An Annotated Refutation of President George W. Bush’s September 23 Address Before the United Nations

“Events during the past two years have set before us the clearest of divides: Between those who seek order and those who spread chaos; between those who work for peaceful change and those who adopt the methods of gangsters; between those who honor the rights of man and those who deliberately take the lives of men and women and children, without mercy or shame.”

This is an ironic statement from a man who defied basic principles of international law and rebuked those who called for peaceful alternatives.
Afghanistan’s president, who is here today, now represents a free people who are building a decent and just society, a nation fully joined in the war against terror.

The people of Kabul, which is virtually the only part of Afghanistan under the firm control of President Hamid Karsai, are relatively free as compared with their lives under the Taliban regime. However, most of the rest of the country has fallen into chaos, as war lords, ethnic militias and opium magnates battle for control. This has led to a resurgence of the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies in parts of Afghanistan.

The regime of Saddam Hussein cultivated ties to terror while it built weapons of mass destruction. It used those weapons in acts of mass murder and refused to account for them when confronted by the world. The Security Council was right to be alarmed.

Unfortunately, much of the Security Council was not alarmed when Saddam Hussein engaged in mass murder through the use of chemical weapons, in large part because the United States and other great powers were at that time backing his regime. Nor was the Iraqi regime seriously confronted for such atrocities, in large part because the U.S. government falsely claimed that it was the Iranians — then the preferred enemy — who were responsibly for the infamous Halabja massacre and similar attacks. Indeed, throughout much of the 1980s, the United States, along with other advanced industrialized nations, provided the dictator with much of the raw materials and technology needed for his WMD programs.

The Security Council was right to demand that Iraq destroy its illegal weapons and prove that it had done so. The Security Council was right to vow serious consequences if Iraq refused to comply. And because there were consequences, because a coalition of nations acted to defend the peace and the credibility of the United Nations.

This is incredibly misleading on several counts:

First of all, the Security Council never specified the consequences and never authorized any member states to enforce alleged Iraqi non-compliance through military means.

Secondly, once Iraq allowed inspectors back into the country in November, released its accounting of proscribed items (which UNMOVIC chairman Hans Blix now says was probably accurate), and acceded to UNMOVIC’s demands regarding surveillance flights, interviews, etc. there is reason to believe that Iraq was actually in compliance of UN Security Council resolutions for at least several weeks prior to the U.S. invasion.

Thirdly, since when is one country invading another an act of “defending the peace?”

Fourthly, the United States has done more than any country — including Iraq — to damage the credibility of the United Nations: 1) over the past thirty years, the United States has used its veto power more times than all other members of the Security Council combined during that same period; 2) Iraq was hardly the only country in alleged defiance of UN Security Council resolutions: over ninety UN Security Council resolutions are currently being violated, but the United States has blocked enforcement of most of them since they usually involved a strategic ally (for example, Morocco, Israel and Turkey each are in violation of more Security Council resolutions than was Iraq at the height of its defiance); 3) the invasion of Iraq itself was a flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter.

“Iraq is free, and today we are joined by representatives of a liberated country.

Though Iraq is free from Saddam’s dictatorial regime, it is still not free. The country is under foreign military occupation. The Iraqi “representatives” at the United Nations during President Bush”s speech were hand-picked by the U.S. occupiers.

“Saddam Hussein’s monuments have been removed and not only his statues. The true monuments of his rule and his character, the torture chambers and the rape rooms and the prison cells for innocent children, are closed. And as we discover the killing fields and mass graves of Iraq, the true scale of Saddam’s cruelty is being revealed.”

Actually, the scale of Saddam’s cruelty was fairly well-known by human rights activists for quite a few years, revealed in reports by Amnesty International and other reputable human rights groups as far back as the 1980s. During this period — the height of Saddam’s repression — the United States was quietly backing the regime. It was the United Nations that was largely responsible for curbing the worst of the regime’s human rights abuses. These included unprecedented efforts by the Security Council, including the use of Chapter VII, to impose strict limits on the Iraqi government’s ability to mobilize its forces within its internationally-recognized borders and to establish a large autonomous zone within Iraq for the country’s Kurdish minority. In addition, the UN Security Council’s imposition of a total ban on imports of military and police hardware dramatically lessened Saddam’s ability to engage in mass murder more than a decade prior to the U.S. invasion.

“The Iraqi people are meeting hardships and challenges, like every nation that has set out on the path of democracy. Yet their future promises lives of dignity and freedom and that is a world away from the squalid, vicious tyranny they have known. Across Iraq, life is being improved by liberty.”

The primary hardships for the Iraqi people stem not from any democratic transition, but from the lack of basic services, the breakdown of law and order, severe damage to the civilian infrastructure, massive unemployment, and related hardships resulting from the U.S. invasion and its aftermath. Unfortunately, despite the ouster of a brutal dictatorship, the majority of Iraqis believe that their quality of life has not improved as a result of the U.S. invasion, but has actually deteriorated.

“Across the Middle East, people are safer because an unstable aggressor has been removed from power.”

In reality, Saddam Hussein’s ability to engage in acts of aggression had been neutralized some years prior to his ouster as a result of losses in the 1991 Gulf War and the destruction of his weapons of mass destruction, delivery systems, and other offensive weaponry under the UN inspections regimes that followed.

“Across the world, nations are more secure because an ally of terror has fallen.”

According to the CIA and the State Department, Iraqi support for international terrorism peaked during the 1980s, a time when the U.S. government actually dropped Iraq from its list of states sponsoring terrorism. (Iraq was put back on the list when it invaded Kuwait in August 1990 despite lack of any evidence of increased terrorist activity.) Subsequent to 1993, most credible analyses both in and out of the U.S. government of state-sponsored terrorism reveal that Iraqi support for international terrorism was relatively minor and indirect and far less than that of a number of other Middle Eastern countries, including U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia. Today, however, due to the country”s great instability and because — like Afghanistan under Soviet occupation in the 1980s — U.S.-occupied Iraq has become a magnet for extremists from throughout the region, nations are actually less secure from the threat of terrorism arising out of Iraq than they were prior to the U.S. invasion.

“Our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq were supported by many governments, and America is grateful to each one. “

The initial U.S. military response in Afghanistan was indeed supported by many governments, though it lessened as the United States took sides in the country”s civil war and civilian casualties from unnecessarily heavy high-altitude bombing increased. By contrast, very few governments supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Most of those that did support the invasion did so contrary to preferences of the vast majority of their populations; a number of poor countries were subjected to promises of increased aid and trading privileges in exchange for their support and threatened with loss of such vital transactions for their refusal.

