by Eric Margolis
`Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas, or biological weapons.' So proclaimed a frazzled-looking President Bill Clinton Wednesday as he launched a new techno-war against Iraq.
Clinton's real target was not, of course, Saddam's Republican Guard, but the Republican majority in the House that was to begin an historic impeachment vote the next morning. By unleashing another war against Iraq, Clinton got the killer vote postponed and artfully hoisted flag- waving, bomb-Saddam Republicans on their own petard by forcing many of them to reluctantly back him. He also provided wavering East Coast Republicans a handy excuse to vote against impeachment. There was even a faint chance proceedings might be delayed until the next Congress. And if a `lucky' missile killed Saddam, Clinton would emerge a hero.
Only ardent Democrats, and the politically naive, swallowed the president's preposterous claim that bombing Iraq was of such military urgency, it had to be done the day before the House impeachment vote began. They must then also believe Saddam was either doing Clinton the mother of all favors by picking a row with arms inspectors just before the House vote, or that the president is the luckiest man alive.
Everyone knew US-run arms inspectors would produce a report saying Iraq was not fully cooperating on every trivial issue. The `inspector's' main job is to keep finding Iraq in violation, thus keeping it in permanent quarantine, and its oil off the world market. Should oil-rich Iraq resume exporting, depressed world petroleum prices will fall further, destabilizing America's Arab client regimes, and preventing them from buying billions in US and British arms.
Saddam currently threatens no one, save his own miserable people. Why the rush to bomb right before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan? Would anything have been different a month from now? This tragi-farce has been dragging on for eight years.
The only real urgency, of course, was Clinton's haste to derail the gathering forces of impeachment. Last week, the White House, which had been in deep denial over the impending vote, panicked when it became apparent impeachment could go ahead. Richard Butler's inspectors were ordered to stage a serious provocation in Baghdad by raiding Saddam's Baath party headquarters. Ever-reliable Iraq reacted on cue. US forces were then hurriedly ordered to attack before they were prepared or concentrated, forcing an initial, incomplete assault by naval-launched cruise missiles, rather than the massive, coordinated attacks by aircraft and heavy air-launched missile attack that had been planned.
Let's analyze Clinton's claims.
1. `Saddam threatens his neighbors.' Iraq's military is in shambles. The effective army, 275,000 men with obsolete tanks, is needed to defend the regime in Baghdad, and hold down rebellious Shias and Kurds. Iraq has no viable air force - thus no air cover. Any Iraqi ground offensive against a neighbor would be quickly massacred in the open desert by western air power. Note: Iran, the nation that suffered most from Saddam's aggression, bitterly opposes the latest US-British war against Iraq as `colonialist aggression.'
By `neighbors,' Clinton and many pundits really mean Israel. American supporters of Israel have been beating the war drums over Iraq. But recent Israeli chiefs of staff have stated Iraq has almost no offensive capability, and is a `minimum risk.' Any Iraqi biowar attack on Israel would be met with a massive nuclear counter-strike. Saddam is not suicidal.
2. `Saddam threatens the world.' Nonsense. With what? Without long-ranged missiles and bombers, Iraq has no capability to deliver weapons of any kind. Why would Iraq bomb Paris or Tokyo? Saddam is a cruel, bloody brute, but he's no Fu Manchu, as the US keeps claiming.
3. `Iraq has nuclear weapons.' Another Clinton untruth. International Atomic Energy Commission inspectors certified Iraq has zero nuclear capability. Iraq's pre-1991 attempts to develop a primitive atomic weapon were financed by Saudi Arabia, a US ally and protectorate, with Washington's full knowledge. Much of Iraq's nuclear technology was bought from South Africa, which, ironically, acquired it from Israel.
4. `Iraq has poison gas.' Yes, some, mainly delivered by artillery shells and short-ranged Grad rockets. Iraq developed a wide range of chemical warfare agents for use in its long, bloody war against numerically superior Iran. Iraq's chemical arsenal was produced by British and European technicians and firms, and deployed with full knowledge of the US, which was closely allied with Saddam during the war against Iran. So long as poison gas was used against Muslims, the US and Britain remained silent.
Chemical weapons, whose effectiveness depends on temperature, winds, and dispersion patterns, are inefficient and undependable weapons of mass destruction. They must be delivered in large quantities, something Iraq cannot do. Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Iran also have poison gas. Israel's biowarfare complex at Nas Zion is the biggest and most advanced in the Mideast. 5. `But Iraq is the only nation to use poison gas.' Iraq used gas against Iran, and a few times against Kurdish rebels.
The Soviet Union used gas in Afghanistan; so did Egypt in Yemen. When Britain ruled Iraq, it also used poison gas against Kurdish tribesmen. Widescale use of toxic depleted uranium shells by the US during the 1991 Gulf War appears to have caused far more deaths and illness than Iraq's chemical weapons. After having devastated much of Indochina with toxic chemical defoliants, white phosphorus, and napalm, the US, which maintains the world's second biggest biowar arsenal, is not in the best position to condemn Iraq.
6. `Saddam is making germs.' Iraq had an extensive biowarfare project pre-1991. I discovered in Iraq this program was being run by British technicians, with the full knowledge and support of London. Germ feeder stocks came from the USA. The US and Britain encouraged Iraq's biowarfare projects and created a cadre of 1,000 Iraqi biowar scientists - for use against Iran.
Baghdad may still have some hidden gas and germ stocks. But without delivery systems, they are a danger mainly to Iraq. US bombing of Baghdad in 1991 came close to releasing a cloud of deadly anthrax over Baghdad.
7. `Saddam is a liar.' `Mr. Clinton, people who live in glass White Houses.....'
8. `Saddam destroyed records!' And what about Vince Foster's vanished files?'
Watching the mighty US again pulverize Iraq with total impunity should make it clear that nation is militarily powerless - like beating a dead camel. The US military brings no honor on itself blasting a small, helpless opponent that numbers 23 million abject people. Or being sent into combat by a president who evaded military service in wartime, and is staging a jolly little war to save his own political skin.
After Iraq's alleged biowar sites, air defenses, Republican Guard barracks, and government headquarters are flattened, and CIA tries to mount a last-minute uprising, what then? Back to square one. Saddam will be left triumphantly mooning the US - this time, minus tormenting arms inspectors giving Iraq daily proctoscopy. When you've got little to loose, who cares about bombing? All that's important to Saddam is that he survives.
America huffed and puffed, but the house did not fall down. Saddam's house, that is. In Washington, Desert Fox Clinton's last, desperate blow certainly blew away the Republicans, at least for a few precious days. How many innocent lives Clinton's made-for-prime time-TV war cost remains to be seen.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]
Copyright © 1998 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved