Kerry’s Foreign Policy Record Suggests Few Differences with Bush

Those who had hoped that a possible defeat of President George W. Bush in November would mean real changes in U.S. foreign policy have little to be hopeful about now that Massachusetts Senator John Kerry has effectively captured the Democratic presidential nomination.

That Senator Kerry supported the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq and lied about former dictator Saddam Hussein possessing a sizable arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in order to justify it would be reason enough to not support him.

However, a look at his record shows that Kerry’s overall foreign policy agenda has also been a lot closer to the Republicans than to the rank-and-file Democrats he claims to represent.

This is not too surprising, given that his top foreign policy advisors include: Rand Beers, the chief defender of the deadly airborne crop-fumigation program in Colombia who has justified U.S. support for that country’s repressive right-wing government by falsely claiming that Al-Qaeda was training Colombian rebels; Richard Morningstar, a supporter of the dictatorial regime in Azerbaijan and a major backer of the controversial Baku-Tbilisi oil pipeline, which placed the profits of Chevron, Halliburton and Unocal above human rights and environmental concerns; and, William Perry, former Secretary of Defense, member of the Carlisle Group, and advocate for major military contractors.

More importantly, however, are the positions that Kerry himself advocates:

For example, Senator Kerry has supported the transfer, at taxpayer expense, of tens of billions of dollars worth of armaments and weapons systems to governments which engage in a pattern of gross and systematic human rights violations. He has repeatedly ignored the Arms Control Export Act and other provisions in U.S. and international law promoting arms control and human rights.

Senator Kerry has also been a big supporter of the neo-liberal model of globalization. He supported NAFTA, despite its lack of adequate environmental safeguards or labor standards. He voted to ratify U.S. membership in the World Trade Organization, despite its ability to overrule national legislation that protects consumers and the environment, in order to maximize corporate profits. He even pushed for most-favored nation trading status for China, despite that government’s savage repression of independent unions and pro-democracy activists.

Were it not for 9/11 and its aftermath, globalization would have likely been the major foreign policy issue of the 2004 presidential campaign. Had this been the case, Kerry would have clearly been identified on the right wing of the Democratic contenders.

As Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts in the early 1980s, Kerry ignored widespread public opposition to encourage the Reagan Administration to base a large naval flotilla in Boston Harbor, which would include as its central weapons system the nuclear-armed Tomahawk cruise missile. Kerry’s advocacy for the deployment of this dangerous and destabilizing first-strike weapon not only raised serious environmental concerns for residents of the Boston area, but was widely interpreted as an effort to undermine the proposed nuclear weapons freeze.

The end of the Cold War did not have much impact on Senator Kerry’s penchant for supporting the Pentagon. Despite the lack of the Soviet Union to justify wasteful military boondoggles, Senator Kerry has continued to vote in favor of record military budgets, even though only a minority of the spending increases he has supported in recent years has had any connection with the so-called “war on terrorism.”

Senator Kerry was a strong supporter of the Bush Administration’s bombing campaign of Afghanistan, which resulted in more civilian deaths than the 9/11 attacks against the United States that prompted them. He also defended the Clinton Administration’s bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan which had provided that impoverished African country with more than half of its antibiotics and vaccines by falsely claiming it was a chemical weapons factory controlled by Osama bin Laden.

In late 1998, he joined Republican Senators Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, Alfonse D’Amato, and Rich Santorum in calling on the Clinton Administration to consider launching air and missile strikes against Iraq in order to “respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq’s refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.” The fact that Iraq had already ended such programs some years earlier was apparently not a concern to Senator Kerry.

Nor was he at all bothered that a number of U.S. allies in the region actually did have such weapons. To this day, Senator Kerry has rejected calls by Jordan, Syria, and other Middle Eastern governments for a WMD-free zone for the entire region, insisting that the United States has the right to say which countries can possess such weapons and which cannot. He was a co-sponsor of the “Syrian Accountability Act,” passed in November, which demanded under threat of sanctions that Syria unilaterally eliminate its chemical weapons and missile systems, despite the fact that nearby U.S. allies like Israel and Egypt had far larger and more advanced stockpiles of WMDs and missiles, including in Israel’s case hundreds of nuclear weapons. (See my October 30 article, “The Syrian Accountability Act and the Triumph of Hegemony“)

Included in the bill’s “findings” were charges by top Bush Administration officials of Syrian support for international terrorism and development of dangerous WMD programs. Not only have these accusations not been independently confirmed, but they were made by the same Bush Administration officials who had made similar claims against Iraq that had been proven false. Yet Senator Kerry naively trusts their word over independent strategic analysts familiar with the region who have challenged many of these charges.

Kerry’s bill also calls for strict sanctions against Syria as well as Syria’s expulsion from its non-permanent seat Security Council for its failure to withdraw its forces from Lebanon according to UN Security Council resolution 520. This could hardly be considered a principled position, however, since Kerry defended Israel’s 22-year long occupation of southern Lebanon, that finally ended less than four years ago, and which was in defiance of this and nine other UN Security Council resolutions.

Indeed, perhaps the most telling examples of Kerry’s neo-conservative world view is his outspoken support of the government of right-wing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, annually voting to send billions of dollars worth of taxpayer money to support Sharon’s occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands seized in the 1967 war. Even as the Israeli prime minister continues to reject calls by Palestinian leaders for a resumption of peace talks, Kerry insists that it is the Palestinian leadership which is responsible for the conflict while Sharon is “a leader who can take steps for peace.”

Despite the UN Charter forbidding countries from expanding their territory by force and the passage, with U.S. support, of a series of UN Security Council resolutions calling on Israel to rescind its unilateral annexation of occupied Arab East Jerusalem and surrounding areas, Kerry has long fought for U.S. recognition of the Israeli conquest. He even attacked the senior Bush Administration from the right when it raised concerns regarding the construction of illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, going on record, paradoxically, that “such concerns inhibit and complicate the search for a lasting peace in the region.” He was also critical of the senior Bush Administration’s refusal to veto UN Security Council resolutions upholding the Fourth Geneva Conventions and other international legal principles regarding Israeli colonization efforts in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Kerry’s extreme anti-Palestinian positions have bordered on pathological. In 1988, when the PLO which administered the health system in Palestinian refugee camps serving hundreds of thousands of people and already had observer status at the United Nations sought to join the UN’s World Health Organization, Kerry backed legislation that would have ceased all U.S. funding to the WHO or any other UN entity that allowed for full Palestinian membership. Given that the United States then provided for a full one-quarter of the WHO’s budget, such a cutoff would have had a disastrous impact on vaccination efforts, oral re-hydration programs, AIDS prevention, and other vital WHO work in developing countries.

