Is the war in Iraq a diversion?
The Nation
Is the war in Iraq a diversion?
Mon Mar 15 04:17:27 2004

Is the war in Iraq a diversion?
The Empire Backfires
By Jonathan Schell - The Nation 29 March 2004 Issue

The detailed article below raises a disturbing question: Is the war
in Iraq a diversion, like a magician's trick to take the people's
eyes of other, more serious global problems? For example, there are
many major issues that remain without solutions: Pakistan's rampant
nuclear weapons proliferation, the millions of jobless workers in the
U.S., bin Laden still on the loose, and the U.S.-led coups against
democratically elected governments in Haiti and Venezuela.
-Veterans for Common Sense

The first anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq has
arrived. By now, we were told by the Bush Administration before the
war, the flower-throwing celebrations of our troops' arrival would
have long ended; their numbers would have been reduced to the low
tens of thousands, if not to zero; Iraq's large stores of weapons of
mass destruction would have been found and dismantled; the
institutions of democracy would be flourishing; Kurd and Shiite and
Sunni would be working happily together in a federal system; the
economy, now privatized, would be taking off; other peoples of the
Middle East, thrilled and awed, so to speak, by the beautiful scenes
in Iraq, would be dismantling their own tyrannical regimes. Instead,
549 American soldiers and uncounted thousands of Iraqis, military and
civilian, have died; some $125 billion has been expended; no weapons
of mass destruction have been found; the economy is a disaster;
electricity and water are sometime things; America's former well-
wishers, the Shiites, are impatient with the occupation; terrorist
bombs are taking a heavy toll; and Iraq as a whole, far from being a
model for anything, is a cautionary lesson in the folly of imperial
rule in the twenty-first century. And yet all this is only part of
the cost of the decision to invade and occupy Iraq. To weigh the full
cost, one must look not just at the war itself but away from it, at
the progress of the larger policy it served, at things that have been
done elsewhere--some far from Iraq or deep in the past--and, perhaps
above all, at things that have been left undone.

Nuclear Fingerprints

While American troops were dying in Baghdad and Falluja and
Samarra, Buhary Syed Abu Tahir, a Sri Lankan businessman, was busy
making centrifuge parts in Malaysia and selling them to Libya and
Iran and possibly other countries. The centrifuges are used for
producing bomb-grade uranium. Tahir's project was part of a network
set up by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the "father" of the Pakistani atomic
bomb. This particular father stole most of the makings of his nuclear
offspring from companies in Europe, where he worked during the 1980s.
In the 1990s, the thief became a middleman--a fence--immensely
enriching himself in the process. In fairness to Khan, we should add
that almost everyone who has been involved in developing atomic bombs
since 1945 has been either a thief or a borrower. Stalin purloined a
bomb design from the United States, courtesy of the German scientist
Klaus Fuchs, who worked on the Manhattan Project. China got help from
Russia until the Sino-Soviet split put an end to it. Pakistan got
secret help from China in the early 1970s. And now it turns out that
Khan, among many, many other Pakistanis, almost certainly including
the highest members of the government, has been helping Libya, Iran,
North Korea and probably others obtain the bomb. That's apparently
how Chinese designs--some still in Chinese--were found in Libya when
its quixotic leader, Muammar Qaddafi, recently agreed to surrender
his country's nuclear program to the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA). The rest of the designs were in English.

Were Klaus Fuchs's fingerprints on them? Only figuratively,
because they were "copies of copies of copies," an official said. But
such is the nature of proliferation. It is mainly a transfer of
information from one mind to another. Copying is all there is to it.
Sometimes, a bit of hardware needs to be transferred, which is where
Tahir came in. Indeed, at least seven countries are already known to
have been involved in the Pakistani effort, which Mohamed ElBaradei,
the head of the IAEA, called a "Wal-Mart" of nuclear technology and
an American official called "one-stop shopping" for nuclear weapons.
Khan even printed a brochure with his picture on it listing all the
components of nuclear weapons that bomb-hungry customers could buy
from him. "What Pakistan has done," the expert on nuclear
proliferation George Perkovich, of the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace, has rightly said, "is the most threatening
activity of proliferation in history. It's impossible to overstate
how damaging this is."

