February 28, 1998
Let's start with a painful confession: There is a lot we do not understand, and we mean A LOT! For someone who prides himself with having a brain and using it you can imagine how excruciating it is to admit to such a shortcoming. One places much hope in the power of the intellect only to discover how little one knows. And of course ignorance breeds confusion which in turn leads to errors in judgment that open the way to essentially negative consequences. Once confronted with the evidence of one's flaws, is there a remedy? Can something be done to combat an acknowledged confused mind? What could it be? Get depressed and in an ultimate act of unbearable existentialism commit suicide? In a snail-like-manship, retract into one's shell -- in other words, watch sports on TV? Go to the garage and sweat over a punching ball to the point of total exhaustion? Go to therapy?
None seems to fit the bill. Who wants an epitaph that reads "He Did Not Understand..."? Embarrassing to say the least even though at that point we wouldn't care less since we would not be anymore (the world only exists because one creates it). The shell game in front of TV, far from being curative, is a sure way to become brain dead, a kind of unappetizing veggie unfit for consumption. Physical exhaustion does not last and the therapist would only add to the confusion so that he/she can drive her new $50k SUV. This entire exercise is confusing, don't you think?
Well, let see if you can make some sense out of our senseless ramblings.
"War is regarded as nothing but the continuation of politics by other means", wrote Clausewitz, the 19th century military theorist. His 1832 treatise, On War, is taught in all the military academies of the world. Far from questioning the validity of his postulate that has largely become an aphorism to be cited every time a military intervention is in the making, we'd like to obtain clarification of the politics behind the U.S. Government's willingness to go to war with Iraq. What are the politics that bring our government to consider war? Somewhere, somehow, somewhat, there must be a rationale that leads our leaders and opinion makers to almost unanimously call for a military intervention and keep preparing us, the people, for this eventuality in the future. So what is the rationale?
We've read and heard that Saddam Hussein is a latter-day Hitler, a turn-of-the-millennium villain, a blood-thirsty killer of members of his own family, of his people; a man who has used chemical gases against Iranians and the Iraqi population. We've read and heard that this Arabic Stalin had amassed tons and tons of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. More precisely, we learned on February 26, in the New York Times, three days after the signing of the memorandum of understanding, the extent of the Iraqi chemical and biological program. Almost two full pages of serious reporting that could scare the hell out the Devil himself. So we can easily imagine the effect of this news on our God-loving/fearing citizenry. Shivering... Here are a few examples of the actions Iraq said it had taken, according to the NYT article: "Set its germ policy in 1974." "Field-tested germs in sprayers, rockets, artillery shells, aerial bombs." "Began a crash program to speed germ development in August 1990." "Built and loaded 25 germ missile warheads with a range of 400 miles." "Deployed these weapons in the opening days of the Gulf War and kept them throughout the war." "Modified MIG fighters so they could be flown by remote control to release a spray of anthrax from specially modified fuel tanks."
This should be a good enough rationale for even a confused individual to understand the threat of this formidable armada.
The problem is that we still do not understand. We must be totally obtuse, we reckon, but if this is such a potent rationale, then why did the U.S. Administration accept the UN deal and why has it always overtly rejected (covertly is another story) to go and remove this abominable man from power? Is this the way to deal with a resurrected Hitler? Is this the way to deal with such a mass-destruction threat? Are we witnessing another Munich as suggested by some commentators, like the unrelenting NYT columnist A. M. Rosenthal, and other politicians? How can it be that the rest of the world seems unable to grasp the gravity of the situation?
