This preventive war (it isn’t even preemptive because there is no imminent threat to preempt) is among the most dangerous and reckless actions ever taken by a U.S. president. It isn’t the first time the U.S. has launched an unjustified illegal war. But it is the first time such a war has been justified through a “doctrine” of preemptive war that abandons all understandings that war, with all its horrors, can be used only as the last possible resort when a nation’s security and survival are threatened.

The war at home

This war threatens Americans. We are now at greater risk. This war will increase anti-American sentiments around the world, and will serve as a recruiting poster for al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

This war is based on a false linkage to the September 11 attacks. Bush’s speech spoke of “going after outlaw regimes that have weapons of mass murder with the army, navy, etc., so we don’t have to go after them with police and doctors on the streets of our cities. Clearly implying Iraq is responsible for the World Trade Center attacks, this lie is designed to keep Americans frightened and willing to accept a new war in the hopes it will make us safer.

This war threatens our Constitution. The cover of war will lead to even greater shredding of our civil liberties than ever before.

This war isolates our country. As ranking diplomat John Brady Kiesling said in resigning his post in protest of the war, “We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of international relationships the world has ever known. Our current course will bring instability and danger, not security.”

The war abroad

This war will be devastating for Iraq and Iraqis. The Pentagon’s plan of “shock and awe” to open the main air attack against Baghdad will send 3,000 cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs into a crowded city of 6 million people. That is ten times the number of such bombs used in the entire Gulf War in 1991.

The humanitarian consequences will be severe. Beyond those killed or injured directly by bombs and other weapons, many more will likely be killed by denial of clean water, hospital systems knocked out, insufficient food, etc. The Pentagon’s much-vaunted “non-lethal” weapons (e-bombs, micro-wave based weapons, etc.) may not kill people directly, but they act to wipe out all computer chips in a given area (thus knocking out hospital machinery, ambulances, cars – as well as journalists’ digital cameras and computers) or destroy electrical generating capacity (including water pumps, hospitals, etc.)

Media attention is focused almost entirely on strategy, U.S. mobilization, U.S. troops — the effect is to sideline any concern about Iraqi civilians.

The U.S. is thoroughly isolated internationally. The “coalition to disarm Iraq” that has replaced the inaccurately-named “coalition of the willing” is not serious. If not for Britain and Australia it would not pass the “laugh test.” Key allied countries — Kuwait, Saudi Arabia — are not listed; they are too embarrassed and under too much domestic pressure. Israel is not listed; the U.S. is too afraid of international reaction. Those listed — from Afghanistan (no need to say more) to Uzbekistan (whose human rights record is barely better than that of Iraq). Includes only two African countries, the European contingent are all NATO wannabes (Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia). Virtually none are actually providing military assistance.

Key focus points

This is an illegitimate war, and stands in violation of the UN Charter and international law. We hold the U.S. accountable for this illegal war.

The United Nations and Security Council members did not collapse under U.S. bribes and threats, because of what the New York Times called the “second super-power” — global public opinion opposed to this war. The UN actually emerged more relevant than ever as a venue for grouping international opposition to Washington’s unilateral push towards war. While the UN leadership’s response was disappointing — the inspectors and aid workers should not have all been pulled out so soon — this is not a UN war, even in name.

We should demand that Congress refuse to pay for waging an illegal war. We should also be clear that the U.S. is accountable for paying the costs of rehabilitating Iraq’s war-shattered infrastructure as well as the emergency costs of refugees, food aid, etc. That money should be channeled through the UN humanitarian agencies, not paid to U.S. corporations, especially those (like Halliburton – already offered a $1 billion + contract) with direct links to the Bush administration. The U.S. should not be allowed to seize Iraqi oil funds for that use. As Secretary General Kofi Annan told the Council, the U.S. is responsible for Iraqi civilians during the war, and “in any area under military occupation, responsibility for the welfare of the population falls on the occupying power.”

We should urge the General Assembly to convene in emergency session under the terms of the Uniting for Peace precedent at the UN. That allows the Assembly to take up issues ordinarily reserved for the Security Council – such as war in Iraq — when the Council is paralyzed because of disagreements among the five veto-wielding permanent members. A General assembly resolution (where there is no veto) could condemn the U.S. war (important for delegitimating future such wars), demand an immediate halt to the war, request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the legality of the war, or more.

This is a crucial moment for this country, a turning point in what the U.S. will be in the future. Local areas, states and cities, will be at the forefront in both determining and being affected by those changes. We should work with local campaigns — particularly the Cities for Peace and city council members — to organize teach-ins across the country on the choice between democracy and empire.

As we fight to stop this war, we should begin to frame our arguments in the context of opposing the entire trajectory, domestic and international, of Bush’s unilateral drive towards power and empire. Such a framework might include such issues as the primacy of internationalism, the UN and international law; disarmament of ALL weapons of mass destruction, including our own, as the best route to real security; commitment to democracy and open societies with civil liberties protected; reorient national priorities to meet human needs rather than military expansion.

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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