No. 476



What this war is not about
Friday, January 3, 2003 – Print Edition, Page A13

Four things the coming war against Iraq is not about:

It is not about terror. Proof A: No connection has ever been shown between Iraq and al-Qaeda; in fact, there is long enmity between their leaders. Proof B: U.S. leaders have clearly used Sept. 11 as a pretext to attack Iraq. Bob Woodward says in his new book that Donald Rumsfeld was already calling for Iraq's inclusion in the war on terror on "the day after"; national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told The New Yorker she asked her staff "to think seriously about 'how do you capitalize on these opportunities [my emphasis].' " This is the way that power thinks. Proof C (a deduction, but I find it the most persuasive argument): Attacking Iraq will increase the danger of terror attacks in the future. The misery of Iraqi civilians, especially kids, due to sanctions is already closely watched in the Arab and Muslim world. Casualties from bombing in the "no fly" zones are widely reported, though scarcely noted here. New, far greater death and destruction will raise further anger, and lead to more recruits for terror; it's elementary. Besides, even the CIA says Saddam Hussein is most likely to use biological or chemical weapons once he is attacked and cornered. You don't eradicate terror by creating more of it. Surely the American leadership knows this.

It is not about weapons of mass destruction. Proof A: North Korea, whose nuclear program is far more advanced than Iraq's, and which has the crucial delivery systems. Yet the U.S. has declared it will not attack North Korea. Evidently, having a real and credible WMD program exempts you from American attack. Proof B: Israel, which has had a large nuclear arsenal for 40 years that scares hell out of its neighbours. Security Council Resolution 687, paragraph 14, calls for removing all WMDs from the Mideast. The U.S. has never volunteered to enforce that clause.

It is not about democracy. Proof A: Saddam Hussein, whose tyranny the U.S. supported with military aid, including WMDs, as detailed in Iraq's report to the UN, up to the time at which he defied not his own people but the U.S. Former UN relief co-ordinator Dennis Halliday says that, even after the Persian Gulf war, U.S.-backed sanctions continued to prop up the regime and "weakened the very people who think about democracy" there. Proof B, C, D: Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, where the U.S. has far greater political and economic clout to press for democratic reform but has never done so. Proof E: Iran, which has limited but real democratic processes, and which made the "axis of evil" list nonetheless. Proof F, G: Turkey and Indonesia, Muslim countries with some level of democracy that got there on their own or, in Indonesia's case, despite U.S. support for its dictator. One could go on but one would run out of letters. The general point? Democracy is not something likely to be imposed by an invasion. Isn't that kind of obvious?

It is not about preventing damage to the U.S. economy, as George W. Bush suggested this week. This one defies rebuttal. He posits a nuclear, chemical or biological attack by unproven weapons through non-existent delivery systems, then worries about the effects on the economy rather than on human beings. (People lying in the wreckage screaming, Omigod, I lost my job!) It's the same sensibility he showed in cheerily approving 152 executions during six years as Texas governor.

So what is it about? Hard to choose: oil, domination, revenge, punishing an insubordinate client? Whew. At least we know what it isn't.

Addendum: I'm getting tired of reading in The Globe and Mail that criticizing Israel has become a cloak for anti-Semitism, as charged by Clay Ruby, Jeff Rose and Philip Berger, who call anti-Semitism "a powerful force" in the debate on the Mideast, or even a nuanced observer such as Shira Herzog, who claims that "some critics of Israel conveniently focus on Israeli wrongdoings to mask their blatant anti-Semitism." What I'd like is some specific examples. The former fret over analogies drawn between Israeli policies and apartheid, but those are made mainly by South African Jews who moved to Israel and were disillusioned, or blacks such as Desmond Tutu -- not obvious anti-Semites They refer broadly to chants at rallies or social slights being on the rise. The genuine anti-Semites, meanwhile, don't seem to require any masks or cover. David Ahenakew simply launched a classic anti-Semitic tirade. He included a few swift asides on Israel, but he clearly needed no camouflage. It's possible the process has worked in reverse: i.e., criticism of Israel has made anti-Semites feel freer to speak, but so far I see no problem making distinctions between them and the conscientious opponents of a particular nation's policies.

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