The following year, just four days after Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir restated that Israel would never give up the West Bank and Gaza Strip and would continued to encourage the construction of new Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, Kerry signed a statement that appeared in the Washington Post praising the right-wing prime minister for his “willingness to allow all options to be put on the table.” Kerry described Shamir’s proposal for Israeli-managed elections in certain Palestinian areas under Israeli military occupation as “sincere and far-reaching” and called on the Bush Administration to give Shamir’s plan its “strong endorsement.” This was widely interpreted as a challenge to Secretary of State James Baker’s call several weeks earlier for the Likud government to give up on the idea of a “greater Israel.”

In his effort to enhance Shamir’s re-election prospects in 1992, Senator Kerry again criticized the senior President Bush from the right, this time for its decision to withhold a proposed $10 billion loan guarantee in protest of the rightist prime minister’s expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

The administration’s decision to hold back on the loan guarantees until after the election made possible the defeat of Shamir by the more moderate Yitzhak Rabin. However, when the new Israeli prime minister went to Norway during the summer of 1993 to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization for a peace plan, Kerry joined the Israeli right in continuing to oppose any peace talks between Israel and the PLO.

Indeed, for most of his Senate career, Kerry was in opposition of the Palestinians’ very right to statehood. As recently as 1999, he went on record opposing Palestinian independence outside of what the Israeli occupation authorities were willing to allow.

Today, Kerry not only defends Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he has backed Sharon’s policies of utilizing death squads against suspected Palestinian militants. He claims that such tactics are a justifiable response to terrorist attacks by extremists from the Islamic groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, even though neither of them existed prior to Israel’s 1967 military conquests and both emerged as a direct outgrowth of the U.S.-backed occupation and repression that followed.

In summary, Kerry’s October 2002 vote to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq was no fluke. His contempt for human rights, international law, arms control, and the United Nations has actually been rather consistent.

When Howard Dean initially surged ahead in the polls in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, in large part due to his forceful opposition to the invasion of Iraq and some other aspects of Bush foreign policy, the Kerry campaign launched a series of vicious attacks against the former Vermont governor.

Dean was certainly no left-winger. His foreign policy advisors were largely from mainstream think tanks and he received the endorsements of former vice-president Al Gore and others in the Democratic Party establishment. Indeed, a number of Dean’s positions such as his refusal to call for a reduction in military spending, his support for the war in Afghanistan, his backing unconditional military and economic aid to Sharon’s government in Israel, and his call for continuing the U.S. occupation of Iraq were quite problematic in the eyes of many peace and human rights advocates.

That was not enough for Senator Kerry, however, who apparently believed that Dean was not sufficiently supportive of President George W. Bush’s imperial world view. Kerry and his supporters roundly criticized Dean for minimizing the impact of Saddam Hussein’s capture on Iraqi resistance to the U.S. occupation, for calling on the United States to play a more even-handed role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and for challenging the Bush Doctrine of unilateral preemptive invasions of foreign countries.

It was just such attacks that helped derailed Dean’s populist campaign and has made John Kerry the presumptive nominee.

The Democrats are wrong, however, if they think that nominating a Bush Lite will increase their party’s chances of capturing the White House. In all likelihood, it will do the opposite: for every hawk who might now consider voting for the Democratic ticket, there will be at least one dove who will now be more likely to vote for Ralph Nader.

Kerry’s Support for the Invasion of Iraq and the Bush Doctrine Still Unexplained

As casualties mount and disorder continues in Iraq, and as the lies that were put forward to garner support of the invasion are exposed, Massachusetts senator John Kerry and his supporters have desperately sought to defend his decision to back the U.S. invasion and occupation. Their failure to make a convincing case may spell trouble for Senator Kerry’s dreams of capturing the White House in November.

Senator Kerry, like President Bush, believes that while it is okay for the United States and a number of its regional allies to possess a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, countries the United States does not like must be prevented, by military force if necessary, from doing the same. And Senator Kerry ‘ like President Bush ‘ apparently believes that unilateral military intervention, not comprehensive arms control treaties, is the way to deal with the threat of proliferation.

And, if the country targeted for invasion does not really have such weapons, Senator Kerry ‘ like President Bush ‘ will simply claim that they do anyway.

Back in October 2002, when Senator Kerry voted to grant President Bush a blank check to make war, he tried to scare the American public into thinking that such an invasion was essential to the defense of the United States. Despite a lack of credible evidence, Kerry categorically declared that ‘Iraq has chemical and biological weapons’ and even claimed that most elements of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons programs were ‘larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War.’ Furthermore, Kerry asserted that Iraq was ‘attempting to develop nuclear weapons,’ backing up this accusation by claiming that ‘all U.S. intelligence experts agree’ with such an assessment. He also alleged that ‘Iraq is developing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of delivering chemical and biological warfare agents, which could threaten Iraq’s neighbors as well as American forces in the Persian Gulf.’

Every single one of these claims, no less than similar claims by President Bush, was false. Despite this, however, Senator Kerry and his supporters somehow want the American public to trust him enough to elect him as the next president of the United States.

Senator Kerry and his supporters claim that he was fooled by exaggerated reports about Iraq’s military prowess from the administration. However, there were other senators who had access to the same information as Kerry who voted against going to war. Furthermore, former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter personally briefed Senator Kerry prior to his vote on how Iraq did not have any dangerous WMD capability; he also personally gave the senator ‘ at his request ‘ an article from the respected journal Arms Control Today making the case that Iraq had been qualitatively disarmed. Members of Senator Kerry’s staff have acknowledged that the senator had access to a number of credible reports challenging the administration’s tall tales regarding the alleged Iraqi threat.

Should Senator Kerry win his party’s nomination, then, it will show that the Democrats ‘ just like the Republicans ‘ have no problems with rewarding a politician who lied about a foreign country’s military capabilities in order to justify invading it.

In failing to apologize for lying about Iraq’s military threat, Senator Kerry and his supporters ‘ like President Bush and his supporters ‘ have demonstrated their belief that the United States has the right to invade a Third World country on the far side of the globe simply on the suspicion that they might possess certain dangerous weapons and delivery systems that could possibly be used against us.
And Senator Kerry was not interested in people learning the truth. During the summer of 2002, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on Iraq’s alleged military threat which only invited witnesses who would argue that Iraq was somehow a danger to U.S. national security. Kerry ‘ one of the senior Democrats on the committee ‘ ignored thousands of phone calls and emails encouraging him to invite Ritter and other witnesses who would challenge those who were falsely insisting that Iraq had a dangerous stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.

