Charnel House Future: Why Bush and Co. Must Be Stopped Now
September 4, 2002
By Bernard Weiner
I don't want to talk here about whether a full-scale attack
on Iraq is right or wrong - or whether, with all the scandals
surrounding Bush&Co., the Administration is using its daily
leaks and the whole Iraq debate as giant distractions.
What I want to do here is to examine whether such attacks
- with Iraq being the most potent symbol of America's unilateral
adventurism in foreign and military policy - will further
or endanger America's national interests. And then we'll suggest
what those of us with a less imperial view of U.S. national
interests can, and should, do to alter the situation.
First, let's look at it from the point of view of the Bush&Co.
hawks currently driving America's foreign and military policy.
From their vantage point, attacking Iraq will accomplish several
important national-interest goals:
1) It will remove a dangerous, ambitious thug from the region,
with his capacity for major mayhem - which could well include
Saddam's use of biological, chemical, and, eventually, nuclear,
weapons. If he isn't stopped now, this reasoning goes, and
he chooses to blackmail his neighbors with such weaponry,
he could exercise control over a good share of the world's
oil reserves, and thus threaten the economic health of the
developed countries that count on that energy supply.
2) Taking out Saddam Hussein would serve as a clear warning
to other rulers in the Persian Gulf/Middle East: Don't test
us, or you'll get the same. American suzerainty over the area
would be insured for decades, and, after Iraq falls back into
its correct orbit, all without an additional shot having to
be fired. Because of all the bases set up for the Iraq attack,
with some contingents of American troops stationed in the
region on a semi-permanent basis, the threat of U.S. action
against other would-be recalcitrant rulers would take on more
3) Attacking Iraq gives the military a chance to try out
its new, sophisticated hardware, and software, and thus hone
the technologies and strategies that bolster American power
around the world. Afghanistan was the prelude, but because
it was carried out on such a poor, mostly non-urbanized society,
a lot of the weaponry could not be fully tested. The Afghan
campaign was, and remains, a kind of high-tech guerrilla war.
Taking on Baghdad and a well-armed and well-trained urban
defense force would be a better test of what these weapons
can do in more conventional conflicts.
4) Attacking Iraq has a domestic benefit as well. The al-Qaida
mass-murder attacks of 9/11 frightened the hell out of the
American populace, making clear the vulnerability of the homeland;
this state of mind led to easy acceptance of moves toward
a more rigorous, militarist America, with less Constitutional
constraints on Administration actions. The "permanent war
on terrorism" ensures that citizen and Congressional criticism
of U.S. policy will be muted, and condemnable as unpatriotic.
In wartime, power goes toward the White House. Even non-war-related
legislation will be easier to get passed because it can be
seen as part of "national security" and "homeland defense."
A second Bush term is ensured. (If the attack comes before
November, GOP candidates could ride the coattails of Bush,
as the country rallies around the flag and its commander-in-chief.
If the war comes after the elections, the Administration has
nearly two years in which to nail down a victory over Iraq
and get it fully integrated into the Western camp.)
So, from the standpoint of the Bush&Co. hawks, as you can
see from the above listing, it's a win-win. As the world's
only superpower, the U.S. guarantees continued dominance over
key areas of the globe, and the Administration maintains and
grows its domestic power.
What impresses one about this Bush&Co. way of thinking is
that it looks at foreign policy only in terms of short-range
goals. Its domestic policies follow that same limited perspective:
What can we get right now? Screw the long-term effects. Global
warming? We'll stay with fossil fuels and limited gas-mileage
requirements; let the market prevail. We can worry about the
effects of global warming later, and still later, and even
later. Increased terrorism in the Middle East and inside our
own borders? Yeah, maybe, but we and Israel can deal with
it later, no problem.
Now, what are the implications of this limited-vision thinking
on short- and long-range U.S. national interests?
1) So we get rid of Saddam Hussein. We have attacked yet
another Arab nation, devoid of an overt provocation. Granted,
its leader is a constant nuisance and threat to U.S. and Western
interests - and thus is a kind of hero on the Arab street
- but, even though Saddam attacked nobody, he gets "pre-emptively"
Virtually every Arab leader has warned us against attacking
Saddam Hussein, not because they like him or even want to
support him - he's a maniacal bully who threatens their interests
as well, and they'd be happy if he disappeared - but because
their own regimes will become even shakier when that Arab
street erupts in protest and the terrorist atrocities fluorish.
A good share of the Arab leaders are moderates and somewhat
secular, and they realize they are bucking a strong Islamicist
tide in the region. They might well be sucked into the political
maelstrom of chaos and Islamicist rage, and could be overthrown
by extreme fundamentalists.
Does Bush&Co. care about this? Apparently not; neither does
it seem to have paid much attention to the Law of Unintended
Consequences when starting a war. Unless, that is, they've
already factored-in some of that chaos in the region. Indeed,
already there is serious talk within the Administration that
maybe the U.S. will then find it necessary and convenient
to assert its hegemony - with troops on the ground, if threats
don't result in the desired "regime changes" - over Saudi
Arabia, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, maybe even Egypt. (It already
has established its suzerainty over the Caspian Sea energy
supplies, with U.S. military bases scattered throughout the
former-Soviet 'stan countries.)
