Immediately after September 11, the focus of the hunt was Osama bin Laden and the so-called al-Qaida. Bin Laden and his henchmen were supposed to be hiding in Afghanistan, under the protection of the Taliban. The US demanded that the Taliban surrender Bin Laden. When they refused, Afghanistan was bombed. The archaic regime of the Taliban was driven out, and in its place the US installed a new government manned by Afghan expatriates. Afghanistan still lies in rubble, and Bin Laden is nowhere.
Almost overnight the attention shifted to Saddam Hussein and his supposed weapons of mass destruction. Without showing evidence, America linked Saddam to the September 11 terrorists. It raised the specter of Iraqi weapons finding their way into the hands of terrorists. A wave of paranoia swept America. Iraq must be invaded because its leader poses the greatest threat to the security of the American people. America must not wait before it is attacked again; it must take preemptive action to defend itself.
As in Afghanistan, America is passing off the invasion of Iraq as a war to liberate the Iraqi people from their own government’s tyranny. The image of a democratic and modern Iraqi nation freed from the clutches of a demonic president is being promoted to justify an unprovoked war. The US has told Saddam to leave Iraq and go on exile, or face war. Many Iraqis may hate their president, but a puppet regime installed by the US is for them not an option. For more than a decade now, the US has been trying to persuade Iraqis to get rid of their president. Saddam’s power could not have lasted so long if it was based purely on coercion and intimidation.
Mindful of the sovereignty of member nations, the UN Security Council refused to provide a warrant to legitimize a US-led invasion without giving Iraq a chance to declare and destroy the weapons of mass destruction it is accused of possessing. Late last year, the UN deployed an international team of weapons inspectors to ensure and ascertain Iraq’s compliance with the UN resolutions.
The group looking for nuclear weapons is satisfied that Iraq has not reactivated its nuclear weapons program. But the other group searching for biological and chemical weapons has reported inconclusive findings, saying that Iraq has not been very cooperative with the UN inspectors. The US insists that Iraq has failed to account for the biological and nuclear weapons previously spotted by international inspectors soon after the Gulf War. On this basis, it accuses Iraq of ignoring the UN resolutions. Iraq denies having such weapons in the first place.
The majority of the 15-member UN Security Council wants the work of the inspection teams extended. In his recent State-of-the-Union address, however, President George W. Bush emphatically said that he would not allow other nations to direct the course of his nation. He has criticized the UN as a forum for empty debates. This sets the stage for American unilateral action against Iraq. The UN may not sanction the invasion but it is doubtful it will do anything to protect Iraq from the aggression of a lone superpower gone mad.
What is astonishing about all this is not so much the way the US, by its actions, risks destroying the basis of international order, or ignores popular opinion in the world community. What is shocking is the recklessness by which America is conducting itself. Gone is the grace of self-examination by which it initially responded to 9/11. All the goodwill it gained after that event has been eroded by the bullying rhetoric of its president. But more than this, what America is showing the world is a profound indifference to the possible catastrophic consequences of a failure to conclude the war quickly after it is begun.
That Iraq’s ill-equipped forces are no match to America’s war machine is a widely acknowledged fact. Thoughtful observers have however warned that the war could ignite a larger conflagration in the Middle East and elsewhere, which could lead to the overthrow of pro US rulers in the Muslim world. When the BBC and CNN start beaming satellite images of civilians vanishing in the smoke of America’s smart bombs, popular outrage worldwide could be vented against anything symbolic of American power. There is no way to contain a war like this.
When the US launched Desert Storm in 1991, Iraq responded by burning more than half of Kuwait’s oil wells. The fire and smoke from the burning oil wells raged on for weeks. This time, knowing that they are the prime objects of the war, Saddam Hussein may well order the total destruction of its own 1500 oil wells. The environmental and health consequences of this war are too horrific to contemplate.
If the object is to overthrow and replace Saddam Hussein’s regime, America will have no choice but to send its troops into Baghdad, unlike in 1991. If Iraq really owns a stockpile of biological and chemical weapons, nothing will prevent Saddam from using these against America’s soldiers or even against Israel. Sterility, widely feared by the hundreds of thousands of US ground troops now being massed near Iraq, could be the least of their problems once germ warfare is launched. Will America restrain itself and not respond with its own weapons of mass destruction? And will the wind cooperate and not blow the poison and the anthrax spores toward the neighboring states?
Not since Vietnam has a superpower embarked on such a reckless adventure. The Vietnam War was supposed to be a brief war, but it took all of ten years to end it. The world was against it, and America lost it.
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