Air strikes driven by dysfunction in America


That the world's remaining superpower, in conjunction with its super-fan, should unilaterally wage war on a people whose leader they dislike, in defiance of international law and of a great body of world opinion, is a chilling coda to the end of the Cold War.

The bombing of Iraq was a straight breach of international law. It could not conceivably have been justified under the United Nations Charter, which justifies resort to violence in self-defence - were the notion of self-defence to be stretched as far as the some US apologists suggest it could. Neither could it be justified by the Security Council resolution of April 1991, which authorised the imposition of sanctions on Iraq and demanded the dismantling of a large part of its military capacity, including its biological and chemical armaments. There was no mention of a military response were demilitarisation not to take place.

The United States and Britain did not attempt to secure the authority of the Security Council for the action, knowing such authorisation would not be forthcoming. Neither, incidentally, did Britain attempt to secure the backing of its partners in the European Union, knowing, too, such backing would not be forthcoming. They acted in defiance of the former superpower Russia, and of the most populous country in the world, China. They did so in defiance of the vast preponderance of Arab states, in whose interest they pretended to act.

Quite aside from the immorality of an action that was certain to cause the loss of innocent lives, the outrageously disproportionate nature of the response to the frustration of part of the UNSCOM supervisory function in Iraq was utterly indefeasible.

UNSCOM is required by its Security Council mandate to make twice-yearly reports on its progress in Iraq. The last such report spoke glowingly of the success of its operations, although it went on to express concern about some obstacles being placed in its way by the Iraqi authorities. It had recorded how similar obstacles had been previously overcome and it has listed in detail the impressive scale of the demilitarisation it has undertaken. So even on UNSCOM's own objective reckoning, progress had been made.

There was certainly reason to believe that, as on previous occasions, diplomacy would again work but the US and Britain were careful to ensure that the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, was nudged off stage.

A former member of the UNSCOM team, Scott Ritter, said last Thursday (as reported in the Washington Times) that the head of UNSCOM, Richard Butler, had conspired with the Americans to provoke a crisis last week. He said the demand of UNSCOM for access to the Ba'ath Party headquarters in Baghdad was deliberately provocative and needless. This was because it had been established that previous reports about ballistic missile parts in the building were no longer accurate.

Ritter claimed that in the days immediately prior to the bombing of Iraq, Butler had worked with the Clinton administration on the precise wording of a statement from UNSCOM that would appear to justify immediate bombing. Significantly, in responding to these claims, Butler failed to deny he had liased with the Clinton administration on the wording of his statement.

Iraq was bombed because of the dysfunctional politics that drives the US. American public opinion apparently needs machismo in foreign and domestic policy - the latter manifest in attitudes towards gun control and the death penalty. The contention that the bombing was undertaken because of a perceived immediate threat to international security in the Middle East is not sustainable.

The Iraqi regime is a dictatorship. It has a proven record of repression and violence towards its own people and foreign states. It amassed an arsenal of despicable weapons that the region and the world are better off without. But none of this makes Iraq unique. General Pinochet was no St Francis of Assisi. He was responsible for the subversion of Chilean democracy and he murdered thousands of his own people and in all of this America and Britain warmly supported him. President Assad of Syria is also a despicable piece of goods who has murdered over a hundred thousand of his own people and he now enjoys warm relations with America and Britain.

President Suharto of Indonesia invaded another state and annexed it (East Timor) and murdered nearly a quarter of a million people there. America and Britain warmly supported and armed him. The People's Republic of China is one of the most repressive regimes in the world. It has invaded and annexed another state (Tibet). It has developed nuclear arms capacity. America and Britain vie for warm relations with it.

With regard to Iraq, America and Britain had no problems when it invaded another country in 1985 (Iran). They had no problems when the Iraqi regime massacred a large number of Kurds. America and Britain armed Iraq to the teeth. The US ambassador in Baghdad in April 1991 gave the green light to Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait. So how come the regime is now so awful and the massacre of Iraqi citizens is deemed justified?

As for despicable weapons, how could chemical and biological weapons be more despicable than nuclear weapons? In any event, the US obstructed the passage of an international convention against possession of biological weapons.

ONE of the sickening aspects to last week's atrocities in Iraq was the claim by the aggressors that their bombs are now so well targeted that no "collateral damage" ensues. So well targeted are their bombs that one of them hit the wrong country (Iran). According to the New York Times on Monday last, the Pentagon has made the following reckoning of the missions' "success":

"Of the 11 targets that involved production or storage of weapons of mass destruction none was destroyed . . .

"Of the 18 targets described as facilities in `security', for the Iraqi programme to develop chemical and biological weapons, [only] two were destroyed . . .

"Of the nine targets that were command centres or other facilities for the Republican Guard . . none were destroyed . . .

"Of the 32 targets that were sites for surface-to-air missiles or air defence systems, [only] one was destroyed . . .

"Of the six airfields attacked, none was destroyed . . . "

In other words not alone was the operation in military terms a fiasco but the claims that the bombs can be so well targeted that no civilian lives were likely to be lost was pure baloney.

That the Americans and British should conduct such action and get away with it gives rise to the expectation that they will do so again when the whim grips American public opinion and a weak president and a supine ally go along with it.

What is entirely depressing is that neutral Ireland cannot bring itself to utter a word of reserve, let alone condemnation, over this abomination.