read as support for undemocratic regimes, tyranny or dictators – whoever they might be.

The threatened war against Iraq is but a small facet of what I consider a much bigger problem.

When I read the current debates among US policy makers and the foreign policy community what I detect is the elaboration and the beginnings of the crystallisation of a new US strategic doctrine. I suspect that future historians will have a choice of dubbing it the Bush-Powell Doctrine; or the Bush-Cheney Doctrine; or the Bush-Rice doctrine, depending of which of President Bush’s principal lieutenant’s comes out on top in the intra-administration policy debates which are evidently ensuing in Washington.

A while before 11 September the American historian, Arthur Schlesinger Jr, suggested that despite the “absence of international checks and balances” in the modern unipolar world, the United States would not “stroll too far down the perilous highway to hubris … No one nation is going to be able to assume the role of world arbitrator and policeman.” (Unilateralism in Historic Perspective, Royal Institute of International Affairs, London 2000).

It is parenthetically interesting to note that he was castigating unilateralism. One wonders what his assessment would be today.

It has been suggested that what we are witnessing probably has more to do with internal US politics. Reference has for example been made to the short-lived “republican revolution”, associated with Newt Gingrich. It has also been suggested that since the whites of the South, supplemented by the Christian religious right, now constitute the main electoral support base of the Republican Party, that this extremely jingoistic constituency hankers for the pre-Vietnam days, that pressure from this internal constituency is driving US foreign policy a particular direction.

It is nonetheless true that most Americans support the war against Iraq. A sizeable majority of Americans continues to support a war to oust Saddam Hussein, and most seem to believe the worst about possible links between the Iraqi leader and the Al Qaeda terrorists, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Centre for the People & the Press in collaboration with the Council on Foreign Relations.

The poll was conducted before President Bush’s widely watched Oct 7 television address in which he made his case for military action to the nation. The president’s speech, however, hit many of the themes that seem to resonate strongly with the public as measured by the poll’s results, particularly the president’s discussion of “high-level links” between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and the status of Iraq’s nuclear programme.

An Iraq-Al-Qaeda Connection?

As in previous surveys, a solid majority (62%) of Americans say they support military action to “end Saddam Hussein’s rule”, about the same percentage indicating support for military action last month. The Pew results indicate that the imputation of an Iraq-9/11 link strongly resonates with a majority of Americans, even though most analysts inside and outside governments have disputed the suggestion of a direct link, and have earlier suggestions by administration officials asserting such a link have been muted. Two thirds of those surveyed (66%) say they believe “Saddam Hussein helped the terrorists in the September 11 attacks”.

This might of course reinforce the impression many have of an uninformed US public. But we learn from the media:

Julian Borger in Washington. Wednesday 9 October 2002. The Guardian

President Bush’s case against Saddam Hussein, outlined in a televised address to the nation on Monday night (7/10/02), relied on a slanted and sometimes entirely false reading of the available US intelligence, government officials and analysts claimed yesterday.

Officials in the CIA, FBI and energy department are being put under intense pressure to produce reports which back the administration’s line, the Guardian has learned.

The same media reports go further indicating:

There is also profound scepticism among US intelligence experts about the president’s claim that “Iraq has trained al-Qaida members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases”.

Bob Baer, a former CIA agent who tracked al-Qaida’s rise, said that there were contacts between Osama bin Laden and the Iraqi government in Sudan in the early 1990s and in 1998: “But there is no evidence that a strategic partnership came out of it. I’m unaware of any evidence that a strategic partnership came out of it. I’m unaware of any evidence of Saddam pursuing terrorism against the United States.

In making his case on Monday, Mr Bush made a startling claim that the Iraqi regime was developing drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which would be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.

“We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States”, he warned.

US military experts confirmed that Iraq had been converting eastern European trainer jets, known as L29s, into drones, but said that with a maximum range of a few hundred miles, they were no threat to targets in the US.

Read a little more and we find:

Richard Norton-Taylor, Thursday October 10 2002 The Guardian

Mr Rumsfield claimed last month that American intelligence had “bullet-proof” evidence of links between al-qaida and the Iraqi regime. He later added: “But they’re not photographs, they’re not beyond a reasonable doubt.” This week Mr Bush suggested that al-Qaida leaders were in close contact with Baghdad. British intelligence sources firmly reject such claims.

Asked whether President Saddam had links with al-qaida, one well-placed source replied: “quite the opposite”.

An alliance between al_Qaida and Saddam Hussein makes little sense, say British (intelligence) sources, since Iraq’s secular regime would not appeal to al-Qaida fundamentalists.

Al-Qaida, the sources add, have paid little or no attention to the Palestinian struggle despite attempts by Bush administration officials and Republican politicians to establish a link between Palestinian extremists, al_Qaida and Saddam Hussein.

So if the US public is misinformed that is because it is being misled by its leaders.

But to what purpose, one might well ask: The Guardian gives us a hint: chemical coup d’etat: the US wants to depose the diplomat who could take away its pretext for war with Iraq.

George Monbiot, The Guardian, Tuesday April 16 2002

On Sunday, the US government will launch an international coup. It has been planned for a month. It will be executed quietly, and most of us won’t know what is happening until it’s too late. It is seeking to overthrow 60 year so of multilateralism in favour of a global regime built on force.

The coup begins with its attempt, in five days’ time, to unseat the man in charge of ridding the world of chemical weapons. If it succeeds, this will be the first time that the head of a multilateral agency will have been deposed in this manner. Every other international body will then become vulnerable to attack. The coup will also shut down the peaceful options for dealing with the chemical weapons Iraq may possess, helping to ensure that war then becomes the only means of destroying them.

In January, with no prior warning or explanation, the US state department asked the Brazilian government to recall him, on the grounds that it did not like his “management style”. This request directly contravenes the chemical weapons convention, which states “the director-general … shall not seek or receive instructions from any government”. Brazil refused. In March the US government accused Bustani of “financial mismanagement”, “demoralisation” of his staff, “bias”, and “ill-considered initiatives”. It warned that if he wanted to avoid damage to his reputation, he must resign.

Bustani’s real crimes are contained in the last two charges, of “bias” and “ill-considered initiatives”.

The charge of bias arises precisely because the OPCW is not biased. It has sought to examine facilities in the United States with the same rigour with which it examines facilities anywhere else. But, just like Iraq, the US has refused to accept weapons inspectors from countries it regards as hostile to its interests, and has told those who have been allowed in which parts of a site they may and may not inspect. It has also passed special legislation permitting the president to block unannounced inspections, and banning inspectors from removing samples of its chemicals.

“Ill-considered initiatives” is code for the attempts Bustani has made, in line with his mandate, to persuade Saddam Hussein to sign the chemical weapons convention. If Iraq agrees, it will then be subject to the same inspections – both routine and unannounced – as any other member state (with the exception, of course, of the United states). Bustani has so far been unsuccessful, but only because, he believes, he has not yet received the backing of the UN Security Council, with the result that Saddam Hussein knows he would have little to gain by signing.

Bustani has suggested that if the security council were to support the OPCW’s bid to persuade Iraq to sign, this would provide the US with an alternative to war. It is hard to see why Saddam Hussein would accept weapons inspectors from Unmovic – the organisation backed by the security council – after its predecessor, Unscom, was found to be stuffed with spies planted by the US government. It is much easier to see why he might accept inspectors from an organisation which has remained scrupulously even-handed. Indeed, when UNSCOM was thrown out of Iraq in 1998, the OPCW was allowed in to complete the destruction of the weapons it had found.

Bustani has to go because he has proposed the solution to a problem the US does not want solved.

Thus there are many international commentators who see the US today as bellicose, eager to have a war with Iraq and who view the US’s proposed new UNSC resolutions as the proverbial offer Saddam Hussein will have to refuse.

