Five Years Later, We Can’t Forgive or Forget

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the congressional vote granting President George W. Bush unprecedented war-making authority to invade Iraq at the time and circumstances of his own choosing. Had a majority of either the Republican-controlled House or the Democratic-controlled Senate voted against the resolution or had they passed an alternative resolution conditioning such authority on an authorization from the United Nations Security Council, all the tragic events that have unfolded as a consequence of the March 2003 invasion would have never occurred.

The responsibility for the deaths of nearly 4,000 American soldiers, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, the waste of over a half trillion dollars of our national treasury, and the rise of terrorism and Islamist extremism that has come as a result of the invasion and occupation of Iraq rests as much in the hands of the members in Congress who authorized the invasion as it does with the administration that requested the lawmakers’ approval.

Those who express surprise at the refusal of today’s Democratic majority in Congress to stop funding the war should remember this: the October 2002 resolution authorizing the invasion had the support of the majority of Democratic senators as well as the support of the Democratic Party leadership in both the House and the Senate.

Seven Senators

Seven of the 77 senators who voted to authorize the invasion – Fred Thompson (R-TN), John McCain (R-AZ), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and John Edwards (D-NC) are now running for president. While the Republicans candidates remain unapologetic, the Democratic candidates have sought to distance themselves from their vote, arguing that what is important in choosing a president is not how they voted in the past, but what she or he would do now.

Such efforts to avoid responsibility should be rejected out of hand. While I personally support a full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq as soon as logistically feasible, there is considerable debate among knowledgeable, ethical, and intelligent people – including those who also opposed the invasion – as to what to do now. No reasonable person, however, could have supported the resolution authorizing the invasion five years ago.

On this and other web sites – as well as in many scores of policy reports, newspaper articles, academic journals and other sources – the tragic consequences of a U.S. invasion of Iraq and a refutation of falsehoods being put forward by the Bush administration to justify it were made available to every member of the House and Senate (see, for example, The Case Against a War with Iraq). The 2003 vote authorizing the invasion was not like the vote on the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution on the use of force against North Vietnam, for which Congress had no time for hearings or debate and for which most of those supporting it (mistakenly) thought they were simply authorizing limited short-term retaliatory strikes in response to a specific series of alleged incidents. By contrast, in regard to the resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, Congress had many months to investigate and debate the administration’s claims that Iraq was a threat as well as the likely implications of a U.S. invasion; members of Congress also fully recognized that the resolution authorized a full-scale invasion of a sovereign nation and a subsequent military occupation of an indefinite period.

Violating International Legal Conventions

Those who voted in favor of the resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq did so despite the fact that it violated international legal conventions to which the U.S. government is legally bound to uphold. The resolution constituted a clear violation of the United Nations Charter that, like other ratified international treaties, should be treated as supreme law according to Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. According to articles 41 and 42 of the UN Charter, no member state has the right to enforce any resolution militarily unless the UN Security Council determines that there has been a material breach of its resolution, decides that all nonmilitary means of enforcement have been exhausted, and then specifically authorizes the use of military force.

This is what the Security Council did in November 1990 with Resolution 678 in response to Iraq’s ongoing violations of UN Security Council resolutions demanding its withdrawal from Kuwait, but the Security Council did not do so for any subsequent lesser Iraqi violations. The only other exception for the use of force authorized by the charter is in self-defense against armed attack, which even the Bush administration admitted had not taken place.

This effective renunciation of the UN Charter’s prohibition against such wars of aggression constituted an effective repudiation of the post-WWII international legal order. Alternative resolutions, such as one authorizing force against Iraq if authorized by the UN Security Council, were voted down by a bipartisan majority.

Some of those who voted for the war resolution and their supporters have since tried to rewrite history by claiming the resolution had a stronger legal basis. For example, in a recent interview with The Progressive magazine, Elizabeth Edwards claimed that the resolution supported by her husband, then-Senator John Edwards, involved “forcing Bush to go to the U.N. first.” In reality, not only was no such provision included in the resolution that passed, Edwards voted against the resolution amendment that would have required such a precondition, arguing that “our national security requires” that “we must not tie our own hands by requiring Security Council action.”

Concerned Scholars

Members of Congress were also alerted by large numbers of scholars of the Middle East, Middle Eastern political leaders, former State Department and intelligence officials and others who recognized that a U.S. invasion would likely result in a bloody insurgency, a rise in Islamist extremism and terrorism, increased sectarian and ethnic conflict, and related problems. Few people I know who are familiar with Iraq have been at all surprised that the U.S. invasion has become such a tragedy. Indeed, most of us were in communication with congressional offices and often with individual members of Congress themselves in the months leading up to the vote warning of the likely consequences of an invasion and occupation. Therefore, claims by Senator Clinton and other leading Democratic supporters of the war that they were unaware of the likely consequences of the invasion are completely false.

The resolution also contained accusations that were known or widely assumed to be false at that time, such as claims of Iraqi support for al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States. A definitive report by the Department of Defense noted that not only did no such link exist, but that no such link could have even been reasonably suggested based on the evidence available at that time.

The resolution also falsely claimed that Iraq was “actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability.” In reality, Iraq had long eliminated its nuclear program, a fact that was confirmed in a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1998, four years prior to the resolution.

The resolution also falsely claimed that Iraq at that time continued “to possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability.” In reality, as the U.S. government now admits, Iraq had rid itself of its chemical and biological weapons nearly a decade earlier and no longer had any active chemical and biological weapons programs. This likelihood that Iraq no longer had operational chemical or biological weapons was brought to the attention of members of Congress by a number of top arms control specialists, as well as Scott Ritter, the American who headed UNSCOM’s efforts to locate Iraq’s possible hidden caches of chemical and biological weapons, hidden supplies or secret production facilities.

