Grasping at Straws
Searching for a War Pretext
by Kim Petersen
March 4, 2003
Judging from the main portion of the history of the world, so far, justice is always in jeopardy.
-- Walt Whitman
It seems the re-escalation of the Persian Gulf War is fast approaching. This is despite the multitudes that hit the world’s streets in a historical outpouring of pro-peace power that probably caused more than a few jitters to the chickenhawks. Iraq is disarming but the US and UK are claiming that it is too late and not enough. They seek a second UN Security Council Resolution as a ruse for war. France remains steadfastly opposed to war at this moment and prepared to wield its veto. In the absence of a second resolution many eyes are watching for an incident – manufactured or otherwise -- that the US and UK will seize as their casus belli.
The US history of aggression reveals a string of contrived pretexts to wage war. The evidence is rife from the time of US expansionism in North America to the consolidation of its world imperialism of today. The litany of phony pretexts ranges from the baiting of the Mexicans into the US-Mexican War to the present re-escalation of the Persian Gulf War. (1)
In 1846 US President Polk ordered the army to exacerbate tensions on the disputed Mexico-US border to provoke an incident. The Mexicans obliged and US retaliation was launched with backing of the press. The US retaliation justified the grabbing of much of, what is now, the southern US.
Cuba lies at the foot of Florida and is definitely within the purview of the Monroe Doctrine. In the late 19th century rebellion was rife in Cuba against Spanish rule and the US saw this as the opportunity to exploit the situation. In 1898, the US battleship Maine was dispatched to Havana to protect American interests. While in harbor the Maine was rocked by a loud explosion and sank. An investigation revealed that the explosion was internal but the press ignored this. After a relentless barrage of reports denouncing the Spanish, the US government declared war. The US booty this time was Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. Filipinos were crushed next by US imperialism.
During WWI the British sought to bring the US into the war. It sent an armament-laden merchant ship, Lusitania, with a complement of passengers – among them Americans - unescorted through waters known to be patrolled by German U-boats. The resultant sinking of the Lusitania presaged the American entry into the war.
During WWII the US instigated provocative measures against the fascist Japanese government. Some researchers claim that President Roosevelt knew of the impending attack on Pearl Harbor but sacrificed it to overcome pacifist American sentiment and lead the US into the war.
Following WWII Korea was divided and the US reinstalled the hated Japanese occupiers in the south as an insensitive first act. Border altercations between the two Koreas ensued and following one incursion the US steered the UN into a war. The war was a stalemate with millions of Koreans having perished.
President Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin lie to garner Congressional support for a Declaration of War on Vietnam is a matter of historical record. Vietnamese peasants courageously held out against the US.
Tiny Grenada was incapable of putting up much resistance to the US invasion, which was deplored by the OAS. Protection of American students was an emphasized but phony pretext.
In Panama, President Bush Sr. authorized Operation Just Cause to seek retribution for a so-called attack on US military personnel in Panama in which one American died. Thousands of Panamanians paid with their lives in this so-called just cause. One is afraid to contemplate how many innocent Iraqis might die if the fate of one unaccounted-for US Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher was used to justify an invasion of Iraq.
The Persian Gulf War
The Persian Gulf War gave the US the opportunity to play the gallant knight in shining armor, saving the beleaguered Kuwaiti sheikhdom by vanquishing the armed hordes of the Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein and thereby ridding the US of Vietnam Syndrome. Fabricated pretexts had entered a new realm. A Kuwaiti girl’s tearful but fake account of Iraqi soldiers ripping babies from incubators had swayed US public and congressional sentiment. Saudi Arabia was drawn into the fray by spurious satellite photos of Iraqi tanks massing at the Saudi border.
A common casus belli of the US is self-defense. Somewhat hysterically the US invoked self-defense against diminutive Nicaragua in the World Court but it was nevertheless found guilty of terrorism.
The US is attempting to invoke this same right of self-defense against Iraq, a nation which has withered under the genocidal UN sanctions for 12 years; a nation which was “fundamentally disarmed” by UNSCOM; a nation still found to be without weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by UNMOVIC. To assert that Iraq in its present deteriorated condition poses a threat to the world superpower is risible. Even previously attacked neighbors, Iran and Kuwait, deny a threat.