Senator Kerry, no less than President Bush, simply did not want dissenting views to be heard.
Senator Kerry and his supporters have also tried to justify his October 2002 vote by claiming that it was not because he believed that the United States should actually take over that oil-rich nation by military force, but because he felt it was necessary to force Saddam Hussein into allowing the United Nations inspectors back into Iraq.

This rationale is also false: Senator Kerry’s vote to authorize military force against Iraq was cast on October 11. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had agreed to allow UN inspectors to return without conditions on September 16, nearly four weeks earlier.

In fact, on August 28, the Bush Administration stated that they would seek the ouster of the Iraqi government regardless of whether Iraq allowed weapons inspectors back in. On September 18, the administration formally rejected Iraq’s offer to allow the United Nations unfettered access to the country and instead called for ‘regime change.’ On September 20, Bush publicly presented his new strategic doctrine of pre-emptive invasions of foreign countries.

In other words, Kerry knew that his vote to authorize U.S. military force was an endorsement of the Bush Doctrine that had nothing to do with whether or not Iraq allowed the United Nations to enforce its requirements for disarmament.

Kerry and his supporters claim he does not really reject multilateralism and international law. They note that, in voting to authorize the invasion of Iraq, Kerry stated at that time that he expected President Bush ‘To work with the United Nations Security Council’ and ‘our allies . . . if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force.’ He then promised that if President Bush failed to do so, ‘I will be the first to speak out.’

However, Senator Kerry broke that promise. When President Bush abandoned his efforts to gain United Nations Security Council authorization for the war in late February 2003 and pressed forward with plans for the invasion without a credible international coalition, Kerry remained silent.

When President Bush actually launched the invasion soon afterwards, Senator Kerry praised him, co-sponsoring a Senate resolution in which he declared that the invasion was ‘lawful and fully authorized by the Congress’ and that he ‘commends and supports the efforts and leadership of the President . . . in the conflict with Iraq.’

Some have tried to defend Kerry’s votes by saying he was simply na’ve, a rather odd defense of one of the most intelligent, knowledgeable, experienced and hard-working members of the U.S. Senate. Even if this more forgiving interpretation were correct, however, it still raises serious questions.

As Truthout’s William Rivers Pitt described it, ‘Liberal base voters never trusted George W. Bush from the beginning, and believed in their hearts that he was approaching the Iraq situation with bad intentions. The fact that Kerry trusted him, and trusted him enough to ignore Senator Robert Byrd’s dire warnings of constitutional abrogation of Congressional responsibilities which was inherent in the resolution, makes it hard for those voters to trust Kerry.’

Senator Byrd introduced a resolution in the fall of 2002 clarifying that authorizing an invasion of Iraq would not alter the Constitutional authority to declare war and that no additional authority not directly related to a clear threat of imminent, sudden and direct attack on the United States could be granted to the president unless Congress authorized it. Senator Kerry, perhaps in anticipation of possibly becoming the next president and not wanting the legislative branch interfering with his right to invade other countries, voted ‘no.’

‘Every nation has the right to act preemptively if it faces an imminent and grave threat,’ declared Senator Kerry. Furthermore, Kerry insisted that Iraq posed such an ‘unacceptable threat’ because of the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and sophisticated weapons systems that he and Bush falsely claimed that Iraq possessed, and therefore the United States had the right to invade and occupy that country.
As a result, there is little reason to hope, that, as president, Kerry won’t launch invasions of other countries by making similar false claims that their governments are ‘an imminent and grave threat’ to the United States.

As an alternative to authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq unilaterally, some Democratic senators put forward an amendment in October 2002 which would have allowed for U.S. military action to disarm Iraq of any weapons of mass destruction and weapons systems pursuant to any future UN Security Council resolution authorizing such military actions. Senator Kerry voted against it. In doing so, Senator Kerry not only tacitly acknowledged that it was not really any potential Iraqi weapons that concerned him, but he was willing to ignore U.S. obligations under the United Nations Charter.

Indeed, Senator Kerry attacked former Vermont governor Howard Dean ‘ his previous major rival for the Democratic presidential nomination ‘ for arguing that a genuine international coalition should have been established before the United States invaded Iraq. Kerry claimed that such multilateralism advocated by Dean ‘Cedes our security and presidential responsibility to defend America to someone else’ since it would ‘permit a veto over when American can or cannot act.’ Dean’s call for the United States to work in broad coalitions, insisted Kerry, is ‘little more that a pretext for doing nothing.’

Like President Bush and his supporters, Senator Kerry and his supporters appear to believe that raising such questions about pre-emptive war is indicative of a lack of commitment to the country’s national security.

The Democrats are badly mistaken if they think that the ‘electability’ of a Democrat who can defeat President Bush in November is enhanced by nominating someone who essentially supports the same illegal and dangerous policies.

For there are millions of voters who would have been willing to actively campaign and vote for Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean, Wesley Clark or any other Democrat who opposed the invasion, but who have too much respect for the U.S. Constitution and the UN Charter to support someone like John Kerry. Should Senator Kerry get the nomination, these voters will raise the legitimate question as to why Americans should bother to defeat President Bush in November if he will simply be replaced by someone who essentially supports the same reckless foreign policy agenda?

The outcome of nominating the pro-war Senator Kerry, then, could be the same as when the Democrats chose the pro-war vice-president, Hubert Humphrey, as their presidential nominee back in 1968: by alienating the party’s anti-war majority, it could make possible a Republican victory in November.

Interview of Bush Reveals Dangerous Assumptions Behind U.S. Foreign Policy

A number of critiques have been written about President George W. Bush’s responses to Tim Russert’s questions in the February 8 edition of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” primarily regarding his shifting rationale for the invasion of Iraq. More problematic, however, was the fact that President Bush made a number of assertions that were patently false or–at the very least–misleading. The failure of Mr. Russert to challenge these statements and the ongoing repetition of such rationales by the administration and its supporters make it all the more imperative that such assertions not be allowed to go unquestioned. The implications of Bush’s statements are quite disturbing, since they involve such fundamental issues as international terrorism, the United Nations, weapons of mass destruction, and the policy of preemption.

