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Why Iraq isn't a "diversion" from the "real war"
The bipartisan war on the world

October 15, 2004 | Pages 6 and 7

U.S. TROOPS supposedly liberated Iraq's capital of Baghdad a year and a half ago. But a Wall Street Journal reporter's e-mail--not an article in his newspaper, but a personal e-mail--tells a very different story of what it's like in Iraq today.

"Despite President Bush's rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster," Farnaz Fassihi wrote. "If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the Americans, it has been transformed to 'imminent and active threat,' a foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come...For those of us on the ground, it's hard to imagine what, if anything, could salvage it from its violent downward spiral. The genie of terrorism, chaos and mayhem has been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes, and it can't be put back into a bottle."

John Kerry is trying to win votes by criticizing how the Bush administration waged its war on Iraq. But his conclusion--that Iraq was the "wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time"--claims that Bush's obsession with Iraq took attention away from the "right war." And tragically, progressives with a long record of standing for peace and justice are echoing this argument as they insist that activists must vote for Kerry as the "lesser evil."

ELIZABETH SCHULTE explains why the problem isn't Bush's "wrong war" in Iraq, but the "war on terror" itself--a bipartisan war waged to expand U.S. dominance around the world.

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IN AN effort to emphasize the few differences between his campaign and George Bush's, John Kerry is arguing that Bush's invasion of Iraq was a mistake. Not because of the terrible human cost of the war, though. Kerry claims that the attack on Iraq was a diversion from the so-called "war on terrorism."

Is this really the case? In his 2002 State of the Union address, Bush proclaimed an "axis of evil" in the "war on terrorism"--with Iraq at the center. Since then, every lie that the Bush administration told to get its war on Iraq--from nonexistent weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein's nonexistent ties to the September 11 hijackings--have been exposed. But now that U.S. troops are there, Bush says that they have to stay, because failure will breed more terrorism.

So even if the Bush administration fabricated Iraq's nonexistent connections to terrorism in the run-up to the war, Iraq is part of the "war on terror" now. And Kerry echoes this line--now that U.S. troops are in Iraq, he says, we have to "finish the job."

Iraq is as much a part of the "war on terror" as any other country on Bush's hit list--not because of any connection to terrorism, but simply because the Bush gang singled it out. And that, when all is said and done, is the central reason why any country is on Bush's highly selective list--which demonizes Iraq and Iran, yet ignores atrocities carried out by U.S. allies.

If committing acts of terror or procuring weapons of mass destruction got a country on the U.S. hit list, Israel--which commits relentless violence against Palestinians, and which actually possesses nuclear weapons--would be public enemy number one.

Like every other potential stop on the "war on terror," Iraq made the list not because of actual links to terrorism, but for other reasons. One reason is oil--Iraq has 10 percent of the world's proven reserves of oil, second only to Saudi Arabia.

But it's not only oil that drives Washington's war on terrorism. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration seized the opportunity to put into effect the most hawkish foreign policy dreams of Washington's "neoconservatives." Using the threat of a more dangerous and unpredictable world, the Bush administration made notions of "pre-emptive strikes" and "regime change" widely accepted centerpieces of U.S. foreign policy.

Actually, the Clinton administration had already declared Washington's right to implement "regime change" with its 1998 Iraq Liberation Act. The attacks on September 11 simply gave the Bush administration the justification to carry through even more aggressive world policing.

The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq told other countries that displeased the U.S.--or had the misfortune of having valuable natural resources--that this could happen to you if you cross Washington. It also sent an ultimatum to other world powers--that the U.S. was calling the shots.

While the Kerry campaign strains to emphasize its differences in foreign policy aims, the "Kerry doctrine" has more similarities than differences with the Bush doctrine. Kerry promises to do whatever it takes to execute the "war on terrorism"--including "finishing the job" in Iraq.

And a centerpiece of Kerry's campaign is turning attention to the other partners in what Bush called the "axis of evil"--Iran and North Korea. "This president rushed to war, pushed our allies aside, and Iran now is more dangerous," Kerry said in one presidential debate. "And so is North Korea with nuclear weapons. He took his eye off the ball--off of Osama bin Laden."

These ideas aren't expressed only by conservative Democrats such as John Kerry. They are having an impact on those who opposed the war in Iraq.

Michael Moore's movie Fahrenheit 9/11 did a great job of taking down the Bush administration's war on Iraq and giving expression to all the doubts that millions of people have about that war. But it puts forth a similar idea that Iraq diverted the U.S. from the "real enemy." Rather than cause havoc in Iraq, the film argues, the U.S. would have done better to crack down on the "real" sponsors of terrorism, such as Saudi Arabia.

The idea that Iraq was the "wrong war" and a diversion from the real "war on terrorism" misses the point. Washington's "war on terrorism" has nothing at all to do with making the world safer. It is about furthering U.S. dominance in the world--and that necessarily means making the world a more dangerous place for millions of people. U.S. military missions carried out in the name of spreading "liberty" have only spread more misery around the world--in turn, increasing the potential for more anger and violence to be directed at the U.S.

Unless antiwar activists are prepared to argue why we oppose all of the U.S. wars--even those that U.S. leaders, Democrat and Republican alike, claim are waged in the interest of "fighting terrorism"--our antiwar cause will be hamstrung. There is no "right war" in the war on terrorism. The entire U.S. imperialist project has to be beaten back.

Is this really an alternative?

"These terrorists are serious, they're deadly and they know nothing except trying to kill. I understand that. That's why I will never stop at anything to hunt down and kill the terrorists."
-- John Kerry, St. Louis debate, October 8, 2004

"[I]t is very important for America to crack down on the Saudis, who have not had a public prosecution for financing terrorism since 9/11. And it's important for America to confront the situation in Iran, because Iran is an enormous threat to Israel and the Israeli people."
-- John Edwards, Cleveland debate, October 5, 2004

"I have no intention of wilting. I've never wilted in my life. And I've never wavered in my life. I know exactly what we need to do in Iraq, and my position has been consistent: Saddam Hussein is a threat. He needed to be disarmed."
-- John Kerry, Miami debate, September 30, 2004

"Let there be no mistake: I will never hesitate to use force when it is required. Any attack will be met with a swift and a certain response. I will never give any nation or any institution a veto over our national security. And I will build a stronger military...We will double our Special Forces to conduct antiterrorist operations."
-- John Kerry, Democratic National Convention, July 29, 2004

"Israel's fence is a legitimate response to terror that only exists in response to the wave of terror attacks against Israel. The fence is an important tool in Israel's fight against terrorism."
-- John Kerry, statement to the press, July 9, 2004

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