Thus Martin Woolacott: The Guardian Friday October 4 2002

George Bush is bent on war against Iraq. All the world knows it, from Blackpool to Baghdad, and from Paris to Moscow. That is why the manoeuvring over United Nations resolutions and arms inspections has an unreal quality. It is just possible that UN-approved coercive inspections, of a kind that would so humiliate Saddam Hussein that he might fall without war, can prevent a conflict. But, aside from this thin chance, international diplomacy now is less about preventing war than about preventing an open break between America and Europe and Russia.

The outlines of the new doctrine

  1. The real objective of the administration is regime change in Iraq, not so much to create a democratic Iraq as a compliant Iraq.

The immediate goal is to eliminate Iraq’s WMDs

But reading president Bush’s commencement address at West Point on 1 June 2002: “America has, and intends to keep military strengths beyond challenge, thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace.”

If you misunderstood that, it was clearly spelt out by Colin Powell some two years ago.

“Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from surpassing or equalling the power of the United States.”

  1. The Bush administration has abandoned the strategies of containment and deterrence of a previous era in preference for one of pre-emptive action.

From the evidence of the media and a host of articles in the journals produced by the US foreign policy community there is a debate within the administration itself.

Once can discern the outlines of perhaps three or four positions that will crystallize into policy.

There is a group around vice president Cheney, for whom the most important consideration seems to be unrestricted access to cheap oil, controlled as far as possible at its source. Destruction of the Hussein regime and perhaps even the military occupation of Iraq so that the UD dominates the region militarily seem to be a key objective.

This group seems to be spearheaded by Richard Perle, chairman of the defence Policy Board that advised the secretary of defence, Rumsfield. The views of this group are backed up by a chorus of neo-conservative and even liberal journalists and commentators.

For the first time in decades, the naked display of force is being explicitly advocated in frankly imperialist discourse. There are repeated references to Ancient Rome, to Victorian Britain and other imperial arrangements.

The variation on this theme comes from Ms Condoleza Rice – we saw her piece in one of our weekend papers – “We do not seek to impose democracy on others”. An extremely commendable sentiment.

But a paragraph earlier Ms Rice made reference to celebrations in the streets of Kabul, where US bombs did in fact “impose” (her word) a different system of government on another country.

But more revealing are the motivations for the course of action Ms Rice advocates. “We must”, she writes, “reject the condescending view that freedom will not grow in the soil of the Midle East or that Muslims somehow do not share in the desire to be free.”

Ms Rice continues “We seek only to help create conditions in which people can claim a free future for themselves.”

So there we have it. One school of thought wishes to rearrange and recast the architecture of the post September 11th Middle East by regime change imposed by US arms. The other “seeks to create conditions in which people can claim a free future” – how, exactly, we are not told.

More honestly, Stephen Peter Rosen, writing in the Harvard Review, comments “A political unit that has overwhelming military power, and used that power to influence the internal behaviour of other states, is called an empire. Our goal is not combating a rival, but maintaining our imperial position, and maintaining imperial order.”

  1. These sorts of sentiments have deep roots in the USA’s 20 th century past. One scholar suggested that we have here a blending of Teddy Roosevelt “rough riding’ imperialism with a “big stick” and the visionary ambition of a Woodrow Wilson.

Wilsoniasm, derived from a mixture of genuinely felt concern for the welfare of others, was also characterised by a deep contempt for other cultures and social orders. Witness President Wilson’s own anti-Asia racism. Remember also that it was the President who coined the phrase” “What’s good for General Motors is good for the United States.” People close to the salt cellar in DC these days might revise that to say “What’s good for Exxon is good for the United States”.

But there are other traditions to draw in 20 th century US history. President Roosevelt, this is Frederick Delano Roosevelt, inspired many of the institutions for world peace and invited security that came into being after the Second World War.

The challenge today is to translate his inspiration into contemporary terms. That implies:

       A genuine multilateralism based on recognition of the UNO and all its institutions

       Radical restructuring of the UNO and its agencies to reflect the seismic changes that have taken place in the world since 1945

       Reform of the Belton Woods to reflect the geo-political changes of the last 50 years

       The eradication of poverty and want which are the seed beds of the desperation that finds expression in terrorism,