by Edward S. Herman
June 27, 2003
After Munich and the German takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939, Hitler seemed a prospective winner, and this helped him make political gains at the expense of frightened neighboring countries whose leaders didn't want to offend him. He had "momentum," based on his military power, diplomatic and military successes, and the failure of the international community to put up any resistance to his blatant aggression. This failure was the classic case of "appeasement."
But the Iraq invasion and occupation has established a new standard in aggression and its appeasement by the international community. Bush administration officials announced long in advance that they intended to attack and occupy Iraq in violation of the UN Charter, and after a brief and unsuccessful attempt to obtain UN Security Council cover for this aggression, the United States and Britain attacked and conquered the small and virtually disarmed victim without having obtained such sanction.
While there were appeals to Kofi Annan and the UN to do something in advance to halt this openly announced plan to commit aggression, nothing of a preventive nature was even proposed in the UN by its leaders or member states. The UN and member states even helped the aggressors by accepting the U.S. and British claims that Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and alleged foot-dragging in disarming in accord with UN Security Council resolutions was serious business indeed.
The hypocrisy arising from the fact of U.S.-British support for Saddam's acquisition and use of WMD in the 1980s, and the regular U.S. support of Israel's refusal to abide by UN Security Council rulings, was ignored. So a new more rigorous inspections regime was installed to check out Iraq's compliance. With the UN inspectors failing to find WMD and calling for more time-and only dimly recognizing that they were instruments in a charade that would be scrapped if they failed to come up with the right answer-the two aggressors, with their coerced and purchased "coalition," did in fact scrap the legal niceties and attacked.
With this open aggression under way the UN and international community still did nothing. No threats, no sanctions-nothing. In fact, before the aggression was even completed the issue became "how much role will the UN be allowed to play in the occupation and rebuilding of the victim country." There was no question of depriving the aggressors of the right to dominate the conquered country.
As the occupation and pacification of Iraq advanced, it became compellingly evident that the Bush administration and Blair had lied about Iraq's possession of WMD and that their aggression and conquest was built on disinformation. It is also on the record that they used cluster bombs on civilians sites and were lavish in shooting at targets that "might" have been threatening, killing more than 5,000 civilians and a score of thousand Iraqi soldiers, while losing fewer than 200 of their own personnel.
It also turns out that once again, as in Serbia and Afghanistan, the U.S. military deliberately targeted and killed journalists not under their direct control, a further violation of international law. The U.S. military also failed to protect from looters Iraq's great National Museum and library, and all civilian ministries except those concerned with oil and internal security, despite repeated warnings of the looting threat, again in violation of rules-of-war obligations of an occupying authority.
This finding that the war was based on a Big Lie, and that the aggressors had committed further war crimes beyond the basic one of aggression, had absolutely no effect on the UN's or international community's toleration of the invasion/occupation and willingness to allow the criminals to reap the fruits of that aggression.
In startling contrast with the treatment of the U.S.-British aggression, when Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979, responding to genuine attacks on Vietnam border regions by Pol Pot, the United States declared this to be outrageous: an invasion and occupation was unjustified and illegal no matter how serious the provocations. And the UN and international community severely penalized Vietnam and of course refused to recognize the new government of Cambodia installed by the aggressor. Similarly, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was also completely intolerable, justifying a strong UN response and a U.S.-British (and an earlier bullied and purchased "coalition") military assault to forcibly remove the aggressor. The UN, U.S. and international community certainly can't tolerate sanctioning aggression-otherwise the aggressor will come to believe that aggression pays!!!
Uncle Chutzpah and his cheerleaders have been thrilled by the fact that he won big over the demon, and the public has also been duly impressed with the power of Chutzpah's arms. The overwhelming imbalance in military resources of the "allies" and the virtually disarmed demon made no impression on the mainstream; in the world of games, and with juveniles, victory is victory, even one by a super-goliath over a one-armed pygmy. Actually, Vietnam's defeat of Pol Pot was more impressive, as the imbalance of forces, while substantial, was by no means as great as that in the Iraq invasion. But poor Vietnam was a U.S. target, not a client, and its quick ouster of Pol Pot was not seen as a brilliant triumph and constructive action but punishable villainy.
