- As international disagreement grows over any decision
to invade Iraq, the United States is increasingly isolated on this issue.
Moreover, as recent demonstrations indicate, opposition to the war is growing
even in the United States where, at the beginning, President Bush had substantial
support. If the war had been fought immediately after 9-11, while public
furor over those attacks was high, the Bush team might have pulled it off.
However, as more than a year has passed the flaws in the Bush case against
Iraq have multiplied, boxing Saddam Hussein in on weapons possession has
proven difficult, and an awkward lack of integrity has emerged in case
building, as Secretary of State Colin Powell found with bogus or plagiarized
materials provided by the highest levels of British Government. Lack of
official clarity and the passage of time have given critics the opportunity
to examine a wide range of scenarios for fighting this war, but none so
far is satisfying or persuasive.
- Numerous writers say that key members of the Bush team,
Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Boulton, and Perle (the only one outside
government but closely linked through the Defense Policy Board) were planning
war on Iraq before Bush entered office. Given their earlier writings and
affiliations, that is highly probable. Immediately after 9-11, the war
on Iraq took increasing precedence over the war on terrorism, probably
because it was well understood that the war on terrorism is not winnable.
Rather the focus turned to a pre-emptive strike to strip Saddam of his
alleged weapons of mass destruction and to break up his alleged ties to
Al Qaida. Neither of those reasons has survived close international scrutiny
because UN weapons inspections so far show that Saddam has less of anything
in the WMD line now than he may have had before the first Gulf War. Moreover,
the link to Al Qaida, still asserted by US officials, has yet to be proven.
Maybe Saddam will oblige the US by having something that can be construed
as a material breach of UN Resolution 1441, but he has been successful
so far in retreating just ahead of the inspectors and staying out of range.
- The second rationale for war on Iraq many critics say
is oil. That argument has certain appeal because it at least brings an
element of genuine pragmatism onto the table. Since we use about one barrel
in every four produced globally, we obviously need oil. However, we have
taken the lead in sanctions against Iraq that have limited Iraqi oil exports,
and we have done that without harm to ourselves. As the world's largest
user, we do not need to own the sources to command market attention, and
product prices are typically a good deal lower in the United States than
they are in any other developed country. Thus, fighting a war to get products
that are likely to flow to us in any orderly market would not be rational.
That fact may not keep some members of the Bush team from eyeing the Iraqi
wellheads with envy, but that kind of lust does not translate into the
- A third justification for war on Iraq is often cited
by President Bush: To create a democratic government in Iraq and hopefully
start a democratic transformation in the region. For that to work at all,
however, thoughtful observers of Iraq have suggested that the present country
should be turned into two or three. One of those countries could be the
area now actually ruled by Saddam, that is the territory not covered by
so-called "No Fly Zones", roughly the area of his secular governance.
The southern No Fly Zone could become a country for the Shi'a Muslims,
assuming they do not wish to join Iran. The third country would be nominally
the northern No Fly Zone, that area of Iraq that is a piece of ancient
Kurdistan, along with parts of Syria, Turkey, Armenia, and Iran. In effect,
colonial era state building created an ethnic, cultural and religious mess
that is unlikely to respond in any short period to democratizing, and none
of the countries involved want to give up territory. However well intentioned,
Bush may not have enough time or shovels to clean out this stable. Meanwhile,
democratic consensus building is retarded to say the least in all of the
countries involved, and no outsider is likely to fix it.
- A fourth rationale for war on Iraq that is increasingly
discussed on the Internet is to do a piece of national security work for
Israel. How, one might ask, will the Israelis benefit from a war on Iraq?
To answer the question, one must have an understanding of the Zionist dream
for Israel as well as the obstacles the Israelis have encountered in bringing
the dream about.
- The first obstacle, set in the Balfour Declaration that
initiated creation of Israel, was a requirement that the rights of the
Palestinians be protected. That dictum interfered with the Zionist ideal
of a Jewish National Home. The second obstacle emerged with Palestinian
discovery that the Zionists had no intention of observing the Balfour dictum,
and that perception, reinforced by repeated Israeli attacks on villages
and expulsions of Palestinians, generated both hostility and open warfare.
- A third major and persistent obstacle emerged with the
elder King Abdullah's capture of the West Bank and Gaza in the 1956 war.
Under the original partition scheme, those areas would have become part
of Israel, and in line with the Balfour Declaration the Palestinians who
lived there at the time had a right to remain there, just as those in the
coastal regions had that right. Israel retook this territory twenty years
later. However, by that time the land was occupied not only by Palestinians
whose families had lived there for centuries, but also by refugees expelled
from Israel. Incremental accretions of this territory to Israel are being
attempted with Jewish settlements, mostly with Jews brought from outside
Israel. Despite the settlement activity, the West Bank and Gaza are still
the home of 3 million Palestinians.
