| They don’t need another hero
The author is a political scientist and has recently published the book, Communalism Contested: Religion, Modernity and Secularization
George Bush Junior wants a war on Iraq and he will get it, probably starting in the new year. The international uproar about unwarranted American unilateralism has only convinced the White House that it must have a United Nations cover before acting, not that unilateralism itself must be eschewed. This cover is now in the process of being stitched together. For anyone who has seriously followed the conduct of the UN inspectorate and the history of the likes of Hans Blix of the International Atomic Energy Agency, there will be no reason to doubt their willingness to be shamefully obsequious to the US whenever push comes to shove. The Russians, the Chinese and the French will all fall in line once satisfied by changes in the language and format of the required UN resolution(s) that suggest some limited degree of influence by them at least in words if not in deed. In the meantime, they are bargaining for what they would get, should the “worst”, that is, the invasion of Iraq, happen.
Before going on to discuss the real reasons for the US intention to attack Iraq, let us dispose of the false ones, namely the need to eliminate Baghdad’s capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction. It is already a measure of how far down the road of dishonesty, hypocrisy and unconcern about genuine disarmament so many governments (including India’s) have travelled that this has been accepted as a reasonable argument for possible intervention if it can be shown that Iraq is actually “hiding” a real capacity of this kind. Now that New Delhi, for example, is desperate to remain on the good books of the US, gone is the post-Pokhran II bitterness about the hypocrisies of the existing nuclear powers, or about how their own refusal to nuclearly disarm precluded them from opposing others who were also determined to produce nuclear weapons on the same grounds of national security. India will fall in line behind whatever UN resolutions are drafted and not utter a word about how unjustifiable any attack on Iraq is regardless of such resolutions.
Yet there is that strange thing called the “retirement syndrome”. This refers to people who throughout their careers in high office follow one policy but on retirement come out openly to contradict or even repudiate the very policies they once advocated and fiercely defended. This applies to the MacNamaras of this world who turned anti-nuclear. It now applies, in a more limited sense, to the Australian, Richard Butler, former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, who during his tenure did everything the US wanted. He now declares that he was always deeply embarrassed whenever the Iraqis pointed out the explicit double standards in pursuing Iraq and ignoring Israel. Moreover, how, he now says, can the other nuclear weapons states justify their actions against Iraq but do nothing themselves about their own arsenals'
As for the brouhaha about possible nuclear weapons and other chemical or biological agents, anybody at all familiar with the history of investigations since 1991 in Iraq knows that the “fears” expressed by the US are not only fraudulent but that Washington knows full well that they are fraudulent. After 19 years of sustained effort and an expenditure of over $18,000 million, Iraq in 1991 was still anything between one to three years from developing the bomb. The idea that since then, after the kind of military dismantlement that Butler describes as more far-reaching than that imposed on defeated countries like Germany and Japan after World War II, Iraq retains serious nuclear weapons-making capacity is simply ludicrous.
Regarding possible production and accumulation of chemical and biological weapons, the American (and a hard-nosed conservative Republican to boot) Scott Ritter, a former UN special commission inspector, has become a bête noire of Washington, ruthlessly dismissing its allegations that Iraq has either enough of such weapons or the capacity to seriously threaten anybody, even its nearest neighbours, let alone distant US. After 1991, UNSCOM took on the responsibility to find out and destroy all stocks and capacities for producing chemical or biological weapons that Iraq had developed in the Eighties. Everything it could lay its hands on was destroyed.
However, there remains a small discrepancy regarding recorded totals of what was earlier produced and what was found, that is “materials unaccounted for”. Such discrepancies are generally not a matter of surprise, nor automatically indicative of “hidden” stocks. Moreover, the shelf life of the specific chemical agents that Iraq produced mainly, mustard gas shells, is limited and by now quite useless. A number of experts in the field have confirmed that there is really nothing to fear from Iraq in this regard.
Biological agents also have limited shelf lives. Here the hypocrisy of the US is obvious. It has blocked all efforts to set up a proper verification regime under the 1972 Biological Weapons (Abolition) Convention to which it is a signatory because it wants to keep its own options open and prevent monitoring of its dual-use facilities in this regard. Al-Hakam, Iraq’s main biological weapons facility, designed to produce upto 50,000 litres annually of Anthrax, Botulinum toxin and other agents, was destroyed in 1996.
The claim of the US and the United Kingdom that new facilities have been or are being built are based on information from extremely dubious sources. This claim has also been partially nullified even before 2002 by Iraq which allowed external visitors to some of the sites that were mentioned. They were shown to be utterly innocuous, for example, warehouses storing powdered milk. After September 16, 2002 with Iraq officially offering to allow inspection of all such suspected sites, the barren nature of Anglo-American claims will undoubtedly be confirmed.
Finally, there is the issue of delivery capabilities. The US and the UK have claimed that Iraq could threaten with missiles parts of Europe itself. According to UNSCOM, by 1997, 817 out of Iraq’s known 819 ballistic missiles had been certifiably destroyed. On the worst-case assumption that Iraq has salvaged some of the parts for these missiles and has reconstructed them since 1998, even Charles Duelfer, former US deputy assistant secretary of state, deputy head of UNSCOM and strong proponent of an invasion of Iraq, has provided an estimate of only 12 to 14 missiles held by Iraq. Even in this scenario, it is difficult to see Iraq posing a threat to the rest of the world through its missiles. Furthermore, biological weapons cannot be effectively dispersed through ballistic missiles because of almost total destruction on impact.
The real reasons for the US decision to attack Iraq have to do with its ambitions to establish a new, never before achieved, mastery of this strategic region. If Washington can succeed in establishing a puppet regime after displacing Saddam Hussein, or its equivalent, then it is in a position to systematically redraw the whole map of west Asia. Its three principal aims will be as follows.
First, with growing concerns about Wahabi fundamentalism stoking terrorist groups as the excuse, the US can move towards a trifurcation of Saudi Arabia (manipulating historical internal rivalries), making it a far more manageable set of slightly outsized super oil-rich sheikhdoms like the other even more subservient ones in the Gulf. Second, its greatest strategic defeat in the region in the last 25 years was the loss of the Shah’s Iran. Turning its attention towards a “restoration”, that is a favourable regime change there becomes the obvious next goal.
Third, the power and dominance of Israel in the region and US reliance on it as its key pivot of regional control will become, to the further detriment of the Palestinian people, even stronger.