Bush's War on Iraq for Dummies
Once again, in need of help to sort through all the Iraq flak and confusion, I consult the oracle of that great publishing franchise that helps explain complicated matters in terms simple enough for even ordinary types like me.
Q. I don't get it. Just about everyone in the world -- including even his father's famous brain trust -- thinks that Bush attacking Iraq, with no provocation, is a terrible idea and will harm America's national interests. But Mr. Bush and his advisors don't seem to give a fig and bluster right on, convinced they're doing the right thing. Please explain.
A. Nothing is ever simple in politics. There are the things that are revealed, usually for a reason, and there is the stuff taking place behind the scenes, the subtext, as it were.
Here, the visible reasons have to do with the fact that Saddam Hussein, in truth, is a very bad, dangerous man. Once he gets his hands on nuclear weaponry, to go along with his biological and chemical agents, he might well gain control of that region of the world, and thoroughly upset the status quo, which would be unbearable for Iraq's neighbors and for the U.S. So, the reasoning goes, better to take him out now, before he starts his mischief.
The subtext: Bush see that the U.S.ofA. is the world's only superpower and thus has a window of opportunity to do what it wants, take what it wants, while the doing and taking are good. In short, to remake the world in America's image, to structure a new world order that, in all things that matter, does America's bidding. By taking out Saddam, the word goes out: Don't mess with us, ever; if you do, you can expect the same treatment. Thus, if this theory of bullyish behavior is right, after some initial chaos, things will settle back into a fairly stable, America-friendly operational mode: oil will remain safely in Western hands, and reasonably affordable; many nationalist rebellions will be put down as "terrorist" threats; the capitalist market will romp supreme.
Q. What if this theory is wrong? What if people don't especially want to be ruled by America and follow all its dictates? What if they want to choose another path?
A. They can follow whatever path they want. As long as it does not threaten American economic or military dominance. In other words, as in any empire's far-flung holdings, they have a bit of wiggle room, but not much.
Q. This new Bush doctrine basically seems to be saying that whenever you think another country is going to harm your interests, it's OK pre-emptively to invade them or assassinate their leaders -- in other words, do unto others before they even think about doing unto you. Couldn't this lead to all sorts of bad consequences?
A. Yes, there is that likely free-for-all around the globe. The Russians just smash the Chechnians under the "anti-terrorist" justification, and the U.S. has to remain silent. Sharon claims Arafat is thinking about getting ready to assassinate Israeli leaders, and takes out the Palestinian chairman. China says that Taiwan is considering declaring its independence, and the attack is on. You can see how this ball can roll. But, in the end, for the sake of international stability, The Enforcer will tend to intervene to settle such disputes. Guess who that Enforcer will be: the one great power all others must take into consideration when contemplating action, at least for the next decade or two. (All this suggests a much more militarist society in the U.S., to support such worldwide responsibilities.)
Q. Let's get back to Iraq for a moment. You skimmed over the obvious reasons for Bush attacking that country. Does Saddam have these horrible weapons at his disposal? Is he going to use them, either on his neighbors or on the U.S. and its one coalition partner (Great Britain)?
A. Saddam has lots of stuff hidden. He could have used his stockpiles of nerve gas and toxins during the last Persian Gulf War, but he was warned that if he did, he'd bring total disaster on himself and his regime. He chose not to use them, he chose to survive. But now he's told from the outset that it isn't just the weapons the U.S. is after but his head. If he can't wiggle out of the vise this time, he may well feel, since he'll be going down anyway, that he might as well use his weapons, taking as many Americans, Brits and, by long distance, Israelis with him. He might even be willing (if he hasn't already done so) to hand over toxic weaponry to al-Qaida operatives, for delivery in the U.S. and Israel.
Q. I keep hearing Bush say that Saddam is only six months away from having nuclear capability, and that there are documents to prove it.
A. Certainly, it's clear that Saddam long has been interested in achieving nuclear capability. But Bush based its flimsy six-months theory on a supposed study done by the International Atomic Energy Agency a few years ago. The problem is that no such study exists. When informed of this minor impediment, the Bush spokesmen said he really was referring to a 1991 United Nations study. Same problem: There is no such study.
Q. But now the U.N. might send its inspectors back in to locate all this dread stuff. Wouldn't that take care of the situation?
A. Even if these first-time-out inspectors found something in the limited time that will be available to them -- Saddam has had four years to secrete the weapons, stashed far underground in out-of-the-way locations, and much is hidden away in presidential palaces, off-limits to inspectors -- Bush has made it clear that the inspection regime is just a fig-leaf, something he has to pay lip-service to, to show that he went that extra diplomatic mile. Bush won't let any findings dissuade him one way or another. The softening-up bombing for his attack already has begun, and the major war moves will come probably within a few months, if not sooner. Actually, though, Bush is hoping for another solution.
