The Bush drummer-boys in the American press are getting ready to beat their drums for war in Iraq. At the moment, they are merely publishing conveniently leaked secret government plans of war. These plans don’t look significantly different from the ones “leaked” last October, January, and March. It is safe to assume that they are feelers supposed to test public opinion. We should take the opportunity to inform our representatives in Congress that war on Iraq lacks a justifying motive (self-defense would be good), is unpopular with the whole globe (except for Sharon’s Israel), has no plan for results, and would be terribly expensive. Of course, it would be illegal, genocidal, and immoral, too, but I don’t know if the frightened rabbits in Congress could take this strident, biased language, clearly tainted with leftist propaganda. Go for the pragmatic approach. It’s more patriotic. Also safer.
The New York Times (5 July) reports that the umpteenth secret government war plan for an Iraqi slaughter (they call it by its old-fashioned and grandiose term “war”) has plopped down on its desk, leaked by the usual free-press angelic intervention. This spirited document reveals the proverbial three-pronged attack by land, air, and sea-forces from the north, south, and west. It may only sound proverbial to me, who has never played with toy soldiers or collected war medals. It may actually play better than it sounds. Not that the dead will be able to judge objectively. But they won’t be asked.
My doubts about this plan emerge as soon as I read that eight countries, including Turkey, in dire economic straits, soon to go the way of Argentina it would appear, and Qatar are to provide “staging areas” for the slaughter but haven’t yet been asked. The idea is to topple Saddam Hussein, by finishing off a good portion of his sick and starving 22 million victims–the Iraqi people. The document assumes that the eight unconsulted countries will be overcome with pride for the honor of being asked to join such a noble and courageous feat. True, Turkish Prime Minister Ecevit is begging Russia to intervene to persuade the US not to invade Iraq, but he may be out of power soon, so we need not dwell on his bizarre burst of pacifism. He’s said to be very ill and thus not quite right in the head.
Besides, what’s the point of asking anyway. They all say “no”–like the blushing virgins they are. They soon learn to enjoy the force of the master. On his recent visit to Europe, President Dumbo got a categorical “no” from Putin, Schroeder, and Chirac (or “Shrak,” as Dumbo called him, when he didn’t get addled and called him “President Jacques”). Saudi Arabia will not let US forces use Arabia as a “staging area.” No way. Plucky folks, the Saudis. They live next door to the Iraqi version of the Unabomber and they won’t help us take him out. Curiouser and curiouser.
About 140 British members of Parliament have signed a petition condemning an offensive against Iraq. The British public’s love affair with Tony Blair’s love affair with Dumbo’s love affair with military antics is over. Everyone is out of love. Except Sharon’s party in Israel. They want war with Iraq. However, the Israelis are not sure about Sharon. Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, confesses that “recent public opinion surveys show that the public’s love affair with Sharon is over. More people are worried about security and the economic situation. More people believe he has no solution to Israel’s economic and defense problems. More people want a different prime minister.” This falling-out-of-love business is serious stuff, for there is no purer hatred than the hatred of people who had once been in love.
It is reported in the press that Israel has just bought three nuclear-capability vessels. Handy for the sea part of the three-pronged attack on Iraq but not dependable if someone other than the “man of peace” rules Israel.
So the situation is a mess. And, since the media won’t do their job responsibly, it’s up to us to decide if we should enter into a new love affair with this old war in Iraq–which we’ve been bombing almost daily since 1991 anyway.
Aside from the issue of the murder of innocents, do we care if we become not just the rogue state, but the pariah state?
