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Talking Points on the US-Iraq Crisis

A pamphlet of the Institute for Policy Studies, January 2003: http://www.ips-dc.org/iraq/primer.htm

Understanding the US-Iraq Crisis

A Primer

“Despite the very dangerous troop build-up in the region, we still have the capacity to stop this war.”

—Phyllis Bennis

Summary: The current crisis between the US and Iraq continues more than a decade of antagonism between Washington and Baghdad, involving three US administrations. To truly understand why we stand now at the brink of war, however, one must look closely at the goals of the current Bush administration, which is drawn to conflict by Iraq’s massive oil reserves and the goal of expanding US military power around the world.

The Iraqi government’s record is undeniably brutal, and the US and its allies should never have facilitated its access to weapons of mass destruction, as they did during the decade of the close US-Iraqi alliance in the 1980s. However, there is no evidence that Iraq currently has viable weapons of mass destruction, or that it presents an imminent threat to the United States.

Nor, despite Bush administration claims, is there any link between Iraq and the events of September 11. A US war against Iraq would violate international law and worsen our global reputation as an arrogant, unaccountable superpower. The effects would be particularly dire in the Middle East, where many governments hang in the balance between increasingly outraged populations and the demands of Washington, on whom they rely for economic and military support. A war would cause great suffering within Iraq, already devastated by the 1991 war and years of crippling economic sanctions, and would put many others at risk, including tens of thousands of American troops.

A forward-looking United States would work through the United Nations to promote disarmament, human rights, and democracy at home and throughout the region, and pursue domestic energy policies that reduce our dependence on oil and thus our interventions in the Persian Gulf region and elsewhere.

[For more on the pamphlet, contact Dorian Lipscombe at 202-234-9382 or dorian@ips-dc.org]

War is not inevitable

Despite the very dangerous troop build-up in the region, we still have the capacity to stop this war. The inspectors still have found no evidence of any weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq. Even with access to some of Washington’s intelligence, supposedly proving the presence of WMD programs, inspectors have not found any evidence of a viable WMD program. (The dozen or so empty shell casings found may represent a technical violation, but they are NOT evidence of any viable chemical weapons program.) The US still refuses to simply turn over ALL the intelligence information it claims it has to the UN.

The discovery of a dozen, and then four more, empty warhead shells is one more piece of evidence that inspections are working. According to the spokesman for Hans Blix, the inspectors had known about the existence and location of the weapons storage depot where they were found “for years,” and it was only a matter of when they got there to inspect it. If the Iraqis were trying to hide those weapons, he asked, “why would they be so silly” as to put them in a place well-known to the UN team?

Iraq is still cooperating with the UN inspectors. On January 17 and 20, the Iraqis agreed to provide additional information as requested by the inspectors, and to encourage private interviews with scientists.

Domestic opposition is on the rise. The weekend [January 18–19, 2003] demonstrations were the largest in Washington and San Francisco since Vietnam, and were matched by more all across the country. Black community opposition, already high, rose in anger towards Bush’s Martin Luther King birthday announcement of new opposition to affirmative action. Church opposition is rising, with church leaders not only preaching against the war but also leading marches against the White House. Republicans are abandoning Bush’s war, as per the full-page Wall Street Journal ad from major Republican donors stating they supported the Gulf War, they supported the war in Afghanistan, but they don’t support this war: “We feel betrayed. We want our money back. We want our country back.”

Already low international support for a US war is dropping even further. There is a major divide between the international objective of disarming Iraq of WMDs, and the US’s objective of forcible overthrow of the Iraqi government. France, the current Security Council president [January 2003], issued a major challenge to the US’s war drive by convening a meeting of foreign ministers on 20 January to discuss the “war on terrorism” and using it as a forum for French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin to announce that “today nothing justifies envisaging military action.” Germany’s foreign minister said war in Iraq would spawn more terrorist acts and have “disastrous consequences for long-term regional stability.” Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov said, “we must be careful not to take unilateral steps that might threaten the unity of the entire [anti-] terrorism coalition. In this context we are strictly in favor of a political settlement of the situation revolving around Iraq.” At the Council meeting Powell was forced to abandon his prepared text to plead instead with Council members that they “must not shrink” from their obligations, which he implied included war.

France and Russia (as well as China, which also opposed war at the meeting) both hold veto power; Germany does not, but will hold the influential Council presidency in February. It is possible that aside from the veto threat the US will be unable to get the necessary 9 positive Council votes supporting a war. There could be as many as seven abstentions (possibly including France, Russia, China, Angola, Chile, Germany, Pakistan, Cameroon, Guinea).

Their isolation has pushed the Bush administration onto the defensive. They are now discussing war by a “coalition of the willing,” indicating some recognition that they have no real international support, and that a UN endorsement may be out of reach. A US-led alliance would NOT be a coalition of the willing; it would be a coalition of the coerced and the criminal, as it would violate the UN Charter’s very narrow conditions for a legal war.