No Evidence

Virtually all of Iraq’s known stockpiles of chemical and biological agents had been accounted for and the shelf life of the small amount of materiel that had not been accounted for – which, as it ends up, had also been destroyed – had long since expired and was therefore no longer of weapons grade. There was no evidence that Iraq have any delivery systems for such weapons, either. In addition, the strict embargo, in effect since 1990, against imports of any additional materials needed for the manufacture of WMDs, combined with Iraq’s inability to manufacture such weapons or delivery systems themselves without detection, made any claims that Iraq constituted any “significant chemical and biological weapons capability” transparently false to anyone who cared to investigate the matter at that time. Indeed, even the classified full version of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, while grossly overestimating Iraq’s military capability, was filled with extensive disagreements, doubts, and caveats regarding President Bush’s assertions regarding Iraq’s WMDs, WMD programs, and delivery systems.

The House and Senate members who now claim they were “misled” about Iraq’s alleged military threat fail to explain why they found the administration’s claims so much more convincing than the many other reports made available to them from more objective sources that presumably made a much stronger case that Iraq no longer had offensive WMD capability. Curiously, except for one excerpt from a 2002 National Security Estimate released in July 2003 – widely ridiculed at the time for its transparently manipulated content – not a single member of Congress has agreed to allow me any access to any documents they claim convinced them of the alleged Iraqi threat. In effect, they are using the infamous Nixon defense from the Watergate scandal that claims that, while they have evidence to vindicate themselves, making it public would somehow damage national security. In reality, if such reports actually exist, they are clearly inaccurate and outdated and would therefore be of no threat to national security if made public.

Democrats’ Responsibility

The Democrats who voted to support the war and rationalized for it by making false claims about Iraq’s WMD programs are responsible for allowing the Bush administration to get away with lying about Iraq’s alleged threat. For example, Bush has noted how “more than a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate – who had access to the same intelligence – voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power.” In a speech attacking anti-war activists, Bush noted how “Many of these critics supported my opponent during the last election, who explained his position to support the resolution in the Congress this way: ‘When I vote to give the President of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat, and a grave threat, to our security.’”

Indeed, the fact that 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry voted in favor of the resolution likely cost the Democrats the White House and, should Senator Clinton – who claimed, in justification of her vote to authorize the invasion, that Iraq’s possession of such weapons was “not in doubt” and was “undisputed” – get the nomination, it could also threaten the Democrats’ hopes for victory in 2008. Similarly, should Senator Dodd, Senator Biden, or former Senator Edwards – who also made false claims about Iraqi WMDs – get the nomination, it could have a similarly deleterious impact to the Democrats’ chances.

It’s also important to recognize that not everyone in Congress voted to authorize the invasion. There were the 21 Senate Democrats — along with one Republican and one Independent — who voted against the war resolution. And 126 of 207 House Democrats — including presidential contender Dennis Kucinich — voted against the resolution as well. In total, then, a majority of Democrats in Congress defied their leadership by saying no to war. This means that the Democrats who did support the war, despite being over-represented in leadership positions and among presidential contenders, were part of a right-wing minority and did not represent the mainstream of their party.

The resolution also claimed that “the risk that the current Iraqi regime will either employ those weapons to launch a surprise attack against the United States . . . or provide them to international terrorists who would do so… combine to justify action by the United States to defend itself.” In other words, those members of the House and Senate who supported this resolution believed, or claimed to believe, that an impoverished country, which had eliminated its stockpiles of banned weapons, destroyed its medium and long-range missiles, and eliminated its WMD programs more than a decade earlier, and had been suffering under the strictest international sanctions in world history for more than a dozen years, somehow threatened the national security of a superpower located more than 6,000 miles away. Furthermore, these members of Congress believed, or claimed to believe, that this supposed threat was so great that the United States had no choice but to launch an invasion of that country, overthrow its government, and place its people under military occupation in the name of “self-defense,” regardless of whether Iraq allowed inspectors back into the county to engage in unfettered inspections to prove that the WMDs, WMD programs and weapons systems no longer existed.

International Opposition

The U.S. invasion of Iraq was opposed by virtually the entire international community, including Iraq’s closest neighbors, who presumably had the most to be concerned about in terms of any possible Iraqi military threat. However, the members of Congress who voted to authorize the invasion were determined to make the case that the United States – with the strongest military the world has ever known and thousands of miles beyond the range of Iraq’s alleged weapons and delivery systems – was so threatened by Iraq that the United States had to launch an invasion, overthrow its government and occupy that country for an indefinite period.

This shows a frighteningly low threshold for effectively declaring war, especially given that in most cases these members of Congress had been informed by knowledgeable sources of the widespread human and material costs which would result from a U.S. invasion. It also indicates that they would likely be just as willing to send American forces off to another disastrous war again, also under false pretenses. Indeed, those who voted for the war demonstrated their belief that:

* the United States need not abide by its international legal obligations, including those prohibiting wars of aggression;

* claims by right-wing U.S. government officials and unreliable foreign exiles regarding a foreign government’s military capabilities are more trustworthy than independent arms control analysts and United Nations inspectors;

* concerns expressed by scholars and others knowledgeable of the likely reaction by the subjected population to a foreign conquest and the likely complications that would result should be ignored; and, faith should instead be placed on the occupation policies forcibly imposed on the population by a corrupt right-wing Republican administration.

As a result, support for the 2002 Iraq War resolution is not something that can simply be forgiven and forgotten.