Washington has the gall to pose as potential victim of Iraqi aggression. The world knows better. And it has a slighly better short- and long-term memory than does what Gore Vidal calls the United States of Amnesia. The 1991 Gulf “War,” the largest military operation since WW2, went like this: the US gave signals to Hussein that his invasion of Kuwait would not phase it. Then it dropped 80,000 tons of explosives, the equivalent of 7 Hiroshima nuclear bombs, in 42 days of consecutive bombing. 50% missed the intended targets and hit schools and hospitals, with people like children in them. The American people saw the “war” as an endless, boring title sequence of “Star Wars” with tiny flashes of light zizzing and flashing in the night sky over an invisible Baghdad. They never saw the bodies; never heard the cries; never felt the tears; never answered the old man asking , “what do the women and children have to do with this?” But the rest of the world saw the footage of the killing. They know that the reality of every war is in the killing, as Leo Tolstoy said.
100,000 people were killed.
US forces (and their allies) destroyed the Iraqi water supply, sewerage, power generators, transport, health care, agriculture, and communication systems crucial to the prevention of disease and the maintenance of life. This vital infrastructure has never been repaired. Our sanctions have crippled the economy. There simply isn’t any money for reconstruction on that scale. Nor is there the possibility of buying supplies for repairs. Sanctions don’t permit it. Yet Iraq is a desert country. Its modern cities are completely dependent on the West for replacement parts and equipment–a situation which Western colonialism has fostered and continues to foster. Dependency is the legacy of underdevelopment, which is the only thing capitalism develops at the periphery of the industrial world. It’s a strange paradox, but capitalism underdevelops the world. India in the 18th century had the largest, most sophisticated iron industry in the world. Until Britain underdeveloped it.
In December of 1999, The International Committee of the Red Cross observed that “just a decade ago, Iraq boasted one of the most modern infrastructures and highest standards of living in the Middle East, with a modern, complex health care system, and sophisticated water treatment and pumping facility” (ICRC, “Iraq: A Decade of Sanctions,” December 1999).
In the 1991 Gulf Massacre, 300 tons of depleted uranium in warheads were dumped on Iraq. This made it a nuclear war. The Iraqi desert glows in the dark–and not just from the jeweled sky. The effects of the dumping of DU are documented (as they are in Serbia). Dr. Janan Hassan, a pediatrician in Basra Maternity and Children’s Hospital, says that instances of cancer have increased fivefold since 1991. In Iraq (as in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after 1945), young people are afraid to marry. Birth defects occur at epidemic rates. Babies are born without eyes, genitals, heads even; heart on the wrong side; no thyroid; hands growing out of shoulders. Our own Gulf veterans have babies with the same defects. 100,000 veterans are DU contaminated and may die. The scientist who developed DU weaponry is dying. The 26th victim of DU contamination–in the Bosnia campaign–just died in Italy. The DU story exploded in Europe in January 2000; there was a squeak in the New York Times about the “alleged” Balkan syndrome. Then, the story died. Americans seem to act like children playing hide and seek: they think, if they cover their eyes, they can’t be seen.
After we carpet-bombed Iraq, we imposed sanctions. They have prevented the free-flow of food and medicines and the recontruction of infrastructure, without which the economy cannot recover. A Humanitarian Panel convened by the UN Security Council has found that the oil-for-food program is inadequate. Dennis Halliday, who ran the UN’s program, said that of the $20 billion acquired over 3 years, $7 billion went for reparation to Kuwait and other compensations. The remaining $13 billion amounted to $190 spent per Iraqi head per year over 3 years. Not exactly abundant. The situation can only improve if we lift the sanctions. But no one is talking about that. Only of war.
Human-rights workers and advocates say that sanctions are a genocidal weapon. In a statement addressed to President Clinton, 54 US bishops maintained that “this bombing campaign, together with the total embargo in place since August 1990, was and is an attack against the civilian population of Iraq. Such counter-population warfare has been unequivocally condemned by the most authoritarian teaching body of the Catholic Church, The Second Vatican Council (1962-65).” The UNICEF of November 1997 wrote that “the number of malnourished children represents an increase of 72% since international sanctions were imposed on Baghdad.” The UNICEF Report of 30 April 1998 has observed that “in those five years of age, the increase (an excess of some 50,000 deaths yearly compared with 1989) is associated with heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, liver or kidney diseases.”
