The War on Iraq

As an alien, I enjoy the hospitality and freedom of living in the United States. However, this does not require me to be quiet and shut up. The rest of my site is apolitical, but I can't keep quiet on this issue; I feel obliged to write this off my mind.

On March 20, 2003, the United States of America started offensive action against Iraq, in direct violation of the charter of the United Nations and its recognition of the sovereign equality of all its members.

Ironically, United States president Franklin Roosevelt was among the first enthusiastic supporters of the idea, and the United Nations charter was signed by president Harry Truman on October 24, 1945. The nation of Iraq joined the United Nations only shortly thereafter, on December 21, 1945.

Its preamble asserts that "armed force shall not be used, save in common interest" and clarifies in article 39 that the United Nations Security Council is to determine the existence of any threat to peace that might warrant the use of force. Article 51 excepts the "inherent right of [...] self-defence if an armed attack occurs."

In its speeches, United States president George W. Bush is not consistent in explaning his reasons for going to war. Sometimes, he quotes resolution 1441, which called for disarmament of Iraq. At other times, Bush cites the threat of terrorism, talking about self-defense against terrorist attacks. A third reason frequently mentioned is the liberation of Iraq's citizens. And then there is the fourth reason, which needs no further comment - his personal feud against the man who "tried to kill my dad."

Resolution 1441 mentioned that "Iraq will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations." However, the majority of world leaders and security council members does not concur either with Bush's assertion that disarmament has failed, nor with his interpretation that "serious consequences" includes war. A new proposed resolution that was explicit about authorizing armed force was retracted just prior to the beginning of combat operations, for fear of rejection by the security council. Prior to the meeting, Bush failed to swing opinion, despite NSA's eavesdropping efforts of spying on security council members and intense lobbying, including promises of financial aid contingent on a US-positive vote.

The United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) has, according to its reports, not found a "smoking gun" that proves Iraq to own weapons of mass destruction. The United States claims to have better intelligence. However, when UNMOVIC investigated a CIA report, they found these claims to be without substance. Ironically, if the United States had any more unrevealed intelligence, they would themselves be in violation of resolution 1441, which requests, in item 10, to provide any information to UNMOVIC. The allegations made by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Nigeria were even proven to be based on forged documents.

As to Bush's second claim about terrorism and support to Al Qaeda, these claims have never been adequately demonstrated. There was a single report of an Al Qaeda member visiting a hospital in Iraq, but that is hardly substantial. Terrorists certainly visit hospitals around the world regularly, undercover. As a way to gather domestic support, the United States government continues to frighten and scare its citizens to prepare for imminent terrorist attacks, despite the fact that it is much more likely to fall victim to one of the more than 15.000 homicides. The homicide rate in the United States remains to be magnitudes higher than in the rest of the world. More than 40.000 were killed in car accidents. At the outbreak of the SARS variant of pneumonia, US officials and media were quick to speculate about a terrorist bioweapons attack. This idea was immediately rejected by health officials around the world, still, it created an athmosphere of caution and irrational fear, especially when compared against the 36.000 annual deaths to the common influenza. Similar speculations surfaced - and were seriously discussed - after the loss of the Columbia space shuttle, as if it was child's play to intercept an hypersonic spacecraft at 60 kilometers altitude.

And yet Bush's third claim about liberating the citizens of Iraq has its merits. Everybody agrees that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant that has committed unspeakable atrocities during the past decades. Hussein launched wars of agression against his neighbors Iran and Kuwait, has oppressed the citizens of Iraq and committed genocide against the kurdish minority.

Yes, the world would be a better place without Saddam Hussein.

However, one also has to acknowledge that he has been getting mixed signals from Washington. Just like the United States sponsored the Taliban in their fight against the then-communist Soviet Union, Hussein was a welcome ally throughout the 1980's. The United States looked the other way when Hussein gassed Kurds, and provided Iraq with weapons, training and satellite images, even weapons-grade chemical substances and organisms as aid in the war against fundamentalist Iran, which US officials at that time believed to be a greater threat. There is a widely circulated photograph of now-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a friendly handshake with Saddam Hussein in December 1983, months after the CIA reported his usage of chemical weapons. Based on this experience, Saddam Hussein considered the United States an ally. Days prior to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Hussein misinterpreted remarks by Ambassador April Glaspie that the United States would remain neutral in a conflict with Kuwait.

