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Voices of the antiwar opposition
We say no to Bush's war

January 17, 2003 | Pages 8 and 9

Norman Solomon: Scene of a war crime to come
Rania Masri: Suffering ten years of U.S. war
John Pilger: Showing the world who's boss
Anthony Arnove: The Bush gang's hypocrisy
Rashid Khalidi: Creating legions of enemies
Sharon Smith: The aim of this war is imperialist
David Barsamian: The media marches off to war
Rahul Mahajan: They don't care about freedom

UNITED NATIONS (UN) weapons inspectors say that they've found no evidence of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction." But that doesn't matter to the White House. Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says the U.S. "knows for a fact" that Iraq has chemical or nuclear weapons.

The only thing that matters to Washington's war makers is the new war they want to start. But tens of thousands will travel to Washington, D.C., San Francisco and other cities this weekend to say no to this war. These will be the latest in a series of protests--and another expression of the widespread questioning of Bush's war plans.

The new antiwar movement has grown faster and spread more widely than previous struggles. Now the challenge facing activists after January 18 is to take our message home--and turn the doubts about Bush's war into more opposition.

Here, Socialist Worker talks to longtime activists and left-wing writers about the issues and questions that we face in making the case against Bush's war.

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Norman Solomon: Scene of a war crime to come

You were recently in Baghdad. What do you think of the Bush administration's claim that Iraq represents a threat to the U.S.?

The evidence isn't there. But the rhetoric is there. If there's a genuine threat between the U.S. and Iraq, it's flagrantly obvious which direction the threat is coming from.

The Bush administration has worked backwards from its goal, which is to launch a massive attack on Iraq. All of the actions and verbiage need to be seen in that context. The whole purported split in the administration between Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld has been much more about how to go to war, then whether to go to war.

In Baghdad last month, I was at the scene of a crime against humanity scheduled to occur. The devastation of the last dozen years can only be greatly increased by what the White House in store for the Iraqi people.

It's not enough to think that a war is wrong, or to say so in private situations. We've got to speak publicly and emphatically, through words and actions, in order to stop this war. And that means consistent communication and activism throughout our society--in the U.S., as well as elsewhere in the world.

Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist on media and politics.

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Rania Masri: Suffering ten years of U.S. war

What are conditions like in Iraq after a decade of U.S. war?

The Iraqis have been suffering from the most intense siege in world history--12 years of sanctions. According to UNICEF, at least 500,000 children under the age of 5 have died in Iraq in the years of sanctions.

According to the UN Human Development Index, in 1990--before the war and sanctions--Iraq was 50th among 130 countries in Human Development. In 1995, Iraq had fallen to 106th among 174 countries. By 2000, it was 126th among 174 countries.

The International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War have predicted 28,000 to 260,000 deaths in Iraq in the first three months of a war. Typically in wars, there are three major trauma injuries to every direct death. How can Iraq's demolished health care system cope with the injuries? Skills and facilities are out of date. The medicines are lacking.

Some U.S. generals have talked about the city of Baghdad--an urban city of 5.5 million people--as a target to be heavily attacked by massive air strikes. How many Iraqis--mothers, fathers, daughters, sons--will be killed or maimed from the bombing? Thousands? Tens of thousands?

Consider the consequences if the Bush administration actually uses urban tactical nuclear weapons against Iraq. And will depleted uranium weaponry be used--again?

In the 1991 Gulf War, 300 tons of depleted uranium--a radioactive weapon--were used. World Health Organization studies show an increase in cancer rates and birth deformities in Iraq. The rates of leukemia in children have skyrocketed, while the medicines needed for treatment have been withheld by sanctions.

Iraqis will not be the only ones who will suffer and die. More than 159,000 U.S. Gulf War veterans are receiving disability payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs due to U.S. activities in the 1991 war. Thousands of veterans suffer from memory loss, dizziness, blurred vision, speech difficulties, nerve disorders, muscle weakness, skin disorders. Veterans also report incidences of cancers in themselves and birth defects in their children, symptoms remarkably similar to ones in Iraq.

Rania Masri is a veteran activist and director of the Southern Peace Research and Education Center at the Institute for Southern Studies.

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John Pilger: Showing the world who's boss

What are the real aims of the Bush administration in this war?

The motives of the Bush gang are mixed. Yes, it's about oil, but that's not all. Above all, it's about demonstrating to the world who is the supreme ruler.

