War is not inevitable. Despite the very dangerous troop build-up in the region, we still have the capacity to stop this war.
The inspectors still have found no evidence of any weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq. Even with access to some of Washington’s intelligence, supposedly proving the presence of WMD programs, inspectors have not found any evidence of a viable WMD program. (The dozen or so empty shell casings found may represent a technical violation, but they do are NOT evidence of any viable chemical weapons program.) The U.S. still refuses to simply turn over ALL the intelligence information it claims it has to the UN.
The discovery of a dozen, and then 4 more, empty warhead shells is one more piece of evidence that inspections are working. According to the spokesman for Hans Blix, the inspectors had known about the existence and location of the weapons storage depot where they were found “for years,” and it was only a matter of when they got there to inspect it. If the Iraqis were trying to hide those weapons, he asked, “why would they be so silly” as to put them in a place well-known to the UN team?
Iraq is still cooperating with the UN inspectors. On January 17 and 20, the Iraqis agreed to provide additional information as requested by the inspectors, and to encourage private interviews with scientists.
Domestic opposition is on the rise. The weekend demonstrations were the largest in Washington and San Francisco since Viet Nam, and were matched by more all across the country. Black community opposition, already high, rose in anger towards Bush’s Martin Luther King birthday announcement of new opposition to affirmative action. Church opposition is rising, with church leaders not only preaching against the war but leading marches against the White House. Republicans are abandoning Bush’s war, as per the full-page Wall Street Journal ad from major Republican donors stating they supported the Gulf War, they supported the war in Afghanistan, but they don’t support this war: “We feel betrayed. We want our money back. We want our country back.”
Already low international support for a U.S. war is dropping even further. There is a major divide between the international objective of disarming Iraq of WMDs, and the U.S. objective of forcible overthrow of the Iraqi government. France, the current Security Council president, issued a major challenge to the U.S. war drive by convening a meeting of foreign ministers on 20 January to discuss the “war on terrorism” and using it as a forum for French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin to announce that “today nothing justifies envisaging military action.” Germany’s foreign minister said war in Iraq would spawn more terrorist acts and have “disastrous consequences for long-term regional stability.” Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov said “we must be careful not to take unilateral steps that might threaten the unity of the entire [anti-] terrorism coalition. In this context we are strictly in favor of a political settlement of the situation revolving around Iraq.” At the Council meeting Powell was forced to abandon his prepared text to plead instead with Council members that they “must not shrink…” from their obligations, which he implied included war.
France and Russia (as well as China, which also opposed war at the meeting) both hold veto power; Germany does not, but will hold the influential Council presidency in February. It is possible that aside from the veto threat the U.S. will be unable to get the necessary 9 positive Council votes supporting a war. There could be as many as seven abstentions (possibly including France, Russia, China, Angola, Chile, Germany, Pakistan, Cameroon, Guinea).
Their isolation has pushed the Bush administration onto the defensive. They are now discussing war by a “coalition of the willing,” indicating some recognition that they have no real international support, and that a UN endorsement may be out of reach. A U.S.-led alliance would NOT be a coalition of the willing; it would be a coalition of the coerced and the criminal, as it would violate the UN Charter’s very narrow conditions for a legal war.
The new high-profile consideration of exile and amnesty for Saddam Hussein indicates an interest among at least some Bush officials in finding a face-saving way of declaring victory without war. Background: exile in any of the Arab countries is doubtful. The Iraqi leadership is unlikely to believe any Arab regime could guarantee their safety, and no Arab regime (all of whom already face serious crises of legitimacy and stability) is likely to risk a resurgent Saddam Hussein trying to launch a come-back from its territory. The parallel Russian initiative also now underway may have a better chance of success. (A Russian deputy foreign minister is now on the ground in Baghdad.) Exile in Russia might be more acceptable to Saddam Hussein regarding security because it would involve a more direct U.S. involvement, but would be less desirable because of distance and lack of contact with the Arab world. Considerations: Exile would presumably include guarantees of immunity from war crimes prosecution. This would fly in the face of the demands of Iraqi exiles and likely many Iraqis inside the country, as well as challenging the last several years’ advances towards universal jurisdiction and accountability for war crimes. One consideration might be that the international war crimes justice system is still only partial. One result is that leaders of powerful countries which back cruel dictators consistently remain immune from such international accountability. Therefore one could argue that until U.S. officials who either backed Saddam Hussein’s government during Baghdad’s worst human rights violations or committed their own massive human rights violations (bombings and murderous economic sanctions) against the Iraqi people, are placed in the dock with Saddam Hussein, it is an acceptable compromise to allow the Iraqi dictator amnesty.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, or other appropriate UN agencies, should be urged to consider investigating and issuing pre-emptive warnings about potential violations of the Geneva Conventions, other human rights instruments, or the UN Charter itself, that may be committed in the course of a preventive war in Iraq. The model could be that of Israel’s Gush Shalom [Peace Bloc] which routinely distributes warnings to soldiers being deployed in the occupied territories advising them that carrying out illegal orders they may receive could make them liable to war crimes charges either in Israel or in the International Criminal Court.
UN humanitarian agencies recently said that 500,000 Iraqis would be injured in the early stage of a U.S. war, that up to 9.5 million Iraqis would immediately become dependent on aid agencies for basic food. UN planning anticipates providing emergency food only to about half of those in need – up to 4.5 million people; of those in need of food, the UN estimates that about 3 million will face “dire malnutrition.” Less than half the population would retain access to clean water. The UN describes a U.S. war in Iraq resulting in a crippled nation with shattered infrastructure, an electricity grid badly damaged, and facing major damage to the oil industry, with overall civilian damage anticipated at levels far beyond that of the 1991 Gulf War.
Even if evidence of a WMD program is found, there is no basis for war. We cannot accept the legitimacy of killing potentially hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to prevent a speculative future threat. We reject going to war on spec.