My Meeting with Ahmadinejad

[Foreign Policy In Focus, September 28, 2007] This past Wednesday, I was among a group of American religious leaders and scholars who met with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York. In what was billed as an inter-faith dialogue, we frankly shared our strong opposition to certain Iranian government policies and provocative statements made by the Iranian president. At the same time, we avoided the insulting language employed by Columbia University president Lee Bollinger before a public audience two days earlier. The Iranian president was quite unimpressive. Indeed, with his ramblings and the superficiality of his analysis, he came across as more pathetic than evil. [Full Link]

Attacks Against World Court by Bush, Kerry and Congress Reveal Growing Bipartisan Hostility to International Law

On July 9, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) determined that the Israeli government’s construction of a separation wall running through the occupied Palestinian West Bank was illegal. Among other things, the ICJ noted that the construction of the first 125 miles of the proposed 450-mile barrier “has involved the confiscation and destruction of Palestinian land and resources, the disruption of the lives of the thousands of protected civilians and the de facto annexation of large areas of territory.” The court called on Israel to cease construction of the wall, to dismantle what has already been built in areas beyond Israel’s internationally recognized border, and to compensate Palestinians who have suffered losses as a result of the wall’s construction.

The vote was 14-1, a not-unexpected margin, given the overwhelming consensus of international legal experts regarding the responsibilities of occupying powers. The majority included the highly respected conservative British jurist, Rosalyn Higgins; the sole dissenter was the American judge, Thomas Buergenthal. The 57-page decision examined in detail the various arguments raised by the interested parties and was consistent with strictures set by the United Nations Charter, a series of UN Security Council resolutions, previous ICJ rulings, and relevant international treaties.

Despite the seemingly clear-cut nature of the ruling however, the Bush administration, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, and an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress have all gone on record denouncing the verdict. Never before has there been such a unified negative response by America’s political leadership to a decision by the world’s highest court.

This unprecedented reaction to an ICJ ruling is neither a moral commitment to the security of Israel nor an example of the power of the “Jewish lobby.” It appears instead to be yet another indication of the growing bipartisan hostility to any legal restraints on the conduct of the United States and its allies beyond their borders, particularly in the Middle East. Both Republicans and Democrats have determined that any effort to raise legal questions regarding the actions of occupying powers must be forcefully challenged.

The United States and the World Court

The International Court of Justice has its origins in the Permanent International Court, established in The Hague in 1899. Since the founding of the United Nations in 1945, the ICJ—also known as the “World Court”—has functioned essentially as the judicial arm of the UN system. Designed to better enable nations to settle their disputes nonviolently based upon the rule of law, the ICJ has been used by Washington on a number of occasions over the years to advance U.S. foreign policy interests ranging from fishing disputes with Canada to the seizure of American hostages by Iran.

(The ICJ is a separate body from the International Criminal Court (ICC), also located in The Hague, which was established in 2002 to prosecute individuals for war crimes when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so. The United States has refused to ratify the ICC treaty, has pressured other nations to reject it as well, and has demanded special exemption from the ICC’s authority.)

Despite America’s strong legal tradition and its key role in the development of international humanitarian law and related international legal constructs, and despite the fact that the ICJ has more often than not ruled in favor of the United States and its allies, recent decades have seen increasing American hostility toward any legal constraints upon U.S. foreign policy. For example, in 1986, the ICJ—also in a 14-1 vote isolating the U.S. judge—called for the United States to cease its attacks against Nicaragua, both directly and through its proxy army of Nicaraguan exiles known as the FDN or Contras, who were notorious for their attacks against civilian targets. Moreover, the court ruled that the United States had to pay the Nicaraguan government over $2 billion in compensation for the damage inflicted upon the country’s civilian infrastructure. The Reagan administration refused to comply with either directive.

The Democrats’ response to the ICJ verdict on Nicaragua was not much better: the Democratic-controlled Congress voted to continue to provide military and economic aid to the Contras. Even Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who held hearings that uncovered the Contras’ involvement in drug trafficking, voted to send the group $20 million of additional aid following the World Court’s decision. President Clinton, just like preceding and subsequent Republican presidents, also refused to compensate Nicaragua’s debt-ridden government as ordered by the ICJ.

Similarly, in 1999, the World Court voted that the United States and other existing nuclear powers were legally bound by provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty—signed and ratified by the United States and all but a handful of the world’s nations—to take serious steps to eliminate their nuclear arsenals. Continuing Clinton’s recalcitrance, the current administration has refused to comply, and Congress continues to approve White House requests for funding the development and procurement of new and dangerous nuclear weapons systems.

The Barrier and the Court Decision

The idea of a physical barrier between Israel and the new Palestinian state that would emerge from the occupied territories was originally promoted by Israeli moderates as a means of securing Israelis from attack after the withdrawal of Israel’s occupation forces. What the right-wing government of Ariel Sharon has done, however, is to build most of the barrier not along Israel’s recognized border, as originally proposed, but in a lengthy serpentine pattern through the occupied West Bank in order to incorporate illegal settlement blocs of Jewish colonists—along with large areas of Palestinian farmland—into Israel.

According to the Fourth Geneva Convention—which is binding upon its signatories—an occupying power is forbidden from transferring any parts of its civilian population into territories seized by military force. Furthermore, a series of UN Security Council resolutions (446, 452, 465, and 471) specifically call on Israel to withdraw from these settlements. Successive Israeli governments have refused to comply with these resolutions, however, and the United States has blocked the UN Security Council from enforcing them.

Within the next few years, depending on the final route chosen for the incomplete sections, the wall could reduce Palestinian areas in the West Bank by half. The remaining Palestinian areas would be subdivided into a series of noncontiguous cantons, each of which would be surrounded by the barrier and land that would be unilaterally annexed to Israel. (Already, the Palestinian city of Qalqilya is surrounded on all sides by the wall.) At that point, Israel and the United States have indicated that they may be ready to recognize what’s left of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as “an independent Palestinian state.” This “state”—bearing a striking resemblance to the infamous Bantustans of apartheid South Africa—would amount to barely 10% of historical Palestine. Thus, the International Court of Justice ruled that the wall’s construction violates the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

Bush Administration and Senator Kerry Both Criticize World Court

The Bush administration quickly challenged the World Court’s authority by questioning whether international law should even be applied to Israeli-occupied territories. White House spokesman Scott McClellan stated, “We do not believe that it is the appropriate forum to resolve what is a political issue.” Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry concurred, arguing: “It is not a matter for the ICJ. … I do not believe that the ICJ should [have] even been considering this issue, given that they do not have jurisdiction.”

