The U.S. Drive To War On Iraq
by Larry Everest
Z magazine, July - August 2002
The drumbeat for war on Iraq, coming from the highest levels
of the U . S. establishment, began within days of September 11.
The Bush administration's plans are still taking shape, but there
is reportedly a growing determination to overthrow Iraq's government.
Various war scenarios and time tables are being discussed.
The New York Times (4/28/02) reported that the Administration
was developing plans for "a major air campaign and ground
invasion, with initial estimates contemplating the use of 70,000
to 250,000 troops." This would take place in early 2003,
"allowing time to create the right military, economic and
A month later, the Washington Post (5/24/02) reported, "The
uniformed leaders of the U.S. military believe they have persuaded
the Pentagon's civilian leadership to put off an invasion of Iraq
until next year at the earliest and perhaps not to do it at all,"
due to "the lengthy buildup that would be required, concerns
about Hussein's possible use of biological and chemical weapons
and the possible casualties." The Post noted that while the
debate over tactics continues, the "Bush administration still
appears dedicated to the goal of removing the Iraqi leader from
Meanwhile, some war preparations are already underway. The
U.S. Central Command has set up forward headquarters in the Gulf:
the New York Times comments, "The military has not ordered
a comparable march of senior tactical commanders to Southwest
Asia since the Gulf War, in I991."
In December 2001, U.S. State Department officials toured the
semi-autonomous Kurdish areas in northern Iraq to evaluate Kurdish
military "capabilities," and the State Department convened
a meeting of Iraqi dissidents and former military officers in
May to explore a post-Hussein Iraq. In March, Vice President Dick
Cheney traveled to 11 Middle East nations to drum up support for
war on Iraq, which was also on Bush's agenda during his May trip
to Europe and Russia. He claimed, "I have no war plans on
my desk," and in the next breath declared "we've got
to use all means at our disposal to deal with Saddam Hussein."
In May the U.S. pushed through so-called " smart sanctions
" to maintain pressure on Iraq.
The U.S. Global Agenda
Within days of September 11, a campaign was launched to link
Iraq to the attacks and to the October 2001 anthrax mailings.
No evidence was found, so government officials and mainstream
pundits switched gears. Suddenly Iraq posed a grave danger because
it supposedly possessed "weapons of mass destruction."
Little was made of the fact that former UN arms inspectors state
Iraq has largely been disarmed and Pentagon officials admit Iraq's
military is one-third its 1990 size.
The hollowness, not to mention hypocrisy, of these justifications
points to another, underlying U.S. agenda at work. U.S. goals
in Iraq are both regional and global: installing its own regime
in Baghdad would tighten the U. S. grip on Persian Gulf oil-and
thus all who depend on it-and demonstrate to potential rivals
that the U.S. is willing and able to crush its opponents. Iraq
is a key step in redrawing the political map of the Middle East
and stomping out rising anti-U.S. anger. Waging war on Iraq is
also seen as a crucial test of the new Bush doctrine of recasting
global relations to extend and solidify U.S. imperialist dominance
for decades to come.
This agenda encompasses many strategic goals: monopolizing
world energy sources, maintaining military superiority over potential
adversaries, having open access to key global markets and vast
sources of raw materials, and creating the conditions for the
unchallenged exploitation of hundreds of millions of laboring
Bush supporters talk of "regime changes in six or seven
countries," forcing deep social and political changes around
the world, and moving from "containment" to "integration"-creating
global structures that lock in U.S. predominance.
The Middle East is a focal point of these predatory designs.
"In the Middle East and Southwest Asia," a 1992 Defense
Planning Guidance states, "our overall objective is to remain
the predominant outside power in the region and preserve U. S
. and Western access to the region's oil."
Oil is a "strategic commodity"-vital to the functioning
of capitalist economies and modern armies. Controlling the flow
of oil means controlling those who depend on oil. It's the lifeblood
of modern empire.
The heart of the world oil industry lies in the Persian Gulf,
which contains 65 percent of the world's oil reserves, 34 percent
of the world's natural gas reserves, and accounts for nearly 30
percent of the world output of each. The Gulf also has 70 percent
of the world's excess oil production capacity, which the Energy
Information Administration (2/01) calls even "more significant,"
because oil production can be quickly increased or decreased-preventing
supply or price disruptions.
Bush's National Energy Policy report predicts that by 2020
the U.S. will import two-thirds of its oil, "recommends that
the President make energy security a priority of our trade and
foreign policy," and states, "Middle East oil producers
will remain central to world oil security."
History Of Intervention
Until 1979, the U.S. could count on the Shah to rule Iran
with an iron fist and be its loyal gendarme in the region. But
his downfall and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, were severe
shocks to U. S. power. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter responded
by designating the Persian Gulf a vital U.S. interest, which it
would go to war to defend.