Washington knew that sanctions would take lives–especially children’s. A Defense Intelligence Agency document (“Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities”) admitted the effects of sanctions on keeping Iraqi water non-potable and possibly lethal on a massive scale: “With no domestic sources of both water treatment replacement parts and some essential chemicals, Iraq will attempt to circumvent United Nations’ sanctions to import these vital commodities. Failing to secure supplies will result in a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population. This could lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease” (Thomas Nagy, “The Secret behind the Sanctions: How the US Intentionally Poisoned Iraq’s Water Supply,” The Progressive, September 2001).
More than 500,000 children have died in Iraq because of sanctions that forbid the import of chlorine and other water-purifying agents (reported by UNICEF, Human Rights Watch). 5,000 per month continue to die. I’ve seen pictures of shoe-box-sized little containers stored in Basra’s hospitals’ refrigeration units in the heat of summer last year. The units ran out of space. At a House Hearing on 7 June 2001, Representative Cynthia McKinney, Democrat of Georgia, referring to the DIA document, said, “Attacking the Iraqi public drinking supply flagrantly targets civilians and is a violation of the Geneva Convention and of the fundamental laws of civilized nations.” McKinney could have reminded her colleagues that treaties, signed in the name of the people of the United States, are the supreme law of the land. In the internationalist 18th century, our constitution said so. Sanctions that violate the Geneva Convention Treaty are, therefore, unconstitutional. Do you think the press bothers to remind the patriots-for-war that bit of sane Americana?
Bullying its way to war with Iraq, the Bush White House insists that Iraq possesses and intends to use weapons of mass destruction. So does Israel, Pakistan, India, China, Russia, France, Britain–and the US. But, in fact, Iraq is disarmed. Its nuclear force has been annihilated. At best, so France’s respected Le Monde diplomatique (23 June 2002) reports, Iraq still has 6 SCUD missiles (some say two), and they may not be functional. Delivery capability is limited or non-existent. Even UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has admitted that the UN’s weapon inspection unit, UNSCOM, has done a thoroughly good job and has been able to eliminate more weapons of mass destruction than the Gulf “War.” The nuclear and chemical arsenal has been shut down. The biological contingent is a black hole, but Unscom has installed hundreds of TV monitors to inspect sensitive sites (Le Monde diplomatique, 23 June 2002).
None of this matters. President Dumbo’s Cold-War coterie of “advisors” know that President Hussein is not a threat. The US is the biggest donor to The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a multilateral, international commission charged with enforcing chemical weapons conventions. Its former head, Jose Bustani, a “workaholic Brazilian,” so columnist George Monbiot, of the UK’s daily, The Guardian, designates him, “has done more in the past five years to promote world peace than anyone on earth. His inspections have overseen the destruction of 2 million chemical weapons and two-thirds of the world’s chemical facilities. He has so successfully cajoled reluctant nations that the number of signatories to the convention has risen from 87 to 145 in the past five years.”
In April, this indefatigable champion for peace was fired by the commission under intense pressure from the US White House. His crime? Allegedly, bias, bad bookkeeping (proven to be untrue), and other irrelevancies. His true failure? Bustani almost persuaded Iraq to sign the OPCW convention, which would have made Iraq subject to international inspection. Monbiot can’t help but conclude from this irrational action that the dismissal of Bustani “will shut down the peaceful options for dealing with the chemical weapons Iraq may possess, helping to insure that war then becomes the only means of destroying them.”
Dumbo’s gang wants war. Why? Jason Vost (“Saddam in the Crosshairs,” Village Voice, 20 November, 2001) writes, “Donald Rumpsfeld’s Pentagon [is] increasingly seen by some as an asylum where, a coterie of vengeful Cold War unilateralist relics plot a return to a forceful, Reaganesque Pax Americana broadening the war [on terror] to encompass military action against Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon–essentially fusing Israel’s national security agenda with that of the United States.”