International Terrorism

A major Bush administration rationale for the 2003 Iraq War was Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s alleged links to the terrorist al Qaeda network and other active Iraqi involvement in international terrorism. Regarding the failure to find any evidence for such involvement, President Bush stated in his “Meet the Press” interview: “We knew the fact that he was paying for suicide bombers. We knew the fact that he was funding terrorist groups.” This statement is a stretch. Saddam Hussein’s support for Abu Nidal (a secular nationalist group composed primarily of Palestinian exiles) and other terrorists peaked during the 1980s–the very time period when the U.S. dropped Iraq from its list of countries backing terrorism in order to provide the Iraqi dictator with technical and military support. According to the U.S. State Department, the last direct involvement by the Iraqi government in an act of international terrorism was the alleged 1993 assassination attempt in Kuwait against former President George H.W. Bush.

More recently, Iraq has provided money to a tiny pro-Iraqi Palestinian faction, the Arab Liberation Front, which has passed it on to some Palestinian families of “martyrs” killed in the struggle against the Israeli occupation. Recipients have included families of suicide bombers who murdered Israeli civilians, but most of those helped have been families of militiamen killed in battles with Israeli occupation forces or families of civilians shot by the Israelis. And the amount given to families of terrorists was far less than the value of the families’ homes, which are usually destroyed right after a terrorist attack as part of Israel ‘s policy of collective punishment in the occupied territories. Thus, this minimal Iraqi assistance probably did not result in any additional terrorist attacks. Hamas, the Palestinian group responsible for the majority of suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, receives most of its funding from Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries.

Meanwhile, the U.S. occupation of Iraq is being justified in the name of the war on terrorism. President Bush claimed that Iraqis are fighting U.S. occupation forces, not because they resent being invaded and occupied by a foreign power, but because they “are people who desperately want to stop the advance of freedom and democracy.” In the “Meet the Press” interview, President Bush reiterated the widely accepted belief that “freedom and democracy will be a powerful long-term deterrent to terrorist activities.” Though this is undoubtedly true, the Bush administration continues to provide military, economic, and diplomatic support to Middle Eastern dictatorships and occupation armies that deny Arab and Muslim people their freedom and democratic rights. It is not surprising that the majority of the leadership, financial support, and membership in the mega-terrorist al Qaeda network stems from countries with U.S.-backed dictatorships, like Saudi Arabia.

UN Security Council Resolutions

Another unchallenged statement in Bush’s “Meet the Press” interview was the president’s assertion that the invasion of Iraq was fought in part to uphold UN Security Council resolutions violated by Iraq . Alluding to UN Security Council Resolution 1441, President Bush stated that Saddam Hussein “defied the world once again.”

Though Baghdad had defied several UN Security Council resolutions prior to unanimous passage of Resolution 1441 in November 2003, Iraq appears to have been largely in compliance at the time of the U.S. invasion. Hussein’s regime unconditionally allowed inspectors from the United Nations Monitoring and Verification Commission (UNMOVIC) unfettered access within Iraq shortly after the resolution was passed; released what evidence it had of its proscribed weapons, delivery systems, and weapons programs and their disassembly (which was initially greeted with skepticism but now appears to have been accurate); and arranged with UNMOVIC the modalities regarding interviews with Iraqi scientists, overflights of Iraqi airspace, and other UN activities. Remaining disputes were largely technical in nature and could not reasonably be considered cases of “material breach” of the UN resolution.

Citing the resolution’s warning of “serious consequences” to Iraqi noncompliance, President Bush argued: “if there isn’t serious consequences, it creates adverse consequences. People look at us and say, they don’t mean what they say, they are not willing to follow through.” Even if one were to accept the assertion that Iraq was in material breach of 1441, the resolution states that the Security Council “remains seized of the matter,” essentially reiterating the UN Charter’s stipulation that only the Security Council as a whole–not any single member–has the right to authorize the use of military action to enforce the resolution.

In any case, at the time Iraq was attacked, there were more than 100 UN Security Council resolutions being violated by governments other than Iraq . The Bush administration has opposed enforcing these resolutions by military or any other means, however, since the majority of violating governments are considered U.S. allies. As a result, the administration’s claim that invading Iraq was somehow an effort to uphold the integrity of the United Nations and its resolutions is disingenuous at best.

In the February 8 interview, President Bush rejected the idea that he rushed into war by claiming that he acted militarily only after he went “to the international community … [to] … see if we could not disarm Saddam Hussein peacefully through international pressure.” However, as is now apparent, the international community did disarm Saddam Hussein peacefully through international pressure. So, why did the United States have to invade?

Weapons of Mass Destruction

In response to Mr. Russert’s questions regarding the failure to find Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), President Bush defended the decision to invade the oil-rich country by observing: “We remembered the fact that he had used weapons, which meant he had had weapons.” No one disputes that Saddam Hussein had possessed and used chemical weapons, both against Iranian soldiers and Kurdish civilians. These war crimes took place over 15 years ago, however, at a time when the U.S.–supportive of the Baghdad regime–was downplaying and covering up Iraq’s use of such weapons. The Bush administration has failed to provide evidence that Iraq still had chemical weapons or any other WMDs during the five years prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion.

President Bush’s claim that, in the months leading up to the invasion, “the international community thought he had weapons” is patently false. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had determined back in 1998, after years of inspections, that Iraq no longer had a nuclear program, and after four months of rigorous inspections just prior to the invasion, the agency gave no indication that anything had changed. UNMOVIC–though frustrated at Iraq’s failure to fully account for all the proscribed materials–similarly determined that there was no evidence of Iraqi chemical or biological weapons. Rolf Ekeus, former head of UNMOVIC’s predecessor agency, the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), declared that Iraq was “fundamentally disarmed” as early as 1996. At the United Nations and other forums, representatives of many of the world’s governments questioned U.S. and British accusations that Iraq still had WMDs.

In his interview with Russert, President Bush said: “I don’t think America can stand by and hope for the best from a madman, and I believe it is essential … that when we see a threat, we deal with those threats before they become imminent.” And top administration officials claimed on several occasions prior to the war that Iraq ‘s threat was already “imminent.” Now that we know this was not the case, President Bush is claiming: “It’s too late if they become imminent.” The president also argued that although Saddam Hussein may not actually have possessed weapons of mass destruction, “he could have developed a nuclear weapon over time–I’m not saying immediately, but over time.” But given the IAEA’s findings that Iraq ‘s nuclear program had been completely dismantled and with a strict embargo against military and dual-use technology and raw materials, it is doubtful that Baghdad could ever have produced a nuclear weapon.

