The Prophetic Commentary on Iraq

Is an Attack on Iraq a March of Folly?
2003/03/19 11:40 PM EDT

Special to

Bush George II

Prince of Fools!

When the President Select George W. Bush rattled the sabers of war in a special message to the nation presented from the White House giving Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his sons 48 hours to abandon their country or “face military conflict,” the solemnity of his expression, the swagger in his body language, and the bellicosity of his rhetoric gave credibility to his threat to order American forces to attack Iraq.  It was as if he had become part Texas gunslinger and part Christian crusader buoyantly marching off to war.

As I watched the President threaten war I was reminded of the vital lessons in The March of Folly, a great book written by two-time Pulitzer Prize winning historian Barbara Tuchman.  In this text Ms. Tuchman convincingly argues that ruling princes and powers throughout history have courted disaster by pursuing a course of action that all the available facts suggest is against their best interests.  Her examples of this ultimately self-destructive behavior range from the Renaissance Popes to American policy in Vietnam.

The self-righteousness, even hubris, with which Bush announced America’s intention to attack Iraq with a motley collection of countries – which he calls “a coalition of the willing” but is really a coalition of the bribed and bullied – gives the impression of great certainty about both his cause and its outcome.  But this President’ projection of certitude in a situation where the arguments for war don’t add up brings to mind the recent confessions of Robert McNamara, the former Secretary of Defense who presided over the United States’ expansion of the war in Vietnam.  McNamara now admits that the policymakers in the Johnson Administration knew that their rationale for inflicting massive carnage on the Vietnamese people, while wrecking the lives of thousands of young Americans, was a lie.  What connects the arguments of these men is that the reasons Bush now gives for an American invasion of Iraq makes no more sense than Johnson’s reasons for expanding the war in Vietnam.

Johnson argued that a victory by the Vietnamese revolutionaries would lead inexorably to the fall of all of Southeast Asia to communist regimes – the infamous “Domino Theory”- and encouraged the popular notion that California would be next. Bush now argues that unless Saddam Hussein is deposed the little middle-eastern nation of Iraq poses a grave threat to the national security of the United States.  The fact that so fantastic a claim could gain such wide currency is a reflection of how little the average American understands about world affairs.  This lack of understanding means that they have no independent position on critical issues of life and death in international affairs, a situation that brings to mind the old aphorism: “If a person doesn’t stand for something, they will fall for anything.”

The historical record will verify that Saigon did fall to the Vietnamese revolutionaries, and not only did all of the other countries in the region not follow in its wake but the Soviet Union, the communist superpower who supposedly sponsored the Vietnamese revolution, also fell. And one could convincingly argue that if the Bush administration were to stand down its military forces and allow the UN inspectors to complete their job, America will not only survive but thrive – do to the good will it would inspire in people all over the world.

On the other hand, all the signs from around the globe suggest that if the Bush administration launches a war on Iraq without UN sanction it will inspire a tidal wave of hatred against the US, making life more perilous for Americans at home and abroad.  Furthermore, the elaborate security measures now being undertaken as the country goes on heightened alert is the best evidence that the Bush administration also understands that their policy of war on Iraq is endangering Americans at home.

The core of the Bush administration’s case against Iraq is that they are manufacturing weapons of mass destruction – biological, chemical and nuclear – and they are planning to give these weapons to the terrorist in Al Qaeda for an attack on the USA.   So committed is the Bush administration to promoting this view of Iraq it has shown a willingness to engage in a disinformation campaign, including falsifying evidence, to manufacture popular support for an invasion of Iraq.

Sometimes this disinformation campaign is downright embarrassing, such as Colin Powell’s recent presentation before the United Nations where he attempted to pass off research conducted by a graduate student 14 years ago as hot new British intelligence on the imminent Iraqi menace; or the attempt to pass off documents the US claims proved that Iraq had purchased components for building nuclear weapons, which the UN inspectors said were forged. Added to this is the skepticism expressed by ex-CIA officers who question the reliability of the evidence offered by the US government in defense of its apparent decision to take military action.

In a March 15, Associated Press story by John Lumpkin, a group of former CIA officers expressed grave doubts about the veracity of the Bush administration’s arguments in support of attacking Iraq. A persistent theme in their analysis of the Administration’s policy is that the evidence “lacks credibility.”  The comments of Ray McGovern, who spent 27 years in the CIA and briefed top officials of the Reagan administration on Mid-eastern affairs, are typical.  McGovern is convinced that the Bush Administration’s evidence is “cooked to a recipe, and that recipe is high policy.  That’s why a lot of my colleagues are holding their noses these days.”

These facts should create enough skepticism to cause all Americans to question the pro-war propaganda emanating from the Bush administration. Especially since their contention that there is an alliance between Saddam and Bin Laden does not accord with the facts. George Tenet, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has repeatedly embarrassed the administration by telling the press and Congressional Committees that he has found no connection between the Iraqi government and Al Queda.

Hence the CIA, America’s premier foreign intelligence agency, offers an assessment of the situation which is supported by the facts of Middle Eastern history. Since the emergence of modern Arab Islamic states in the mid-twentieth century there has been a struggle between fundamentalists who wanted to establish an Islamic theocracy and secularists who are committed to a separation of church and state similar to the governments in the West.  The most persistent opponent of the fundamentalist theocrats – from whom the Islamic Jihadists terrorists are recruited – is the professional military caste in the Arab world.  These modern secular strongmen, Saddam Hussein among them, have consistently opposed attempts at takeovers by the Islamic Jihadists.