A search has been on ever since 9-11 to draw Mr. Hussein’s “long-standing, direct and continuing ties to terrorist networks” to al-Qaeda itself. (2) In this manner Washington has managed to avert public gaze from the failure to attain its main objectives in Afghanistan and fixate the compliant American media on Iraq as the next target in the War on Terrorism. The rumored Prague meeting between al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence figure fizzled out. American intelligence officials have in the main demurred on any al-Qaeda-Iraq connection. The “firsthand informants” of US intelligence have demonstrated to be liars or unreliable. Nonetheless CIA director George Tenet caved in and gave support to Secretary of State Colin Powell and the administration’s supposed Iraq-al-Qaeda link. The souring of CIA morale was palpable. (3)
Mr. Powell even desperately seized on a purported Osama bin Laden tape, on which Mr. Bin Laden decried Mr. Hussein as an apostate, as proof-pudding of a link. Apparently Mr. Powell received a poor translation. Washington has been taciturn since.
The possibility of an Iraqi link to the postal anthrax in the US was a bust.
Despite assertions by the chickenhawks to the contrary the terrorism link is a no-go. Even Mr. Bush Sr.’s National Security advisor General Brent Scowcroft declared that “[Iraq’s] not a terrorist state.” (4) All right, so it is not a War on Terrorism any longer.
International Law and WMD
Well then, there is always upholding international law. Leaving the world’s leading terrorist state, and the only state indicted of terrorism in the World Court, in charge of upholding international law is like letting the fox mind the chicken coop. Among the myriad unheeded UN Security Council Resolutions Mr. Bush selectively focused on the enforcement of Resolution 687: Iraq must be disarmed of all WMD. Mr. Bush argued that Iraq “needs to let inspectors back in.”
Despite Mr. Bush’s being “highly doubtful,” Mr. Saddam did indeed let the inspectors back in. (5) A chagrined Mr. Bush then counted on the discovery of WMD as a trigger but alas no “smoking gun” has so far been found.
The nuclear program is dead but Iraq is always being accused otherwise. IAEA inspectors stated that the aluminum rods were not of the type destined for uranium enrichment. Iraq has never been shown to have enriched uranium. Early attempts to pin Iraq to a massive seizure of enriched uranium in Turkey turned out to have a very short half-life. (6)
Another change in tactics was called for; now Iraq was being called upon to prove a negative. The burden of proof had been shifted from UNMOVIC uncovering WMD to Iraq having to prove they don’t have WMD. Full Iraqi co-operation is demanded.
A latest attempt to find the smoking gun is the three mystery ships traversing the Indian Ocean incommunicado with who knows what potentially deadly cargo. (7)
The Moral Case
Prime Minister Blair, of plagiarized dossier infamy, even tried to push the moral case for war. This from a country who’s previous Prime Minister Churchill had used poison gas against the “uncivilized tribes” of Iraq. (8) British church leaders were quick to counter the moral argument.
Getting a Second UN Security Council Resolution
Despite the futility of US and UK intelligence and weapon inspectors to provide compelling evidence of Iraqi possession of WMD both countries have decided to go for a second UN Security Council Resolution to win over the multitudes of anti-war partisans. France, Germany, Russia, and China call for inspections to continue. The smaller non-permanent Security Council members have experienced great US belligerence to vote as expected. Adding fuel to the fire is a disclosed US National Security Agency plan for a dirty tricks campaign to eavesdrop on diplomatic communications of these nations. (9) A second UN Security Council looks less likely at this juncture.