Neither the incumbent administration nor its electoral challenger mentioned that the General Assembly voted to send the issue to the World Court only after the United States vetoed an otherwise-unanimous UN Security Council draft resolution last fall, declaring “that the construction by Israel, the occupying power, of a wall in the Occupied Territories departing from the armistice line of 1949 is illegal under relevant provisions of international law and must be ceased and reversed.” In fact, Senator Kerry defended President Bush’s decision “to oppose the resolution in the General Assembly and to convey this opinion to the ICJ.”

The ICJ claimed jurisdiction partly because the United States had frustrated the Security Council from exercising its authority to address actions by Israel that it deemed constituted a “threat to international peace and security.” The court reasserted the authority of the General Assembly to seek such an advisory opinion to rectify Washington’s abuse of its veto power. Over the past 35 years, the United States has used its veto 79 times, almost half of them to block resolutions critical of Israeli violations of international law.

Reiterating the Bush administration’s longstanding insistence that the occupier’s interests have as much legitimacy as the welfare of those under occupation, John Danforth, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, argued that addressing such legal issues as the wall “points away from a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” since “the claims of each side must be accommodated.” (As a U.S. senator in 1990, during Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, Danforth took just the opposite position, insisting that to address Iraqi land claims would be rewarding aggression, and arguing that international law should be strictly enforced “by all necessary means.”)

Both Kerry and Bush stated that they were “deeply disappointed” by the World Court’s ruling, but Kerry went on to claim that “Israel’s fence is a legitimate response to terror that only exists in response to the wave of terror attacks against Israel. The fence is an important tool in Israel’s fight against terrorism.” At least President Bush was able to say: “I think the wall is a problem. It is very difficult to develop confidence between the Palestinians and the Israelis with a wall snaking through the West Bank.”

Further cementing his position, Kerry joined 78 senators—including his running mate, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina—in signing a strongly worded letter to Kofi Annan criticizing the UN secretary general for backing the General Assembly’s decision to ask the ICJ to consider the legal questions involved. In the letter, Kerry, Edwards, and their Senate colleagues declared that the wall was a justifiable and necessary defensive measure by Israel and that questioning Israel’s policy cast doubt on the chief UN official’s opposition to terrorism.

The Congressional Reaction

On July 15, the House of Representatives—by an overwhelming 361-45 majority—voted to deplore the World Court’s decision. Underscoring bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for the White House challenge to the UN system, a large majority of congressional Democrats joined their Republican colleagues in commending President Bush for “his leadership in marshalling opposition to the misuse of the ICJ…”

On July 20, an even stronger Senate resolution was introduced by Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon, “supporting the construction by Israel of a security fence to prevent Palestinian terrorist attacks, condemning the decision of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the security fence, and urging no further action by the United Nations to delay or prevent the construction of the security fence.” This bipartisan Senate resolution, effectively endorsing Israel’s colonization drive in the occupied territories, quickly collected 34 co-sponsors, including Republicans Trent Lott of Mississippi, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and George Voinovich of Ohio as well as Democrats Hilary Rodham Clinton of New York, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Patty Murray of Washington, Barbara Boxer of California, and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

One of the leading co-sponsors of the House resolution was California Congressman Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, who called the ICJ ruling “a perversion of justice.” (As an indicator of the cynical view with which members of Congress treat human rights issues, Lantos has been repeatedly elected chair of the House of Representative’s “Human Rights Caucus.”)

Congressional opposition to the World Court decision centered on several dubious assertions:

An Allegation that the Ruling Interferes with Israel’s Right to Self-Defense:

In its ruling, the International Court of Justice acknowledged the tragic realities that “Israel has to face numerous indiscriminate and deadly acts of violence against its civilian population” and that the Jewish state “has the right, indeed the duty, to respond in order to protect the lives of its citizens.” The court recognized, however, that such security measures “are bound nonetheless to remain in conformity with applicable international law.”

In other words, Israel—like any country—has the right to build a wall, a fence, a moat, or anything else along its borders to protect itself. The World Court even recognized a number of UN resolutions specifically reiterating Israel’s right to defend its borders. The basis of the court’s ruling against the Israeli policy is that the jurists were “not convinced that the specific course Israel has chosen for the wall was necessary to attain its security objectives…” Since the barrier was not following Israel’s borders, the court simply confirmed the widespread assumption in Israel and elsewhere that the wall was being built for political reasons rather than security reasons and was therefore illegal.

The proposed Senate resolution cites the successful precedent of a security fence “in Gaza [which] has proved effective at reducing the number of terrorist attacks.” However, senators are ignoring the fact that the Gaza barrier—unlike the wall in the West Bank—is built along the recognized border between Israel and the Gaza Strip and therefore is not considered illegal by the World Court ruling.

Despite the ICJ’s clear distinction between a government’s legal right to build a protective barrier along its border for self-defense and the construction of a barrier within the occupied territory of another nation in a manner that effectively expands the boundaries of the occupying power, the bipartisan House resolution called the court’s decision an “attempt to infringe upon Israel’s right to self-defense.” Typical of remarks by leading House Democrats, New York Congressman Eliot Engel, a senior member of the House International Relations Committee Subcommittee on the Middle East, falsely claimed that the ruling totally ignored Israel’s right to defend its citizens. Similarly, Nevada Democrat Shelley Berkley asserted that the advisory opinion was done “solely for the narrow purpose of condemning the State of Israel for its effort to protect its innocent citizens from suicide bombers.” Democratic Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton declared, “It makes no sense for the United Nations to vehemently oppose a fence which is a nonviolent response to terrorism rather than opposing terrorism itself.”