At this time, the European press reports that Sharon wants to invade Lebanon for the second time in his dubious military career. Hezbollah, in interviews, has said it will not strike first, but it will be ready. Sharon’s coalition in Parliament wants to “transport” Palestinians to Jordan. A war against Iraq would provide cover for both actions. Strangely, Israel, like Saudi Arabia, is not worried about being mass-destroyed by Iraq in retaliation for the US attack.. Curiouser, don’t you think?
Russia’s daily newspaper, Pravda, offers another theory. In an opinion article, “Washington’s Next Fable: Iraq to Launch Missiles with the Smallpox Virus” (8 July 2002), Pravda’s columnist argues that “the US economy is going to pieces;the country is shaken with loud scandals connected with corruption and profit overestimation by US corporations; and the dollar is slowing down and will soon be equal to the euro. . . . The American President, to keep the country from a default, resolutely increases the US national debt. . . . A small-scale triumphant war can be a solution to domestic problems. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is believed to be the best enemy for this war. The solution is brilliant and simple.”
Brilliant and simple. And the consequences? As things stand now, a practically disarmed Iraq (it hasn’t bought a single tank, plane, or helicopter since the “war”) can barely manage to keep up the brutal repression against dissent. The destroyed infrastructure impedes fully lucrative extraction of oil–which is why money for the oil-for-food program is not as large as it could be if things were in good repair. Hospitals and doctors have–nothing. Parents watch their children dying of leukemia without pain killers. Epidemics go on rampage. DU contaminates DNA and Sci-Fi babies are born. Housing is ramschackle and crowded. Prices of food are sky-high. If we bomb, what else can happen?
Accident like the infamous bombing of a Baghdad air-raid shelter will inevitably happen. 450 people died in the shelter hit by a not-so-smart American missile. It has become a shrine. A woman who lost 8 children and her husband visits it daily. She says she feels sorry for Bush–Senior. Her humanity is intact–she is not devoured by the desire for vengeance. And she utterly condemns the man responsible by not deeming him worthy of her vengeance. Such a tragically mature, civilized, and magnificent contempt. The missile which graduated from The American Weapons Academy with a hidden C-average penetrated the shelter through its upper floor. Those who were not hurled out the windows by the blast died. The missile continued, piercing through to the lower floor. Here, the boliers burst and flooded the shelter with hot water. The people were boiled to death. After the water receded, you could trace the outlines of children’s bodies through the films of flesh stamped on the wall. Doctors had no victims to work on. Simply medieval.
What other suppressed guilt could trouble our sleep with nightmares–here in the land of the brave and the free?
The UK’s weekly,The New Statesman, recently related testimonies of how the women of Iraq feel. A former teacher begs in the streets of Baghdad to feed her daughter. Her teaching salary of 3,000 dinars per day could not sustain them. On the street, she can get 10,000 dinars per day. Asked if her daughter begs too, she protests, “May I go blind if I ever allow my daughter to beg. No, she’s in school and I’ll do whatever I can to keep her there.” And to think that in the 70’s and 80’s, though the regime was undeniably repressive, women were working in great numbers in the public sector. Iraq had free child care and transport. Our war and sanctions ended all that. Public-sector salaries remained fixed. Prices hurtled to the stratosphere. They still have repression.
Today, as one Iraqi woman is quoted as saying, surviving in Iraq is not easy. “We’re surviving the sanctions, not living a life exactly, but surviving. But a war will finish the children off. . . . Don’t they realise [sic] that a war won’t hurt him [Saddam Hussein] . . .it will only hurt us.”
America needs her people. No one and nothing in power now will help her to regain her sanity, dignity, sense of justice, kindness, and self-respect. All she has to speak out for her wounded honor is–us.
We must stop this war. The Iraqi people are not our enemy.
Luciana Bohne is founding editor of Film Criticism. She teaches film and literature at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania; she writes in Italy; paints in Croatia, and has been running from war all her life.