This poses little difficulty for the Mr. Bush team. After all the sought-after second resolution is a test of the UN. Failure to come up with a second resolution would mean that the UN is not “going to be a body that means what it says?” The preamble to the UN Charter clearly states that the UN is “determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Yet Mr. Bush contends paradoxically that in failing to authorize a US-led war “[t]he United Nations would betray the purpose of its founding, and prove irrelevant to the problems of our time,” and instill “a future of fear” in the US. Mr. Bush intoned: “We refuse to live in fear.” (10) Noam Chomsky commented that Americans have been bludgeoned into a “completely irrational fear” by the “drumbeat of propaganda.” (11)
That this is true is clear from the rhetoric of Mr. Bush, who declaimed that there is “clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” (12)
To inject some democracy into the Middle East is not a bad idea; but not with a blood price of tens of thousands of lives. The egregious US record on democracy is rather telling, having backed numerous authoritarian regimes. Mr. Bush Sr. even had the anti-democratic Sheikh Jabber reinstalled in Kuwait. But the truth is that the US doesn’t want democracy in Iraq as that probably means a Shiite government and reconciliation with Iran, which is quite possibly the next target in the never-ending War on Terrorism.
Yet Mr. Hussein is a menace and according to Mr. Bush he must be replaced. This is the shared view of the Bushes and President Clinton. It is also a view shared by most of the planet, but the US scheme for executing regime change is rejected by the vast majority of people.
The US has a shabby record of waging war, especially against smaller, weaker states on implausible grounds. More often that not war is based on outright fabrications. Dennis Hans systematically chronicled the mendacity of the chickenhawks. (13) Likewise Mr. Blair’s penchant for prevarication has been exposed. (14)
Even without world backing the chickenhawks seem hell-bent on going it alone. The implications are stark. Although the US has a temporary immunity from prosecution by the International Criminal Court, the unprovoked go-it-alone aggression against Iraq could carry future implications for the chickenhawks too. Mohandas Gandhi on the architects of war stated: “What is a war criminal? Was not war itself a crime against God and humanity, and, therefore, were not all those who sanctioned, engineered, and conducted wars, war criminals?”
Kim Petersen is an English teacher living in China. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) Richard Sanders, How to Start a War: The American Use of War Pretext Incidents (1848-1989), Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade, May 2002, http://www.mindfully.org/Reform/2002/How-To-Start-A-WarMay02.htm
(2) Associated Press, Raw Data: Text of Bush Speech, Fox News Channel, Thursday, 6 February 2003, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,77837,00.html
(3) Ray McGovern, CIA Man on the Agency's Days of Shame: George Tenet Caves In, 13 February 2003, CounterPunch, http://www.counterpunch.org/mcgovern02132003.html
(4) Ben Snowden and Laura Hayes, “State-Sponsored Terrorism: Rogue governments that support international terrorism,” http://www.infoplease.com/spot/terrorism4.html#iran
(5) Bill Sammon, Bush demands deadlines for Iraq inspectors, The Washington Times, September 14, 2002, http://www.washtimes.com/national/20020914-23068880.htm
(6) Seva Ulman, Turkey makes huge haul, The Washington Times, 29 September 2002, http://washingtontimes.com/world/default-200292923828.htm
(7) Michael Harrison, Three mystery ships are tracked over suspected 'weapons' cargo, The Independent, 19 February 2003, http://news.independent.co.uk/world/politics/story.jsp?story=379623
(8) Quoted in Noam Chomsky, Deterring Democracy (Noonday Press, 1992).
(9) Martin Bright, Ed Vulliamy, and Peter Beaumont, Revealed: US dirty tricks to win vote on Iraq war, The Observer, Sunday 2 March 2003,
(10) President Bush, Iraq: Denial and Deception, The White House, 7 October 2002, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/10/20021007-8.html
(11) Matthew Tempest, Chomsky On The Anti War Movement: An Interview In The Guardian, The Guardian, 4 February 2003. Available on the ZNet website: http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=15&ItemID=2962
(12) President Bush, Ibid
(13) Dennis Hans, Lying Us Into War: Exposing Bush and His "Techniques of Deceit," Scoop Media, 12 February 2003. Available on the ZNet website: http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=1&ItemID=3024
(14) John Pilger, Blair Hypocrisy, Dissident Voice, 28
February 2003, http://www.dissidentvoice.org/Articles2/Pilger_BlairHypocrisy.htm