- As Zionist hard liners and some more moderate Israelis
see it, the main obstacle to achieving a Jewish National Home as originally
conceived is the presence of Palestinians, in Israel, in Gaza, and in the
West Bank. The Jewish National Home the Zionists have in mind extends from
the Jordan River to the Mediterranean.
- What does this have to do with a war on Iraq? There are
two answers. One is about power politics. To carry out the program they
had in mind, the Zionists needed a military arm. Initially that consisted
of two terrorist groups, the Stern and Irgun groups whose early achievements
were brutal attacks on Palestinian villages and the ultimate expulsion
of the British from Palestine. Over time, these capabilities evolved into
the Israeli Defense Force, the IDF. Israeli leadership knew from the start
that their creation of the IDF was an attractive nuisance to other countries
of the region, but remarkably only one country rose to challenge Israeli
regional military dominance, Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Israel also set
out to acquire and now has nuclear weapons. Here again, the Israelis have
tried to assure dominance, first by carrying out an attack on Iraq to destroy
that country's reactor, thereby delaying if not actually frustrating Iraqi
acquisition of nuclear weapons. Despite Israeli success on that front,
however, and despite the setbacks Saddam has experienced since loss of
the Gulf War, Israel still considers Iraq a threat, because Saddam has
the resources and the will to compete for regional power. That threat is
increased by continued Israeli repression of the Palestinians.
- The second answer to why the Zionist hard liners want
a war with Iraq concerns what some Israelis refer to as the "vexing
demographic" of the Palestinians. There are upward of 4 million Palestinians
in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and at observed rates of increase the
Palestinians eventually will outnumber the Jews. For the Zionists, that
is an intolerable condition for the Jewish National Home. Since the Palestinians
have shown for years that even under repressive conditions they will not
leave voluntarily, the only answers are to learn to live with them, give
the Palestinians their state, or expel them.
- Zionists want to expel the Palestinians, and war with
Iraq would provide the opportunity. For decades, going back virtually to
the birth of Israel, the dream of the hard liners has been that a war will
break out in the region and provide cover for expelling the Palestinians.
While in normal times world opinion would rebel at the thought of expulsion
of the Palestinians, the hope is that no one of importance would notice
systematic expulsions under cover of a regional war.
- US leadership fought hard during the first Gulf War to
keep the Israelis out of it, because Israeli entry would have destroyed
the coalition of Gulf states that supported war against Iraq. The same
problem exists now, so the US is likely to insist that Israel abstain from
any second Gulf War. However, given the all too polite US criticism of
harsh Israeli attacks and repression of the Palestinians in the name of
a war on terrorism, the Israelis might gamble that no one, especially not
the United States, would object if the Palestinians were forced into Jordan
at the height of attacks on Iraq. By the time that war ended, Israel would
have its National Home, and we, with Jordan and the UN, would inherit 3
million, maybe 4 million refugees, as the French say, a fait accompli.
- Under this scenario, as a result of its war on Iraq the
United States will have inherited management of two large ethnic and cultural
nightmares: the Kurds who would not wish to join any Iraqi government,
and the Palestinians who would be out in the cold. In essence, the United
States would take over two refugee problems, neither of which regional
powers have shown any willingness to solve on their own, and the US could
solve them, at best over a long time, only by going head to head with the
several regional powers involved on matters of policy, governance and national
- Spread out in this manner, a war on Iraq looks like a
bad foreign policy investment for the United States, no matter who joins
the coalition. We would make enemies of a billion Muslims, most of whom
are at least neutral toward us now. We would trample on long-standing alliances
with European nations, and convince many others that we have abandoned
our democratic values. We would inherit by default two intractable sets
of refugee problems, and we would have taken on unilaterally the adjustments
to nation states that likely are needed to make any peaceful future work.
We could end up doing all of that for the dubious reward of making Israel
the unchallenged power in the Middle East, and we would have facilitated
the largest of the humanitarian crimes the Israelis will have committed
against the Palestinian people.
- Meanwhile, Sharon told a visiting US Congressional delegation
in Israel this week that after Iraq he wants Iran, Libya, and Syria disarmed
next. He appeared confident he could get the US to do it. That would make
four countries whose leaders we will have overthrown, even though they
are not threatening us. Then the Zionists could think about expanding into
Jordan, looking for land and water, and expelling the Palestinians to where?
How about Saudi Arabia and Egypt, or even Iraq, since the new Israel would
be Iraq's neighbor?
- Why doesn't George W. Bush just tell Cheney, Wolfowitz,
Perle, Feith, Boulton, and other strong Iraq war supporters in his administration
that this game is not in the US interest? Most of our friends and allies
and many of the world's Jews would applaud that decision, despite the screams
Bush surely would hear from the Zionist lobbies. Some argue that losing
face would keep Bush from backing away from war on Iraq, but how could
he lose face at the same time so many people will applaud his good judgment?
- The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer
of the US Department of State. He will welcome your comments at email@example.com