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March 30, 2004

Occupational Hazards: Iraq One Year Later


by George Hunsinger

Contrary to President Bush, it is clear that Saddam Hussein posed no "grave and gathering threat" to the U.S. However much a monster he may have been, he possessed no weapons of mass destruction. Due to the severe regime of UN sanctions and weapons investigations, he had long since been effectively defanged.

One year after the US invasion, antiwar critics are gaining in the political arena. "There was no reason for us to become involved in Iraq recently," stated former president Jimmy Carter in an astonishingly sharp rebuke. "That was a war based on lies and misinterpretations from London and Washington, claiming falsely that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, claiming falsely that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction."

Hit by defections from insiders like former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, and the highly vocal admissions of weapons inspector David Kay, the administration began to reel. Appearing on "Face the Nation" (March 14), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, stating he had never claimed Iraq posed an "imminent" nuclear threat, was confronted with one of his clear statements to the contrary. His retort was not reassuring: "Mm-hmm. It my view of of the situation was that he he had we we believe, the best intelligence that we had and other countries had and that that we believed and we still do not know we will know."

Then came the frontal assault by Richard Clarke, former counter-terrorism chief. He hammered away at three main points: that the president ignored dire warnings of the Sept. 11 attack, that he used it as a ruse for invading Iraq, and that the invasion undermined the war on terrorism. Clarke's charges could be confirmed or refuted, in part, by two important developments: (1) making public the contents of the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Brief, and (2) investigating the role played in the run up to war by the Defense Department's ad hoc "Office of Special Plans" (OSP). The August 6 Brief is said to contain direct intelligence of an imminent terrorist attack. The OSP, dubbed "the lie factory" by investigative reporter Robert Dreyfus, is said to be the decisive source of misinformation to the president, his advisors and the public. Though it remains far from clear whether such matters will see the light of day, Clarke might just force them out.

Not all supporters of the war believed it was wise for the administration to rest its case on the premise that Iraq was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor), a well-connected private intelligence firm, was an interesting case in point. Although Stratfor had no problems with what it openly acknowledged was "deception," it worried that the deception might backfire (January 2003). It saw Iraq as a "strategic prize" well worth the risk of manipulating America and its allies into a "pre-emptive" war. As far as Stratfor was concerned (June 2003), "WMD was always a side issue." It saw Washington's goal as "the occupation of Iraq." "US domination of the Middle East," so greatly to be wished, would then result. Democracy was as much a "side issue" in Iraq as WMD. For Stratfor, occupation and domination were the goals.

When one considers how the US now plans to establish permanent military bases in Iraq, Stratfor's view of the invasion does not seem far-fetched. Fourteen new "enduring bases," as they are called, are now in the works. A senior British source conceded recently (March 10) that even after the occupation ends, all military forces in Iraq will remain under the US control. According to neoconservative strategist Robert Kagan, the US will maintain "a major concentration of forces . . . over a long period of time." "If we have a force in Iraq," he explained, "there will be no disruption of oil supplies."

Speaking in a television interview long before the invasion (August 3, 2002), syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer took much the same line. "If we win the war," he noted, "we are in control of Iraq, it is the single largest source of oil in the world, it's got huge reserves, which have been suppressed because of Iraq's actions, and Saddam's. We will have a bonanza, a financial one, at the other end, if the war is successful." "We don't speak about exit strategies," he continued. "This is not Bosnia, or Haiti, or the Balkans. This is very important, everybody understands it, we are not going to run away."

Neoconservative authorities like Stratfor, Kagan, and Krauthammer thus confirm what has long been suspected by critics. "Controlling Iraq is about oil as power, rather than oil as fuel," contends dissident military expert, Michael T. Klare. "Control over the Persian Gulf translates into control over Europe, Japan, and China. It's having our hand on the spigot." Such thoughts may not yet be acceptable to the US mainstream. But throughout the rest of the world, they are widespread.

Meanwhile time is running out. The interim constitution does nothing to stop the rising ethnic and religious tensions. The Kurds want autonomy, the Shi'ites want domination, the Sunnis want security, and they are all reaching for their guns. The Bush administration shows no sign of handing Iraq over to the UN, with a resolution that would end the occupation and establish a truly multinational peacekeeping force. Nor is it prepared to bring pressure to bear on Israel for a just settlement with the Palestinians, absolutely the most important move it could make toward regional peace. Instead it enrages the Arab world yet again by vetoing the UN condemnation of Israel's assassination of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed. The black hole of an Iraqi civil war looms large on the horizon. The immense hazards of the occupation go unacknowledged, as the world slips ever closer to the flash point than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Adequate words are lacking to describe the mendacity of the current administration and the folly of its "preemptive" war. Judged by just-war standards, it has waged war on Iraq without just cause, without legitimate authority, without right intention, without due regard for civilians, and without reasonable chance of success. It is hubris that will come to grief, one that threatens to engulf the entire world.


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George Hunsinger teaches at Princeton Theological Seminary. He once worked on the staff of the Riverside Church Disarmanent Program in NYC.

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