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WHAT WE THINK
Debate over when and how to attack Iraq hides the question...
What right do they have?

September 6, 2002 | Page 3

A SLEW of pundits and politicians has raised objections to the Bush gang's plan for a new war on Iraq. Some--like Secretary of State Colin Powell and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft--think that the U.S. should seek the support of other countries before invading. Others want Bush to get approval from Congress. Some have even raised the more thorny issue of what happens once Saddam Hussein is toppled.

But no one in the Washington establishment is willing to answer the more fundamental question: What gives the U.S. government the right to declare that it's time for a "regime change" in Iraq? "Without guidance from any precedent in this republic's history," right-wing pundit George Will wrote approvingly, "the administration is improvising diplomatic and constitutional etiquette for launching preventive war without what has normally been recognized as a [cause for war]." In other words, it's a question of packaging.

The U.S. has never had especially high standards for what counts as a "legitimate" cause for war. On the eve of the 20th century, President Teddy Roosevelt summarized the guiding principle: "Speak softly and carry a big stick." During the next 50 years, the U.S. intervened throughout Latin America some 30 times to maintain control in its "backyard."

After the Second World War, Washington spread its influence around the world in the fight against the "Communist menace"--the favored alibi for U.S. intervention. In 1953, Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh fell victim to a CIA-backed coup. So did Chile's socialist president Salvador Allende 20 years later. "I don't see why we should let a country go Marxist because its people are irresponsible," explained then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger--who today is back in the news for cautioning the Bush administration to "respect" international law in its war drive on Iraq.

Kissinger and the rest of Washington may be debating how best to accomplish a "regime change" in Iraq. But the truth is that the U.S. backed Saddam Hussein a little over a decade ago--even after U.S. officials learned that his regime had used poison gas against Iraqi civilians.

Then Saddam stepped out of line, and George Bush Sr. organized the 1991 Gulf War. Yet Saddam survived Iraq's defeat and an uprising at the end of the war that spread to half the provinces in the country--thanks to some help from his American "enemies," who gave the Iraqi government permission to violate the no-fly directive and use helicopters to suppress the revolt.

Papa Bush had encouraged an uprising--but when it came, he didn't like what he saw. As ABC anchor Peter Jennings commented in 1998, "The United States did want Saddam Hussein to go, they just didn't want the Iraqi people to take over." Brent Scowcroft--Bush's national security adviser--agreed. "I, frankly, wished it hadn't happened," he told Jennings. "I envisioned a postwar government being a military government."

When U.S. officials talk about a "regime change," they really mean that they want to replace Saddam Hussein with a pro-U.S. figurehead--while keeping in place the political system that Saddam built, with occasional help from Washington.

The U.S. military isn't a force for peace and democracy--and never has been. That's why we have to oppose U.S. imperialism--no matter what rhetoric is used to dress up its brutal wars.

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