Another word for this process of copying would be globalization.
Proliferation is merely globalization of weapons of mass destruction.
The kinship of the two is illustrated by other details of Tahir's
story. The Sri Lankan first wanted to build his centrifuges in
Turkey, but then decided that Malaysia had certain advantages. It had
recently been seeking to make itself into a convenient place for
Muslims from all over the world to do high-tech business. Controls
were lax, as befits an export platform. "It's easy, quick, efficient.
Do your business and disappear fast, in and out," Karim Raslan, a
Malaysian columnist and social commentator, recently told Alan
Sipress of the Washington Post. Probably that was why extreme
Islamist organizations, including Al Qaeda operatives, had often
chosen to meet there. Global terrorism is a kind of globalization,
too. The linkup of such terrorism and the world market for nuclear
weapons is a specter that haunts the world of the twenty-first

The War and Its Aims

But aren't we supposed to be talking about the Iraq war on this
anniversary of its launch? We are, but wars have aims, and the
declared aim of this one was to stop the proliferation of weapons of
mass destruction. In his State of the Union address in January 2002,
the President articulated the threat he would soon carry out in
Iraq: "The United States of America will not permit the world's most
dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive
weapons." Later, he said we didn't want the next warning to be "a
mushroom cloud." Indeed, in testimony before the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, Secretary of State Colin Powell explicitly ruled
out every other justification for the war. Asked about the other
reasons, he said, "The President has not linked authority to go to
war to any of those elements." When Senator John Kerry explained his
vote for the resolution authorizing the war, he cited the Powell
testimony. Thus not only Bush but also the man likely to be his
Democratic challenger in this year's election justified war solely in
the name of nonproliferation.

Proliferation, however, is not, as the President seemed to
think, just a rogue state or two seeking weapons of mass destruction;
it is the entire half-century-long process of globalization that
stretches from Klaus Fuchs's espionage to Tahir's nuclear arms bazaar
and beyond. The war was a failure in its own terms because weapons of
mass destruction were absent in Iraq; the war policy failed because
they were present and spreading in Pakistan. For Bush's warning of a
mushroom cloud over an American city, though false with respect to
Iraq, was indisputably well-founded in regard to Pakistan's nuclear
one-stop-shopping: The next warning stemming from this kind of
failure could indeed be a mushroom cloud.

The questions that now cry out to be answered are, Why did the
United States, standing in the midst of the Pakistani nuclear Wal-
Mart, its shelves groaning with, among other things, centrifuge
parts, uranium hexafluoride (supplied, we now know, to Libya) and
helpful bomb-assembly manuals in a variety of languages, rush out of
the premises to vainly ransack the empty warehouse of Iraq? What sort
of nonproliferation policy could lead to actions like these? How did
the Bush Administration, in the name of protecting the country from
nuclear danger, wind up leaving it wide open to nuclear danger?

In answering these questions, it would be reassuring, in a way,
to report that the basic facts were discovered only after the war,
but the truth is otherwise. In the case of Iraq, it's now abundantly
clear that some combination of deception, self-deception and outright
fraud (the exact proportions of each are still under investigation)
led to the manufacture of a gross and avoidable falsehood. In the
months before the war, most of the governments of the world
strenuously urged the United States not to go to war on the basis of
the flimsy and unconvincing evidence it was offering. In the case of
Pakistan, the question of how much the Administration knew before the
war has scarcely been asked, yet we know that the most serious breach-
-the proliferation to North Korea--was reported and publicized before
the war.

It's important to recall the chronology of the Korean aspect of
Pakistan's proliferation. In January 2003 Seymour Hersh reported in
The New Yorker that Pakistan had given North Korea extensive help
with its nuclear program, including its launch of a uranium
enrichment process. In return, North Korea was sending guided
missiles to Pakistan. In June 2002, Hersh revealed, the CIA had sent
the White House a report on these developments. On October 4, 2002,
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs James
Kelly confronted the North Koreans with the CIA information, and,
according to Kelly, North Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister, Kang
Suk Ju, startled him by responding, "Of course we have a nuclear
program." (Since then, the North Koreans have unconvincingly denied
the existence of the uranium enrichment program.)

Bush of course had already named the Pyongyang government as a
member of the "axis of evil." It had long been the policy of the
United States that nuclearization of North Korea was intolerable.
However, the Administration said nothing of the North Korean events
to the Congress or the public. North Korea, which now had openly
embarked on nuclear armament, and was even threatening to use nuclear
weapons, was more dangerous than Saddam's Iraq. Why tackle the lesser
problem in Iraq, the members of Congress would have had to ask
themselves, while ignoring the greater in North Korea? On October 10,
a week after the Kelly visit, the House of Representatives passed the
Iraq resolution, and the next day the Senate followed suit. Only five
days later, on October 16, did Bush's National Security Adviser,
Condoleezza Rice, reveal what was happening in North Korea.