Q. You mean there's a non-violent way to solve this situation?
A. We wouldn't go that far, but it's at least different from full-scale invasion. Bush are hoping that by being so very obvious and threatening about what's about to go down in Iraq, some officer or other will put a bullet in Saddam's brain, and thus lead the way for a diplomatic settlement, with another Iraqi government coming to power, one more amenable to U.S. demands. The only problem with this scenario is that it's delusional.
Saddam runs one of the more tyrannical, murderous, totalitarian regimes on the planet; no anti-regime officer has been able to get near the guy for decades, as he continually wipes out any officer corps about which he has even the whiff of suspicion. Nope, to get Saddam, the U.S. is going to have to go in there and fight street by street, house by house, to find him. It's going to be a bloody mess, and probably entail hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops, many of them remaining there for a long time. The "collateral damage" to innocent civilians will be enormous, and the American troops coming home in body bags likewise, some due probably to toxic overexposure.
On the other hand, it is possible, if not likely, that once the U.S. troops enter Baghdad and start the Saddam-hunt, some military faction may see the handwriting on the wall and decide to give away the location of their leader. But counting on that to happen early might be a big mistake.
Q. What about the famed "Arab street"? Won't there be an upheaval in reaction to the U.S. unprovokingly attacking another Islamic country?
A. There may well be and America's sometime-allies in the region -- Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, et al. -- could have their "moderate" governments overthrown by Islamicist extremists. But the U.S. doesn't seem to care. If it has to, it'll take on those bad guys if and when the time comes. But invasion doesn't always have to happen in the Giant Elephant scenario: the huge beast roars and everyone backs away so as not to enrage it further. They've seen what kind of rampage the Elephant is capable of, and choose to live to fight another day.
Q. Why the rush to invade? Iraq is not threatening the U.S. or even its immediate neighbors. Am I missing something?
A. Bush are terrified of getting bogged down by traditional international diplomacy. They just want to get in there and do the deed, and to hell with everyone else. Plus, if they wait much longer than a few months from now, the weather will be too hot for the heavy anti-toxicity suits the U.S. troops will have to wear. Plus, Bush have put their macho believability on the line; they're trying to box everyone into the fait accompli corner. If they postpone much longer, or even are forced to back away from the attack, they will look like wusses -- in short, they will remind everyone of Poppy, who didn't finish the job the first time.
Q. Are you saying the attack is a done deal, that there's nothing the American people -- or those opposed abroad -- can do to impede the war machine?
A. The Democrats in Congress don't seem to have the desire to stand up to Bush before the November election and risk looking wimpy or "unpatriotic." (There are a few with wisdom and courage, such as that old Constitutionalist Robert Byrd -- and Al Gore made a dynamite speech -- but they are few and far between.) There isn't yet a truly effective and widespread "peace movement" in the streets, analagous to the millions who opposed the Vietnam War in demonstrations. The recalcitrant allies in Europe and elsewhere are basically toothless when it comes to making their opposition hurt the U.S.
What is possible is that by ratcheting up the opposition, here and abroad, Bush will be boxed into a political corner that reveals even more clearly their disdain for the American populace. When the war comes and goes sour, there may be grounds for, and an organizational structure in place to demand, a heavy electoral price in 2004 for such imperial folly, maybe even a move toward impeachment.
Q. You've used the "i" word before. Are you for reals?
A. There are so many serious scandals involving the Bush administration that have disappeared from the front pages because of the Iraq focus -- any one of those would be enough to get the impeachment ball rolling. But, when you add the Iraq war to it, the willingness to put in harm's way young American troops in a pre-emptive strike on the flimsiest of surmises, there's even more impeachment-ammunition. (If, by some chance, the Dems can take over the House and hold onto the Senate in next month's election, you'll begin to see more courage flowing into their veins and the beginning of meaningful investigations.)
Q. You aren't painting a very rosy picture here. You're saying there's not much we ordinary American citizens can do to stop the coming war with Iraq, nor much our skeptical allies can do abroad. But, regardless, we shouldn't stop trying: if we don't get Bush now, we'll set the stage for getting him later.
A. In broad outline, that's about where we are now. This arrogant, anti-democratic, anti-Constitutional bully of an administration is not going to change its course until absolutely forced to. Citizen agitation is part of that process of forcing them to. It won't be easy and it may not come as quickly as we would like -- though, if the election results in November are favorable, it will begin to generate a growing momentum.
But we are building the foundation for removal from office of these dangerous bullyboys, and more and more citizens (even a lot from the conservative side) are beginning to come around. We WILL get rid of these guys. Don't lose the faith, eyes on the prize, a better day is coming, organize, organize, organize.
# # #
- Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., also authored " 'The War on Terrorism' for Dummies," "The Middle East for Dummies," "The Intifadeh & Israel for Dummies" and "The Bush 9/11 Scandal for Dummies." He has taught at various universities and was with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 20 years.