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January 1999
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MER - Washington - 1/2/99: Former Attorney General of the United States, Ramsey Clark; Catholic Bishop Brian Gumbleton from Detroit; former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, Denis Halliday -- these are all Western persons who have served at the highest levels of authority and they have all of their own personal volition reached the conclusion that U.S. policies toward Iraq are immoral, unjust, and at least bordering on war crimes. The following comments about the bombing and sanctions of Iraq come from Professor Noam Chomsky: 


The US and its increasingly pathetic British lieutenant want the world to understand -- and in particular want the people of the Middle East region to understand -- that "What We Say Goes," as Bush defined his New World Order while the missiles were raining on Baghdad in February 1991. The message, clear and simple, is that we are violent and lawless states, and if you don't like it, get out of our way. It's a message of no small significance. Simply have a look at the projections of geologists concerning the expanding role of Middle East oil in global energy production in the coming decades.

I suspect that the message is understood in the places to which it isaddressed.

A very conservative assessment is that the US/UK attacks are "aggression," to borrow the apt term of the Vatican and others. They are as clear an example of a war crime as one could construct. In the past, acts of aggression, international terrorism, and violence have sometimes been cloaked in at least a pretense of legalism -- increasingly ludicrous over the years, to be sure. In this case there was not even a pretense. Rather, the US and its client simply informed the world that they are criminal states, and that the structure of binding international law and conventions that has been laboriously constructed over many years is now terminated. It is still available, of course, as a weapon against designated enemies, but apart from that it is without significance or value. True, that has been always been operative reality, but it has rarely been declared with such clarity and dramatic force.

As for the moral level, if the word can even be used, it is hard to improve on the pronouncements of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Two years ago, when asked on national TV about her reaction to reports that the sanctions she administers have killed half a million Iraqi children in 5 years, she responded that it is "a very hard choice," but "we think the price is worth it." We know well enough on what page of history those sentiments belong. Today, suggesting a reversal of Washington's policy since 1991 of seeking a military dictatorship to replace Saddam Hussein's in name at least, she explains that "we have come to the determination that the Iraqi people would benefit if they had a government that really represented them." We need not tarry on the plausibility of this sudden conversion. The fact that the words can be articulated tells us more than enough.

It costs the US/UK nothing to keep a stranglehold on Iraq and to torture its people -- while strengthening Saddam's rule, as all concede There is a temporary oil glut, and from the point of view of the oil majors (mainly US/UK and clients), it's just as well to keep Iraqi oil off the market for the moment; the low price is harmful to profits. That aside, competitors (France and Russia) are likely to have the inside track when Iraq, which has the world's second largest known energy reserves, is brought back into the international system, as it will be when its resources are needed. So it might not be a bad idea to bomb the refineries too, while dismantling further what remains of Iraqi society.

The region is highly volatile and turbulent. Alliances can quickly shift. Though the fact is carefully suppressed, we would do well to bear in mind that the US/UK were highly protective of their admired friend and trading partner Saddam Hussein right through the period of his worst crimes (gassing of Kurds, etc.), and returned to support for him right after the Gulf War, in March 1991, as he turned to crushing a Shi'ite rebellion in the South that might have overthrown his regime. Alliances are likely to shift again. But fundamental interests remain stable, and the two warrior states are making it as clear as they can that they are dangerous, and others should beware. It might also be recalled that a recent high-level planning study, released early this year but scarcely reported, resurrected Nixon's "madman theory," advising that the US should present itself as "irrational and vindictive," flourishing its nuclear arsenal and portraying itself as "out of control." That should frighten the world properly, and ensure submissiveness, it is hoped.

The most ominous aspect of all of this is, perhaps, that the openly declared contempt for the law of nations and professed norms of civilized behavior proceeds without eliciting even a twitter of principled comment among the educated classes. Their position, with impressive uniformity, is that the criminal stance of the US and its client are so obviously valid as to be beyond discussion, even beyond thought. If such matters as international law or the opinions and wishes of the population of the region intrude at all, which is very rare, they are dismissed as a "technicality," with no bearing on thedecisions of the global ruler. Not only are the warrior states officially declaring (not for the first time, to be sure) that the foundations of international order are an absurd irrelevance, but they are doing so with the virtually unanimous endorsement of the educated classes. The world should take notice, and it surely does, outside of narrow sectors of privilege and power.

The manner and timing of the attack were also surely intended to be agesture of supreme contempt for the United Nations, and a declaration of the irrelevance of international law or other obligations; that too has been understood. The bombing was initiated as the Security Council met in emergency session to deal with the crisis in Iraq, and even its permanent members were not notified. The timing is interesting in other ways. The bombing began at 5PM Eastern Standard Time, when the three major TV channels open their news programs. The script is familiar. The first war crime orchestrated for prime time TV was the bombing of Libya in 1986, scheduled precisely for 7PM EST -- which is when the major TV news programs aired then.

Personally, I doubt that all of this has much to do with the impeachment farce. From Clinton's point of view, the coincidence mainly serves to undermine his credibility further, though Democrats are plainly hoping to construct an issue for later campaigns, establishing the basis for much passionate rhetoric about how these evil Republicans attacked our Commander-in-Chief while our brave sons and daughters were putting their lives on the line fighting for their country, and so on. The posture is familiar not only here, but also in the long and ugly record of warrior states generally.

Noam Chomsky

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