Of greater concern to world peace is that, through this interview and related comments, President Bush’s doctrine of preemption has been expanded to include the right to invade a country if a U.S. president determines that the government of that country poses even a hypothetical threat some time in the future. As President Bush put it: “There was no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a danger to America,” not because he actually had weapons of mass destruction at the time of the U.S. invasion, but because “he had the capacity to make a weapon.” The president went on to claim that Washington’s chief post-invasion weapons inspector, David Kay, reported that “Saddam Hussein was dangerous with the ability to make weapons.”

Even this assertion is questionable. Kay had actually stated that Iraq’s entire infrastructure for nuclear and chemical weapons was virtually destroyed. Though Kay did believe that Iraq might have been able to produce dangerous biological agents, he felt they were far more difficult to weaponize “in a usable way.” In a February 17 story, the Boston Globe quoted former CIA counterterrorism chief and former National Security Council Intelligence Director Vincent Cannistraro as saying that the Iraqis had the “capability” of developing WMDs only in the sense that they had the knowledge of how to do so, but they did not have many of the basic components to actually produce such weapons. Only by importing technology and raw materials in the 1980s from Russia, Germany, France, Britain, and the U.S. was Iraq able to develop its biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs in the first place. Thus, the administration has never been able to make a credible case for Iraq reconstituting such programs, as long as sanctions curtailed the necessary inputs.

In addition to the eight or nine nations that currently have nuclear weapons, there are more than 40 other countries that are theoretically capable of developing such weapons. At least twice that many could develop chemical and biological weapons, and a couple of dozen already have. The Bush administration has failed to make a compelling case as to why Iraq–which, unlike the other nations, allowed inspectors unfettered access to the entire country to look for such weapons, weapon components, and delivery systems–was a greater threat than all the others.

The Doctrine of Preemption

A cornerstone of Bush’s doctrine of preemptive military intervention is the notion that deterrence cannot work. In response to those who stressed containment of Iraq as an alternative to offensive war, President Bush replied: “We can’t say, ‘Let’s don’t deal with Saddam Hussein. Let’s hope he changes his stripes, or let’s trust in the goodwill of Saddam Hussein. Let’s let us, kind of, try to contain him’.”

Despite assertions to the contrary, the doctrine of containment has never assumed goodwill on the part of the other party. If there was an assumption of goodwill from the Iraqi regime, intrusive inspections and strictly enforced sanctions would not have been necessary. Besides, who was suggesting that the world not “deal with” Saddam Hussein? For a dozen years prior to the U.S. invasion, the United Nations put more time, money, and effort into successfully insuring that Saddam Hussein could no longer threaten its neighbors or its Kurdish minority than it expended on any other issue.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, appearing before “Meet the Press” in 2001, confidently stated that “we have been able to keep weapons from going into Iraq ” and that the sanctions on military and dual-use items had been “quite a success for ten years.” In a meeting with the German foreign minister in February 2001, Powell spoke of how the United Nations, the U.S., and its allies “have succeeded in containing Saddam Hussein and his ambitions” with the result that “they don’t really possess the capability to attack their neighbors the way they did ten years ago.” Iraq , continued Powell, was “not threatening America . Containment has been a successful policy, and I think we should make sure that we continue it,” he added. Instead, given that a dictator in possession of WMDs and an offensive delivery system during the 1980s was defanged by a UN-led disarmament program in the 1990s, it appears that containment did work.

One argument that Bush and his supporters have put forward is that if Saddam Hussein had developed nuclear weapons, “we would have been in a position of blackmail.” Such reasoning makes no sense. During the cold war, the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear weapons on Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and other delivery systems pointed at the U.S. , and Washington had no defense against them, yet there were no attempts at blackmail. This was because the U.S. could have blackmailed the Soviets as well. Such a stalemate is known as deterrence and was the backbone of U.S. defense policy for decades. If it could work against a powerful totalitarian state like the Soviet Union , why wouldn’t it work against a weak third world country like Iraq ?

The only response the administration has been able to offer is that Saddam Hussein was a “madman.” This label was used by President Bush a half dozen times in his “Meet the Press” interview alone: “You can’t rely upon a madman, and he was a madman. You can’t rely upon him making rational decisions when it comes to war and peace, and it’s too late, in my judgment, when a madman who has got terrorist connections is able to act… Containment doesn’t work with a man who is a madman.”

Although Saddam Hussein certainly has a record of making poor political and strategic judgments, that does not make him a “madman.” Other heads of government have made poor decisions on issues of war and peace, including President Bush. Such behavior does not imply that the Iraqi dictator would have launched a suicidal first strike against the U.S. with a nuclear weapon.

Saddam Hussein demonstrated repeatedly while in power that he cared first and foremost about his own survival. He apparently recognized that any attempt to use WMDs against the U.S. or any of its allies would inevitably have led to his own destruction. This is why he did not use them during the 1991 Gulf War, even when attacked by the largest coalition of international forces ever amassed against a single nation and even though he still had chemical weapons and long-range missiles. (In contrast, prior to the Gulf War, Saddam was quite willing to utilize his arsenal of chemical weapons against Iranian forces, because he knew that the revolutionary Islamist regime was isolated internationally. He was similarly willing to use them against Kurdish civilians, because he knew that they could not fight back.)

President Bush still raises the idea that if Saddam Hussein had one day developed a nuclear weapon or other weapon of mass destruction, he would have “then let that weapon fall into the hands of a shadowy terrorist network.” There is no evidence that the Iraqi government ever considered such a dangerous move, even when its contacts with terrorist groups and its WMD programs were at their peaks during the 1980s. Saddam Hussein’s leadership style has always been that of direct control; his distrust of subordinates (bordering on paranoia) was one of the ways he was able to hold on to power for so long. He would never have gone to the risk and expense of developing weapons of mass destruction only to pass them on to some group of terrorists, particularly radical Islamists who could easily turn on him. When he had such weapons at his disposal, their use was clearly at his discretion alone.

At the time of the U.S. invasion last year, Iraq’s armed forces were barely one-third of their pre-Gulf War size. Iraq’s Navy was virtually nonexistent, and its Air Force was unable to even get off the ground to challenge U.S. forces. Pre-invasion military spending by Iraq has been estimated at barely one-tenth of 1980 levels. The Bush administration has been unable to explain why in 2003, when Saddam enjoyed only a tiny percentage of his once-formidable military capability, Iraq was considered so massive a threat that it was necessary to invade the country and replace its leader–the same leader Washington had quietly supported during the peak of Iraq ‘s military capability.

