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Why War with Iraq? Why Now? Phantom Reasons and Real Ones < DIALECTICAL MARXISM: The Writings of Bertell Ollman
Why War with Iraq? Why Now?
Phantom Reasons and Real Ones

By Bertell Ollman

Has America ever gone to war with less public understanding of what the war is about? Why is our Government so determined to attack Iraq? And why the rush to do it now? War is a very serious business. So I am not going to insult your intelligence by spending any time on the half dozen changing reasons that our Government has offered as a justification for starting this war. As anyone who is not addicted to Fox News knows, they are either false, grossly exaggerated, irrelevant or simply silly (I don't know whether to place the charge that Saddam is an evil man under irrelevant or silly).

But—and this is of crucial importance—even if all the Government's charges were true, not exaggerated and relevant, this would still not justify a war if there were other ways of dealing with them and/or if a war would make Americans more liable to attack by our enemies than we already are. The U.N. inspections are working and if we increased the number of inspectors and gave them more time, they would work better still. Along with frequent overflights, some of the U.N. imposed sanctions and the threat of massive retaliation should Saddam attack one of his neighbors, they have already achieved most of the aims for which almost-elected President Bush says he intends to go to war. That is, given the Government's own terms of debate, the war would appear to be unnecessary. And if anyone had any doubts about the effect of such a war on our safety here in the U.S., Ossama Bin Laden's most recent tape (if genuine) should have made it clear that this war will bring us more terrorist attacks and not less.

Critics who see this far and no further are content to condemn the Government for its stupidity—easy to do with Bush at the helm—and craziness. Our leaders seem to be making a terrible mistake. General Zinni, a leading U.S.military figure and diplomat, has said that he doesn't know on which planet the hawks in Washington are living. And many others, including ex-President Carter, General Schwartzkopf and even officials in the intelligence (sic) community, have expressed similar sentiments.

But the leaders of our Government are not that stupid or crazy, and war is too important a matter to go forward without good reasons. They have their reasons. They just don't want to give them to us, because they suspect that most Americans wouldn't accept them as a justification for war. If we examine who our leaders are, their background and interests, some of what they've done and said before coming to power, and what they would gain from a war, it is not too hard to arrive at what these men and their one woman are thinking.

In my opinion, here are the real reasons that our Government is about to engage in its second massacre of Muslims in as many years:
  1. Oil. The Bush oiligarchy wants direct control over a country whose proven oil reserves are second only to those of Saudi Arabia. American oil giants own none of this oil now. How much do you think they will own one year after the war? Direct U.S. control over Iraqui oil will not only put the profits of selling the oil and servicing the oil fields into American hands, but will also also put the U.S. Government in a position to effect the price of oil by determining how much of it is put onto the market at any one time and to secure the dollar's position as the currency of choice in the purchase of oil by other countries (since 2000, Iraq has tried to undermine the hegemony of the dollar in world trade—with all its implications for U.S. financial domination —by selling its oil for Euros). And, as the availablility of this non-renewable source of energy begins to decline (it has been estimated that the world has about fifty years worth of oil left), the U.S. will be in a position to decide, almost unilaterally, which countries will grow and develop and which will not.
  2. Secure the water supplies—not often mentioned—with which Iraq is blessed and all surrounding countries are to some degree dependent.
  3. Establish American military and political power—if not direct colonial control—of a major Arab country in the heart of the middle-east for an indefinite period to help ensure the existence of friendly governments and market economies throughout the regio
  4. Provide a rationale to expand the military budget and with it the profits of the arms industry, which includes the oil industry.
  5. Help make Americans forget that we lost the war in Afghanistan, whose main objective was not to remove the Taliban but to destroy Al Queda and capture Ossama Bin Laden.
  6. Upstage the media attention given to the failure of the Government's economic policies (unemployment up 35%, stock market down 34 %, etc. and etc. since Bush took office)
    as well as the high level financial scandals in which both Bush and Cheney have been implicated.
  7. Create an atmosphere of permanent crisis with its side-bars of fear and patriotism that will help the GOP to push through the rest of its ultra-conservative political agenda and win the next presidential election.
Though we can't know which reasons are most important for any given official, I think it is pretty clear that they all play a role and that, taken together, they are enough to account for the trigger-happy behavior of the Government. There happens to be one other major reason for their actions, however, that deserves to be mentioned, if only because it is usually passed over, even by the strongest critics of the war. And this is that the war with Iraq will serve some of Israel's most important national interests, at least as interpreted by its current right wing Government. It is seldom mentioned, of course, because anyone who does so risks being denounced as an anti-semite, next to which being called a mass murderor today seems rather tame. So before developing this point, let me just say that I am Jewish. This way I can only be condemned as a "self-hating Jew".