The U.S. also encouraged Iraq's 1980 invasion of Iran. Over
1 million people were killed in the ensuing 8-year war, but it
served U.S. purposes by weakening both sides and preventing them
from causing trouble in nearby Gulf states. Henry Kissinger summed
up the U.S.'s cold-blooded attitude: "too bad they can't
both lose. "
Iraq emerged from the war feeling its Arab neighbors were
in its debt. After all, Iraq had fought to protect Saudi Arabia
and Kuwait from the subversive influence of Iran's Islamic Republic,
which claimed to be the true defender of Islam and routinely denounced
the Gulf's pro-U.S. monarchies.
Instead, Iraq discovered that Kuwait was overproducing its
oil quota, thus undercutting Iraqi oil revenues and also slant
drilling for oil into Iraqi territory. After warning the U.S.
Ambassador that the situation was intolerable and that Iraq would
take action-and hearing that this would pose no problem for the
U.S.-Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.
The U. S. quickly reversed course and condemned the invasion,
and six months later a U.S.-led coalition stormed into Iraq. The
goal was not simply to force Hussein's troops from Kuwait, but
to destroy Iraq as a regional power, bolster U.S. clients Saudi
Arabia and Kuwait, and send a message to rivals, regional states,
and the world's people: as George Bush I put it, there's a "New
World Order" and what the says goes.
In March 1991, immediately after the Gulf War, Iraqi Shi'ites
in the south and Kurdish fighters in the north rose against the
Hussein regime. The U.S. had encouraged them to revolt, but then
stood back and allowed Hussein's helicopters and ground forces
to crush the rebellion.
The first Bush administration feared revolution in Iraq would
hurt U.S. interests by creating greater instability and perhaps
lead to Iraq's fragmentation. U . S. nightmares included bolstering
Iranian influence in Iraq's Shi'ite south; or a Free Kurdistan
in the north, encouraging the Kurdish struggle in neighboring
Turkey, a key NATO ally.
These tears drove U.S. policy throughout the 1990s. There
were attempts to overthrow Hussein, including a 1996 CIA coup
plot and a 1998 assassination attempt by cruise missiles. But
U.S. policy under Bush I and Clinton was to weaken and contain
Iraq through punishing sanctions, intermittent military strikes,
and maintaining a large military nearby.
But there were deep contradictions in U.S. sanctions policy,
and its linkage to weapons inspections. UN Resolution (687), which
authorized sanctions, also stated that upon compliance they "shall
have no further force or effect." Yet the U. S. refused to
ease, much less lift, sanctions even as Iraq complied. Instead
the U.S. "moved the goalposts," adding new conditions
for Iraq to meet. As Clinton put it, "sanctions will be there
until the end of time, or as long as he [Hussein] lasts."
This U.S. duplicity, plus the enormous suffering inflicted
on Iraqi civilians, led to growing worldwide opposition and an
erosion of the U.S.'s Desert Storm coalition. The U.S. case for
maintaining sanctions was largely based on forcing Iraq to disarm,
and intrusive and bullying UN inspections were instituted after
the Gulf War to strip Iraq of any "weapons of mass destruction."
Iraq mainly complied with the inspections. UN inspectors report
that 95 percent of their work destroying Iraq's nuclear, chemical,
and biological weapons was completed. Yet Iraq received no benefits
In the late 1990s, it was exposed that the "arms inspections"
were being secretly used by the U.S. to gather intelligence for
assassination attempts and coup plotting. These developments further
eroded international support for U.S. belligerence toward Iraq.
The inspection program collapsed in 1999 when Iraq refused to
allow inspectors to return, following the punishing military strikes
of Operation Desert Fox in December 1998. Meanwhile, Iraq gradually
rebuilt its ties with other world powers and states in the region.
Iraq's neighbors began to ignore sanctions. Trade with Jordan,
Turkey, Syria, and Egypt grew-and became important to their economies.
Iraq's oil reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia's in size
and potential profitability, so Russia, France, and China worked
to secure a piece of the action. Iraq has now granted these countries
some $6 billion in import contracts. Russia signed a 23-year deal
to develop Iraq's West Qurna oil field-potentially worth $20 billion.
By 2001, German exports to Iraq had increased four-fold, to 1.2
In 1996, the U.S. was forced to allow Iraq to resume oil sales
via the oil-for-food program. Although Iraq's oil revenues are
still held by the UN and its imports tightly controlled, its reported
oil income rose from $4 billion in 1997 to $18 billion in 2000.
Many former members of the Gulf War coalition have reopened
embassies in Baghdad and in 1998 Iraqi officials attended their
first Arab League meeting in a decade.
Growing Clamor To Strike
In U. S . government eyes, the continued survival of the Hussein
regime was creating problems in the Middle East and tarnishing
America's standing as the globe's dominant imperialist superpower.
There was talk of the "collapse" of the U.S. Iraq policy
and a growing clamor for decisive action-well before September
In 1998, former high-ranking officials wrote then-President
Clinton an open letter calling for Hussein's ouster: "Current
American policy toward Iraq is not succeeding, and that we may
soon face a threat in the Middle East more serious than any we
have known since the end of the Cold War." Ten signers now
hold top posts in the Bush administration, including Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld and his assistant Paul Wolfowitz.