Since September 11, the enduring U.S. strategy of dominating world affairs by economic control and sheer military superiority has accelerated. In 1992, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the United States needed sufficient power "to deter any challenger from ever dreaming of challenging us on the world stage."

The Bush gang believes its takeover of Iraq will achieve the first stage. Their goal, I believe, is the subjugation of China. In the short term, the bitterness felt in the Middle East and elsewhere, will be counterproductive and create the very terrorism that Bush says he is committed to stamping out.

As for the people of Iraq, who are seldom mentioned, as many as 500,000 could require medical treatment for serious injuries if the U.S. attacks, according to a confidential United Nations report leaked on January 8. The report is shocking; it estimates that about 3 million Iraqis will face "dire" malnutrition and require "therapeutic feeding."

It paints a picture of a stricken nation, with roads, bridges and railroads shattered, the electricity grid virtually destroyed and the oil industry paralyzed. More than 900,000 refugees could require food and shelter from the UN.

That is the price.

John Pilger is a veteran antiwar correspondent, documentary filmmaker and author of numerous books, including The New Rulers of the World.

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Anthony Arnove: The Bush gang's hypocrisy

Is the Bush war drive really about "weapons of mass destruction"?

George Bush wants us to think that he's going to war over these weapons. The other day, his press secretary, Ari Fleischer, said, "There is no question that the president thinks that Iraq is a threat to the United States."

This is nonsense. Iraq doesn't pose a meaningful threat to its immediate neighbors, let alone the United States. In fact, the CIA's own public assessment is that if sanctions were completely lifted, it would take Iraq until 2015 to develop long-range missile capacity.

This is not a defensive war, but an offensive one. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman accurately called it "a war of choice." It's a war to expand U.S. hegemony, not only in the Middle East, but around the world.

It's also sheer hypocrisy for Bush to talk about his concern about countries developing weapons programs. The U.S. has not only built up and used more weapons of mass destruction than any other country, it's the world's leading proliferator of weapons.

The U.S. exported $12.1 billion in weapons in the year 2001 alone. "Even in the current economic turmoil, the United States [has] maintained its dominance as the leading weapons supplier," the New York Times reported recently.

And it should be no surprise that Israel was the largest buyer of weapons in 2001, the last year that we have the figures for. Israel is, in effect, an outpost of the U.S. empire in the Middle East, with more than 200 nuclear weapons. But Bush isn't talking about those weapons--or Israel's "contempt" for UN resolutions relating to its nuclear program or its brutal treatment of the Palestinians.

Washington has consistently protected Israel and other allies from criticism by the UN. Now it's cynically using the UN to create a fig leaf of legitimacy for its war of aggression on Iraq and its expansion of power over Iraqi and Middle Eastern oil.

It's important to remember that the U.S. used the cover of the UN to crush Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War. And for the past 12 years, the sanctions on Iraq have been UN sanctions.

The members of the UN Security Council can't be trusted to stop this war. The four other "permanent members," who have veto power in the council, are all angling to protect their own interests.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, despite widespread opposition domestically, is determined to hitch his wagon to the Bush war machine. This allows Britain to, as he puts it, "punch above its weight."

France and Russia, in particular, care more about Iraqi oil concessions than they do about Iraqi lives. Russia hopes to recover $8 billion that it's owed by Iraq, and it wants an even freer hand to repress Chechens under the cloak of Bush's preemptive strike doctrine. The Chinese government likewise is using the doctrine to justify its actions against Muslim groups in Western China.

The unelected rulers of the Security Council will not stop this war. To do that, we need to build massive opposition here, and internationally, among working people and all the others who have no interest in Washington's war aims.

A leader of the British firefighters' union put the case against war brilliantly: "It's disgraceful to say that for people in this country who are prepared to risk their lives to save others, you can't find any extra money, but you can find at least a billion to bomb innocent men, women and children in Iraq."

Anthony Arnove is editor of the South End Press book Iraq Under Siege and a member of the International Socialist Organization.

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Rashid Khalidi: Creating legions of enemies

What would be the consequences of a war with Iraq?

This war will mark not the end, but the beginning of our problems. Because however much Iraqis loathe their regime, they will soon loathe the American occupation that will follow its demise.