Indiana Republican Mark Souder went further, charging that “the ruling declares that Israel has no right whatsoever to defend itself, protect its people, or to live at peace.” Souder added: “The International Court of Justice has ruled that they would prefer a Middle East without Israel. They would rather see a democratic state… disappear from the face of the Earth.”

Many Israelis, however, argue that constructing the wall inside occupied territory actually decreases Israel’s safety. For example, several prominent military and security officers have spoken out against Sharon’s policy, forming groups like the Council for Peace and Security to challenge the barrier’s route, which is projected to be at least three and a half times as long as Israel’s internationally recognized border with the West Bank. Avraham Shalom, former head of Israel’s security division, Shin Bet, said that the wall “creates hatred, it expropriates land and annexes hundred of thousands of Palestinians to the state of Israel. The result is that the fence achieves the exact opposite of what was intended.”

Similarly, as Aharon Barak, the Israeli Supreme Court chief justice, wrote regarding a recent case brought before him: “Only a separation fence built on a base of law will grant security to the state and its citizens. Only a separation route based on the path of law will lead to the security so yearned for.”

The Charge that the ICJ has an Ideological Bias Against Israel:

Members of Congress from both parties have claimed that the World Court ruling was not based on well-recognized legal precedents but was instead an ideological attack on the state of Israel. For example, the Senate resolution expresses the concern that “the International Court of Justice is politicized and critical of Israel.” It notes, “The United States, Korea, and India have constructed security fences to separate such countries from territories or other countries for the security of their citizens.” On the House floor, Representative Engel claimed that the International Court of Justice was demanding “one standard for Israel and one standard for everybody else,” since the court had not ruled on security fences erected by Saudi Arabia, India, and Turkey.

Such comparisons fail to note that the other barriers, unlike Israel’s, were placed along internationally recognized borders and were therefore not the subject of legal challenge. Rather than displaying a bias against Israel, the World Court has actually been quite consistent: In the only other two advisory opinions issued by the ICJ involving occupied territories (South African-occupied Namibia in 1972 and Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara in 1975), the court also decided against the occupying powers.

The Discrediting of Human Rights Reports:

In a recent document, Amnesty International noted, “This fence/wall is having devastating economic and social consequences on the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, separating families and communities from each other and from their land and water—their most crucial assets.” Reports from the World Bank, the United Nations, the Red Cross, and local human rights groups have documented in detail the barrier’s harmful impact on local populations, such as separating farmers from their fields, children from their schools, workers from their jobs, patients from medical care, and families from each other. Last fall, Human Rights Watch unsuccessfully lobbied President Bush to deduct the cost of the wall’s construction inside occupied territories from the recently approved $9 billion U.S. loan guarantee to Israel, observing that as the barrier’s route snakes through the West Bank, it “is having a profound impact on the ability of the Palestinian residents to exercise fundamental human rights.”

In an effort to discredit these reputable human rights groups, the Senate resolution contests their assertions that the route chosen for the wall has a negative impact on the civilian population under Israeli occupation, declaring that “the Government of Israel takes into account the need to minimize the confiscation of Palestinian land and the imposition of hardship on the Palestinian people.” The ICJ, however, confirmed the findings of the human rights groups, determining that Israel was indeed violating the Geneva Conventions’ proscription against occupying powers unnecessarily interfering with the subjected population’s rights to property, access to education and health care, and normal economic activity.

The Senate’s resolution also claims that Israel’s barrier is a “proportional response to the campaign of terrorism by Palestinian militants.” This contrasts, ironically, with a recent decision by Israel’s Supreme Court ordering the Israeli government to re-route a section of the wall bisecting some Palestinian towns, because the “relationship between the injury to the local inhabitants and the security benefit from the contraction of the Separation Fence along the route, as determined by the military officer, is not proportionate.”

A Denial that the West Bank Is Occupied Territory:

Questions regarding the legality of Israel’s practices in the West Bank fall under United Nations jurisdiction, because the West Bank—seized by the Israeli military in the 1967 war—constitutes occupied territory and is therefore covered by certain international legal conventions that do not apply to domestic matters. This helps explain why various UN bodies have been more critical of Israeli violations of international humanitarian law than of comparable human rights abuses by autocratic Arab governments. The operable legal distinction is that Israel is an occupying power, while neighboring Arab states are not. The only way to claim—as Senator Kerry and others have—that the UN does not have jurisdiction is to deny that Israel’s incursion and territorial control constitute an occupation.

Indeed, if approved, the Senate resolution against the World Court decision will be the first time either house of Congress has passed a resolution that refers to the West Bank not as occupied territories but as “disputed” territories. This distinction is important for two reasons: the word “disputed” implies that the claims of the West Bank’s Israeli conquerors are as legitimate as the claims of Palestinians who have lived on the land for centuries, and disputed territories—unlike occupied territories—are not covered by the Fourth Geneva Convention and many other international legal statutes.

The Senate resolution contends that the request by the UN General Assembly for a legal opinion by the ICJ referred to “the security fence being constructed by Israel to prevent Palestinian terrorists from entering Israel.” In reality, the UN request said nothing regarding security measures preventing terrorists from entering Israel. Instead, the document refers only to the legal consequences arising from “the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory…” Moreover, the UN statement refers to the secretary-general’s most recent report on the occupation, which reiterates the longstanding international consensus that Occupied Palestinian Territory refers only to the parts of Palestine seized by Israel in the 1967 War, not to any part of Israel itself.

Congressional leaders insist, however, that to refer to the West Bank as occupied territory is somehow blasphemous. In describing a recent trip to the West Bank, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay remarked, “I did not see occupied territory; I saw Israel.” Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma simply stated his conviction that Israel alone “has a right to the land… because God said so.” Mike Pence, house deputy assistant majority leader, declared that when the World Court “described Israel as an occupying power in Occupied Palestinian Territory, it was most assuredly a dark day and a day of disgrace for the International Court of Justice.”