“I also recognize that some of the sovereign nations of this assembly disagreed with our actions. Yet there was, and there remains, unity among us on the fundamental principles and objectives of the United Nations. We are dedicated to the defense of our collective security, and to the advance of human rights.”

In reality, there is enormous disagreement between the United States and most other nations in the United Nations regarding the role of the world body. Most nations see the UN as a quasi-legislative body based on certain clear legal structures designed to build an international consensus for the promotion of collective security against aggression and to seek non-military means of conflict resolution. By contrast, the Bush Administration has essentially demanded that the UN be used to advance its foreign policy agenda. Unfortunately, many if not most of the UN member states violate basic human rights and the Bush Administration supports some of the world’s worst human rights abusers.

“These permanent commitments call us to great work in the world, work we must do together. So let us move forward.”

In practice, this appears to mean “do what we say.” (This attitude is not new to the Bush Administration, however: recall that President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to the UN and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated, also in reference to Iraq, that the United States “will act multilaterally when we can and unilaterally when we must.”)

“First, we must stand with the people of Afghanistan and Iraq as they build free and stable countries. The terrorists and their allies fear and fight this progress above all, because free people embrace hope over resentment, and choose peace over violence.”

Afghanistan is far from stable and the United States has opposed strengthening the international peacekeeping forces to extend their operations beyond Kabul. Iraq is not only unstable as well, but as long as the U.S. maintains its occupation, the United Nations will have a hard time standing with the people of Iraq. A bigger question is this: Has the U.S. invasion and occupation created an environment where the people of Iraq feel free, embrace hope and choose peace? Or, has it created a situation where people feel they are under foreign military occupation and thereby embrace resentment and violence?

“In the nation of Iraq, the United Nations is carrying out vital and effective work every day. By the end of 2004, more than 90 percent of Iraqi children under age five will have been immunized against preventable diseases such as polio, tuberculosis, and measles thanks to the hard work and high ideals of UNICEF.”

This figure would be comparable to childhood immunization rates in Iraq prior to the U.S.-led Gulf War in 1991 and subsequent sanctions that largely destroyed the country’s public health system.

“Iraq’s food distribution system is operational, delivering nearly a half-million tons of food per month, thanks to the skill and expertise of the World Food Program.”

The World Food Program has also reported that malnutrition is much higher now than it was prior to the U.S. invasion.

“Our international coalition in Iraq is meeting its responsibilities.”

First of all, given that the United States is providing 85% of the personnel and an even higher percentage of the financial costs, it can hardly be called a “coalition.” More to the point, the United States has failed miserably in living up to its obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Conventions in such areas as providing basic security and public services.

“We are conducting precision raids against terrorists and holdouts of the former regime.”

Unfortunately, there has been tragically little precision in quite a few cases, resulting in widespread civilian casualties. In addition, an increasing number of targets of the raids are neither terrorists nor holdouts of the former regime, but non-Baathist nationalists who are fighting U.S. occupation forces, not civilians. As tragic as every death of an American soldier may be, international law makes a clear distinction between terrorism (which targets innocent civilians and is always a war crime) and armed attacks against uniformed soldiers of a foreign occupying army (which is considered a legitimate form of warfare.)

“These killers are at war with the Iraqi people.”

Actually, far more Iraqi civilians have been killed by U.S. occupation forces.

“They have made Iraq the central front in the war on terror and they will be defeated.”

In reality, only a tiny percentage of the armed attacks have been directed at civilian non-combatants and therefore considered acts of terrorism. Furthermore, “the central front in the war on terror” should be directed toward Al-Qaeda, which really does present a serious threat, rather than Iraqis who would probably stop fighting once U.S. occupation forces got out of their country. Finally, given the steady increase in anti-American violence and indications that a growing percentage of the attacks are coming from non-Baathist nationalists rather than the remnants of Saddam’s regime or foreign terrorist cells, it will not be defeated very easily.

“Our coalition has made sure that Iraq’s former dictator will never again use weapons of mass destruction”.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that Saddam Hussein did not have any weapons of mass destruction for at least five to eight years prior to the U.S. invasion. He last used such weapons (in the form of deadly chemical agents) in 1988, a full fifteen years before the U.S. invasion. It was the UN inspections regime, not the U.S. invasion, that eliminated his WMD programs. Similarly, it was the UN-imposed embargo, not the U.S. invasion, that denied the regime access to needed technologies and raw materials to rebuild such programs in the future. In other words, the U.S. “coalition” had nothing to do with eliminating the possibility of the former Iraqi dictator using weapons of mass destruction as he did during the 1980s.

“We are now interviewing Iraqi citizens and analyzing records of the old regime, to reveal the full extent of its weapons programs and long campaign of deception.”

So far, both the records of the old regime and interviews with Iraqis involved with WMD programs appear to indicate that the weapons programs were terminated and the proscribed weapons and delivery systems destroyed or otherwise rendered inoperable by the mid-1990s.

“We are training Iraqi police, border guards, and a new army, so that the Iraqi people can assume full responsibility for their own security.”

As long as the United States remains the occupying power, these police, border guards and new army will have little credibility among large segments of the Iraqi population. Until they do, the situation on the ground will remain highly unstable.

“At the same time, our coalition is helping to improve the daily lives of the Iraqi people. The old regime built palaces while letting schools decay, so we are rebuilding more than a thousand schools.”

Iraq actually had one of the best education systems in the Third World prior to the U.S.-led bombing campaign during the 1991 Gulf War and subsequent sanctions.

“The old regime starved hospitals of resources, so we have helped to supply and reopen hospitals across Iraq.”

As virtually any development worker — whether with the United Nations or with any number of non-governmental organizations — in Iraq during the past dozen years will testify, it was the U.S.-led sanctions that starved hospitals of resources.

“The old regime built up armies and weapons, while allowing the nation’s infrastructure to crumble. So we are rehabilitating power plants, water and sanitation facilities, bridges, and airports.”

First of all, thanks to its enormous oil wealth (as well as exports and loans from the United States and other countries), Saddam Hussein’s regime during the 1980s was able to provide both guns and butter — developing an over-sized military while building power plants, water and sanitation facilities, bridges, and airports. By contrast, Iraqi military spending during the 1990s was widely estimated to be only about one-tenth of its previous levels. Meanwhile, the heavy U.S. bombing during the 1991 Gulf War was largely responsible for the destruction of Iraq’s power plants, water and sanitation facilities, bridges, and airports and the U.S.-led sanctions that followed made it almost impossible for Iraq to import the parts needed to rebuild them. Finally, it is important to note that the Bush Administration — with bipartisan support in Congress — is itself busy building up armies and weapons while allowing our own nation’s infrastructure to crumble.