No expert on Iraq believes the United States can simply invade and then rapidly withdraw without a bloodbath and a regional power vacuum ensuing. None believe that the creation of a democracy in Iraq will be a swift or simple matter. Some believe it is not possible. And no one with any sense could believe that a one-person, one-vote democracy in a country with a 60 percent Shiite majority is the Bush administration's objective.

We will have a long American military occupation that will eventually provoke resistance. It took two years before the Iraqis revolted against British forces in 1920. They had almost chased them out until unrestricted air attacks restored British rule.

By a lengthy and bloody occupation of Iraq, by the establishment of U.S. bases there, by direct American control of Iraqi oil, we will be creating legions of new enemies throughout the Middle East.

This will provide the pretext for the Bush team to execute the next phase of their crackpot schemes, which involve marching on Tehran and Damascus and will provide them with new enemies to justify fattening a defense budget that can never be big enough for them.

But for those of us for whom empire is not part of our vision of the destiny of the United States of America and who do not want our children or grandchildren, our brothers or sisters fighting in places none of us can even find on a map, perhaps it is time to say enough.

It is enough.

Rashid Khalidi is a Palestinian activist and author of Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness.

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Sharon Smith: The aim of this war is imperialist

How should the antiwar movement react to the Bush administration's talk of a "just" war?

The U.S. government's war aims--against Iraq or any other country--should be judged not by what it says they are, but by what it actually does. On this basis, it can easily be shown that the U.S. has never conducted a just war--and never will. Its own practice belies its rhetoric.

This is even the case with World War II--the so-called "good war," that pitted the U.S. against Nazi Germany. World War II was in reality not a war between democracy and fascism, but between superpowers over global dominance.

The U.S. claimed that it was defending "democracy against fascism," but in reality did precious little on behalf of Germany's Jews. The U.S. refused entry to tens of thousands of Jewish refugees desperate to escape Hitler's concentration camps. And the U.S. refused to act to stop the Holocaust--when it could have easily bombed the train tracks to Auschwitz, for example.

Japan had already offered to surrender when the U.S. dropped the atom bombs that incinerated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The U.S. dropped the bomb not to win the war, but to secure its own postwar dominance over Asia.

As is often the case, the real nature of the war was most clearly exposed in its aftermath, when the main victors divided up the spoils. The U.S. and the Soviet Union carved up the world between them, with the U.S. dominating the "West" and the USSR the "East."

World War II established the U.S. as the world's biggest superpower--the rank it has held ever since. War and repression are the means by which the U.S. maintains its economic and political dominance.

There have been more than 150 wars throughout the world since the end of World War II, and these 150 wars have killed close to 25 million people at last count. The U.S. has played a key role, directly or indirectly, in most of them. Although each and every war has been conducted in the name of "freedom and democracy," the U.S. has always heaped death and destruction on the populations of the nations it conquers.

Until the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade ago, the Cold War provided the framework for the U.S. to claim it was fighting the spread of communism. The collapse of its main rival has allowed the U.S. to set its sights even higher in furthering its own global dominance in the post-Cold War world.

The events of September 11 provided the U.S. with an excuse to launch an open-ended "war on terrorism." But the actual aim in the coming war on Iraq, as in the war on Afghanistan--a war that killed thousands of Afghans in the name of fighting terrorism and left the survivors under the rule of the same band of drug-dealing warlords as before the Taliban--is thoroughly imperialist.

So the U.S. war against Iraq is not a "distraction" from the "real" war on terrorism, as many claim, but an integral component of the U.S. government's strategy to dominate the Middle East and its oil.

No claim about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction--with or without a UN mandate--can justify U.S. war against Iraq. The UN supported both the 1991 war against Iraq, which killed 200,000 Iraqis, and the 11 years of sanctions that followed the war, which have killed over 1 million people.

Meanwhile, scores of UN resolutions condemning the Israeli occupation and brutal repression of Palestinians go ignored, simply because the U.S. backs Israel. Bush's charges about Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction" sound pretty empty when compared to the death and destruction that the U.S. has inflicted on the rest of the world.

Sharon Smith is a contributor to the collection Iraq Under Siege, a Socialist Worker columnist and a member of the International Socialist Organization.

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David Barsamian: The media marches off to war

What role has the media played in hyping war with Iraq?

When the U.S. marches to war, the media march with it. And within the media, the generals generally are heavily armed with microphones. I wish we had no-air zones for them.