The new high-profile consideration of exile and amnesty for Saddam Hussein indicates an interest among at least some Bush officials in finding a face-saving way of declaring victory without war. Background: exile in any of the Arab countries is doubtful. The Iraqi leadership is unlikely to believe any Arab regime could guarantee their safety, and no Arab regime (all of whom already face serious crises of legitimacy and stability) is likely to risk a resurgent Saddam Hussein trying to launch a come-back from its territory. The parallel Russian initiative also now underway may have a better chance of success. (A Russian deputy foreign minister is now on the ground in Baghdad.) Exile in Russia might be more acceptable to Saddam Hussein regarding security because it would involve a more direct US involvement, but would be less desirable because of distance and lack of contact with the Arab world.

Considerations: Exile would presumably include guarantees of immunity from war crimes prosecution. This would fly in the face of the demands of Iraqi exiles and likely many Iraqis inside the country, as well as challenging the last several years’ advances towards universal jurisdiction and accountability for war crimes. One consideration might be that the international war crimes justice system is still only partial. One result is that leaders of powerful countries which back cruel dictators consistently remain immune from such international accountability. Therefore one could argue that until US officials who either backed Saddam Hussein’s government during Baghdad’s worst human rights violations or committed their own massive human rights violations (bombings and murderous economic sanctions) against the Iraqi people, are placed in the dock with Saddam Hussein, it is an acceptable compromise to allow the Iraqi dictator amnesty.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, or other appropriate UN agencies, should be urged to consider investigating and issuing pre-emptive warnings about potential violations of the Geneva Conventions, other human rights instruments, or the UN Charter itself, that may be committed in the course of a preventive war in Iraq. The model could be that of Israel’s Gush Shalom [Peace Bloc] which routinely distributes warnings to soldiers being deployed in the occupied territories advising them that carrying out illegal orders they may receive could make them liable to war crimes charges either in Israel or in the International Criminal Court.

UN humanitarian agencies recently said that 500,000 Iraqis would be injured in the early stage of a US war, that up to 9.5 million Iraqis would immediately become dependent on aid agencies for basic food. UN planning anticipates providing emergency food only to about half of those in need—up to 4.5 million people; of those in need of food, the UN estimates that about 3 million will face “dire malnutrition.” Less than half the population would retain access to clean water. The UN describes a US war in Iraq resulting in a crippled nation with shattered infrastructure, an electricity grid badly damaged, and facing major damage to the oil industry, with overall civilian damage anticipated at levels far beyond that of the 1991 Gulf War.

Even if evidence of a WMD program is found, there is no basis for war. We cannot accept the legitimacy of killing potentially hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to prevent a speculative future threat. We reject going to war on speculations.

US Military Spending And the Cost of Invading Iraq

The Bush administration’s defense spending next year will be $394 billion. The United States already has the most powerful military on earth and now spends as much on defense as the next 15 big defense-spending nations combined. Russia, China and “Rogue” states spend $60, $42, and $15 billion for military, respectively. The US military spending is about eight-times that of education or health care spending and twenty-times that of training, employment and social services spending.

In the same budget, with such huge military spending that is already $100 billion higher than Bill Clinton’s final year, one will notice the following program cuts that relate to poverty and hunger in America:

36,000 seniors will be cut-off of meal programs

532,000 families will be cut-off of heating assistance

8,000 homeless kids will be cut-off of education programs

50,000 kids will be cut-off of after school programs

33,000 kids will be cut-off of child care

The most important sections of the mainstream media in the USA continue to carry out psychological warfare against the citizens of the USA in order to mobilize them to support the military invasion of Iraq at a time when millions want jobs, heat, affordable housing and medicine, healthcare, and decent education. According to military and economic experts, the invasion of Iraq will likely cost as much as $200 billion, which has to be paid by the American people. $200 billion is:

Six-times what federal government spends on K-12 education. Enough to provide health care to all uninsured children in the US for ten years. More than eight-times the total international affairs budget.

Perhaps the biggest cost of invading Iraq will be the tens- if not hundreds-of-thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians who will lose their lives to massive bombardments and military invasion and occupation of their cities and homes. In addition, rebuilding of Iraq is likely to cost another $50 billion and would require significant material and personnel resources. Just the security forces alone would entail 75,000 personnel in the first year amounting to about $16.5 billion. At least 5,000–10,000 troops would have to remain in place for five-ten years, costing $1–$2 billion a year. Beyond security, the US would be expected to make a significant contribution for humanitarian and emergency aid, a transitional administration, civil service and other components of reconstruction. These non-security costs would amount to $15–$25 billion over the next decade.

At a time of economic recession and when 35 states face severe economic difficulties and budget short falls, the $200 billion cost of invading Iraq must be carried by all of the States of the Union. In addition, the administration’s new tax plan will cost states, on average, another $4.5 billion in revenues. This will push the states further into recession, resulting in loss of jobs, and deeper cuts in social, health and educational programs, since states are now mandated by the federal law to balance their budget.

—Lafayette [Indiana] Area Peace Coalition 1/16/03, http://www.ips-dc.org/iraq/talkingpoints.htm

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