“I have proposed to Congress that the United States provide additional funding for our work in Iraq, the greatest financial commitment of its kind since the Marshall Plan. Having helped to liberate Iraq, we will honor our pledges to Iraq.”

The financial commitment to Iraq does not come anywhere close in real dollars to the Marshall Plan and is actually quite paltry compared to what the administration has been willing to spend to bomb, invade, and occupy the country. In addition, there has not been a clear accounting of the funding earmarked for reconstruction work and much of that money has gone to politically well-connected U.S. corporations that gained exclusive contracts through non-competitive bidding. Additional billions of dollars have gone to bribe foreign governments to commit token numbers of soldiers to make up for insufficient manpower from the U.S. military and to make the U.S. occupation look like a broad coalition.

“And by helping the Iraqi people build a stable and peaceful country, we will make our own countries more secure.”

Iraq is actually far less stable and peaceful than it was prior to the U.S. invasion and occupation and the enormous anti-American resentment that has sprung up in the Islamic world as a result increases the risks of deadly terrorist attacks.

“The primary goal of our coalition in Iraq is self-government for the people of Iraq, reached by orderly and democratic means. This process must unfold according to the needs of Iraqis, neither hurried nor delayed by the wishes of other parties.”

If this was really the primary goal, then why doesn’t the United States end the occupation and turn interim administration over to the United Nations, as was done with East Timor between the withdrawal of Indonesian occupation forces in 2000 and the country’s independence two years later? A number of UN agencies have extensive experiences in recent years with successfully transitioning war-ravaged states to orderly and democratic self-governance; the U.S. military does not.

“And the United Nations can contribute greatly to the cause of Iraqi self-government. America is working with friends and allies on a new Security Council resolution, which will expand the UN’s role in Iraq. As in the aftermath of other conflicts, the United Nations should assist in developing a constitution, training civil servants, and conducting free and fair elections.”

A careful reading of the U.S.-sponsored resolution reveals that it essentially forces much of the financial and logistical burdens of overseeing the post-war, post-sanctions and post-dictatorship transition upon the United Nations while leaving the United States primarily responsible for shaping the military, political and economic future of the country. As part of a UN Trusteeship, UN workers would be more likely to build cooperative relationships with the Iraqi people. As simply a part of a U.S. occupation, however — as would be the case under the U.S. draft — they would just become additional targets of an increasingly restive population.

“Iraq now has a Governing Council, the first truly representative institution in that country. Iraq’s new leaders are showing the openness and tolerance that democracy requires, and also showing courage.”

The Governing Council is representative only in the sense that its members are drawn from a diverse segment of Iraq’s ethnic and religious mosaic; they are not necessarily representative of the political will of the majority of the population. Their perceived openness and tolerance may stem largely from the knowledge that they are serving only at the pleasure of the U.S. occupation authority. Their courage stems from the recognition that they are seen by many Iraqis as collaborators and therefore fear they could suffer from the same fate as has befallen collaborators with military occupations in other countries throughout history.

“Yet every young democracy needs the help of friends. Now the nation of Iraq needs and deserves our aid, and all nations of good will should step forward and provide that support.”

Countries throughout the world have expressed a willingness to provide large-scale aid and assistance in the form of security, technical expertise, money and logistics as long as the country is under a UN trusteeship, not an American military occupation.

“The success of a free Iraq will be watched and noted throughout the region. Millions will see that freedom, equality, and material progress are possible at the heart of the Middle East. Leaders in the region will face the clearest evidence that free institutions and open societies are the only path to long-term national success and dignity.”

This is ironic statement from the government that is the world’s primary economic, diplomatic and military backer of autocratic leaders throughout the Middle East. Since coming to office, the Bush Administration has actually increased military and economic assistance to dictatorial regimes that deny their people free institutions and open societies.

“And a transformed Middle East would benefit the entire world, by undermining the ideologies that export violence to other lands.”

Then why not encourage such a transformation by first ending U.S. support for the dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and Egypt — long considered America”s two most important Arab allies — that not only deny their people the political freedom that President Bush claims to support, but have (not coincidentally) produced most of Al-Qaeda”s members and leadership.

“Iraq as a dictatorship had great power to destabilize the Middle East.”

It did during the 1980s, when the U.S. was supporting it. Subsequent to Iraq”s defeat in the 1991 Gulf War, however, after its military capacity was largely destroyed and they were no longer able to import the necessary weapons, technology and raw materials from advanced industrialized countries, the Iraqi dictatorship was barely a shell of its once formidable military prowess.

“Iraq as a democracy will have great power to inspire the Middle East. The advance of democratic institutions in Iraq is setting an example that others, including the Palestinian people, would be wise to follow.”

The primary obstacle to Palestinian democracy is the Israeli occupation — armed and financed by the United States — which denies the Palestinians their right to self-determination and their ability to create and sustain their own democratic institutions.

“The Palestinian cause is betrayed by leaders who cling to power by feeding old hatreds, and destroying the good work of others.”

Actually, Palestinian public opinion is more militant than most of the Palestinian Authority”s leadership, which has called for resuming negotiations and implementing the road map that would lead to a Palestinian state encompassing the now-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip alongside a secure Israel with a shared co-capital of Jerusalem. While some demagogues — particularly among radical Islamic groups — are indeed exacerbating the conflict, the violence from the Palestinian side stems less from “old hatreds” as it does from the very current and ongoing occupation and colonization of their land and the ongoing repression and harassment of their people.

“The Palestinian people deserve their own state, committed to reform, to fighting terror, and to building peace.”

Then why is the United States spending billions of dollars, vetoing UN Security Council resolutions, and shipping massive amounts of armaments to enable Israel to maintain the very occupation that prevents the Palestinians from establishing a viable state? In addition, thus far President Bush has shown no indication that his vision of a Palestinian “state” is anything more than right-wing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon”s plans to offer the Palestinians a bare 40% of the occupied territories (less than 10% of historic Palestine), subdivided into a series of non-contiguous cantons surrounded by Israel.

“A second challenge we must confront together is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Outlaw regimes that possess nuclear, chemical and biological weapons — and the means to deliver them — would be able to use blackmail and create chaos in entire regions. “We are determined to keep the world’s most destructive weapons away from all our shores, and out of the hands of our common enemies. Because proliferators will use any route or channel that is open to them, we need the broadest possible cooperation to stop them. Today I ask the UN Security Council to adopt a new anti-proliferation resolution. This resolution should call on all members of the UN to criminalize the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; to enact strict export controls consistent with international standards; and to secure any and all sensitive materials within their own borders.”