In short, from June 2002, when the CIA delivered its report to
the White House, until October 16--the period in which the nation's
decision to go to war in Iraq was made--the Administration knowingly
withheld the news about North Korea and its Pakistan connection from
the public. Even after the vote, Secretary of State Colin Powell
strangely insisted that the North Korean situation was "not a crisis"
but only "a difficulty." Nevertheless, he extracted a pledge from
Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, that the nuclear technology
shipments to North Korea would stop. (They did not.) In March,
information was circulating that both Pakistan and North Korea were
helping Iran to develop atomic weapons. (The North Korean and Iranian
crises are of course still brewing.)

In sum, the glaring contradiction between the policy of "regime
change" for already disarmed Iraq and regime-support for
proliferating Pakistan was not a postwar discovery; it was fully
visible before the war. The Nation enjoys no access to intelligence
files, yet in an article arguing the case against the war, this
author was able to comment that an "objective ranking of nuclear
proliferators in order of menace" would put "Pakistan first," North
Korea second, Iran third and Iraq only fourth--and to note the
curiosity that "the Bush Administration ranks them, of course, in
exactly the reverse order, placing Iraq, which it plans to attack,
first, and Pakistan, which it befriends and coddles, nowhere on the
list." Was nonproliferation, then, as irrelevant to the
Administration's aims in Iraq as catching terrorists? Or was
protecting the nation and the world against weapons of mass
destruction merely deployed as a smokescreen to conceal other
purposes? And if so, what were they?

A New Leviathan

The answers seem to lie in the larger architecture of the Bush
foreign policy, or Bush Doctrine. Its aim, which many have properly
called imperial, is to establish lasting American hegemony over the
entire globe, and its ultimate means is to overthrow regimes of which
the United States disapproves, pre-emptively if necessary. The Bush
Doctrine indeed represents more than a revolution in American policy;
if successful, it would amount to an overturn of the existing
international order. In the new, imperial order, the United States
would be first among nations, and force would be first among its
means of domination. Other, weaker nations would be invited to take
their place in shifting coalitions to support goals of America's
choosing. The United States would be so strong, the President has
suggested, that other countries would simply drop out of the business
of military competition, "thereby making the destabilizing arms races
of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other
pursuits of peace." Much as, in the early modern period, when nation-
states were being born, absolutist kings, the masters of overwhelming
military force within their countries, in effect said, "There is now
a new thing called a nation; a nation must be orderly; we kings, we
sovereigns, will assert a monopoly over the use of force, and thus
supply that order," so now the United States seemed to be
saying, "There now is a thing called globalization; the global sphere
must be orderly; we, the sole superpower, will monopolize force
throughout the globe, and thus supply international order."

And so, even as the Bush Administration proclaimed US military
superiority, it pulled the country out of the world's major peaceful
initiatives to deal with global problems--withdrawing from the Kyoto
Protocol to check global warming and from the International Criminal
Court, and sabotaging a protocol that would have given teeth to the
biological weapons convention. When the UN Security Council would not
agree to American decisions on war and peace, it became "irrelevant";
when NATO allies balked, they became "old Europe." Admittedly, these
existing international treaties and institutions were not a full-
fledged cooperative system; rather, they were promising foundations
for such a system. In any case, the Administration wanted none of it.

Richard Perle, who until recently served on the Pentagon's
Defense Policy Board, seemed to speak for the Administration in an
article he wrote for the Guardian the day after the Iraq war was
launched. He wrote, "The chatterbox on the Hudson [sic] will continue
to bleat. What will die is the fantasy of the UN as the foundation of
a new world order. As we sift the debris, it will be important to
preserve, the better to understand, the intellectual wreckage of the
liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by
international institutions."

In this larger plan to establish American hegemony, the Iraq war
had an indispensable role. If the world was to be orderly, then
proliferation must be stopped; if force was the solution to
proliferation, then pre-emption was necessary (to avoid that mushroom
cloud); if pre-emption was necessary, then regime change was
necessary (so the offending government could never build the banned
weapons again); and if a


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