What, then, are the main interests of the Israeli Government that will be served by this war?
  1. The war will provide Israel some relief from the growing sentiment among the American public that the U.S. Government should cut off or drastically reduce both economic and military aid to Israel until it vacates all Arab lands (a little publicized Times/CNN poll showed that 60% of Americans supported such a call).

  2. Under the cover of war, Sharon will be able to put into effect his version of the "final solution" to the Palestinian problem, the expulsion of all West Bank Arabs into the surrounding countries.

  3. Destroying what's left of Iraq's military power neutralizes Israel's most important rival in the region.

  4. Establishing a semi-permanent American military presence in Iraq puts U.S. troops in a position to police the whole area for Israel. If Mohammed can't go to the mountain—you have all heard this one—it is said that the mountain will go to Mohammed. Given their problems with the Arabs, some Israelis have joked that it would be nice if they could pick up the whole of Israel and move it to Long Island. Well, Mohammed couldn't get to this mountain. But now with the U.S. about to move into Israel's neighborhood, the mountain has come to Mohammed. Talk about miracles.

  5. U.S. control of Iraqui oil and water resources will allow Israel, its best friend in the middle-east, to gain a share of both.

  6. The war and the ensuing American occupation of Iraq will also give a much needed boost to Israel's ailing economy through various war related sales and services.
When you add all this up, it seems that war against Iraq is even more in the interests of the Israeli Government than it is in the interests of the American Government. It is no surprise then that among our Government's top foreign policy advisors some of the biggest hawks are right wing Zionists like—Paul Wolfowitz (Deputy Defense Secretary, who earlier in life wanted to immigrate to Israel and who wrote his first official paper calling for an invasion of Iraq back in 1992), Douglas Feith (Under Secretary for Policy in the Dept. of Defense), Elliot Abrams (National Security Council), Lewis Libby (Chief of Staff for Vice President Cheney), Eric Edelman (Libby's top assistant), and Richard Perle (Chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, who the F.B.I. found passing classified information from the National Security Council to the Israeli Embassy when he was a Senate staffer in 1970 and who has worked as an election advisor for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu between 1996-'99) . Can you imagine the ruckus there would be if this number of communists or Free Masons or black nationalists were found in the higher reaches of our foreign policy establishment? Let me repeat that I am not speaking of Jews here but of right wing Zionists, or those who subscribe to an extreme version of a nationalist ideology that is currently in power in another country, a country that has a crucial stake in how the American Government acts in its region. Now, I don't believe that U.S. policy on Iraq has been made by these Zionists advisors, but neither do I believe that they are without influence in the matter or that their right wing Zionism does not affect what they tell Bush, or Cheney, or Rumsfeld. Rather,in my view, what we have here is a convergence of two imperialisms. It is Bush's and Sharon's complementary interests that have put them in bed together. The bevy of right wing Zionist advisors that surround Bush would have encouraged this tryst and perhaps served as match-maker.

They have probably also helped to convince Bush—assuming he needed any convincing—that if he served Israel's interests in this manner he would garner the support of enough American Jews, most of whom have become Zionists (soft or hard) in recent years, to put him over the top in the next election. (No one should suppose that Karl Rove, Bush's exceptionally savvy political advisor, hasn't carefully taken note of this opportunity, or that his man in the White House is indifferent to it. Hence, the otherwise surprising decision to hold the GOP 2004 Nominating Convention in New York City) I suppose this deserves being listed as the Bush crowd's eighth major reason for going to war with Iraq.