It is noteworthy how the United States exempts itself and such Southwest Asian allies as Israel and Pakistan from anti-proliferation resolutions while focusing solely on governments it doesn”t like. It is also revealing that the Bush Administration has rejected calls from Middle Eastern nations — ranging from allies like Jordan to adversaries like Syria — for the establishment of a weapons of mass destruction-free zone for all of the Middle East, comparable to treaties that already exist in Latin America and the South Pacific. It is also worth noting that the United States has also been notoriously lax in its own export controls of dual-use technologies.

““There is another humanitarian crisis, spreading and yet hidden from view. Each year, an estimated eight to nine hundred thousand human beings are bought, sold, or forced across the world’s borders. Among them are hundreds of thousands of teenage girls, and others as young as five, who fall victim to the sex trade. This commerce in human life generates billions of dollars each year, much of which is used to finance organized crime. There is a special evil in the abuse and exploitation of the most innocent and vulnerable. The victims of sex trade see little of life before they see the very worst of life, an underworld of brutality and lonely fear. Those who create these victims, and profit from their suffering, must be severely punished. Those who patronize this industry debase themselves and deepen the misery of others. And governments that tolerate this trade are tolerating a form of slavery.”

Most development organizations and advocates for Third World women recognize that the sex trade and other human trafficking has grown most dramatically in countries where traditional economies have collapsed as a result of neo-liberal economic policies imposed by U.S.-backed international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. The selling of one”s daughter or oneself becomes a matter of survival. Shifting to a development policy that emphasizes sustainable development and grassroots economic initiatives (such as micro-lending programs) will do far more to lessen this human tragedy than relying on law enforcement alone.

“As an original signer of the UN charter, the United States of America is committed to the United Nations. And we show that commitment by working to fulfill the UN’s stated purposes, and give meaning to its ideals.”

Then why did the United States violate the UN Charter by invading a sovereign member nation?

“The founding documents of the United Nations and the founding documents of America stand in the same tradition. Both assert that human beings should never be reduced to objects of power or commerce, because their dignity is inherent.”

This is an excellent summation of why the policies of the Bush Administration are subject to growing opposition both at home and abroad.

“Both recognize a moral law that stands above men and nations which must be defended and enforced by men and nations. And both point the way to peace, the peace that comes when all are free. We secure that peace with our courage, and we must show that courage together.”

Indeed, individuals and nations must demonstrate enormous courage and struggle nonviolently against the policies of what is being seen increasingly as a rogue superpower whose quest for domination so seriously threatens the rule of law, basic moral principles, human freedom and any hope for real peace and security

The War In Iraq Is Not Over and Neither Are The Lies To Justify It

President George W. Bush’s nationally broadcast speech Sunday evening once again was designed to mislead Congress and the American public into supporting his administration’s policies in Iraq. Despite record deficits and draconian cutbacks in government support for health care, housing, education, the environment, and public transportation, the president is asking the American taxpayer to spend an additional $87 billion to support his invasion and occupation of Iraq.

It is disturbing that President Bush has once again tried to link the very real threat to American security from mega-terrorist groups like al Qaeda to phony threats originating in Iraq. Not only does he try to link the terrorism that has grown out of the post-invasion chaos in Iraq to the devastating al Qaeda attacks on the United States two years ago, President Bush has depicted all the current violence against Americans and other foreigners in Iraq as part of this terrorist threat.

Like most Americans, I am deeply distressed at attacks on U.S. soldiers. However, the Fourth Geneva Convention–to which the United States is a signatory–is quite clear that a people under foreign military occupation have the right to militarily engage armed uniformed occupation forces. This is not the same as terrorism, which refers to attacks deliberately targeted against unarmed civilians and is universally recognized as a war crime. It is therefore terribly misleading for President Bush to try to convince the American public that these two phenomena are the same.

President Bush also failed to differentiate between the increasingly disparate elements behind the attacks. Some of the violence may indeed come from those who have some connection with al Qaeda who have infiltrated Iraq since the invasion this spring; some may be supporters of Saddam Hussein’s former regime; some may be radical Iraqi Islamists or independent Iraqi nationalists who opposed the old regime but also oppose the U.S. occupation; still others may be foreign fighters who see driving American occupiers from Iraq as an act of pan-Islamic solidarity comparable to driving Soviet occupiers from Afghanistan.

However, President Bush now declares that a successful American-led pacification of the anti-occupation resistance in Iraq would be an “essential victory in the war on terror.” In linking the legitimate international struggle against al Qaeda with the illegitimate U.S. occupation of Iraq, it becomes possible for the administration to justify the president’s determination to “spend what is necessary” in controlling this oil-rich country and to depict those in the United States and elsewhere who oppose the occupation as being soft of terrorism.

Below are some excerpts from the September 7 speech that were particularly misleading:

“And we acted in Iraq, where the former regime sponsored terror;

The Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein indeed had sponsored terror over its nearly one-quarter of a century in power. However, according to both U.S. government agencies and independent researchers, Iraqi support for terrorism primarily took place in the 1980s, when Washington was quietly supporting the regime, and had dropped off dramatically since then. No significant Iraqi links have been found to al Qaeda or other terrorist groups that currently threaten the United States.

“possessed and used weapons of mass destruction,…”

Iraq did use weapons of mass destruction in the 1980s, when the regime was being supported by the U.S. government, but not since then.

It also appears that virtually all of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were destroyed or otherwise made unusable some time between five and eight years ago. Neither the United Nations nor the Bush administration has been able to show any evidence that Iraq possessed such weapons in more recent years.

“and for 12 years defied the clear demands of the United Nations Security Council.”

It is true that Iraq openly defied or otherwise failed for twelve years to live up to demands of the UN Security Council regarding its destruction of and accountability for weapons of mass destruction, certain delivery systems, and other proscribed materials. However, once Iraq allowed the UN inspectors into their country for unfettered inspections last fall and ceded to UN demands regarding aerial reconnaissance, interviews with Iraqi scientists, and other means of insuring full Iraqi accountability several weeks later, one could argue that Iraq may have finally been in compliance with most, if not all, of those outstanding resolutions at the time of the U.S. invasion.

It should also be noted that Morocco, Israel, and Turkey have failed to live up to demands from the UN Security Council for more than twice as long as Iraq. Several other countries–including Croatia, Indonesia, Sudan, Armenia, India, Pakistan, and others–continue to be in defiance of the UN Security Council from more recent resolutions. Despite these transgressions, however, the Bush administration does not appear ready to invade these countries. Indeed, most of these countries receive military and economic aid from the U.S. government, raising serious questions as to whether the Bush administration has ever really been concerned about the implementation of resolutions passed by the UN Security Council after all.

“Our coalition enforced these international demands in one of the swiftest and most humane military campaigns in history.”