This background cannot excuse any of Hussein's actions, he certainly deserves all the blame. But it is another example of appeasement politics by the United States government towards questionable parties in order to strengthen its perceived interests.

Hussein is one of the most treacherous heads of state today. But is this reason for the war that is currently underway? This unilateral action on behalf of the United States undermines 50 years of work in the United Nations, which accepts its members as sovereign nations that are supposed to handle internal matters by themselves. The charter allows exceptions to this rule: the Security Council may investigate any situation that "might give rise to an international dispute." The United States successfully used such exceptions in the UN-approved war against terrorism in Afghanistan. The United Nations could be persuaded again to bring Saddam Hussein before an international court of justice, if a persuasive argument were made.

There is a potential fifth reason for the war on Iraq, widely circulated in media abroad but less in domestic media, is the hunt for oil. Such speculation is "fueled" by the fact that a suspiciously large fraction of the Bush administration has close ties to the oil business. Bush himself, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice became multi-millionaires as executives of oil companies like Harken (Bush), Chevron (Rice) or Halliburton (Cheney). The oil sector remains one of the largest contributors to Bush and his republican party. Oil is also frequently mentioned as the reason why Bush is so keen on the war against Iraq but not against North Korea. After all, North Korea recently acknowledged that it is indeed working on weapons of mass destruction, and it oppresses its population by starvation, - so if these were the reason for attacking Iraq, the same reasoning should be applied to North Korea.

In the March 19th address to the nation, George W. Bush did not declare a war. Instead, he called his action "defensive." Bush sometimes uses the phrase "preemptive defense," which is an oxymoron. There is only preventive action, which is clearly outside the United Nations charter. As mentioned above, Bush elected not to go through the process of demonstrating any further rationales to the Security Council but to take matters into his own hands.

The violation of the charter of the United Nations in its "preventive defense" is not the first attempt at the United States trying to twist rules to their agenda, or to blankly ignore them.

In 2002, the United States transferred captives from Afghanistan to its base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Claiming that the alleged Taliban were "illegal combattants" instead of soldiers, the United States military denied them the status of Prisoners of War, which would entitle the captives to certain rights under the Geneva Conventions, including the right to refuse interrogation. International human rights organizations continue to complain with little effect. Of course, one of the prime reasons for keeping the prisoners in Cuba is to keep them off american soil, in order to deny access to the american justice system. Still, prisoners are refused their basic human right of having access to attorneys and a fair trial.

On November 6, 2002, the United States has executed the death penalty on a suspected terrorist and Al Qaeda member by firing a remote-controlled missile at his vehicle in Yemen. The death of five additional people in the car, including a US citizen, was accepted as collateral damage. The 6 persons killed were denied a fair trial and the basic human right of "presumed innocent until proven guilty."

As mentioned before, people like Hussein belong in front of an international court, yet the United States oppose the very existence of such an institution. On July 1, 2002, the International Criminal Court opened its doors in The Hague, Netherlands, with the mission as the "first ever permanent international criminal court established to [...] ensure that the gravest international crimes do not go unpunished." Of the 89 countries that ratified its statute, the most notable absence is the United States of America. In fact, prior to the foundation, the United States heavily lobbied against the ICC. After acknowledging that its creation could not be stopped, they tried to secure a special status that would exempt United States citizens and allies from prosecution. This attempt failed. Instead, the US house and senate passed a bill that allows using "all means necessary," including force, to "liberate" US citizens and allies from this "kangaroo court." The cover story is that that the United States are afraid of claims that would groundlessly implicate peacekeeping US troops, ignoring the response that there are safeguards, and that a fair trial would eventually reveal frivolous claims. Yet the United States also has concrete issues that it does not want to be investigated, such as alleged war crimes by its troops in Afghanistan. The United States feels that the "world police" deserves special exceptions - despite the fact that its own justice system does not treat the domestic police force any differently; claims against police officers must be investigated. Such measures are considered essential to prevent abuse of power.

