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The Bush administration has made clear to the entire world that it intends to go to war with Iraq. But while war seems increasingly inevitable, its true causes and US objectives in the Middle East become harder to fathom every day. The official US line on Iraq has been contested by just about everyone(Getty File Images)...







Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2003. 

Too Late to Turn Back Now 

By Boris Kagarlitsky 

The Bush administration has made clear to the entire world that it intends to go to war with Iraq. But while war seems increasingly inevitable, its true causes and U.S. objectives in the Middle East become harder to fathom every day.

The official U.S. line on Iraq has been contested by just about everyone. Even if Saddam Hussein does possess huge stores of weapons of mass destruction -- as the United States continues to allege despite the lack of confirmation from United Nations weapons inspectors on the ground -- this would not constitute sufficient grounds for declaring war. The 20th century saw plenty of dictators who armed themselves to the teeth but were not invaded as a result, and little has changed in the 21st century.

North Korea has amassed a significant arsenal, and Kim Jong Il isn't exactly the poster boy for democratic government, but Bush has no intention of attacking North Korea. China, with its nuclear arsenal, is no model democracy, either, but it's a lot more democratic than Pakistan, which recently tested nuclear weapons. And yet Pakistan is a close U.S. ally in the region.

The alarm raised by U.S. politicians over the Iraqi arsenal stands in striking contrast to the near indifference of Iraq's neighbors against whom that arsenal might actually be used. Iraq's traditional rivals -- Saudi Arabia and Iran -- oppose the war. Even Israel is far less concerned than Washington about Saddam Hussein's military capacity. The Israeli government hasn't come out against the war, of course, but its leaders are far more concerned about threats closer to home. The Israelis are not averse to using growing tension in the Middle East as a pretext for cracking down on the Palestinians, but that conflict is a dead end. War or no war, little will change in Israel.

Analysts close to the Bush administration contend that Hussein is no run-of-the-mill dictator; he is of a different order altogether, bent on expansion and tied to international terrorism. Consequently, extreme measures against him are justified. But this analysis doesn't quite add up. If Hussein is so exceptional, why is the U.S. preparing to employ such an ordinary strategy: a military campaign followed by occupation? Bush has often spoken of a secret war on terrorism that would go largely unnoticed by the general public. Why not launch such a war against Hussein? And perhaps Washington's wise men would be so kind as to name a dictator who is not bent on expansion and prepared to resort to terror -- a kinder, gentler tyrant, if you will.

One dictator does come to mind, now that I think about it. This is exactly how Saddam Hussein was portrayed by the United States 15 years ago.

Opponents of the war reject the official line coming out of Washington, charging that the impending war in Iraq is all about oil. This explanation is both simpler and more compelling, especially when you take into account the ongoing U.S. economic crisis and the close ties that bind many U.S. leaders to the oil industry. The Democrats raised these issues many times in an attempt to discredit Bush during the midterm election campaign.

Oil interests explain much, but not everything. Major historical events never have a single, clearly defined cause. Conflict with an external enemy is profitable for any regime that is going through difficult times. The United States has more than its share of problems at the moment, and its leaders don't seem to have any answers. Bush would be far better off going into the next election as the president who defeated Iraq than as the man who tried and failed to tackle a stagnating economy, unemployment and corporate scandals.

Opponents of the war might be overestimating the influence wielded by the Bush team, however. Events long ago acquired their own momentum. Even if Washington has misgivings about the path it has chosen, the Rubicon has been crossed. Bush and Hussein are both bound by their previous decisions. Neither can change course now without admitting defeat. Both sides will therefore rush headlong into conflict regardless of the real reasons that led them to this point. The modern era knows of only one case when countries on the brink of war managed to step back and rein in their military machines: the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962. But the leaders facing off back then were Nikita Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy. Today all we've got are Dubya and Saddam.


Boris Kagarlitsky is director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.


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