First of all, the initial invasion was almost exclusively an American military operation with the exception of British leadership in some southern parts of the country. It could therefore hardly be referred to as a “coalition.”

More importantly, the invasion of Iraq was not an enforcement of these “international demands.” The United Nations Charter clearly states that only the UN Security Council itself has the ability to authorize military enforcement of its resolutions. The Security Council, however, refused to authorize the United States to enforce these resolutions through military means despite enormous pressure by U.S. officials to do so.

Finally, it was hardly a humane military campaign. More than 5,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the U.S.-led assault, far surpassing the number of American civilians killed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

“For a generation leading up to September the 11th, 2001, terrorists and their radical allies attacked innocent people in the Middle East and beyond, without facing a sustained and serious response.”

This is not true at all. During this period, countries where terrorists were harbored–including Libya, Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan, and Afghanistan–were subjected to major bombing campaigns (though more civilians than terrorists were killed during most of these military operations). Sustained and serious responses by a series of American, Middle Eastern, and European governments–using a combination of aggressive police work, intelligence efforts, and paramilitary operations–destroyed or severely weakened most of the major terrorist groups during this period, including Abu Nidal, the PFLP-GC, the PKK, Black September, and others.

“The terrorists became convinced that free nations were decadent and weak.”

As anyone familiar with any serious study of Middle Eastern terrorism recognizes, there is no doubt on the part of anti-American extremists of the United States’ military power. Indeed, the inability to take on U.S. military might directly is what has prompted these extremists to utilize the kind of irregular warfare that targets innocent civilians. Furthermore, the use of terror by groups like al Qaeda comes in large part from the hope that the United States will respond through disproportionate and poorly targeted military actions that further alienate the general population and add to their ranks. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has fallen right into their trap.

“We have carried the fight to the enemy. We are rolling back the terrorist threat to civilization, not on the fringes of its influence, but at the heart of its power.”

If one wants to find a geographic center of the terrorist threat, it is U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, from which most of the al Qaeda leadership, sixteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers, and most of the group’s financial support comes. By contrast, none of al Qaeda’s leadership, none of the 9/11 hijackers, and none of the money trail appear to have come from Iraq.

However, the heart of terrorism’s power comes not from any particular geographic location, but from the individual terrorists whose violent anti-Americanism is rooted in large part to years of U.S. support for repressive Arab dictatorships and Israeli occupation forces. Current U.S. policy is making enemies faster than we can kill them.

“In Iraq, we are helping the long suffering people of that country to build a decent and democratic society at the center of the Middle East. Together we are transforming a place of torture chambers and mass graves into a nation of laws and free institutions.”

Most observers in Iraq have reported that the country is far from being “a decent and democratic society” and that foreign occupation forces are currently in charge of the legal system and governmental institutions.

Furthermore, the United States–both currently and over the past three decades–has been the single largest supporter of autocratic governments in the Arab world, raising serious questions as to whether freedom and democracy is even the goal of the United States in Iraq.

“The terrorists thrive on the support of tyrants and the resentments of oppressed peoples. When tyrants fall, and resentment gives way to hope, men and women in every culture reject the ideologies of terror, and turn to the pursuits of peace. Everywhere that freedom takes hold, terror will retreat.”

This is very true. This begs the question, then, as to why the Bush administration continues to arm and support tyrannical governments like those in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. These countries have produced far more anti-American terrorists that Iraq ever did, even under Saddam Hussein.

“The north of Iraq is generally stable and is moving forward with reconstruction and self-government.”

Actually, because northern Iraq had been an autonomous area under Kurdish rule ever since mid-1991, the region had been generally stable and was moving forward with reconstruction and self-government well prior to the U.S. invasion. Since the U.S. invasion, however, there has been an upsurge in ethnic clashes and other violence.

“This violence is directed not only against our coalition, but against anyone in Iraq who stands for decency and freedom and progress.”

Some of the violence may indeed come from those who oppose decency, freedom, and progress. However, history has shown that most people who have taken up arms against foreign occupation troops do so because they believe it is those who invaded and occupied their country who actually threaten its freedom and progress.

“Two years ago, I told the Congress and the country that the war on terror would be a lengthy war, a different kind of war, fought on many fronts in many places. Iraq is now the central front.”

The U.S. invasion of Iraq was justified primarily on the grounds that Iraq supposedly possessed chemical and biological weapons and had an active nuclear weapons program. Only now, as it is becoming apparent that Iraq did not have such weapons or weapons programs after all, is the Bush administration suddenly claiming that the reason for the United States to take over the country is that Iraq is now “the central front” of the “war on terror.”

“Following World War II, we lifted up the defeated nations of Japan and Germany, and stood with them as they built representative governments. We committed years and resources to this cause. And that effort has been repaid many times over in three generations of friendship and peace. America today accepts the challenge of helping Iraq in the same spirit–for their sake, and our own.”

There are some key differences between Germany and Japan of 1945 and Iraq today. Germany had a democratic parliamentary system prior to Hitler seizing power in the early 1930s and Japan had some semblance of a constitutional monarchy prior to the rise of militarism in the late 1920s, whereas Iraq has never had a representative government. Germany and Japan were homogeneous societies with a strong sense of national identity, whereas Iraq is an artificial creation thrown together by colonial powers from three Ottoman provinces and has only been truly independent for just 45 years; fighting between various Iraqi religious and ethnic groups has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands in recent decades. In addition, most Germans and Japanese recognized that their defeat and occupation was a direct result of their leaders’ aggression against those countries’ neighbors, whereas the Iraqis–whose government was far weaker and less aggressive during its final twelve years than it was in the past–are more prone to see the American takeover as an act of Western imperialism, not self-defense. As a result, it will be quite difficult for the United States to establish a widely accepted and stable regime. Finally, the idealistic New Deal liberals who helped create open political systems in post-war Germany and Japan arguably had a stronger personal commitment to democracy than the right-wing neoconservatives in the Bush administration, who have a history of supporting dictatorial governments that support U.S. strategic and economic interests.

“We are taking direct action against the terrorists in the Iraqi theater, which is the surest way to prevent future attacks on coalition forces and the Iraqi people.”

These kinds of proactive U.S. military operations against alleged terrorists in crowded urban areas tend to result in civilian casualties that will likely encourage attacks by both terrorists targeting civilians as well as other armed units targeting occupation soldiers.

More importantly, however, it is important to recognize that prior to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, there were no car bomb attacks against UN offices, foreign embassies, or places of worship. Since the U.S. takeover, however, Iraq has become a hotbed of terrorism. This raises serious questions as to whether invading other countries actually makes the world safer from terrorism or if such actions actually help create terrorism.