In 2001, George W. Bush withdrew the United States from the Kyoto protocol, which was ratified by more than 100 countries in 1997 and which agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions below then 1990 level. Bush has stated that conformance with the protocol is not in the interest of the United States. Again, this position has been linked to his oil allies.

Even in domestic issues, the United States draws criticism from human rights organizations. In the wake of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, some 1200 residents of the United States were detained (the total number, or names, were never revealed). The cover story was usually an immigration charge (e.g. overstaying your visa), although some of the detainees were legal permanent residents. Detention happened in complete secrecy, in some cases it took their own families months to find out. According to reports, more than hundred people are still detained to this date, without any formal accusations and without access to attorneys. For more information, read the report "presumption of guilt" by Human Rights Watch, which includes numerous case studies.

Also, The United States maintains an alliance with Somalia as the two only countries that have not ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which prohibits the death penalty for minors. The death penalty is being abolished by countries around the world even for adults. Turkey recently abolished the death penalty - a prerequisite for joining the European Union.

To the outside world, the United States acts like a bully. The cynicist in me reminds that common rules and treaties are for weaklings; the strong don't need rules, they make them and break them at will. Being strong, the bully is comfortable with rules, as long as they can be twisted and turned to suit its interests - otherwise, treaties and coalitions are a nuisance to be ignored, the United Nations like the ICC or the Kyoto protocol.

Living in the United States, I know that a sizable fraction of the population disagrees with the government's position against Iraq and is at best ambivalent. But even those that agree with the war on Iraq on the grounds of the humanitarian reason of removing its tyrant are not comfortable with the idea of ignoring the authority of the United Nations and the opposition from around the globe. If the machinery of propaganda and terrorism scare was less effective, I'm sure that the majority of US citizens would rally as much here as elsewhere. Unfortunately, large fractions of the domestic media don't report much on "unpatriotic" issues. The media seems to be as patriotic today as it was anti-communist during the McCarthy area.

Yet the administration continues its course of action, and in fact claims its actions to be in the world's best interest - certainly an interesting position to take with the obvious opposition even from allies. With a belief of righeousness, George W. Bush attempts to spread the United States' ideals around the globe. Just as with the black-and-white diplomacy implied by his favorite "you are either with us or against us" quote, Bush firmly believes his set of moral values to be the only one, that other opinions must therefore be false and must be suppressed.

I believe, and I am at the same time afraid, that this war, and the United States' ignorance of international diplomacy, will cause a fracture between the United States and The Rest Of The World. And that might cause diplomatic and economic disruptions that will be far worse than any tyrant playing by himself in the sandbox.

I hope that the government of the United States will soon realize its folly - maybe after the next election, and re-join the diplomatic peacekeeping efforts of the international community.

It may be true that the current national laws and international treaties do not work well in the light of international terrorism, and that it might sometimes be necessary to act in order to avoid mass murder. However, the question if and when it is legitimate to intervene preventively, deserves the full attention of politicians, law enforcement agencies, the judicial system and academics around the world. National safety needs to be balanced against the human and civil rights of due process, freedom of speech, and the premise of presumed innocence. International safety needs to be balanced against the sovereignity of nations and common values like the United Nations and the ICC.

As it is, the United States government is rapidly presenting the public with facts without prior discussion. Dissent and criticism from academics and human rights organizations is not considered. Of course, since Bush believes his moral system to be superior, there is no need to listen to other opinions. It is a slippery slope.

The above essay was first published on March 22, 2003, and represents my personal opinion. Please feel free to distribute the text, or to link to it.

It is easy to distribute misinformation on the Internet, and if the same bit of information is copied and repeated over and over again, it might appear legitimate, like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have collected information from various sources; in most cases, I remembered bits and pieces from reading (non-US) magazines, and then, in order to include links to background information, looked for confirmation using search engines. I did not take any further steps to verify information than that. I urge you to follow the links, to research information yourself, and to come to your own conclusions.

I am aware of the potential complaint that I am ignoring pro-american information. But this text is a piece of opinion, and at the moment, america-scepticism does better resonate with my personal opinion.

Frank Pilhofer <fp -AT-> Back to the Homepage
Last modified: Sat Apr 19 14:53:34 2003