The Debates

The debates remind us first of the need to maintain and build a broad, powerful, and INDEPENDENT peace movement, not tied to any candidate. Whoever wins or steals the election, we will likely spend much of the next four years in the streets, protesting and demanding an entirely different agenda than that of the resident of the White House.

The debates showed that while there are important differences on international issues including Korea, nuclear weapons, some aspects of the Iraq war – its origins, its legitimacy, its rationales, its “coalition,” and more – the differences between Bush/Cheney and Kerry/Edwards are much less when it comes to a strategy for what to do now.

The parallels between the two was most dramatic in the vice-presidential debate on the issue of Israel/Palestine, something deliberately ignored in the Kerry-Bush debate. Speaking days into Israel’s lethal invasion and attacks against the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza and the day the U.S. again vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning the incursion, Edwards weighed in with Israel having not only the right but the responsibility to “protect its citizens.” Not only was there no mention of Israel’s occupation, but not even a nod to the collective punishment visible in the scores of Palestinian casualties, including many children, or the disproportionate level of the Israeli attack. Cheney joined the defense of Israel’s action, and then as an afterthought mentioned Bush’s alleged “commitment” to a Palestinian state.

Bush was consistent with his original positions on Iraq: he segued from September 11 to Saddam Hussein, and was famously peeved when Kerry reminded him it was al Qaeda and not Iraq who attacked. He and Cheney both kept up their reliance on fear as a key mobilizing strategy. They both face the key challenge of claiming “things are getting better” when every headline and television screen says the opposite. Samarra is touted as a victory and a model for routing “the insurgents” despite large numbers of civilian casualties, including many children killed, and thousands of residents fleeing the city altogether. They are also vulnerable claiming that “I would have done exactly the same thing” when it comes to going to war at all despite new headlines that the reasons actually given for the war were all lies.

Kerry claims he “can do it better” to win the war, not end the war. His call for internationalizing the war is based on the idea that the only reason European opponents of the war, especially France and Germany, refused to send troops to bolster the U.S. occupation of Iraq was because they hate George Bush. Of course, they do hate George Bush, but that is not why they refused to send troops. Their opposition was rooted primarily in domestic political pressures, along with recognition that the U.S. drive towards unilateral power and empire was not in their interests, and a Kerry administration is unlikely to be able to persuade them to send troops to Iraq.

Our call must be not to internationalize the war, but to end the war and bring the troops home. THEN we can internationalize the peace.

The Reports

The New York Times expose on Iraq’s aluminum tubes and Charles Duelfer’s report of the Iraq Survey Group confirm what we have been saying for years – Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, no capacity to build nuclear weapons, no links with al-Qaeda and no weapons to give to terrorist organizations. Crucially, they were both based (entirely for the Times, almost entirely for Duelfer) on information long available. The question remains: why did it take so long?

The Times report confirms that the overwhelming opinion among technical weapons experts supported the view that the tubes were for rockets, not nuclear centrifuges. The article states explicitly, citing the 9/11 Commission report, that the National Intelligence Estimate of September 2002, based significantly on the aluminum tubes-as-nuclear-centrifuges claim, “stands as one of the most flawed documents in the history of American intelligence. The [9/11] committee concluded unanimously that most of the major findings in the estimate were wrong, unfounded, or overblown. This was especially true of the nuclear section.”

Condoleezza Rice, defending her hyperbolic fear-mongering about the “smoking gun” being a “mushroom cloud,” said she was aware of the disagreements among intelligence analysts regarding the aluminum tubes, but it wasn’t her job to mediate among the various agencies. In fact, one of the primary job descriptions of the National Security Adviser is precisely to mediate among the intelligence agencies. That was probably what led to the New York Times’ Paul Krugman to call for her resignation.

Duelfer & Iraq’s Non-Existent WMD’s

Charles Duelfer’s report to Congress, based on the 15 months work of the CIA-linked Iraq Survey Group, confirmed what we have been saying for years: Iraq had no stockpiles of WMDs, it had no weapons to give to al-Qaeda, and it had no viable programs to resume making weapons. All it had, according to the report, was Saddam Hussein’s “desire,” if military sanctions were lifted, to rebuild Iraq’s capacity – itself a speculative claim but one irrelevant to Iraq’s actual military capacity. Iraq posed no threat. While Duelfer’s report went out of its way to include information far beyond its WMD mandate, and Duelfer himself repeated Bush’s “the world is better off” phrase in his congressional testimony, there is no question that this report confirms the war was based on lies.

The speculation regarding Saddam Hussein’s “desire” for WMD capacity is based on the claim that he believed it was Iraq’s use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war throughout the 1980s that prevented an Iranian victory. That may well be true – largely because the Pentagon provided the targeting information that made the chemical weapons terribly effective against Iranian troop concentrations. This was the period in which Germany was providing precursor chemicals for Iraq’s chemical weapons, and the U.S. was providing seed stock for biological weapons.

Duelfer’s report makes clear that the Bush administration’s false claims on which the war was based – Iraq had WMDs, Iraq could give WMDs to al Qaeda or other terrorists, Iraq was buying parts and rebuilding its nuclear weapons programs – were not based on mistakes by the intelligence agencies but on a fully conscious decision to lie about what they already knew. Almost everything in Duelfer’s report documenting the period through late 1998 was already known to government officials from earlier UN reports.