“Some countries have requested an explicit authorization of the United Nations Security Council before committing troops to Iraq. I have directed Secretary of State Colin Powell to introduce a new Security Council resolution, which would authorize the creation of a multinational force in Iraq, to be led by America. [W]e cannot let past differences interfere with present duties. Members of the United Nations now have an opportunity–and the responsibility–to assume a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation.”

It is unlikely that the UN Security Council would take the unprecedented step of authorizing a multinational force to take part in an occupation that came through what most UN members see as an illegal invasion and a clear violation of the UN Charter. By contrast, if the United States were willing to transfer administration of Iraq to the United Nations–creating a UN trusteeship like the one the Security Council set up in East Timor between the withdrawal of Indonesian occupation forces in 2000 and independence last year–most countries capable of providing peacekeeping troops, financial support, and technical expertise would probably do so. The United States has refused to allow the United Nations a significant role, however, insisting that the economic and political future of Iraq should be shaped primarily by the United States, not the international community. Until the United States allows the United Nations to take leadership, however, it is unfair to insist that UN members have a “responsibility” or a “duty” to help ameliorate the mess the United States has gotten itself into.

“I have expressed confidence in the ability of the Iraqi people to govern themselves. Now they must rise to the responsibilities of a free people and secure the blessings of their own liberty.”

This statement may be preparing the way to convince Americans that, should the Bush administration’s policy fail, it will be the fault of the Iraqis themselves, not the government that invaded and occupied them.

“This budget request will also support our commitment to helping the Iraqi and Afghan people rebuild their own nations, after decades of oppression and mismanagement.”

Iraq and Afghanistan were indeed ruled by regimes that were oppressive and mismanaged their economies. However, development officials on the ground in these countries have argued that most of the necessary rebuilding is related to damage from years of heavy bombing and economic sanctions, which–particularly in the case of Iraq–were largely a result of U.S. policy. It is thus far unclear as to how much of the $87 billion requested of Congress will actually help in rebuilding these countries and how much will go to supporting U.S. occupation forces and well-connected U.S. multinational corporations involved in reconstruction and administration.

“We will provide funds to help them improve security. And we will help them to restore basic services, such as electricity and water, and to build new schools, roads, and medical clinics. This effort is essential to the stability of those nations, and therefore, to our own security.”

One hopes this will indeed be the case. It should be pointed out, however, that security in Afghanistan and Iraq has actually decreased dramatically since the U.S. ousted the previous governments and basic services like electricity and water are less available in Iraq now than they were prior to the U.S. takeover.

“For the Middle East and the world, there will be no going back to the days of fear, when a brutal and aggressive tyrant possessed terrible weapons.”

One hopes this will be true as well. However, none of Iraq’s neighbors had expressed particular fear of Saddam Hussein once the 1991 Gulf War and subsequent sanctions and UN-led disarmament efforts apparently eliminated the regime’s weapons of mass destruction and its offensive military capability. Not only did the U.S. invasion do nothing to improve the regional security situation, the Bush administration has rejected calls for a weapons of mass destruction-free zone for the entire Middle East, which could help prevent other tyrants from obtaining such weapons.

“We have learned that terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness.”

Again, there are no doubts among extremists in the Middle East regarding America’s military strength. The perceived weakness is in regard to America’s moral strength. Millions of people in the Middle East and beyond believe that it is morally wrong for the United States to support Arab dictatorships and Israeli occupation forces. They believe it is morally wrong that the amount of U.S. military aid to the Middle East is six times that of its economic aid. They believe it is morally wrong that the #1 U.S. export to the region is not consumer goods, high-tech equipment, or agricultural products, but armaments. They believe it is morally wrong that a powerful country from the other side of the world would invade a sovereign Arab nation and justify it by falsely claiming that its government currently had weapons of mass destruction and was supporting al Qaeda. They believe it is morally wrong that U.S. bombing and sanctions against Muslim countries has killed far more civilians than have the terrorists themselves.

The unfortunate reality is that the more the United States has militarized the Middle East, the less secure we have become.

“And the surest way to avoid attacks on our own people is to engage the enemy where he lives and plans. We are fighting that enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities.”

It is absurd to believe that those Iraqis and Afghanis currently fighting U.S. occupation forces in their own countries actually want to somehow sneak into the United States to fight Americans here. Indeed, no Afghans or Iraqis are known to have ever committed an act of terrorism against Americans on American soil.

The president’s statement is essentially a retread of the line used by supporters of the Vietnam War that “If we don’t fight them over there, we will have to fight them here.” However, more than 28 years after the Communist victory in Vietnam, we have yet to fight the Vietnamese in our streets and there is no indication that we ever will. The Iraqis and Afghans, as were the Vietnamese, are fighting Americans because U.S. troops are in their country and, like the Vietnamese, will stop fighting Americans once U.S. troops leave their country.

U.S. Government Must Take a Consistent Stance Against Terrorism

Last Friday’s terrorist bombing outside the Tomb of Ali in the Iraqi city of An-Najaf was the deadliest such attack against a civilian target in Middle East history. It recalls a similar blast in the southern outskirts of Beirut in March1985, which until last week held the region’s record for civilian fatalities in a single bombing.

There are some striking parallels between the two terrorist attacks: both were the result of a car bomb that exploded outside a crowded mosque during Friday prayers and both were part of an assassination attempt against a prominent Shiite cleric that killed scores of worshipers and passers-by.

There is a key difference, however: While no existing government is believed to have been behind the An-Najaf bombing, the Beirut bombing was a classic case of state-sponsored terrorism: a plot organized by the intelligence services of a foreign power.

That foreign power was the United States.

The 1985 Beirut bombing was part of an operation, organized by CIA director William Casey and approved by President Ronald Reagan, to assassinate Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, a prominent anti-American Lebanese cleric. More than 80 civilians were killed and over 200 wounded, though Ayatollah Fadlallah escaped serious injury.

Few people today are aware of this major terrorist incident. Not only did Casey, Reagan, and other officials responsible never face justice for the crime, it is as if the tragedy has completely disappeared from history.

It is conspicuously absent from most lists of major terrorist attacks in the Middle East and is rarely mentioned by the so-called “experts on terrorism” who appear on radio and television talk shows. Often when I refer to the incident during the course of an interview, my credibility is suddenly placed into question.

The attack and the U.S. role in it is not, however, a matter of historical debate. Major American daily newspapers not only made the bombing itself front-page news, but when the CIA connection came to light several weeks later, that too made the lead headlines. In addition, award-winning Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward examines the incident in detail in his best-selling 1987 book Veil.

Despite increased corporate control of the media, there is very little outright censorship of the news in this country. There is, however, a kind of selective historical memory that makes it difficult to even recall events which go beyond what the noted M.I.T. linguist Noam Chomsky has referred to as the “boundaries of thinkable thought.”

As Thomas Kuhn describes in his classic work The Structure of Scientific Revolution, if something occurs outside the dominant paradigm, it — for all practical purposes — did not really happen because it is beyond the comprehension of those stuck in the old ways of thinking. In this case, if the dominant paradigm says that terrorism is the exclusive province of movements or governments the United States does not like and the United States is the world leader in fighting terrorism, there is therefore no such thing as U.S.-backed terrorism.

Unfortunately, even if one restricts the definition of terrorism to exclude acts of violence against civilians by official police and military units of established governments, the United States has a long history of supporting terrorism.

Much attention has been given to the ultimately successful U.S.-led effort to force the extradition of two Libyans implicated in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland. Few Americans, however, are aware that the United States has refused to extradite four terrorists — right-wing Cuban exiles trained by the CIA — convicted over twenty years ago in Venezuela for blowing up a Cuban airline in 1976.

The United States has also refused to extradite John Hull, an American CIA operative indicted in Costa Rica for the 1984 bombing of a press conference in a Nicaraguan border town which killed five journalists.

Similarly, the United States refuses to extradite Emmanuel Constant for trial in Haiti. The former military officer, who had worked closely with the CIA, is believed to be responsible for the murder of upwards to 5000 people under the Haitian dictatorship in the early 1990s.

Perhaps the most significant U.S.-backed terrorist operations in recent decades involved the Contras — a paramilitary group composed largely of Nicaraguan exiles in Honduras — who were armed, trained and financed by the U.S. government. They are believed to have been responsible for the deaths of more than 20,000 civilians in a series of attacks against villages and rural cooperatives in northern Nicaragua during the 1980s. A number of prominent Reagan Administration officials directly involved in supporting such terrorist activities are now in prominent positions in the Bush Administration. Among these is the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte, who — as President Reagan’s ambassador to Honduras during the1980s — actively supported the Contra terror campaigns across the border.

Yet despite all the attention given to international terrorism in the two years since the 9/11 attacks against the United States, this sordid history is rarely raised in the mainstream media or on Capitol Hill.

This does not mean, when faced by very real threats from mega-terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and while Israeli and Iraqi civilians are being blown up by extremists, that critics of U.S. policy should simply respond with an attitude of, “Well, we do it, too, so what’s the big deal?” Pointing out hypocrisy and double-standards alone does not address the very real and legitimate fears that Americans, Israelis, Iraqis and others have from terrorist violence.

There must be decisive action by the international community to stop such attacks, both through challenging policies that breed terrorism — such as military occupations and support for dictatorial regimes — as well as through improved intelligence, interdiction and, where necessary, well-targeted paramilitary operations aimed at the terrorists themselves.

At the same time, the refusal by the U.S. government and media to acknowledge the U.S. role in international terrorism raises serious questions as to whether the United States really is waging a “war on terrorism” or a war limited only to terrorism that does not support U.S. strategic objectives. Until the U.S. government is willing to come out categorically against all terrorism, it will be difficult to find the international cooperation necessary to rid the world from this very real threat.

Self Determination Struggle in the Western Sahara Continues to Challenge the UN

Ian Williams contributes frequently to Foreign Policy in Focus (online at on UN and international affairs. Stephen Zunes is the Middle East editor for Foreign Policy in Focus (online at He serves as an associate professor of Politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco and is the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism.

After much wrangling from the French, the UN Security Council unanimously passed resolution 1495 right on the July 31st deadline for the rollover of the MINURSO peacekeeping operation in Western Sahara. In the best diplomatic tradition, the resolution affirmed the commitment to provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, even while it seriously compromised on it by supporting a peace plan that would allow the Moroccan settlers in the territory to vote on independence in five years. As with Israeli settlers on the West Bank, these Moroccan colonists are there in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits countries from transfering their civilian population onto territories seized by military force.

The Security Council had fought off a similar plan last year, but this time former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s special representative, adjusted the plan to provide for a genuine Sahrawi autonomy in the five years before the proposed referendum. This was an ominous sign for the increasingly autocratic rule of King Mohammed in Morocco itself, not to mention leading to uncertainty about the result of the referendum: one fixed principle of Rabat’s policy has been never to allow a vote that its principals cannot control.

The Polisario Front and its principal ally Algeria had surprised everyone two weeks earlier by supporting the new plan. It may even be that they supported the plan precisely because they knew Rabat would oppose it. For weaker states, it is sound diplomatic strategy to maneuver your opponents into defying the United States and the rest of the world.

In the longer term, it looks as if Polisario and Algeria have scored a significant diplomatic victory by playing along with Baker’s peace proposals and the resolution that was moved by the United States. Morocco’s one small victory was that the resolution cited Chapter VI of the UN Charter dealing with the peaceful settlement of disputes, rather than Chapter VII which would have implied mandatory implementation of UN decisions.

Disturbing Principles

In the run up to the vote, France alleged a novel and disturbing principle: the Security Council cannot impose its decisions on parties if they disagree. They claimed there was a tradition of using consensus on Western Sahara, which was a bit like the apocryphal prisoner who had killed his parents and then asked for the court’s sympathy because he was an orphan. Any such “tradition” developed in response to constant French and American attempts to railroad a pro-Moroccan position past the other Security Council members in defiance of all previous decisions.

French foreign minister Dominique De Villepin may have made an eloquent case against the legality of the Iraq war, but there is nothing Cartesian about Paris’s uncritical support for the King of Morocco. Late last year, France had joined with the United States and Great Britain in attempting to disregard all previous decisions and force through Baker’s first draft, which would in effect have legalized the Moroccan occupation against the wishes of the Sahrawi people. As a sort of Solomonic approach, Baker also suggested partition, which the Algerians toyed with, but which all sides eventually rejected–for the time being.

As an Irish diplomat on the Council at the time said,”The original draft was utterly one-sided in its approach: it was in violation of international legal principles, and had already been rejected by one party to the dispute. It was also clear that the movers could not muster more than six or seven votes in the Council, so they could not get a majority for it.” He added, “We don’t mind if the Western Sahara becomes part of Morocco–as long as that’s what the Sahrawis want.” In the end, the doubters withstood American, French, and British pressure and stopped adoption of the plan.

This July, Baker returned with a revised version, which was on the face of it, very similar, but he added some crucial safeguards that won Polisario and Algerian support. The degree of autonomy for the five-year interim stage was much stronger, with better international guarantees against Moroccan interference. Only Sahrawis would vote for the interim authority, even if all residents would vote in the final referendum.