In his interview, President Bush claimed that his policy of preemption–demonstrated in Iraq–has had positive repercussions elsewhere, citing Libya’s decision to end its nascent WMD programs and open up to international inspections. However, Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi surely must have observed that Iraq was invaded only after it had given up its WMD programs, while North Korea, choosing to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program, was not invaded. The Libyan decision, the result of a year-long series of diplomatic initiatives, seems to have come in spite of the U.S. invasion of Iraq , not because of it.

Ironically, in his interview President Bush claimed that “we had run the diplomatic string in Iraq ” at the time of the invasion but that “we’re making good progress in North Korea.” The reality, of course, is that UN-led diplomatic efforts had successfully eliminated Iraq’s WMD threat prior to the U.S. invasion but that North Korea has broken its treaty commitments and is apparently now developing nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the Bush administration refused to engage in any direct negotiations with Iraq prior to war, raising questions as to how the U.S. could have “run the diplomatic string.”

As his trump card in the NBC interview, President Bush tried to claim that the U.S., through its invasion and occupation of Iraq, was bringing democracy to that country and would thereby make the world safer, since “free societies are societies that don’t develop weapons of mass terror.” This, unfortunately, is not true. The U.S. was the first society to develop nuclear weapons and is the only country to have actually used them. Great Britain, France, Israel, and India are also considered free societies, yet they have developed nuclear weapons as well.

These last claims simply reflect a broader pattern in the interview as a whole. The interview was an opportunity for President Bush to present an honest and clear representation of U.S. policy in Iraq to the American people. Instead, his presentation was a defensive effort littered with untruthful assertions and misleading statements to justify a policy which is losing support among Americans as a whole. The American people deserved better.

Iraq One Year Later

A full year after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, while the tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein is over, the killing continues and the quality of life for most Iraqis has actually deteriorated. Meanwhile, the United States is continuing to sacrifice lives and money in an enterprise for which the original rationales–eliminating Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and its support for the al Qaeda terrorist network–are now widely acknowledged to be false.

This essay offers a brief overview of the situation on the ground and the U.S. response to it. The violence in reaction to the U.S. occupation has consisted of both urban guerrilla warfare against U.S. and other occupation forces, led primarily by Baathist and other nationalist militias, and terrorism against Iraqi and foreign civilians, presumably led by domestic or foreign radical Islamists. There is also small-scale and potentially large-scale nonviolent resistance, particularly in the Shiite community.

Armed Resistance to U.S. Occupation Forces

The guerrilla attacks, while responsible for fewer deaths overall, have been the primary concern for U.S. officials. Though dismissed simply as supporters of the old regime, their support appears to be much deeper. A CIA report at the end of last year acknowledged that “there are thousands in the resistance–and not just hardcore Baathists” and that “the resistance is broad, strong, and getting stronger.” 1

Much of the armed resistance appears to be under the control of Baathists, but–with the capture and killing of most senior Baath officials loyal to Saddam Hussein–they appear to be mid-level Baathists who were more independent and not saddled with the baggage of the old regime. For example, Samarra–which is a center of anti-occupation resistance–was also a center for anti-Saddam elements of the Baath Party. 2

To use an analogy from the Vietnam War, while the National Liberation Front (NLF, or “Viet Cong”) was certainly controlled by the Communist Party and most of its leadership was communists, the vast majority of its fighters were ordinary peasants motivated by nationalism.

As in Vietnam, the primary victims of U.S. counter-insurgency operations appear to be civilians, particularly as a result of the bombing and shelling of crowded residential areas. Human rights groups have observed that the mere presumption that fighters may be hiding in a particular area is not enough to legally justify a military response when civilians are in the area, according to international law.

Also as in Vietnam, such tactics are motivated in part by racism. For example, the New York Times quoted Captain Todd Brown, a company commander with the Fourth Infantry Division, as saying “You have to understand the Arab mind. The only thing they understand is force.” 3

Armed engagements with insurgents are not always reported accurately. For example, following a three-hour battle in the town of Samarra, where U.S. forces reported that fifty-four guerrillas and no civilians were killed, local doctors and other civilian eyewitnesses spoke of minimal military deaths and widespread civilian fatalities. 4U.S. forces reportedly shelled and shot up civilian homes, a mosque, a kindergarten, pharmaceutical plant, and a minibus carrying Iranian pilgrims, as well as crushed cars with their tanks.

American responses to attacks have not been limited to exchanges of fire with insurgents, targeting communications or confiscating weapons, but punishing entire cities and neighborhoods for acts committed by a group of locals involved in attacks against occupation forces. In the words of Brigadier General Dempsey, the goal of such operations is “to communicate to the enemy that the cost of actions against [the U.S. occupation forces] is high.” 5 Often, they are not even locals, deliberately making attacks from neighborhoods and towns away from where their families live, so the retribution will fall elsewhere. 6

Another American officer, Colonel Sasaman, stated, “With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them.” 7

Such heavy use of force has not only failed to achieve the intended results, but has also contributed to ongoing U.S. casualties in patrols by sizable contingents of American forces. Seeking to minimize young Americans coming home in body bags in an election year, the Bush administration, as of November, began emphasizing the use of Special Forces to make pre-emptive tactics.

Tactics by U.S. occupation forces in responses have included the demolition of houses, cordoning off whole towns and neighborhoods with razor wire, and detaining relatives of suspected guerrillas in hopes that insurgents will turn themselves in.

One American adviser described it: “We’re going to have to play their game. Guerrilla versus guerrillas. Terrorism versus terrorism. We’ve got to scare the Iraqis into submission.” 8 Similarly, a former U.S. intelligence officer has acknowledged “This is basically an assassination program. That is what is being conceptualized here. This is a hunter-killer team.” 9

In occupied Palestinian territories Israel has also used such tactics, which have been recognized as illegal and have been subjected to a series of critical UN Security Council resolutions. Senator John Kerry and other Democratic leaders in Congress have vigorously defended such actions, however, on the grounds that Israel was targeting families of terrorists and otherwise responding to attacks against civilian populations. The targets of U.S. attacks, however, don’t appear to be primarily terrorists responsible for bombings against civilians, but rather guerrillas targeting occupation forces.