But that's unlikely to happen when ABC-TV and NPR's Cokie Roberts gushes, "I am, I will just confess to you, a total sucker for the guys who stand up with all the ribbons on and stuff, and they say it's true, and I'm ready to believe it."

Who are the "experts" now selling the war? Just look at one three-day period in early January. On PBS's "The NewsHour" on January 2, the lead story was Iraq. The guests were Patrick Lang from the U.S. Army and John Warden from the U.S. Air Force. They were joined by Geoffrey Kemp, a war hawk and ex-National Security Council staffer.

The discussion totally focused on strategies and tactics. How many troops would be needed to "do the job"? What would the bombing campaign look like? And the inevitable: "When will the war begin?" It's kind of like placing bets on a bowl game.

Suarez played the classic role of the compliant questioner. There were no uncomfortable inquiries about the UN weapons inspection process, casualty figures, international law, the UN Charter or the notorious U.S. practice of double standards on Security Council resolutions.

Instead, the pundits pontificated on troop deployments, carrier battle groups and heavy infantry forces, such as the 3rd Mechanized Division. Warden wondered aloud if "we need those ground forces in place before we initiate hostilities?" Then he interestingly added that there is "no Iraqi offensive capability outside their borders."

The next day, CNN scored a general trifecta. Aaron Brown, anchor of "News Night," had on Gen. Wesley Clark, the former NATO commander now on the CNN payroll; Army Brig. Gen. David Grange; and Air Force Major Gen. G. Don Shepperd. The whole discussion took place under the banner of "Showdown Iraq."

On January 4, Scott Simon, host of NPR's "Weekend Edition," had retired Marine Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor on. Trainor is now senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Without any sense of irony or history, the two talked about the possibility of the Iraqi military being charged with war crimes.

Trainor said that the Iraqis "all know about the Nuremberg trials." But what they left out was that the central part of the indictment against the Nazis was the "planning and waging of aggressive war."

In 1991, the U.S. deliberately targeted water purification plants, sewage treatment facilities and power plants in Iraq, knowing that it would produce widespread disease and death. That cannot be a topic for polite discussion. And it isn't. War crimes are "their" crimes not ours.

And now the United States is again planning a war of aggression against Iraq.

David Barsamian is the director of Alternative Radio, based in Boulder, Colo., and author of The Decline and Fall of Public Broadcasting.

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Rahul Mahajan: They don't care about freedom

Bush claims that the coming war on Iraq is justified because of Saddam Hussein's record as a dictator. How would you respond to that?

Saddam Hussein is a dictator, and the Iraqi state's internal repression is extreme. This has no connection whatsoever with the U.S. drive to war--just note the lack of official acknowledgment when Iraq took the unprecedented step of freeing almost every political prisoner.

In the 1991 Iraqi Intifada [after the end of the Gulf War], the U.S. intervened to keep the Iraqi regime intact because it was a dictatorship. In Thomas Friedman's words, it wanted an "iron-fisted military junta" in power instead of a government with real popular representation. This was not just passive, by allowing the use of helicopter gunships by the regime, but active, by disarming rebels and allowing the Republican Guard through U.S.-occupied territory.

Since 9/11, the United States has created a sham puppet government in Afghanistan, sabotaging even the heavily U.S.-dominated loya jirga process because too much independence was creeping in; has fostered a coup attempt in Venezuela; and has indicated that the Palestinians must elect a leadership that the U.S. likes--all steps that are inimical to real democracy.

If they take over in Iraq, they will undoubtedly once again engineer some process with a veneer of democratic legitimacy, but the end result will be a U.S.-dominated regime. It's a truism that nobody can give you freedom (or democracy), but it's even more the case when the agent in question has no interest in giving it to you.

Regarding other humanitarian concerns, it's quite possible that a postwar regime may be worse for the people of Iraq. They are currently heavily dependent on a government food-rationing system whose operation has been described by one of the chief UN officials in Iraq as "second to none."

Such a system is fundamentally at odds with the free market fundamentalism emanating from Washington. If it's scrapped, the Iraqi underclass may find itself worse off than now, even if sanctions are lifted.

It's remarkable that anyone thinks a government whose solution to the problems plaguing Africa is water privatization and attempted denial of access to cheap AIDS drugs is, by some bizarre disconnect, motivated by humanitarian concerns when it comes to military intervention.

Rahul Mahajan is a longtime activist and author of the The New Crusade: America's War on Terrorism.

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