It is important to remember, as quaint as such concerns might seem in many quarters, that so far Saddam Hussein has failed to give the United States a clear-cut casus belli to justify what is beginning to look like an almost-certain U.S. attack on his regime in Iraq. The last time perhaps encouraged by a wink-and-nod from then U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie Saddam actually invaded neighboring Kuwait. Whether that really justified war or not, at least it was a case of overt aggression against a titular U.S. ally that was a significant source of oil.
U.S. officials, having tried mightily and generally failed to find a direct link between Saddam and the terrorist attacks on 9/11, now hardly talk about any need for justification due to Iraqi aggression. It is virtually commonplace now to note that the Bush administration policy is to seek "regime change" a marvelously flexible formulation in Iraq, and the only question seems to be how it is to be accomplished.
Such a policy, however, is not one that arises from either an attack, a threatened attack or even a clear and present danger of an imminent attack, either on the United States or on any of its titular allies or multifarious "interests" in the region. As National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said as long ago as December at an American Enterprise Institute forum, "We do not need the events of Sept. 11 to tell us that [Saddam] is a very dangerous man who is a threat to his own people, a threat to the region, and a threat to us."
Or, as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said to a town hall meeting with U.S. troops at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, according to Reuters, "It’s too dangerous to wait 10 years for them to hit us. September 11 was nothing compared to what an attack with chemical and biological weapons would be. We have a problem. We’re not going to wait forever to solve it."
Clearly, this kind of attitude is not even that of a peace-loving state facing a danger of attack or disruption and seeking to deal with it preemptively. The desire to attack Iraq and oust Saddam is a mission of imperial maintenance of power against a regime whose very existence is viewed not so much as a threat as an affront.
I’m old enough to remember that in the bad old days before the fall of the Soviet Union, it was precisely that kind of aggressive thinking that most Americans found so obnoxious about the Soviet empire. While it was possible to disagree about motives and methods in individual cases, the Soviets clearly sought to increase their influence around the world and to do so through opportunistic aggression or subversion. Whether they really sought world domination or not, they focused forces on countries or areas where there might be a payoff in increased power, regardless of whether those countries posed an imminent threat to their base in the Soviet Union or not. That drive to enhance power through military activity most Americans found more than offensive.
Now, however, it is the United States in the position of a dominant world power seeking to pick a fight with a smaller country because that country’s leader is offensive. To be sure, Saddam Hussein is offensive in numerous ways. But the desire to take him out is more the result of an imperial mindset than a legitimate fear that he poses more than a long-term, distant threat to the United States. The imperial power seeks mainly to punish dissidents, building up the idea that he poses a threat, but not even making a case that the threat is imminent.
SOME DISAGREEMENT ABOUT MEANS?
Even as U.S. officials seem determined to oust Saddam, there seems to be considerable confusion, within and outside official circles, about just how to accomplish this. Leaking from various sources seems to have increased in the last few days, leading to confusing speculation about just what might happen and when.
Perhaps and again, this might seem quaint in what is increasingly coming to look like a post-democratic country it is time for our leaders to put everything on the table and seek the opinion of the American people.
On Thursday USA Today published a story on Iraqi war plans that led with this: "A full-scale U.S. invasion of Iraq will require significant provocation by Saddam Hussein’s regime such as invading a neighbor, fielding a nuclear weapon or attacking its minority population, top Bush administration officials have concluded."
But Associated Press and United Press International stories the same day stressed different aspects of war planning. The AP story suggested that the United States is considering "marshaling 50,000 troops at the Kuwaiti border in roughly a week" so as to be able to pull a swift, surprise attack on Iraq. The UPI story said that current plans call for a total of 250,000 troops attacking from three directions, with Great Britain expected to supply 25,000 of those troops and significant special forces expertise. Neither spoke of a perceived need for provocation.
OVERSEAS SPECULATION TOO
Then on Friday the London Telegraph ran a story saying British and U.S. agents are already in Iraq trying to foment a coup, although anonymous officials didn’t expect that effort to topple Saddam by itself. The London Times said plans are already underway for British special forces to sabotage Saddam’s chemical weapons and weapons of mass destruction plants "in the planned invasion of Iraq next year."
In what might or might not have been a related story, the Financial Times reported that Britain is pulling most of the 2,400 troops in now has in Kosovo, "fuelling talk it is preparing to provide support to any US military attack against Iraq."