Could it be that as nefarious and unpalatable as Saddam Hussein may be today, he is not that much of a threat after all? Remember that when he was warring with Iran in the eighties he was considered by the Reagan Administration a new friend we could deal with and that we and our allies armed Iraq to the hilt. A small country of 22 million inhabitants, its economic infrastructure devastated by the Gulf War and 7 years of embargo, no industry besides oil which itself is in dire conditions, 95% inspected and monitored, Iraq is definitely not 1940 Nazi Germany! Could it be that the Iraqi chemical and biological weapons do not pose any threat that deterrence cannot keep closely in check? We are not dealing with the former Soviet Union here with its huge nuclear arsenal, we are dealing with a so-called chemical and biological miniature threat if it ever was a threat. Here is the NYT again: "Are they a threat [those weapons]? Even if they exist [i.e. we do not even know whether they exist], hidden by the Iraqi military, their effective use is clouded by uncertainties, inspectors agree. A pilotless plane spraying 200 pounds of anthrax near a large city might kill up to a million people - if the winds were right, if no rain fell, if the nozzles did not get clogged, if the particles were the right size, if the population had no vaccinations, and so on." Later on, in the same article, Dr. Rod Barton, an Australian microbiologist, referring to the MIG fighters with anthrax says: "It would have caused massive casualties, if it was workable." Let's remind the reader that the main reasons behind Nixon's decision to scrap the U.S. chemical and biological programs were because of their "repugnance and their unreliability"...
Somehow this looks strangely to us like a vicious circle that refuses to let itself be squared. Perhaps will we one day read the following headline in the New York Times: "Unworkable Weapons Pose Unimaginable Threats That Cannot be Deterred Without Preventive Bombing," or "Saddam Hussein Invades The USA With Pilotless Planes Armed With Sprayers!"
We've also read that the credibility of the United States is at stake. Other "rogue" states are watching our actions or lack thereof to make their move against our national interests or, as former Secretary of State, James A. Baker 3d, puts it in an op-ed of February 27, the loss of "prestige and credibility in a region that is vital to our interests." This is the very same argument that was used by the Johnson Administration to pass the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in 1964 with the now well-known consequences (50,000 American and over 1,000,000 Vietnamese casualties). The credibility of the United States seems, when not used to hide a lie, to be at best a circumstantial notion. Where was it in Lebanon in the Eighties or in Somalia in the Nineties? And we would most appreciate it if someone could explain to us what are the vital interests of the country? Is it the new oil bonanza in Central Asia? Is it the free flow of oil in the Persian Gulf? Is it the defense of our friends and allies in the region -- read Israel, since all the others fall into the category of oil producers? Is it the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that never existed? All of the above? Indeed, what are our vital interests exactly?
Saint Madeleine, a.k.a. Madame Albright, our present Secretary of State, is crystal clear: It is not about the price and availability of oil and it is not about Israel. Period. It is about the principle that America, the undisputed leader of the world (some still say "free" world... Old habits are hard to break) cannot and will not allow the remaining 5% of the Iraqi sites to be left without unfettered and unlimited inspection. And, depending on the time of the day, the day of the week, the week of the month, the month of the year, and so on until the third millennium the undisputed leader of the world will argue that the economic sanctions must remain in place until Saddam is gone. The Secretary of State is speaking of the post-Saddam era like others have discussed the post-Castro era for the past 30 years and counting.
Of course, in our country, people are allowed to dissent and one dissenter is Mark Bruzonsky, a former Washington representative of the World Jewish Congress and founder of the Committee on the Middle East. Mr. Bruzonski is convinced that our international policies in the region have been taken over by Israel and the American Jewish lobby. Elsewhere, our former colleagues in the oil industry must be cringing at the idea that Iraq could be authorized to get back to its full oil-producing potential. This would have a downward effect on prices that are already at a 14-year low. Arguably, a case could be made that the oil industry would benefit from further destruction of Iraq's capacity to produce oil. Other pundits assure us that Hollywood masterminded the crisis with the help of the Chinese Government which was being advised by Robert Murdoch. And of course, the French and the Russian people are simply greedy and immoral. Who said that the American people were fond of conspiracy theories and science-fiction stories?
Now we are hearing from the conservative corners of the nation's capital that we have subcontracted our foreign policy to the UN. The country is no longer the master of its own destiny. Kofi Annan, practically hand-picked by the U.S. to lead the UN is now accused to have sold out the United States. Fortunately, everybody is quick to reassure the public. This deal will not hold. Saddam the liar, Saddam the cheater will lie and cheat again. We'll have our little war, after all.
Meantime, we are still searching for the rationale. This entire affair is so confusing that one could even confuse confusion with reality! And the reality is not pretty.
(to be continued)