During the 2000 elections George W. Bush and Democratic candidate
Al Gore both called for overthrowing Iraq's government. In January
2001, a member of the Bush team spoke to the global, tone-setting
considerations of U.S. actions toward Iraq: "Ideally, the
first crisis would be something with Iraq. It would be a way to
make the point that it's a new world" (New Yorker, 1/22/01).
In July 2001, the Wall Street Journal called for the U.S.
to "take swift and serious measures to remove Saddam Hussein
from power." The Journal also reported, "Senior officials
have held almost weekly meetings on the issue to discuss whether
to push for the [Hussein] government's ouster. "
Then came September 11. U.S. rulers were confronted with both
a necessity to lash out and an opportunity to try and realize
longstanding ambitions. Barely a week had passed before high-level
officials and advisers were meeting behind closed doors.
According to the New York Times ( 10/12/01), on September
19-20 the Defense Policy Board, a "tight-knit group of Pentagon
officials and defense experts outside government, met for 19 hours
to discuss the ramifications of the attacks of September 11. The
group agreed on the need to turn on Iraq as soon as the initial
phase of the war against Afghanistan was over. "
The group included deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz,
and former high-ranking officials such as William Bennett, Jeanne
Kirkpatrick, Newt Gingrich, and Richard Perle. Gingrich declared
that the U. S. needed a major geopolitical victory in response
to the attacks. "Bombing a few caves in Afghanistan"
wasn't going to do it, he said, but overthrowing Iraq's government
U.S. threats of war on Iraq have sparked a rash of controversy
and debate. Other world powers have loudly objected: "There
is no indication, no proof that Iraq is involved in the terrorism
we have been talking about for the last few months," declared
Germany's Deputy Foreign Minister. "This terror argument
cannot be used to legitimize old enmities."
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated, "Any attempt
or any decision to attack Iraq today will be unwise and could
lead to a major escalation in the region." Saudi leaders
and Jordan's King Abdullah have spoken out against the war, and
Turkey's President Sezer warned, "Turkey attaches great importance
to preserving Iraq's territorial and national integrity. "
The Washington Post (3/11/02) reported that these comments
"represent a growing consensus among regional leaders that
the risks of an attack on Iraqi pres Saddam Hussein far outweigh
any threat he may pose."
No doubt many of these objections are designed to give political
cover to regional states, which may end up assisting the U.S.
They are demands that other countries' concerns are taken into
account by the U.S. (such as Turkey's demand that the U.S. protect
Iraq's territorial integrity, or Russia's that its contracts and
interests be respected).
Yet such opposition also reflects the potentially explosive
consequences of war on Iraq. Those holding the reins of power
in Washington are certainly aware of these dangers-whether the
fragmentation of Iraq, rising instability, or unintended shifts
in regional power balances. Yet they've responded to every criticism
with renewed determination to push ahead, even if the U.S. does
Installing a pro-U.S. regime in Baghdad could give the U.S.
more direct control of Iraq and its oil wealth, and prevent it
from exerting independent influence, especially with Saudi Arabia
and Kuwait. Knocking down the Hussein regime would also strike
at other major powers, such as Russia, China, and France, who
seek greater regional influence, demoting them to a clear, humiliating
second tier status. One Russian oil executive worried, "If
the Americans start military operations against Iraq we may lose
a contract, and American oil companies will come in our place.
No one has ever said the opposite."
Some in the U.S. power structure see war on Iraq as a way
of crushing Arab nationalist aspirations. One Wall Street Journal
column ( 12/19/01 ) stated bluntly: "America's superpower
image was decisively cracked in the Middle East by the failure
of Washington to checkmate Saddam Hussein...to extinguish the
hope that has fueled the rise of al Qaeda and the violent anti-Americanism
throughout the Middle East, we have no choice but to re-instill
in our foes and friends the fear and respect that attaches to
any great power. Winning the war in Afghanistan will not do it
alone...only a war against Saddam Hussein will."
A former Reagan official spins out this post-war scenario:
"Syria comes to terms. The Saudis will conform. Iran will
be surrounded by American forces, and the mullahs will have to
make concessions to the moderates. There will be a settlement
between Israel and Palestine." Then he warned, "I'd
say fantastic-if it happens. Whatever happens, Bush cannot afford
to fail. At the end of the day, we must have a stable, pro-Western
government in Baghdad" (the New Yorker, 3/11/02).
Events may yet derail the U.S. march toward Baghdad. If not,
the establishment's wildly ambitious plans might backfire. Israel's
brutal invasion of the West Bank in April sparked protests unseen
in a decade, as well as worldwide revulsion and opposition. Any
attack on Iraq would add fuel to that fire and U.S. allies in
Riyadh, Amman, Cairo-or elsewhere- could end up paying the price.
The one certainty in all this is that if the U.S. does go
to war, the Iraqi people will once again be the primary victims.
People around the world-especially those of us living in the U.S.-must
oppose such an unjust and cruel war with all our hearts.
Larry Everest is a correspondent for the Revolutionary Worker
newspaper. In 1991 he produced the video Iraq: War Against the