If the West Bank is seen as part of Israel and not as occupied territory, then any legal dispute there should simply be a matter for the Israeli courts, not the World Court. Senator Kerry, for example, has argued that any legal challenges to the route of the wall should go through the Israeli judiciary, “and we should respect that process” rather than referring the issue to international forums.

However, the World Court went on record in its recent 14-1 decision that the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is indeed occupied territory. Even Thomas Buergenthal, the American judge who cast the lone negative vote (largely on procedural grounds), acknowledged that the Palestinians were under occupation and had the right to self-determination, that Israel was obligated to adhere to international humanitarian law, and that he had “serious doubt” that routing a wall to protect West Bank settlements would qualify as “legitimate self-defense.” Furthermore, the Israeli Supreme Court has acknowledged that Israel holds the West Bank “in belligerent occupation” and that “the law of belligerent occupation… imposes conditions” on the authority of the military, even in areas related to security.

Why the Anti-ICJ Reaction?

It is not new for the American right-wing, in an effort to discredit the UN system, to fabricate outlandish charges against the world body, such as the popular conspiracy theory floated in the 1990s that the UN was on the verge of taking over the United States with its fleet of black helicopters in order to impose a world government. What is new is the willingness of Democrats to similarly fabricate claims of malfeasance.

It appears that both congressional Republicans and Democrats deliberately misrepresented the position of the International Court of Justice in order to so discredit the United Nations system in the public consciousness that Americans will no longer object to the United States or its allies violating UN rulings. Israeli professor and human rights leader Jeff Halper, while celebrating the World Court verdict, expressed his concerns that “delegitimizing the ICJ, human rights, and international law has fundamental implications for other struggles as well.” But what prompted this unprecedented bipartisan hostility toward the World Court?

The Desire to Maintain U.S. Control of the Israeli-Palestinian “Peace Process”

One explanation for the anti-ICJ reaction is that the World Court seems to threaten the U.S. role as the sole arbiter of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The White House insists that the U.S.-led peace process should be the appropriate venue to discuss the Israeli wall, stating that “this is an issue that should be resolved through the process that has been put in place.” The Bush administration, in essence, is arguing that even the most blatant violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention by an occupying power should not be subjected to any independent legal review but can only be addressed through the voluntary cooperation of the occupying power.

The ICJ did recognize—and spoke positively about—the existence of a U.S.-led Israeli-Palestinian peace process based upon the “Road Map.” But the court emphasized that any peace agreement had to be made “on the basis of international law.”

So far, the Road Map does not appear to include any consideration of international law. For example, during a decade of U.S.-brokered peace process, Palestinians have watched the number of settlers in the West Bank more than double. Understandably, they are skeptical that their international right to freedom from colonization will ever be enforced.

The expansion of illegal Israeli settlements and of the special highways—reserved for Jews only—connecting them has resulted in the confiscation of large tracts of Palestinian property, dividing the West Bank into a patchwork arrangement whereby settler holdings encircle Palestinian population centers. The security barrier being built by Israel in the occupied West Bank is designed so that it incorporates most of these settlement blocs and divides Palestinian communities from one another.

And now, using logic that also employs an encirclement strategy, both President Bush and Senator Kerry have gone on record as saying that Israel should not have to withdraw from most of the West Bank lands taken to support illegal Israeli settlements, since there are new “demographic realities on the ground”—namely, the construction of these selfsame illegal settlements. In June, the House of Representatives passed a resolution defending Sharon’s refusal to withdraw from most of the occupied territories using similar logic. Manifesting a bipartisan consensus, there were only nine dissenting votes in the 435-member body. The 2004 Democratic Party platform, approved by an overwhelming majority in July at the convention in Boston, contains similar language.

The anti-ICJ House resolution warns other countries not to try to encourage the application of international law in arenas that the United States considers under its purview. Indeed, the resolution “cautions members of the international community that they risk a strongly negative impact on their relationship with the people and Government of the United States should they use the ICJ’s advisory judgment as an excuse to interfere” with the U.S.-managed peace process.

Similarly, the Senate’s resolution insists that, on matters such as the legality of the barrier, the Oslo Accords—signed between Israel, the Palestinians, and the United States in 1993—insist that “all disputes between the parties be settled by direct negotiations or agreed-upon methods.” Taking this issue to the World Court, according to the Senate resolution, violates the Oslo Accords requirement that none of the parties take any unilateral initiatives that would prejudice the outcome of the peace process.

The Senate resolution fails to note, however, that successive Israeli governments—with U.S. backing—have repeatedly prejudiced the outcome of the peace process through their ongoing construction of illegal settlements in the occupied territories and other unilateral initiatives. Moreover, the Sharon government has long declared that it no longer feels bound by any of the provisions of the Oslo Accords.

Furthermore, Israel—again, with U.S. support—has refused to return to the negotiating table to meet with the Palestinians on any substantive issues for nearly three and a half years. Indeed, construction of the wall began after Israel broke off negotiations, so the Palestinians have not even had a chance to negotiate about it. In addition, most of the settlements that the wall is built to separate from the local Palestinian population have been established since the start of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resulting from the 1993 Oslo Accords.

What is upsetting to Bush, Kerry, and Congress is that the ICJ ruled that all nations “are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation arising from the construction of the wall, and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining that situation.” Unchallenged, this ruling would prevent the United States from recognizing Israel’s planned annexation of West Bank lands and could even threaten U.S. financial and military support for the occupation.

