Monday, December 05, 2005

The themes of pro-war cant

The case for war was a complex tapestry of fabrications, exaggerations and misrepresentations. It was based on the conflation of several key themes, all of which represent serious international concerns, but none of which actually applied to the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein.

Let’s take these themes one at a time.

First, there was the allegation that Iraq possessed “massive stockpiles” of WMD. Certainly, the proliferation and use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons is a major international concern, and there is widespread public support for the banning of such weapons.

Yet there are many countries that do, in fact, possess, develop and produce such weapons. These countries include the US, Britain, France, Russia, China, Pakistan, India and Israel.

While Iraq did use chemical weapons against the Iranians during the 80’s Iran-Iraq war, at a time when the US was providing moral and material support to Iraq, it is now widely recognized that Iraq was effectively disarmed in 1991, following the first Gulf War.

The disarmament of Iraq was part of its punishment for invading Kuwait in 1990. There were also harsh economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations against Iraq, which made it almost impossible for Iraq to rebuild and modernize its industrial base. The people of Iraq suffered much hardship as a result of these sanctions. But in March, 2003, Iraq did not possess WMD, nor was it actively developing WMD.

Predicated on the incorrect assumption that Iraq continued to retain, possess and develop WMD, was the accusation of Iraqi noncompliance with UN Security Council resolutions. For example, on September 16, 2002, prime minister Howard told parliament:
The central issue in front of the world community now is Iraq’s failure to comply. That is the issue; that is the matter that should be of concern not only to this parliament but to parliaments around the world. The ways and means of ensuring that Iraq does comply with not only past but also future obligations established by the Security Council should be the preoccupation of the world. It is fair to say that has been the theme that has emerged from the statements of many over the past week.
But you don’t enhance the authority and credibility of international law by punishing a country for supposedly developing WMD when they aren’t, while turning a blind eye to countries that are. And in the absence of evidence to prove guilt, such punishment is unjust.

In March, 2003, Bush, Howard and Blair were all aware there was no evidence to support their charge that Iraq did in fact possess WMD, which is why they needed another angle, another set of accusations.

Next, consider the claim that Iraq was likely to give its (nonexistent) WMD to “terrorists”. This charge was very effective, not because there was any evidence to support it, but because it played on the post-911 fear of terrorism.

Bush, Howard and Blair accused Iraq of providing support for al Qa'ida and conjured up images of terrorists armed with nuclear bombs, but they offered no evidence to support these grave allegations against Iraq, because the truth is, there was no such collaboration between Iraq and al Qa'ida.

It is, however, common knowledge that Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States all provided weapons, training and finance to al Qa'ida throughout the 80’s and 90’s.

So again, we have a strong argument for muscular action, but not against Iraq. And so, another element was brought into play, a tactic familiar to all the political protagonists in this monstrous charade, the practice of character assassination.

Saddam Hussein and his regime would be subjected to a campaign of unrelenting abuse and vilification. They would be accused of torture, aggression and mass murder. The Iraqi government would be accused of lying and cheating and scheming, and their representations would be dismissed out of hand.

Saddam Hussein was accused of flouting international law and displaying a studied contempt for the world community. The Iraqi’s were alleged to be actively obstructing the UN weapons inspectors.

The invective extended to any who dared oppose the push to war.

But while Iraq was actually complying with the UN inspectors, Bush, Howard and Blair were preparing to thumb their noses at the Security Council if it did not authorize their plan to attack Iraq.

Apparently, Bush, Howard and Blair believe that while Iraq should comply fully and unreservedly with the rulings of the UN Security Council, Anglo-American powers (including Australia) should be exempt from such constraints.

There has been no admission or even recognition of this inconsistency by the politicians and pundits who made the case for war. Of all the themes involved in justifying armed aggression against Iraq, this theme was the most hypocritical.

We need only reflect on the Australian government’s ambivalent attitude toward UN agencies like the Human Rights Commission, the World Court and international conventions like the Kyoto Protocol. The US record on international treaties is no better, and indeed, many countries show scant regard for international law.

The notion that the very legitimacy of international law was jeopardized by alleged Iraqi non-compliance was overblown to the point of absurdity. The fact is, Iraq had endured 12 years of the most severe and comprehensive sanctions ever applied to a nation.

Iraq had been disarmed and reduced to a state of abject poverty. Iraq posed no threat to any other nation and was essentially defenseless. Iraq had already been stripped of the sovereign rights most countries take for granted. It certainly had no power to protect itself.

In the absence of any real evidence to prove the most damning accusations against Iraq, and given the highly dubious and ethically challenged arguments for invading Iraq, the warmongers attempted to construct a legal argument to justify aggression. This argument was based on the reinterpretation of Security Council Resolution 678, which authorized “all necessary means” to evict Iraq from Kuwait.

The pro-war lobby claimed this authorization was still applicable because Iraq had not fully disarmed and was therefore in breach of the ceasefire agreement. This argument clearly fails the test of logic in light of the fact that, in 2003, Iraq did not possess and was not developing banned weapons.

All these themes were clearly specious at the time they were presented and all have since been proven false, yet still the war supporters and their apologists in the media imply that taken together, these themes provided a compelling and convincing case for war.

This is not just an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. This is a case of intentional deception for the purpose of misleading the public about the reasons for invading Iraq.

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