In either case, such tactics are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which strictly prohibits such attacks.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly criticized the former Special Forces Commander, Air Force General Charles Holland, “for his reluctance to authorize commando raids without specific … intelligence.” 10 In his place he has promoted, as one of the key planners of these operations, Lieutenant General William (Jerry) Boykin, who has declared that Muslims are a Satanic force that “want to destroy us as a nation, and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army” because “we are a nation of believers.” Furthermore, he declares that Bush was “not elected” president but was “appointed by God.” 11

The United States has brought in Israeli commandos and intelligence units to train these forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; some Israelis have been brought into Iraq itself as military “consultants;” and some Americans are going to Israel to observe their occupation forces in action. 12 The hawkish Israeli military expert Martin Van Creveld has noted, however, that such tactics have not worked for Israel and will not likely work for the United States, either: “They are already doing things that we have been doing for years to no avail. The Americans are coming here to try to mimic all kinds of techniques, but it’s not going to do them any good.” 13 Indeed, it may be even less successful since, while Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians is based on a combination of security concerns and territorial expansion, the United States claims its occupation of Iraqi is to liberate Iraqi citizens. If such intimidation does not work on your perceived enemies, it is even less likely to work on those whom you want to be your friends.

It is also ironic that the United States began working with the Israelis and adopting such tactics just as four former heads of Shin Bet–Israel’s security agency–went on record condemning their country’s policies as counter-productive.

There has been little concern about the use of such tactics from Democratic lawmakers. Indeed, top Democratic members of Congress–including House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi and presumptive Democratic Party presidential nominee John Kerry–have attacked President Bush from the right for criticizing Israel’s assassination policies. As a result, it would be hard for them to raise objections when such tactics are used for the purpose of protecting American troops.

Just as the ruling elites of medieval Europe used members of the Jewish community as money-lenders and tax collectors, the United States is now using the Israelis to help them with their dirty work.

Similarly, just as the United States used former collaborators with German and Japanese occupiers to help crush leftist insurgencies in the late 1940s after having “liberated” them, U.S. occupation forces have assembled teams made up of the upper ranks of Saddam Hussein’s brutal intelligence services to infiltrate the insurgency. 14 A CIA station chief acknowledged that the U.S. was “tapping into them. We have to resuscitate Iraqi intelligence, holding our nose” and have Special Forces and CIA operatives “break down doors and take them out.” 15

A Pentagon adviser has called hits “pre-emptive manhunting,” 16 and it appears to have a striking resemblance to Operation Phoenix in South Vietnam, which resulted in the assassination of 20,000 to 40,000 Vietnamese, ostensibly connected to the NLF, though many were targeted because of private grievances.

With the counter-insurgency efforts led by an anti-Islamic Christian fundamentalist general with the support from some of the nastiest elements of Israeli occupation forces and Saddam’s intelligence services, it is not surprising that the U.S. occupation is having a hard time winning Iraqi hearts and minds.

Indeed, the repression against Iraqi civilians through counter-insurgency operations by U.S. occupation forces is fueling a backlash, effectively creating resistance fighters faster than they can be killed. Milt Bearden, former chief of CIA operations in Afghanistan during the 1980s declares, “For every mujahedeen killed or hauled off in raids by Soviet troops in Afghanistan, a revenge group of perhaps a half-dozen members of his family took up arms. Sadly, this same rule probably applies in Iraq.” 17

The Terrorist Threat

The Bush administration has 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 has President Bush tried 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, he has depicted all the current violence against Americans and other foreigners in Iraq as part of this terrorist threat.

For example, President Bush has failed to distinguish between the car bombings and other terrorist attacks against Iraqi civilians and international relief workers with guerrilla attacks by the Iraqi resistance against U.S. occupation forces. As tragic as the deaths of American soldiers may be, the Fourth Geneva Convention–to which the United States is a signatory–recognizes that a people under foreign military occupation do 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 to try to convince the American public that these two phenomena are the same.

President Bush has 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; some are supporters of Saddam Hussein’s former regime; some are Iraqi Islamists; still others are 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.

In any case, 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. 18

It is noteworthy that only after it has become apparent that Iraq did not have the WMD programs the Bush administration had claimed, President Bush now says that the U.S. occupation of Iraq is necessary since that country has become “the central front” of the “war on terror.” In a nationally televised address last fall, President Bush declared that “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 … today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities.” 19

There appears to be no evidence, however, that those Iraqis currently fighting U.S. occupation forces in their own country actually want to somehow sneak into the United States to kill American civilians. Indeed, no Iraqis have ever been known to commit 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, the United States has not had to fight the Vietnamese on American streets and there is no indication that we ever will. The Iraqis, like the Vietnamese 35 years ago, are fighting Americans because U.S. troops are in their country and, like the Vietnamese, will presumably stop fighting Americans once U.S. troops leave their country.

Iraqi support for international terrorists–primarily small radical nationalist groups, particularly Palestinian–peaked in the 1980s (when Saddam Hussein’s regime was supported by the United States ) and has been largely non-existent since the early 1990s. Though Iraq was not a hotbed of terrorism for the last dozen years of Saddam’s rule, it is now. The destruction of Saddam Hussein’s tightly controlled police state by U.S. forces opened up the country as a haven for the world’s terrorists. The U.S. invasion resulted in the replacement of a highly centralized authority to the kind of weak state that the Bush administration, in its September 2002 National Security Strategy, noted was a breeding ground for terrorists: an inability to meet the basic needs of its citizens or control its borders. Furthermore, a senior U.S. counter-terrorism official has acknowledged that “an American invasion of Iraq is already being used as a recruitment tool by al Qaeda and other groups. 20 Similarly, Richard Clarke, a former senior White House counter-terrorism official noted, “Fighting Iraq had little to do with fighting the war on terrorism, until we made it so.”

According to Jessica Stern of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, “We’re inspiring terrorism. The Bush administration didn’t seem to have anticipated the extent to which terrorists would be drawn into Iraq and the extent to which they would be inspired by our occupation to attack elsewhere.” 21

No Light at the End of the Tunnel?

Even if some sort of Iraqi government emerges in July, it may mean little in terms of the military commitment of the United States. President Bush may be able to claim that the United States is no longer an occupying army but there at the invitation of the legitimate government of Iraq. The fact is, however, that whatever government emerges in July will be directly or indirectly appointed by the United States, which illegally invaded and occupied the country. It is less important whether the occupier sees its presence as an occupation than it does the people of the country itself. The Americans may have declared that their presence in Vietnam was at the request of the government of South Vietnam and the Soviets may have declared that their presence in Afghanistan was at the request of the government of Afghanistan, but as long as the people of a given country see them as a foreign occupying army, it matters little whether the government they install “invites” them to stay.