The Palestinians recognize that they have very little leverage regarding the occupation. Having expelled most Palestinians from their homeland more than 50 years ago, Israel occupies most of what remains of Palestine, has placed Palestinian towns and cities under siege, and launches periodic air strikes and armed incursions into populated Palestinian areas at will. This power imbalance is further exacerbated by the fact that the occupying authorities continue to receive unconditional, large-scale military, economic, and diplomatic support from the world’s sole remaining superpower.

In desperation, frustration, and anger, some Palestinians have responded by launching terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, a course of action that is both morally reprehensible and politically counterproductive. Other Palestinians contend that their cause is advanced more successfully by taking a legal and nonviolent route by going to the International Court of Justice.

Sadly, this internationally backed effort by moderate Palestinians to advance their struggle for self-determination nonviolently through the rule of law has been met by an overwhelmingly negative bipartisan reaction from the United States, which controls the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” As a result, the appeal of Palestinian extremists advocating violence is likely to grow.

Challenging the Threat of International Law

Speaking broadly, the attacks on the integrity of the World Court ruling by the Bush administration, the Democratic contender for the White House, and an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress, appear to be part of an ongoing effort—further exemplified by the overwhelming bipartisan vote in support of the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq—to undermine and discredit the United Nations system. International law and intergovernmental organizations are seen by both Republicans and Democrats as interfering with the prerogatives of the U.S. government and its allies in strategically important areas like the Middle East. Given the overwhelming military dominance of the United States globally (and allies such as Israel regionally), international legal institutions are among the few potential restraints on the unfettered exertion of American power.

As a result, the bipartisan attacks against the ICJ should not be seen simply as “pro-Israel” sentiment, particularly in light of the long-term detrimental impact on Israeli security if Israel continues its current policies. Instead, Washington’s unified hostility must be viewed as part of a broader effort to undermine international law in order to give the United States freer rein in pursuing its policy objectives overseas.

For example, Democratic Congressman Gene Green of Texas claimed that the ICJ ruling “sets dangerous precedents in international law that hinder and impede United States anti-terrorism efforts.” In reality, the ruling has no bearing on legitimate anti-terrorism efforts, but it may have implications regarding the legality of certain U.S. actions committed in the name of anti-terrorism. For example, a nearly unanimous congressional vote last year declared that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a legitimate part of the ongoing “war on terrorism.”

In its far-reaching decision, the World Court made a definitive ruling that member states of binding treaties, conventions, and charters—such as the Fourth Geneva Convention and the United Nations charter—are obliged to ensure that other member states live up to their legal obligations under those agreements. Specifically, the court insisted that every country that is party to the Fourth Geneva Convention must “ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention.”

This is what the Bush administration, the Kerry-Edwards ticket, and an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress, are so upset about: any such strict and uniform application of international law would interfere with U.S. policy objectives in the region, which rely heavily on the use of military force, including conquest and occupation. This is why any attempt to enforce international humanitarian law must be met by slander, condemnation, and other attacks against the credibility of the international organizations daring to suggest that the United States and its allies are not somehow exempt from such legal obligations.

In its ruling, the ICJ also determined that “the United Nations, and especially the General Assembly and the Security Council, should consider what further action is required to bring to an end the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall.” Not surprisingly, however, President Bush has promised to veto any UN Security Council resolution based upon the World Court’s ruling. The United States was also one of just six countries (five of which are dependent on U.S. economic aid) in the 191-member General Assembly to vote against a resolution upholding the ICJ decision.

Indeed, the Senate’s resolution specifically urges the administration “to vote against any further United Nations action that could delay or prevent the construction of the security fence and to engage in a diplomatic campaign to persuade other countries to do the same.” Should the Senate resolution pass, it will effectively put the United States on record that, despite the nearly unanimous World Court decision to the contrary, parties to international agreements are not bound to abide by or enforce agreement provisions.

Given that the World Court enjoined the United States and other signatories to “ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law,” any refusal by the United States government, which—as Israel’s primary military, economic and diplomatic supporter—is in the best position to “ensure compliance,” places the United States in violation of the World Court, just like Israel. However, just as the Bush administration—backed by Senator Kerry and both houses of Congress—chose to ignore the UN Charter by invading Iraq, it appears that these same U.S. leaders are quite willing to ignore the world’s highest court.

In essence, this wholesale bipartisan rejection of international law stems from the way in which U.S. backing of the expansionist agenda of the Israeli right wing has merged—under the banner of the “war on terrorism”—with the growing militarization of U.S. Middle East policy, exemplified by the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Indeed, the Bush administration, with strong backing from both parties in Congress, is now engaging in what the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has referred to as the “Sharonization of U.S. Policy.”

Even if Washington were to adopt a principled and law-based policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how could Bush or Kerry criticize Israel for its occupation while maintaining the U.S. occupation of Iraq? How could Bush or Kerry criticize the widespread Israeli maltreatment of Palestinian prisoners when U.S. abuses against Iraqis rank even worse? How could Bush or Kerry criticize the killing of Palestinian civilians by Israeli occupation forces while American occupation forces exact an even higher death toll among Iraqi civilians? How could Bush or Kerry criticize Israel’s violations of international law given the manifold violations committed by the United States in its invasion and occupation of Iraq?

In conclusion, the recent attacks against the World Court by both Republicans and Democrats are not simply an endorsement of the dangerous and illegal policies of a right-wing ally. They are, in effect, a declaration of empire—a brazen assertion that the United States and its allies are somehow exempt from longstanding and respected international legal institutions. If such a declaration goes unchallenged, the Palestinians will certainly not be the only ones who will suffer.

President Bush’s May 24 Speech on Iraq: A Critique

The most striking element of President George W. Bush’s May 24th speech at the Army War College regarding the situation in Iraq was that it could come across as quite convincing as long as you agreed with the following assumptions:

* Only the continued U.S. military presence in Iraq would lead to “the rise of a free and self-governing Iraq.”