Duelfer confirmed what has been known -but largely hidden from the American public-for years: that Iraq had “essentially destroyed” its weapons capacity by the end of 1991. This exact information was first made available to U.S. officials in 1995 when Hussein Kamal, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law and head of key WMD programs, defected. (He later returned to Iraq and was killed.) Kamal told interrogators the weapons systems were largely destroyed in the first years after, and that information was turned over to both the CIA and Britain’s MI6 who then interrogated him themselves. But while U.S. and British officials went public with Kamal’s claims about earlier weapons systems, they hid his statements regarding the destruction of the weapons. All the information was already known.

Duelfer also provides evidence that the UN inspections worked. Duelfer himself was the deputy director of the UN arms inspection teams for years, most recently under Hans Blix. His new report documents wide-ranging international activity between the spring of 1991, right after the war, until UNSCOM’s departure from Iraq in December 1998 when they were warned by the Clinton administration that the Pentagon’s Desert Fox bombing raids were about to begin. But everything Duelfer describes of that period, including the involvement of international corporations possibly violating the military sanctions on Iraq, was already included in UNSCOM’s final report, which remains secret to this day. Journalists who saw leaked copies of the document confirm there is virtually nothing in Duelfer’s account that was not in UNSCOM’s report. Why is the UNSCOM report still kept secret? Much of the nuclear-related material in Duelfer’s new report was also included in the reports of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency headed by Mohamed el-Baradei.

In documenting the 1999-2002 period in which no UN arms inspectors were operating in Iraq, Duelfer concentrates on what he calls “potential breaches” of the sanctions regime. But his report is very selective – most notably he ignores the role of the U.S. Duelfer provides details of companies and private individuals who may have violated the sanctions by providing ostensibly “dual use” material to Iraq, meaning items that could potentially have military as well as civilian uses. He identifies people and companies from China, Russia, North Korea, France, Poland, Rumania, Ukraine, Belarus, Syria, and Jordan, as well as one unnamed company from Germany. But there was at least one U.S. company named in Iraq’s own arms declaration of December 2002, which had provided potentially militarily valuable material to Iraq after 1998; that company is not included.

Almost everything in Duelfer’s report from the post-UNSCOM period from 1999-2002 was included in Iraq’s December 2002 weapons report, which is still kept secret. We know from the leaked reports of that weapons declaration (first in the German press, soon afterwards on Democracy Now!) that scores of companies involved in Iraq’s weapons systems were detailed in the 12,000-page declaration. But those lists were among the 8,000 or so pages the U.S. deleted from the copies Washington made available to the non-permanent (read: non-nuclear) members of the Security Council.

The exceptions, what was in Duelfer’s report that had not been in Iraq’s arms declaration, primarily involved the issues of financial procurement, corruption and alleged oil smuggling. On the smuggling issue, the most extensive arrangement was over Iraq’s northern border into Turkey. And this large-scale smuggling route was knowingly tolerated by the U.S., largely as a trade-off for Turkey’s agreement to allow the Pentagon free access to its Incerlik air base.

In the section reporting alleged corruption in the Oil for Food Program, Duelfer’s report includes detailed lists from each six-month period since the program began, including companies, individuals, dates, who was paid surcharges, who allegedly received bribes, etc. The report claims the corruption provided more than $11 billion to the Iraqi regime. The claims, driven by right-wing forces in Congress and the media, is being used to attack the United Nations and particularly Secretary General Kofi Annan (whose son had previously worked for one of the auditing companies involved). In fact, it was the Security Council, not the Secretariat, which had ultimate control over the program. The Council, not the Secretariat, served as the Sanctions Committee, which passed or rejected every contract submitted by Iraq.

In the “oil corruption” section of Duelfer’s report, companies and individuals are identified by name – except for companies from the U.S., identified only as “U.S. company” without a company name. Who is he protecting?

The report proves once again what we have said all along: UN inspections worked. Hans Blix, head of UNSCOM (and then Duelfer’s boss) and Mohamed el-Baradei, head of the IAEA, both said in their final reports in 2003 before the war that they had found no evidence of WMD programs, and with a little more time they could confirm a final outcome. Instead the U.S. went to war. Hans Blix today was announced the winner of the UN Correspondents Association award as “Citizen of the Year,” and there are rumors that Mohamed el-Baradei is short-listed for tomorrow’s 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.

Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, and no ability to make them. The war was based on a lie. But we need to keep reminding the U.S. that even if weapons existed, the war would still have been illegal. The UN Charter remains the foundation for international law – and it is very clear that while national self-defense remains a right of all nations, even that self-defense is not unqualified. Article 51 of the UN Charter, detailing the right of self-defense, includes two key qualifiers: military self-defense can only be used IF an armed attack occurs (even those who argue that we shouldn’t have to wait for an attack to move to prevent it would have the obligation of proving to the world that a major attack is actually imminent, not just a glimmer in a dictator’s eye), and only UNTIL the UN Security Council can meet to decide what to do about the alleged threat.

We still need international law. As Kofi Annan recently told the General Assembly, international law provides “restraints on the strong, so that they cannot oppress the weak”. Those who seek to bestow legitimacy must themselves embody it; and those who invoke international law must themselves submit to it.” That won’t happen by itself. But it gives us something to fight for.

Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies where she directs the New Internationalism project. Her books include Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer and more recently Ending the Iraq War: A Primer.

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