Is Bush a War Criminal?

by Georg Hoffman-Ostenhof

Profil, Vienna, Austria, Oct. 7, 2002

[World Press Review, December 2002]


There is only a single valid argument in favor of George W. Bush's war policies: Negotiations with malefactors like Saddam Hussein can work only when there is a believable threat of violence behind them. In other words, the Iraqi dictator would certainly not be prepared to let inspectors back into his country were it not for America's saber rattling. This argument is especially aimed at those who say that a war against Iraq is to be avoided under any circumstances. That is what [German Chancellor] Gerhard Schroder said during his election campaign-and he won because of it. His rival, Edmund Stoiber, made the point that this would weaken the potential threat to Saddam, and there was a kernel of truth in what he said.

But this argument, in and of itself so strong, has been undermined by the Americans from the very beginning. It was always clear, and it is becoming even clearer, that this is not really about doing away with Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, however threatening. It is about removing Saddam from power. The Americans want to send United Nations inspectors with broad powers into Iraq, but not to track down and destroy arms storage sites and production facilities. Rather, they are looking for an excuse to attack.

The draft resolution that Washington [originally wanted] to push through the United Nations Security Council leaves nothing to the imagination. If it is approved, it gives a green light for an American occupation. American troops would accompany the inspectors and would have landing rights at any location. In addition, according to the American draft resolution, Washington would retain the right to engage in open war against Iraq at any moment without having to consult the U.N. again. What this means is if Baghdad does not provide a complete accounting of its weapons of mass destruction and missile program, or if it hinders the inspectors, the member states of the U.N. will be justified in utilizing "all necessary means to restore international peace and security in the region." In other words: military intervention, whenever the United States wants it.

Experts in international law are screaming: The American plans would destroy the basis of the modern world order that dates from the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which is founded on the idea that recognition of national sovereignty is fundamental, and without it, the world would sink into anarchy. Of course, this fundamental doctrine of international law has been eroded in the past. At a time when human rights have become more and more the core of international politics, and "humanitarian intervention" is on the agenda, the Peace of Westphalia is obviously wavering. Things are in flux. But the planned Iraq adventure is not even being camouflaged as a "humanitarian intervention." It is instead openly declared to be a pre-emptive war. Let's leave aside the fact that so far no one has been able to provide any credible evidence that Saddam is in fact an immediate threat to anyone (except his own people).The U.N. Charter, drafted by the Americans and others in 1945, makes it clear that "the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence" of any state is illegal. And that is not all: In the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders, "preemptive war" was explicitly treated as a war crime. George W. Bush a war criminal? Now, people surely will object, saying that all of these cornerstones of international law have already been violated, many times over, including by the United States. Was not the Vietnam War a war of aggression? And what about the interventions in Latin American banana republics?

That is true. But the United States has always sought to cloak its military actions in the fabric of legitimacy of international law-no matter how unconvincing these attempts may have been. What is new about the current situation is that the United States, even in its propaganda, is making no secret of the fact that it is not concerned about international agreements and rules. This break is a programmatic one-and to some extent it is revolutionary. And that is why it is so dangerous. No one in the world-not in Europe, not within the Arab states, and least of all the Iraqi people-would shed a tear if Saddam Hussein were to be overthrown or killed. But that is not the issue. A war on Iraq waged under current conditions would create a precedent. A precedent that would, in the final analysis, destroy all the attempts of the past four centuries to pacify world politics or to at least influence war and establish rules for it.

The gate to global chaos would be opened. For however powerful the United States may be, creating a true Pax Americana, in which the superpower brings peace and order to every last corner of the world, is beyond its capacity. And it is even less ready to undertake this. lt is the prime duty of Europe-together with the U.N.-to stop the ultraright and irresponsible revolutionaries who are now in control in Washington. Hopefully, Europe will have the strength to do it.

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