This conflict became evident in the mid-1950 when Gamal Abdel Nasser, leader of the independence movement and first President of modern Egypt, was forced to crush the Muslim Brotherhood after they attempted to assassinate him.  True to the fate of those foolish enough to take a shot at the king and fail to kill him, Nasser hung the leader of the Brotherhood, Sayaad Gutb – the great Islamic theologian whose thirty volume treatise, In the Shade of the Koran, provides the theological justification for the fundamentalist Jihadists. The political history of Egypt since Nasser is one of perpetual conflict between fundamentalist theocrats and the secular military caste.  Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamic fundamentalists, and Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s present leader, has ruthlessly suppressed them. In fact, some of those who were associated with perpetrating terrorist actions in the US are followers of the militant “blind Sheik” Abdel Rachman, who was driven out of Egypt by Mubarak and is now imprisoned in the US for promoting terrorists activities.
This pattern of military men suppressing militant Islamists holds true throughout the Muslim world, and it does not matter if the military leader is right- or left-leaning in his political ideology.  For instance, the Shah of Iran was a right-wing creation of the American Central Intelligence Agency, but his opposition to the Islamic fundamentalists was just as vehement as that of the left-wing FLN of Algeria, who overthrew the results of a national election that was clearly won by the Islamic party.  Hence whether we are talking about General Musharraf in Pakistan, or Colonel Muammar Qadafi of Libya, these secular men of arms fervently oppose the takeover of government by Islamic fundamentalists.   And so does Saddam Hussein.

A solid member of the Arab professional military caste, Saddam is committed to the secular state which Bin Laden, a militant theocrat, despises.  So the claim that Saddam is arming Al Qaeda with weapons of mass destruction lacks credibility unless he is suicidal, and there is abundant evidence that Saddam is first and foremost a survivor. After all, he has been in power for 33 years.  Thus whatever else can be safely concluded about Saddam, he is not suicidal.

And what of the Bush Administration’s claim that their interest in “regime change” in Iraq is only to establish democracy in that country? This argument is at best a pipe dream and at worse a charade. All of the Islamic countries are dictatorships – especially such close US allies as Saudi Arabia, which does not allow demonstrations against government policies nor permit women to drive automobiles, and Jordan, where one can be jailed for publicly criticizing the king.  The only democratically elected leader in the Arab world is Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the voice of the beleaguered Palestinian people, yet the Bush administration has told the Palestinians that they find him unacceptable. This is a record that on the face of it makes a sham of the Bush administration’s claim that they are committed to democratic government in the Middle East.
If it is not the imminent destruction of the US with “weapons of mass destruction” by Iraqi-sponsored terrorists, or the establishment of democratic government in Iraq, that fuels the Bush administration’s drive to launch a military assault against the Iraqi people – let’s face it, a military assault of the magnitude proposed by Bush will kill many innocent men, women and children – then what is the real deal with Bush and Iraq?

Fundamental to understanding the Bush policy on Iraq is recognizing the fact that the highest echelons of the executive branch of the US government are controlled by oilmen.  And that President Bush and Vice-President Chaney are only on sabbatical from the oil industry, and estimates of the value of Iraqi oil, the largest reserves outside of Saudi Arabia, range as high as three trillion dollars!  This is a figure of such enormity that it has meaning only to astronomers and oil magnates. And anyone who denies that a substantial portion of those oil revenues will accrue to the giant American oil companies is either an ignoramus or a charlatan.

Aside from the oil deposits there is the matter of the strategic doctrines conjured up by cold warriors with imperial ambitions, inside and outside of the government, like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz for instance.  These iconoclastic policy wonks – whose influence on Bush’s vision of power politics and international relations is formidable and growing – represent two generations of right wing strategic thinking in which America’s vast military might is promiscuously employed to achieve foreign policy objectives.  Their vision of an American dominated new world order, a kind of Pax Americana, makes it easy to switch from fighting communists to fighting Islamic militants.

However, there are some dangerous blind spots in the strategic vision of Wolfowitz and Perle, for they are ignoring the two most combustible hot spots in the world in order to pursue the oil and ego-gratification that would result from a vanquished Saddam Hussein.  Yet even if the conquest of Iraq goes just as the Bush administration has planned, certain deadly problems remain on the immediate horizon. The reckless rhetoric of George Bush, employing self-righteous epithets like “axis of evil,” has sparked a confrontation with a nuclear-armed Korea that threatens to get out of hand.  And so long as the Palestinians and Israelis remain locked in a protracted war, while Pakistan continues to produce nuclear weapons with scientists who are also Islamic fundamentalists, these weapons of mass destruction will eventually find their way into the hands of the Islamic Jihadists.  Woe be unto the world when that happens.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s neighbor, the massive republic of India, has even more nukes and is training the world’s finest engineers in enormous numbers.  Hence India appears to have a limitless capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction – like those in the US arsenal for instance.  Not only is the Bush administration’s obsession with Iraq preventing it from addressing these far more pressing issues, but an American attack on Iraq will set a precedent in international relations that India – which is currently in the clutches of Hindu nationalists – might use to justify a preemptive nuclear attack on Pakistan, or vice versa.   Hence this cavalcade of horrors may well become the inevitable and lasting legacy of George Bush’s March of Folly in ordering an attack on Iraq in defiance of the world.


Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
March, 2003

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