“The UN can meet and discuss, but we don’t need their permission (to attack Iraq),” said the White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, only days after the United Nations security council finally passed a resolution sending weapons inspectors back into Iraq. “I think regime change will be the result of disarmament, and regime change may have to be the means of disarmament.”
“Regime change” means replacing Saddam Hussein with a pro-American regime, a goal that can only be accomplished by the United States of America invading Iraq. And if the Bush administration is even now determined to do that, then why did the security council members just go through two months of intense haggling to agree on a resolution re-starting the inspection process that was suspended in 1998'
Sadly, everybody still assumes that the US is going to attack Iraq and that the security council resolution is just designed to give legal cover when it happens. The US can claim that it is responding to some Iraqi obstruction of the inspectors — and friends of the US can then claim that the US is acting within the letter of the law, without actually having to vote in favour of the attack.
But why is the US determined to attack Iraq now' That is a question worrying Richard Butler, the tough Australian who led the previous arms inspection team in Iraq, UNSCOM, and was widely vilified at the time as a US stooge.
“I believe the case against Saddam Hussein is utterly proved,” Butler said in a recent interview. “The man should be tried for crimes against humanity. But what I’m unconvinced by is the question of why it was inconvenient to deal with the problem two or three years ago and now, today, it’s imperative. What actually is motivating that'”
A small industry has grown up in Washington to manufacture tendentious answers to the question. Its core is a team put together last year by the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, to dispute the Central Intelligence Agency’s conclusion that there are no links between Hussein and terrorists who target the US. The task of the “B team” is to scour intelligence data for anything that can be bent to support Rumsfeld’s insistence that such a link exists.
But if a US attack on Iraq is not about terrorism, then what is it about' Only two answers hold any water: Israel and oil.
However far Iraq may now be from acquiring nuclear weapons, it is the only Arab state that ever tried to get them, and thus the only real threat to Israel’s regional nuclear weapons’ monopoly. Even if Iraq did finally acquire a few nuclear weapons, it could not threaten Israel (which has hundreds of them), but it would substantially narrow Israel’s military options by creating an Arab deterrent to an Israeli first strike.
For those like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, who see Israel’s interests and those of the US as identical, that is sufficient motive for risking American lives to destroy any possibility of Iraq’s acquiring nuclear weapons in the future. That is not a motive you can discuss in public, so the spurious link between Hussein and terrorism as a domestic political necessity.
Oil probably figures in Washington’s calculations too, for Iraq is potentially the second-largest oil producer in west Asia. Washington could just be looking for some insurance in case Saudi Arabia falls into the hands of radical Islamists (it has not escaped US attention that most of the hijackers on September 11 were Sau-di Arabian citizens). But it may also have crossed some minds that raising the production of oil in post-Saddam Iraq back to pre-1991 levels would flood the market and bring down the price of oil.
These are no justifications, that can be sanctified by UN laws, for launching a military attack against a sovereign state, however, so the US must engage in a charade about arms inspections. The rest of the security council must hope that Hussein can be overthrown at little human cost and without causing too much political chaos in the region, but the odds are against it.