2) By not addressing the underlying causes for social unrest
in the Middle East/Persian Gulf (much not of our doing) -
the poverty, the hopelessness, the Palestine conundrum, etc.
- we ensure that the soil in which terrorism grows will become
richer, more fecund, producing more desperate and violent
harvests. The U.S. should help solve the Israel/Palestinian
conflict first, for example, but it chooses to turn its head
away - focused like an on-point hunting dog only on Baghdad
- while Sharon and Hamas grow more senselessly brutal, caught
up in the vicious cycle of revenge politics.
Given that the U.S. has walked away from the Palestine issue
- except to push for "regime change" in the Palestinian Authority
- the Arab street associates even more readily with Saddam,
another "victim" (as they see it) of American/Israeli aggression.
Were the Palestine situation resolved - with a viable state
of their own, the Israeli settlements on Palestinian soil
abandoned, a peace treaty between the parties, security for
Israel and Palestine as two equal countries, agreements over
water worked out, etc. - Hamas and similar terrorist outfits
would be marginalized, and there might be less support for
the Saddams of the Middle East.
3) By attacking Iraq, the U.S. will have established the
international legitimacy of pre-emptive strikes, invasions,
assassinations, etc. to effect "regime change." When someone
threatens, or in the vague future might threaten, what you
claim as your national interests, the precedent will have
been established that it's permissable, indeed even advisable,
to attack them first, to invade if necessary, to take out
their leaders when you can. No more negotiations, or compromises,
or use of international agencies or courts. The United States
of America, the colussus astride the globe, says it's OK to
just smash and burn first, take questions later. Humanity,
civilized behavior, the rule of law - all these slide backwards.
4) In summary, by behaving in such an arrogant, bullyboy
fashion around the globe, Bush&Co. is building up anti-U.S.
resentment and anger, creating conditions in which terrorism
grows, ignoring and insulting our traditional allies (especially
in Europe), risking our long-term economic and social health,
and so on. In the long run, the world is a shakier, more violent
place, U.S. interests are damaged, the international economic
and civil situation is more chaotic (and we all know what
kind of leaders rise in chaotic times), the domestic political
situation in the U.S. grows more fascist-like, with a concomitant
rebellion amongst key elements in the citizenry.
In short, I fail to see any benefits, long-term for sure
but even reasonable short-term ones, that would arise from
the Bush Administration's current military and foreign policies,
symbolized most immediately by its move toward Baghdad.
When Bush took office, surrounded by a well-seasoned, experienced
Cabinet, many were willing to believe that even if Dubya himself
was something of a dim bulb, the light and competence emanating
from those around him would lift him up and make the government
look good. But after 9/11, and more recently, it seems more
and more evident that these guys, with their limited short-term
blinders on, don't really know what the hell they're doing,
other than blustering their way through with threats and aggressive
My friends, unless the situation changes, they are going
to take us all down with them. The world will become a charnel
house of wars and counterwars and constant, growing terrorist
atrocities - with the U.S. acting more like the Roman Empire,
sending its armed legions hither and yon to prop up the state
and deal with nationalist revolts - and internally our own
country will resemble more and more a proto-fascist society,
with its ancillary Resistance movement.
For the sake of U.S. national interests, and for us and our
(and the world's) children and grandchildren, these guys simply
have to be stopped. Protests, teach-ins, agitation, education,
letters-to-the-editor, online analyses, leaning on our legislators,
etc. etc. - all these and more have to be employed, for the
sake of our democratic republic and for the world.
The most obvious place to start is for Bush&Co.'s nose to
be bloodied badly in the upcoming November elections, to remove
some of the Administration's aura of invincibility. (Already,
polls indicate a fast-dropping Bush approval rating, along
with less support for an Iraq invasion; plus, the sinking
economy is beginning to affect people directly.)
I'm not saying that defeating enough Republicans to deny
the House and Senate to them will be a panacea. A lot of the
Democrats running are not much better. But what a Dem election
victory would mean (in association with a growing number of
courageous GOP moderates) is that it would be easier to gum
up Bush&Co. adventurism abroad, make it more difficult for
Ashcroft to continue shredding the Constitution, keep ideologue
judges off the bench, make it easier for serious investigations
of Bush&Co. crimes, scandals, bad policies to be initiated
in the Congress, possibly leading even to resignations or
If we can't stop them now, in 2002, it will be even harder
in 2004, with that much more power concentrated in Bush&Co.
hands. So, if you have to, hold your nose and donate money
and time and energy to electing Democrats in November. (I
wish the objective conditions were ripe for serious Green
campaigns right now, but they aren't; the most we can hope
for at this moment in time is to move things back toward the
middle.) We can get rid of the worst apples later.
The point, the only point, is to break the momentum of Bush&Co.
in their actions abroad and here at home, and to help create
the conditions that will lead to their removal from office,
by the ballot or by resignation/impeachment. It can be done.
More citizens seem open to hearing about reasonable alternatives,
especially as the economy continues to falter. Let's get to
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught American government and
international politics at Western Washington University and
San Diego State University; he was with the San Francisco
Chronicle for nearly 20 years, and has published in The Nation,
Village Voice, Progressive, and widely on the internet.