The U.S. government has a history of lying to elicit support for war. The 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, fabricated by the Johnson Administration, led to wider war in Vietnam and the deaths of millions of Vietnamese and tens of thousands of Americans. In 1983 the Reagan Administration falsely alleged construction of a military airstrip on the island of Grenada to justify war against that tiny Caribbean nation. In the 1980s, intelligence photos of a Soviet ship bound for Nicaragua, said to be transporting MIG fighter aircraft, were used to coerce Congressional funding of the Contra terrorist war against that tiny impoverished country. There were no MIGs on that ship. George Bush, Sr. used bogus reconnaissance photos to falsely claim a huge Iraqi troop buildup on the Saudi border. This, together with staged Congressional testimony by a "witness" falsely accusing Iraqi soldiers of removing babies from their incubators and allowing them to die, persuaded Congress to narrowly authorize the Gulf War. That 1991 war left hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead and over 160,000 American veterans disabled.
It is in the context of this history of deceit in the promotion of war that Colin Powell's recent presentation to the UN Security Council must be viewed. The Bush administration wants a war with Iraq and has used all the tried and tested techniques of fear-mongering, distortion and lies. Since they tried to blame Iraq for the anthrax letters in Washington, D.C., and with increasing intensity after the "Axis of Evil" State of the Union address of a year ago, we have heard endless saber rattling and vilification of Iraq. Vietnam, Grenada and Nicaragua never posed a threat. The big lie now is that Iraq, impoverished, infrastructure in shambles, militarily weak, largely disarmed, trade sanctioned, subject to intense reconnaissance, surveillance and inspection, bombed weekly by U.S. and British warplanes, is a threat to the United States of America!
We have heard regularly that Bush or Powell or Blair would soon lay out irrefutable evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and is a threat to the world worthy of war. While playing relentlessly on public fears after 9/11, they have always failed to produce any substantive evidence to back their claims. Powell has done no better at the UN. After a year of employing vast U.S. intelligence resources, not one verifiable item has been produced to convince the world that Iraq has a significant nuclear, chemical or biological weapons program, delivery systems for such weapons, intent to use them or is an imminent threat to any nation. Unauthenticated audio tapes, video graphics and reconnaissance photos, information from "sources" and "detainees", provided by a government which has concocted such "evidence" before, is no justification for war. Any real evidence Powell has should be given to the UNMOVIC inspectors, who are trained and equipped to find weapons, are authorized to destroy them and have unprecedented access to all of Iraq. Through 1998, UN inspectors were able to find and destroy most of Iraq's prohibited weapons, though operating under a weaker mandate and with less Iraqi cooperation than at present. Let the inspectors do their work! War is unnecessary even if Powell's allegations were true. Chief weapons inspectors Blix and ElBaradei are reporting progress and the French and Germans have a proposal for greatly expanding the number of inspectors.
The secretary of state tried again, and failed, to link Iraq to terrorism, though it has not been implicated in such acts since the Gulf War, Iraqis had nothing to do with 9/11 and US intelligence agencies still believe that Iraqi links with al-Qaeda are virtually nonexistent. Powell claimed "decades" of contact between Saddam and al-Qaeda, though al-Qaeda has only existed for five years and Bin Laden and his ilk were aligned with and often paid by the CIA in the past. An Islamist group Powell mentioned actually operates in a now autonomous region of northern Iraq which is under the control of a Kurdish provisional government aligned with the U.S., out of the control of the Iraq government. In reality, the secular Iraqi government and Islamic fundamentalists have always been mutual enemies. A recent tape, purported to be of Bin Laden, gives no support to Saddam and illustrates that al-Qaeda and Iraq are at odds, with Bin Laden committed to conflict with the US, while the Baghdad regime tries to avoid war.
Polling has shown that a large majority of Americans mistakenly believe that many or all of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqis, though none were. Powell has actively played upon this misconception and public fear to shamelessly promote war which would result in human catastrophe. The UN estimates that a war could cause 500,000 Iraqi dead and wounded and millions of refugees! An unknown number of Americans would also die.
Powell's case is met with skepticism worldwide. Iraq has shown no hostile intent toward any nation in 12 years. An overwhelming majority of public opinion in the Middle East, across Europe and around the world opposes a war. The US is bringing its enormous economic, political and military power to bear around the world to buy or coerce support from governments whose people want peace. Turks oppose an attack on their neighbor to the south by nearly 90 percent, but billions in U.S. loans and other assistance to the ailing economy are used as bribes. Such basic subversion of democracy and disdain for the will of the people are part of U.S. policy around the globe. If Tony Blair were up for election today, he would be thrown out of office by the three quarters of the British public who want peace.
If the US insists on war, hatred for the US will increase, along with the threat of terrorism, as much of the world perceives America as the bully beating up on a weaker adversary to get something it wants: control of oil. The US may spend hundreds of billions of dollars on destroying and occupying Iraq. American families will pay the bill, while class sizes in public schools will increase, college tuition skyrocket, health care will become less available and affordable, antiquated transportation infrastructure will deteriorate and environmental quality will degrade. But Bush cronies in the oil and arms industries will prosper, because ultimately the war will not be about national security, weapons of mass destruction or any threat posed by puny Iraq, however oppressive its dictatorship may be. It will be about money and power.
Retired Marine Major General Smedley Butler, twice winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, wrote that we should ask three questions concerning impending war: Who is going to pay? Who is going to die? Who is going to profit? All Americans should ask and answer these questions now. Then we must insist that this war be stopped before it starts and work to abolish war as an instrument of international policy.
(Fisk is a Fort Ripley resident and a member of the Brainerd Area Coalition for Peace.)
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