The Moroccans did not like these restrictions, and were apparently not even sure that they could count on the settlers to vote with them. So, for the last weeks of July, French diplomats worked hard to avert the revised peace plan, and the King himself called everyone from Tony Blair to George W Bush. Jaccques Chirac himself hit the telephones on behalf of his client. However, it did not help much. The King was upset at the reference to self-determination as a ballot option, which was of course absurd. The whole ten-year peace process has been predicated on a vote for or against independence.

Having briefly enlisted Bulgaria, the isolated French delegation eventually compromised and accepted some minor concessions from the Americans in resolution1495 which “supported strongly” the peace plan put forward by James Baker rather than “endorsed” it as the original wording had it. In fairly typical fashion, Morocco reacted peremptorily to the resolution by saying “We rejected the Baker plan, and are still rejecting it.”

It is easy to wonder what the fuss is all about with the endless acres of sand and sparse population of Western Sahara. However, like East Timor, a problem that also first hit the UN agenda three decades ago, it involves major issues of international law, self-determination, and respect for UN decisions. It has also cost the UN over half a billion dollars to maintain a force whose job is to supervise a referendum on self determination that Morocco has delayed for more than a dozen years.


In the fall of 1975, in the face of a landmark ruling by the International Court of Justice rejecting Moroccan claims to Western Sahara and categorically ruling that the Sahrawis were entitled toself-determination, Morocco invaded the territory on the verge of its scheduled independence from Spain. Most of the Sahrawi population was forced into refugee camps in neighboring Algeria. While not formally recognizing Morocco’s annexation, the United Statees had actively encouraged the Spaniards and Moroccans to deny independence to the Sahrawis, who strongly supported the left-leaning independence movement known as the Polisario Front.

In response to the Moroccan invasion, the UN Security Council passed resolutions 379 and 380, which explicitly and unconditionally called on Morocco to withdraw from Western Sahara. However, the French and Americans blocked the Security Council from enforcing these resolutions. According to then-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. The task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.”

By 1982, after seven years of war, the Algerian-backed Polisario was on the verge of liberating their country from Moroccan occupation. Howeover, large-scale U.S. and French military aid, including counterinsurgency equipment and training, reversed the tide of the war. Morocco’s allies also helped its occupation forces construct a wall, which eventually separated most of the territory from the exiled Sahrawi population.

With the war at a stalemate, the Moroccans and the Polisario agreed to a cease-fire in 1990, followed by a UN-supervised referendum. The UN set up a peacekeeping operation known as MINURSO to oversee the plebiscite, where eligible voters among the refugees and the minority of Sahrawis that had stayed in the territory would be determined based on a 1974 Spanish census. However, the Moroccans insisted that anyone who could trace their ancestry to tribal groups with links to the territory should be added to the voter rolls, with the result that twice as many Moroccans as Sahrawis would be allowed to vote. The Polisario understandably rejected such Moroccan demands and the United States and France blocked the Security Council from forcing Morocco to go along with the original plan. As a result, the referendum was never held.

Now, faced with the prospect of being forced to accept a referendum where Moroccan settlers–who now outnumber the indigenous Sahrawis–would be allowed to vote, the Polisario have stolen a march on Morocco by aligning themselves with the United States on the latest resolution. Polisario’s UN representative Ahmed Boukhari candidly admitted that the new offer “was not paradise: it’s a very risky proposal for us,” but it was a pragmatic recognition that the cards were stacked. “We are in the weakest position, so of course, they always want us to compromise, regardless of the law.”

The issue resurfaces again in October, by which time Baker will have done more work, the various parties will do more maneuvering, and more Sahrawis will be born and die in the bleak wastes around their headquarters in the deserts of western Algeria wondering if they will even be given the right of self-determination promised for so long by the international community.

Why the U.S. and France Support the Moroccan Takeover

There are some striking similarities between Morocco’s takeover of Western Sahara and Indonesia’s takeover of East Timor that same year, giving some hope that–as with East Timor–international law and basic principles of justice might win out over realpolitik. Indeed, the Polisario has had far more diplomatic support than the Fretilin ever did, with their Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic being formally recognized by 75 countries and the SADR sitting as a full member state in the Organization of African Unity.

However, there are two factors working against Sahrawi independence. One is that despite their impressive efforts at building well-functioning democratic institutions in the self-governed refugee camps where the majority of their people live, the Sahrawis have never had the degree of international grassroots solidarity that the East Timorese were able to develop, which eventually eroded support of the Indonesian occupation by Western powers. Secondly, the Moroccan monarchy from the beginning has used its conquest of what it calls “the Sahara provinces” as a means of maintaining its nationalist credentials and popular support despite its autocratic and corrupt rule and the nation’s struggling economy.

The United States has long seen the Moroccan monarchy as a linchpin in advancing Western interests in the region, first as a bulwark against Communist influence and more recently against radical Islam. If Morocco lost the referendum for Western Sahara after pouring in such a tremendous amount of financial resources and lives for the sake of controling the territory, it could lead to enormous instability and perhaps even the monarchy’s overthrow.

In addition, there is the economic interest in the mineral-rich territory: The Moroccans have just given an exploration contract in the territory to an American oil company, Kerr McGee, which has strong links to Vice President Dick Cheney and the Texas oil gang in the administration, which includes Baker. Of course, one would, in the best spirit of Casablanca, be shocked, shocked, to think that this had anything to do with his or the administration’s public espousal of the Moroccan position. The granting of a concession to TotalFinaElf naturally helped make France’s already strong support even more fervent.

However, Morocco’s case was hindered rather than helped by the contracts. In response, the Security Council asked for a legal opinion from UN Under Secretary General for Legal Affairs, Hans Corell. His low-key report was nevertheless devastating for the Moroccan legal position, reminding council members that Morocco’s occupation was in defiance of rulings by both the International Court of Justice and the Security Council itself, since no valid act of self-determination has yet to take place.

In Kerr McGee’s favor, Corell did determine that exploration contracts were legal–but that exploitation contracts would not be without the support of the people of Western Sahara. There have been successful moves to disinvest from the companies involved. This raises interesting questions for the United States, which is indeed eager for alternative sources of oil outside the Middle East.

After alienating much of the international community for undermining the United Nations’ authority and running roughshod over international legal principles in regard to Israel/Palestine and Iraq, the Bush administration may be reluctant to push its luck too far in making it possible for its Moroccan ally to get away with such an illegitimate territorial aggrandizement. Such moderation in U.S. foreign policy, however, may be possible only if the international community and the American public make it politically difficult for the Bush administration to do otherwise.