The Manufactured And Real Iraq Crisis
by Edward S. Herman
January 20, 2003

With enough power and chutzpah it is possible for an aggressive and over-armed state to manufacture a crisis and pretend that the crisis lies with the threatened victim rather than with the aggressor state. Today, the United States has not only manufactured one crisis but two: The first is Saddam Hussein's alleged failure to disarm; the second is North Korea's attempt to acquire nuclear arms.

The first REAL crisis is the determination of the United States to attack Iraq, depose Saddam Hussein, and establish a dependent regime in that country, AND the failure of the "international community" to oppose this blatant plan of aggression in violation of the UN Charter.
The second REAL crisis is the failure of the international community to vigorously contest the Bush administration's announced plans to militarize space, to abandon the Nuclear Test Ban and Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaties, to threaten preemptive wars to stifle challenges to its domination, and to refine and possibly use nuclear weapons.
North Korea's nuclear plans clearly follow in the wake of those developments, along with the U.S. inclusion of North Korea in the "axis of evil," so that the North Korean "threat" is derivative and miniscule in comparison with that posed by the big bully.

There is a third REAL threat attributable to the big bully, namely the ongoing serious ethnic cleansing being carried out by Israeli leaders in Palestine, in violation of international law and in opposition to a global consensus. This deadly process has intensifed under the protection of the Bush administration's carte blanche to "man of peace" Ariel Sharon and the diversion provided by the Iraq "crisis," and it may escalate further under the cover of the U.S. attack on Iraq. This third real threat is closely tied to the first, not only operationally but in terms of intent, as numerous high Bush administration officials have "dual loyalties" and are at least partially serving Likud-Israeli interests.

In the propaganda outpourings of the Bush administration, however, their "patience" with Saddam Hussein has run out and, given his "growing menace" (Bush), he must be removed by force. This "crisis" has been completely contrived by Bush officials, just as the Guatemala crisis of 1954--based on alleged Soviet proxy aggression!--was fabricated.
Every Bush administration argument is false or irrelevant, and the "international community" is once again having to expend much effort trying to appease and contain the bully. However, that community has not had the guts to straightforwardly oppose him, and the puny efforts to appease via a revised inspections system have actually given him further weaponry--he has "gone along" with the inspections, so what more can be asked of him before he does what he planned to do anyway?

That Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD) threaten U.S. national security is laughable--even if he has a few such weapons (unproven), he has no delivery systems that could reach the United States and he may not wish to commit suicide. On the other hand, U.S. WMD not only threaten Iraq but anybody else who crosses the administration, which has even announced an intention to preemptively attack enemies of choice and to ignore international law.

Saddam Hussein does pose a threat to his neighbors, but much less so than Israel, which has more powerful armed forces and, even more important, is under the protection of the United States, which has sanctioned numerous Israeli attacks on neighbors, systematic ethnic cleansing in the occupied territories, and Israel's acquisition of a large WMD arsenal.
Saddam can't make a move across borders because the United States is waiting to pounce; but Israel can do so because the United States regularly vetoes any condemnation of Israeli invasions and would not abide an attempt to halt Israel by force. Saddam was generously supplied with WMD by the United States and Britain in the 1980s when he was fighting Iran, so apparently his possession of them is not inherently threatening, but only when not serving approved U.S.-British ends. It is well-known--though not reported and reflected on in the U.S. media--that the United States seized the 12,000 page Iraq report on its WMD in order to remove some 8,000 pages that detailed U.S. and other Western company and official provision of WMD to Iraq in earlier years. Leaving that material in would have shown U.S. approval of the weapons whose possession is now deemed a huge menace, demonstrating that the pretense of menace is blatant hypocrisy.

Since the 1980s, and under the impact of war, sanctions and the inspections regime, Iraq's military capability and WMD have been drastically reduced, with high level inspectors claiming that at least 90-95 percent of Saddam's stocks of chemical weapons have been destroyed, and the IAEA contending in 1998--and as recently as January 27, 2003--that he has no nuclear weapons or meaningful nuclear weapons program (Bush's contention in his State of the Union Message that Saddam "had" such a program and "was working" on methods of enriching uranium is therefore misleading if not outright lying). Saddam's "threat" must therefore be much much smaller than in the period when he was using WMD with U.S. and British approval. That he now poses a "growing menace" justifying a war is therefore a misrepresentation of fact and a cover for a semi-hidden agenda.

There is also the claim that Saddam Hussein has produced a "crisis" by his failure to cooperate with the inspection system, disarm, and obey Security Council rulings. But the inspection system, like the "sanctions of mass destruction," has always been a U.S.-British mechanism for punishing Iraq until there was a "regime change." Numerous U.S. officials have said that the sanctions would not be lifted until Saddam is removed. This has been a violation of the original settlement agreement of 1991, which called for terminable inspections and made no mention of required regime change. All participants except the United States and Britain have felt that a 90-95 percent WMD removal sufficed; and it is worth repeating that the partners who have disagreed are the ones who most lavishly supplied Iraq with those weapons in the 1980s, and opposed any condemnations of Saddam for using them!

The legal basis of the charges against Iraq is therefore fatally compromised by the fact of multiple U.S. and British violations of the terms of Security Council Resolution 687--including, in addition to imposing the illict objective of regime change, the use of inspections for locating non-WMD miitary targets (recently acknowledged by longtime Executive Chairman of UNSCOM, Rolf Ekeus), the unauthorized "no-fly zone" patrols and attacks, and the transformation of the sanctions system into a mode of punishment of an entire people, with enormous civilian casualties. The sanctimonious U.S.-British call for enforcement of Security Council resolutions also flies in the face of their double standard on this matter: Israel is not only permitted to acquire WMD, it can repeatedly ignore Security Council rulings without any penalty whatsoever.

The imminent war is therefore based on considerations that have nothing to do with Saddam's dictatorship or military threat.
Key members of the Bush administration had announced an aim of "toppling Saddam Hussein" back in 2000 in the publication of the Project for the New American Century, Robert Kagan's and William Kristol's edited volume entitled Present Dangers, where Saddam's military threat and WMD were barely mentioned, but the need to control an important resource-rich area was openly acknowledged. These and other Bush administration officials have also been notorious for their strong support of Likud and Israeli ethnic cleansing, three of them--Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and David Wurmser--even having contributed to a strategy paper for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in 1996. The Bush administration's protection of Sharon's state terrorism and the imminent attack on Iraq serve expansionist Israeli interests well. This factor, along with the desire to take advantage of military superiority to show the world who is boss, to firm up contol of an oil-rich territory, and to provide a cover for Bush's domestic policies, gives us the real motives behind the manufacture of the Iraq "crisis."

There has been a desperate Bush administration search for plausible reasons to "topple Saddam Hussein"--ties to Al Qaeda, aversion to dictatorship and concern for Iraqis, Saddam's growing menace, evasions of inspections and disrespect for Security Council resolutions, etc. But they are merely excuses, some false, some trivial, all profoundly hypocritical, designed to justify an aggression based entirely on other political and strategic considerations.

First published in Z Magazine / Znet

Edward S. Herman is Professor Emeritus at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

Back to Political Articles