Uncle and his allies, having failed to uncover the WMD, soon retreated to the claim that they were bringing "freedom" to the tyrannized Iraq population. It is unbelievable, however, that the welfare of Iraq's people was even a minimal factor in the "allied" assault. As noted, the U.S. Republican administration, and the British as well, supported Saddam in the 1980s, and British commentators have recently called attention to the fact that in 2001 Blair's Foreign Minister Jack Straw rejected an Iraqi's petition for asylum on the ground that "he could expect to receive a fair trial under an independent and properly constituted judiciary" in Saddam's Iraq!
There is also the fact that in the writings of the Bush administration leadership, in their years out of office, it was geopolitics and control of Middle East oil that bulked large in their explanations of why Saddam must be ousted, not liberty.
Of course it might be true that even if liberty wasn't a Bush-Blair aim it might be a spinoff effect of other objectives. But this is also extremely unlikely if the aim is control of Middle East oil and the maintenance of a "stability" in which Uncle Chutzpah rules. Uncle has already announced that state enterprises are to be privatized and that the oil industry will be in the forefront of this process, to be accomplished before the Iraqis liberated from Saddam are liberated from Uncle. This will require a puppet government and refusal to allow the Shiite majority to rule, or anybody else who will not be amenable.
The United States has a long history of installing and protecting puppets, as with Diem in Vietnam, Trujillo and Balaguer in the Dominican Republic, Somoza in Nicaragua, Mobutu in Zaire, the Shah in Iran, the late Zoran Djindjic and his successors in Serbia, and Karzai in Afghanistan. The Bush leadership is surely planning to do the same in Iraq, and so far the UN and international community have done nothing to interfere.
It should also be noted that when Vietnam ousted Pol Pot in 1979, it removed a government that the world was then proclaiming to be the epitome of evil. Vietnam's sponsored regime that followed was much more benign. But its ousting of an evil government did not alter the international community's response to the invasion. An invasion is an unqualified evil, unless done by Uncle or one of his clients (e.g., Israel's repeated assaults on Lebanon).
The great victory over Iraq has given Bush "momentum" (Financial Times), just as Munich and Czechoslovakia gave Hitler momentum in the late 1930s. This is because in the face of the determined exercise of great power the world's leaders and establishment pundits and moralists feel obliged to be "realistic" and adjust to the world as it is; whereas a Vietnam ousting Pol Pot not only doesn't get "momentum," it gets retribution from the international community. We can extend the old La Fontaine aphorism that "The opinion of the biggest is always the best" to "The opinion of the biggest on who is an aggressor and who is merely bringing civilized values to the barbarians is always best."
With this momentum the Bush administration, still struggling to digest its Iraq conquest, is once again threatening regime change in its other target states. North Korea and Iran may be developing WMD, and Syria may be doing something objectionable as well. Uncle Chutzpah may have the largest WMD arsenal: he may be the only one who has used nuclear weapons and regularly and credibly threatens their use; he may be refining them to make them more "practical" in war-making; he may be openly threatening "preemptive" war against any challenger, to be decided by himself, but the international community still defers to him on the threats that must be confronted.
Obviously, Chutzpah isn't a threat, on the reality principle of who commands the most military power and is therefore judge and jury; clients like Britain and Israel are no threat; but Iran and North Korea are threats and must be dealt with before they obtain weapons that might enable them to defend themselves-oops!, I mean attack their neighbors as they are likely to do as axis of evil members! The international community as a Pooh Bah collective genuflects to this threat agenda, and rushes to help prevent these evil countries from obtaining the weapons reserved for Uncle Chutzpah and his clients.
People on the left should confront this outrageous and immoral "reality" and refuse to accept a murderous aggressor's right to attack and then to plunder the victim of his aggression and to threaten others. Uncle and his poodle should be ousted and forced to pay reparations to the victims, just as he required Iraq to do for its depredations in Kuwait. This double standard is Kafkaesqe and we should hammer home its grotesqueness and the underlying immorality, and resist it or face the threat of more of the same to come.
Edward S. Herman is Professor Emeritus of Finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and a contributor to Z Magazine. He is author of The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Global Capitalism with Robert McChesney (Cassell, 1997), Triumph of the Market: Essays on Economics, Politics, and the Media (South End Press, 1995), and Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media with Noam Chomsky (South End Press, 1988). This article first appeared on ZNET (www.znet.org/weluser.htm).