Remember Vietnam? Remember the Gulf War? Beware what you're told on Iraq, writes Kenneth Davidson.
Before we get sucked into the Bush administration's war with Iraq on what appears the flimsiest excuses, they should remember the excuses Americans offered the world to justify their involvement in the Vietnam and Gulf Wars.
President Lyndon Baines Johnson got Congress to approve US military intervention in Vietnam based on the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, based on the claim that North Vietnamese torpedo boats made unprovoked attacks on two US destroyers. Does anybody believe this story now? If it is true, why hasn't the US released the archives relating to the incident?
After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, a group backed by the Kuwait government-in-exile hired a US public relations firm to devise a campaign to win American support for the war. The high point was the use of the daughter of Kuwait's ambassador to the US as a star witness to a congressional hearing into the Iraq invasion. Under an assumed name, she said: "I saw Iraq soldiers come into the hospitals with guns, and go into a room where 15 babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators and left the babies on the cold floor to die." She later admitted she had lied.
But this lie, and others, worked.
So why did Saddam Hussein invade Kuwait? Before the invasion, the US ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, said the US would not interfere. It was a reasonable expectation. Saddam was a US ally against Iran, so much so that between 1985 and 1989, dozens of biological agents were shipped to Iraq from the US under licence from the Commerce Department, despite the fact that Iraq had been reported to be engaging in chemical and possibly biological warfare against Iranians, Kurds and Shiites since the early 1980s.
And Iraq had real grievance against Kuwait. According to Saddam, Kuwait had been exceeding its OPEC oil production quota and this was depressing the price of oil and Iraq's revenue, which was needed to pay for its war with Iran. Saddam believed Saudi Arabia and Kuwait owed part of Iraq's debt for its war against Iran because Iraq was protecting both these countries against Iran. And to add insult to injury, Kuwait was drilling into Iraq's share of the Rumaila oil field which straddles both countries.
Saddam is a monster. Arguably the murderous concoction of ethnic and religious rivalries which constitute the population of Iraq can only be held together by a monster. The oil interests which direct US policy in the Middle East believe this. They want Saddamism without Saddam. He is no longer their man. That is why they call for "regime change".
But Saddam is no religious fanatic. According to Alex Standish, editor of Jane's Intelligence Digest: "Saddam's Ba'ath Party regime, despite its Islamic trappings, is a deeply secular and fundamentally socialist ideology.
"You can think whatever you like about Saddam but he is not so foolish that he would threaten his own region's stability by financing the extreme and violent likes of al Qaeda."
It is possible to imagine that a religious fanatic would be prepared to use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in a first strike against the US, which would invite massive retaliation that would vaporise most of the population of Iraq.
But in this respect Saddam and his generals are as sane as the Russian communist leadership during the Cold War who understood the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction. They are not likely to adopt a policy of mass suicide, either directly by launching WMD or indirectly by arming al Qaeda, which could conceivably use WMD irrespective of the consequences.
This week's report by the London-based Institute for Strategic Studies has been used by the hawks in Whitehall and Washington as "proof" that Saddam is close to having a WMD capability, yet it contains no factual information that undermines informed opinion that Iraq is far weaker in WMD than it was before the Gulf War.
So why did Saddam expel UN weapons inspectors in 1998? He didn't. The head of the inspection team, Richard Butler, ordered the inspectors to leave Baghdad in anticipation of an attack. The Russian ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, criticised Butler for withdrawing the inspectors without seeking the permission of the UN Security Council.
It has since been shown that the Iraqi charge at the time - that the weapons inspectors had been used as spies for the US - was the truth, not propaganda.
According to former weapons inspector Scott Ritter: "There is no way the Iraqis are going to let in the inspectors now . . . why would they let in the inspectors to spy on them, target them more effectively and then be used to manipulate justification for war?"
So far, neither George Bush nor Tony Blair have come up with any reason that could justify a first strike against Iraq - except the unstated (because it is unacceptable) reason that "regime change" would give America control of Iraq's 100 billion barrels of oil reserves.
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