* Conversely, if the U.S. forces withdrew, either unilaterally or as part of a transfer to United Nations authority, the result would be a totalitarian government which would “embolden the terrorists, leading to more bombings, more beheadings and more murders of the innocent around the world.”

Such assumptions, however, are extremely dubious.

Most Iraqis and other observers argue that it is the ongoing presence of American forces which is driving the insurgency and radicalizing elements of the diverse resistance to the U.S. occupation.

The claim by President Bush in his speech that he “sent American troops to Iraq to defend our security, not to stay as an occupying power” would ring hollow to the millions of Iraqis who knew that their country was no threat to America’s security and that—well over a year after the ouster of Saddam Hussein’s regime—U.S. troops remain in charge.

Similarly, his claim that “Our agenda . . . is freedom and independence, security and prosperity for the Iraqi people” will not be seen as credible by a nation that has seen the U.S. occupation bring war, chaos, repression, record unemployment, and a breakdown of basic services.

While most Iraqis presumably prefer a system which promotes individual freedom, they—like most peoples who have a history of suffering under foreign rule—place an even higher priority on national freedom. As a result, by contrasting the goals of Iraqis fighting U.S. occupation forces and the U.S. occupation simply as “one of tyranny and murder, the other of liberty and life” is a false dichotomy.

Despite repeated assertions to the contrary, the United States will not “transfer full sovereignty to a government of Iraqi citizens” on June 30. It appears that the “sovereign Iraqi government” the Bush Administration claims will assume power on that date will lack many of the attributes generally associated with a sovereign state. For example, the United States, not the Iraqi government, will continue to control Iraq’s security, including Iraqi police and military personnel. This interim Iraqi authority will not have the power to enact new legislation or overturn laws imposed during the U.S. occupation. In addition, given the chaos engulfing the country and the widespread non-cooperation with U.S. occupation forces, there are questions as to how much governing power the United States has to transfer anyway.

Furthermore, there is so much ill will toward the United States at this point that the legitimacy of virtually any Iraqi-led government that emerges, will—whether rightly or wrongly—be questioned.

Then, as has become typical of presidential addresses since the U.S. invasion, there is the rewriting of history:

For example, President Bush claimed, “Over the decades of Saddam’s rule, Iraq’s infrastructure was allowed to crumble.” In reality, most of the damage to the country’s infrastructure was a direct result of the heavy U.S. bombing during the Gulf War in 1991, subsequently compounded by U.S.-led economic sanctions over the next dozen years, as well as additional bombings and the failure to prevent massive looting and vandalism immediately following the U.S. takeover last year.

President Bush spoke of the lack of freedom and democracy in the Middle East as simply “a tragedy of history,” ignoring the role of the United States—which has long been the principal supporter and arms supplier of the region’s authoritarian regimes and occupation armies—in denying Middle Eastern peoples democracy and freedom.

His claim that “At every stage, the United States has gone to the United Nations” ignored the fact that the invasion and occupation of Iraq came in open defiance of the UN.

Despite growing evidence of the systematic abuse of Iraqi prisoners held by American occupation forces, President Bush dismissed it simply as a matter of some “disgraceful conduct by a few American troops” at just one facility.

President Bush boasted of the accomplishments of the Iraqi Governing Council, such as their approval of “a new law that opens the country to foreign investment for the first time in decades.” This ignores the fact that the council was appointed by U.S. occupation authorities and that the Iraqi people never had a say in its key decisions, such as selling off public assets to American multinational corporations with close ties to the Bush Administration.

His claim that U.S. forces are in Iraq to defeat “terrorism at the heart of its power” ignores the fact that terrorism by extremist groups inside Iraq was virtually non-existent until after the United States invaded and occupied the country.

Perhaps most misleading is President Bush’s assertion that the Iraqi resistance—consisting of more than a dozen separate groups with diverse tactics and ideology—are all simply “terrorists,” “foreign fighters,” and “Saddam loyalists.”

According to President Bush, “They seek the total control of every person in mind and soul; a harsh society in which women are voiceless and brutalized. They seek bases of operation to train more killers and export more violence. They commit dramatic acts of murder to shock, frighten and demoralize civilized nations, hoping we will retreat from the world and give them free reign. They seek weapons of mass destruction to impose their will through blackmail and catastrophic attacks.”

This is largely an effort to portray the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq not as an act of aggression—as most of the international community sees it—but as an act of self-defense. By extension, it seeks to portray those who oppose the ongoing U.S. occupation as supporters of totalitarianism and violence.

Interviews of Iraqi resistance fighters by the international media and social scientists, however, have shown no such grandiose designs. Their overriding concern is simply to rid their own country of a foreign occupation.

The rhetoric emanating from the Bush Administration bears a striking resemblance to similar efforts by the Johnson and Nixon administrations to portray the South Vietnamese guerrillas, primarily made up of nationalist peasants, as part of some grand unified communist conspiracy to take over the world. Interviews of these guerrillas similarly showed that they had no desire to conquer and occupy other countries, but to simply rid their own country of what they saw as a U.S. occupation. (They did not see the Saigon regime as a legitimate sovereign government, but as a hand-picked American creation, similar to how the Iraqis will likely see, at least initially, whatever government emerges in Baghdad.)

Unfortunately, despite polls showing a majority of the American public in opposition to U.S. policy in Iraq, the Democratic Party is choosing as its presidential nominee a supporter of the U.S. invasion and occupation. Senator John Kerry, like President Bush, has also made a series of misleading statements, falsely claiming that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction” and, like President Bush, insists that a continued U.S. occupation is necessary to bring peace and security to the region.

As a result, outside of the insurgent Nader campaign, the election cycle will not likely provide the forum to challenge the lies and misleading statements coming from the White House.

This then requires that ordinary Americans must take the lead in challenging President Bush, Senator Kerry, and all those who have gotten us into this tragic mess, continue to mislead us, and refuse to get us out.

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.