While it would be a mistake to believe that U.S. forces will successfully crush the Iraqi resistance in short order, it would also be a mistake to assume that the resistance will grow significantly or drive the American occupation forces out. The United States has several advantages: U.S. forces have access to sophisticated surveillance technology, which far surpasses earlier counter-insurgency campaigns, that can track down and root out resistance cells. The resistance does not have mountains and jungles in which to hide, nor an outside source of arms and support. The paranoid “snitch culture” from years of totalitarian rule makes it difficult for insurgents to create trustworthy underground networks. The use of terrorism by some resistance forces–which has primarily harmed Iraqi civilians–has alienated huge segments of the population from the resistance as a whole.

On the other hand, U.S. occupation forces have killed far more Iraqi civilians–albeit accidentally in most cases–than have the terrorists, and the occupation itself is extremely unpopular.

The violence in central part of the country, however, may not be the biggest obstacle to U.S. designs to create a stable, pro-American Iraq.

Shiite happens

The eventual undoing of the occupation may be less a result of the guerrilla movement against U.S. occupation forces, murders of alleged collaborators and foreign nationals, or terrorist attacks against civilians, than mass noncooperation, particularly from Iraq’s Shiite majority, who dominate the southern part of the country and were brutally suppressed by Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime.

While Sunni (orthodox) Islam, whose adherents are the vast majority of the world’s Muslims, is egalitarian in structure, Shia Islam, whose adherents are the majority in Iraq, has a hierarchical structure. The ayatollahs–comparable in many respects to Roman Catholic cardinals–wield an enormous amount of influence, particularly in authoritarian societies where other forms of organization were either controlled by the government or brutally suppressed.

In Iran during the late 1970s, as the brutal U.S.-backed regime of Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was collapsing, local Shiite leaders were able to organize committees to create a kind of parallel government that was able to fill the void when the Shah fled into exile in January 1979, eclipsing the secular and independent Islamic elements.

As the Sunni-dominated parts of central Iraq struggle to restore civil order and basic services a full year after the devastating American invasion, the Shiite-dominated towns and cities of southern Iraq–as well as the Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad and other cities in the center of the country–are functioning relatively well, in some cases with the blessings of U.S. occupation forces and in other cases independently. As a result, it is not surprising that the political capital of Shiite leaders is growing, as are demands for direct elections.

U.S. occupation forces have successfully postponed direct national elections on the grounds of ongoing logistical problems resulting from the disorder in many parts of the country. However, the United States has also been unwilling to proceed with local and regional elections in Shiite areas, where few of these logistical problems appear to be a factor. Needless to say, this is creating enormous resentment at U.S. occupation forces from those whom the Bush administration assumed–due to years of oppression by Saddam Hussein–would be among their strongest supporters.

Following centuries of rule by others–the Ottomans, the British, the Hashemites, and the Baathists–the Shiite majority believe it is now their time to rule. As a result, there is resentment at U.S.-led efforts to restrict their power and influence by setting up a system that allows minorities a disproportionate degree of influence. While the establishment of an Iraqi Constitution that creates some sort of federal system guaranteeing the rights of ethnic minorities may indeed be appropriate, it nevertheless has led to some resentment by the Shiites who never had such protections or self-governance when they were out of power. (To use an analogous situation in U.S. politics, it would be similar to the situation in some American cities where, just as African-Americans are on the verge of becoming the electoral majority, the city council decides to switch from at-large representation to district representation and devolves power away from city hall.)

Already, Ayatollah Sistani and other Shiite leaders have been talking of massive nonviolent civil disobedience and the creation of their own alternative governing structures, which the vast majority of Iraqi Shiites would likely support. While U.S. occupation forces may ultimately be successful in crushing the armed Sunni insurgency in central Iraq, they may find–like the Shah’s well-equipped army–they are unable to stop hundreds of thousands of unarmed people in the streets who refuse to recognize their authority.

This does not mean that Shiite-led governance in Iraq–locally, regionally, or nationally–will evolve into the kind of totalitarian theocracy that came in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution. Shiite politics in Iraq, as elsewhere, contain progressive and moderate elements along with reactionary currents. The longer legitimate demands for democratic self-governance are relegated to the back burner by U.S. occupation forces–as the U.S.-backed Shah repeatedly postponed political liberalization–the more likely the extremist elements will gain ascendancy.


Despite these problems, there are surprisingly few prominent American political figures advocating an American withdrawal or even turning over Iraqi administration to the United Nations. Even former presidential contender Howard Dean, whose anti-war positions led him to be criticized by Senator Kerry and other pro-invasion Democrats, argued that now that U.S. forces have invaded Iraq, they should stay.

At the same time, while the situation could fall short of the unmitigated disaster many war opponents have predicted, the problems are serious and will not go away for some time to come.

It is no less important than it was prior to the invasion for the Bush administration’s lies to be exposed, the illegality and immorality of its actions be challenged, and realistic alternatives to the policy be brought forward.


1. Cited in Sami Ramadani, “Resistance to Occupation will Grow,” Guardian, December 15, 2003.
2. Ahmed Hashim, Middle East Institute, August 2003.
3. Dexter Wilkins, “Tough New Tactics by U.S. Tighten Grip on Iraq Towns,” New York Times, December 7, 2003.
4. Phil Reeves, “Iraqis Deny U.S. Accounts of Fierce Fight with ‘Guerrillas’,” Independent, December 2, 2003.
5. Seymour M. Hersh, “Moving Targets,” New Yorker, December 9, 2003.
6. Ibid.
7. Quoted in Wilkins, op. cit.
8. Hersh, op cit.
9. Julian Borger, “Israel Trains US Assassination Squads in Iraq,” Guardian, December 9, 2003.
10. Hersh, op cit.
11. Hersh, op. cit. Boykin was previously involved in controversial and possibly illegal counter-insurgency operations in Somalia and Colombia, which resulted in a number of civilian deaths.
12. Julian Borger, “ Israel Trains U.S. Assassination Squads in Iraq,” Guardian, December 9, 2003.
13. Ira Chernus, “Imitating Israel is Dumb U.S. Policy,”, December 15, 2003.
14. Hersh, op cit.
15. Hersh, op cit.
16. Hersh, op cit.
17. Milt Bearden, “ Iraqi Insurgents Take a Page From the Afghan ‘Freedom Fighters’,” New York Times, November 9, 2003.
18. President George W. Bush, Speech before the United Nations General Assembly, September 23, 2003.
19. President George W. Bush, Address to the Nation, September 7, 2003.
20. Jessica Stern, “How American Created a Terrorist Haven,” New York Times, August 20, 2003.
21. Cited in Robert Steinback, “Occupation Not an End to Terrorism,” Miami Herald, November 25, 2003.