Over the weekend about 70 former Iraqi military officers and perhaps 150 others opposed to Saddam held a meeting in London to discuss ways and means of toppling Saddam. According to the AP, the meeting was coordinated not by the Iraqi National Congress, which has received some $97 million in aid from U.S. taxpayers, but by something called the Iraqi National Coalition Military Alliance. Among the groups represented were the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Iraqi National Accord and the Iraqi National Coalition. Clearly the United States participated in and may have funding the gathering of rag-tag groups.
However, Wafiq al-Sammarrai, a former Iraqi intelligence chief who defected, told a Kuwaiti newspaper Sunday that a large-scale military attack or depending on an internal rebellion would be likely to fail. "Considering wrong options such as in internal revolt or a comprehensive war of liberation is not acceptable at present," he told al-Rai al-Alam newspaper. He prefers a swift coup d’etat. He is said to be close to Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabai.
The fascinating aspect of all this is that the American people are the only ones who do not seem to be fully engaged in the ongoing debate?
It is time to put the matter of ousting Saddam Hussein on the table and engage the public (rather just than a tight coterie of policymakers) in a full discussion leading to a request to Congress for a declaration of war.
Again, to many the idea of a declaration of war is viewed as a quaint anachronism. But a full-scale attack on a sovereign country that has not attacked its neighbors recently or been conclusively linked to the September 11 attacks is different than retaliating against the Taliban or chasing scattered al Qaida fighters. It raises questions that would seem to require public input.
Is evidence of trying to develop certain weapons enough justification for such an attack? What kind of casualties are the American people prepared to tolerate? Does the U.S. seek a military coup or a democratic government in Iraq? Will an attack be followed by occupation? If so, for how long? What if other countries are destabilized?
You would think that these and similar questions should be aired in public, with all sides weighing in, before the administration commits us to a full-scale war with Iraq. But that doesn’t seem to be the imperial way in post-democratic America.
As all this discussion is going on, there are developments in other countries that are likely to be important either in an attack on Iraq or in the ongoing struggle against terrorism. In Turkey, which is providing titular leadership for the international occupation forces in Afghanistan and is generally considered to be the most likely mostly-Muslim country to be a key ally in any effort against Saddam Hussein, there’s something close to a regime crisis underway.
Bulent Ecevit, the 77-year-old premier who has been ill enough to keep him away from day-to-day duties for several months now, has seen at least seven ministers and 37 deputies resign from his party or government and urge him to resign. He refuses, and has brushed off calls from some of his own allies for early elections in November. All this has both the United States and the European Union (which has been considering a membership application from NATO member Turkey) a lot more upset and concerned even than they have been letting on. Paul Wolfowitz visited Turkey on Sunday before flying to Afghanistan, but claimed the visit wasn’t related to the current instability.
This instability does not bode well for a U.S.-led coalition that includes Turkey as a key member. And although most news reports remain mum about the possibility, U.S. planning for an invasion of Iraq about which Turkey has to have mixed feelings considering it includes a sizeable and sometimes restive Kurdish minority the government has fairly systematically mistreated may have done something to precipitate the current crisis. Although U.S. intervention is often done in the name of promoting stability, often enough it leads to instability.
Meanwhile in Pakistan, where four people implicated in the abduction and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl were just convicted, instability is becoming almost endemic. Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf bet his political future on siding with the United States after September 11, and it doesn’t necessarily look like a good bet these days. He still seems to have effective control of the army and the brutal intelligence service (which virtually set the Taliban up in power in Afghanistan back when that seemed to Pakistani operatives like a good idea) but his popular support is shaky at best.
He’s talking about new elections to give him a shred of legitimacy, but he’s working hard to rig them. He’s promulgated rules that forbid former prime ministers who served two terms from running, which eliminates two possibly formidable allies. And last week he saw to it that former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was indicted for corruption in absentia, just to put the icing on the no-strong-challenger cake.
If the conviction of those involved in Daniel Pearl’s death (who may not be the ones who actually wielded the knife that slit his throat) leads to overt or covert intensified Islamist activity or violence, his regime could be on even shakier ground.
So U.S. planning continues even as those we consider our allies and supporters run into serious regime trouble. Maybe we’ve misunderstood U.S. policy. Maybe it isn’t to effect regime-change in Iraq, but to do so in countries that seek to be our allies.