That still leaves unexplained why the rush to war, why the Government's insistence on starting the war now. If Israel needs a war now to resolve the explosive and worsening problems that have resulted from the failure of its policies in the West Bank, this is not—or at least should not be—a problem for the U.S. But if I'm right in my list of the American and Israeli Governments' real reasons for going to war, THE GREAT DANGER THAT BOTH OF THESE GOVERNMENTS FEAR IS NOT THAT THE U.N. INSPECTIONS WON'T WORK, BUT THAT THEY WILL. For if the inspections work, or show that they are working or can work, then both Governments are denied their ideological cover for going to war. At this point, the U.S. would either have to pull back from the brink, or admit to having other, hitertoo secret reasons, for going to war. However, the great majority of the American people would never accept the real reasons for this war, and without their support the American and Israeli Governments could not reap the many economic and political benefits they are hoping for, benefits they can only attain through a full scale war. Well, too bad for them, but not for the hundreds of thousands of people who are certain to die in any war.

The great crusading journalist, Izzy Stone, said he could summarize most of what aspiring young reporters need to learn in two words: "Governments lie". If he had extended his lesson just three more words, he might have added—"especially in war". The American Government has a long history of such lies; the sinking of the battleship "Maine" in the Spanish American War, the Gulf of Tonkin non-incident in the Vietnam war, and the invasion of Granada to protect U.S. medical students are but the most notorious examples. Given this history, the Bush team's consistent disregard for the truth (both in getting (s)elected and in pursuing its unpopular policies in virtually every domain), and the collection of dated, confused and irrelevant charges that make up the official case against Iraq, it is hard to believe that anyone could take what the Administration is saying seriously. Sadly, this is not the case.

This is also very dangerous, because even most of Bush's critics, in the U.S. and around the world, refer to his position on Iraq as a "mistake" rather than a "lie" and treat their differences with him as a "disagreement" over what means are best suited to attain a common end. "Give the inspections a chance" and "No war without a U.N. resolution" were the most popular slogans in the world-wide demonstrations against the war that took place on February 15th. In short, though Bush has been unable to convince most doubters of his interpretation of events, with his domination over the public stage, he has succeeded in setting the terms of the debate, and in politics as in war being able to choose the terrain on which a battle will be fought is often the decisive step toward winning it. What will happen, in other words, if/when the Government—either under pressure or because they are more intelligent than we give them credit for—accepts the scenario urged by the majority of their critics: a couple months more of inspections and a vague U.N. resolution that even France and Germany can agree on and the U.S. can interpret as an okay to begin its war in Iraq?

I am reminded of an incident that occurred in Nazi Germany in the mid-1930s, where a jurist—I can't recall his name—objected to some Nazi practises that were not covered by the law. Once Hitler's controlled legislature passed laws that made these practises legal, the jurist said he was now satisfied and fell in behind the Fuhrer. Could the same thing happen to most of our politicians, public intellectuals and even movement partisans who are now demanding that Bush act through the U.N. and give the inspections a chance to work? I consider such a turnabout not only possible but even likely, unless more of Bush's critics begin treating his phantom reasons for attacking Iraq with the contempt that they deserve and do a much better job educating the public on the real reasons for war, ALL OF THEM. People who understand these reasons will not let themselves be snookered into supporting the war through any combination of Congressional, NATO or U.N. resolutions.

What is the role of 9/11 in all this? It is now clear that there were two kinds of hijacking on Sept. 11th, 2001, the first by free lance terrorists who took over four airplanes and bombed the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the second by U.S. state terrorists who used the events of the day to push through their right wing political agenda and to beat whomever dared criticize them over the head. By prefacing all proposals with the words "In the names of those who died", Bush seems to have appropriated 9/11 in ways very similar to how Israel's right wing Government has appropriated the Holocaust. Sadly, but all too effectively, 9/11 functions politically today as Bush's Holocaust. Perhaps his right wing Zionist advisors also instructed him on how to bring this off. The tragic victims of 9/11—and of the Holocaust—deserve a better historical fate than this self-interested manipulation by regimes that share many of the worst features of their butchers.

Well, what's to be done? Besides urging that we replace the effort to provide the Government with a "better" means to reach our common end (where we accept their terms and framework for the debate) with an even greater effort to expose them (where the real reasons for the war become the main subject for discussion), I can summarize most of what else I have to offer on this subject by passing on an e-mail I got a couple weeks ago. Apparently, a recent study at the University of Sussex in England showed that demonstrating for a cause in which you believe is not only good for your conscience, it's also good for your health. No wonder participating in the big demonstration on February 15th felt so good. So, in the interest of good health—your's, the Iraquis', our troops' and the world's—keep it up.