The big gun takes a pop-shot at peace
By Noam Chomsky
March 29 2003
If anything is obvious from the history of warfare, it's that very little can be predicted.
In Iraq, the most awesome military force in human history has attacked a much weaker country, an enormous disparity of force.
It will be some time before even preliminary assessments of the consequences can be made. Every effort must be dedicated to minimising the harm, and to providing the Iraqi people with the huge resources required for them to rebuild their society, post-Saddam - in their own way - not as dictated by foreign rulers.
There is no reason to doubt the near-universal judgement the war in Iraq will only increase the threat of terrorism and the development and use of weapons of mass destruction, for revenge or deterrence.
In Iraq, the Bush Administration is pursuing an "imperial ambition" that is, rightly, frightening the world and turning the United States into an international pariah.
The avowed intent of current US policy is to assert a military power that is supreme in the world and beyond challenge. US preventative wars may be fought at will; preventative, not pre-emptive. Whatever the justifications for pre-emptive war might sometimes be, they do not hold for the very different category of preventative war; the use of force to eliminate a contrived threat.
That policy opens the way to protracted struggle between the United States and its enemies, some of them created by violence and aggression and not just in the Middle East. In that regard, the US attack on Iraq is an answer to Osama bin Laden's prayers.
For the world the stakes of the war and its aftermath almost couldn't be higher. To select just one of many possibilities, destabilisation in Pakistan could lead to a turnover of "loose nukes" to the global network of terrorist groups, which may well be invigorated by the invasion and military occupation of Iraq. Other possibilities, no less grim, are easy to conjure up.
Yet the outlook for more benign outcomes isn't hopeless, starting with the world's support for the victims of war and murderous sanctions in Iraq.
A promising sign is that opposition to the invasion has been entirely without precedent.
By contrast, 41 years ago this month, when the Kennedy administration announced that US pilots were bombing and strafing in Vietnam, protest was almost nonexistent. It did not reach any meaningful level for several years.
Today there is large-scale, anti-war protest all over the world. The peace movement acted forcefully even before the new Iraq war started.
That reflects a steady increase over these years in unwillingness to tolerate aggression and atrocities, one of many such changes worldwide. The activist movements of the past 40 years have had a civilising effect.
By now, the only way for the United States to attack a much weaker enemy is to construct a huge propaganda offensive depicting it as the ultimate evil, or even as a threat to our very survival. That was Washington's scenario for Iraq.
Nevertheless, peace activists are in a far better position now to stop the next turn to violence, and that is a matter of extraordinary significance.
A large part of the opposition to Bush's war is based on recognition that Iraq is only a special case of the "imperial ambition" declared forcefully in last September's National Security Strategy.
For perspective on our current situation, it may be useful to attend to very recent history. Last October the nature of threats to peace was dramatically underscored at the summit meeting in Havana on the 40th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, attended by key participants from Cuba, Russia and the US.
The fact we survived the crisis was a miracle. We learned that the world was saved from nuclear devastation by one Russian submarine captain, Vasily Arkhipov, who countermanded an order to fire nuclear missiles when Russian submarines were attacked by US destroyers near Kennedy's "quarantine" line. Had Arkhipov agreed, the nuclear launch would have almost certainly set off an interchange that could "destroy the Northern hemisphere", as Eisenhower had warned.
The dreadful revelation is particularly timely because of the circumstances. The roots of the missile crisis lay in international terrorism aimed at "regime change", two top-of-mind concepts today.
US terrorist attacks against Cuba began shortly after Castro took power, and were sharply escalated by Kennedy, right up to the missile crisis and beyond.
The new discoveries demonstrate with brilliant clarity the terrible and unanticipated risks of attacks on a "much weaker enemy" aimed at "regime change", risks that could doom us all.
The US is forging new and dangerous paths over near-unanimous world opposition.
There are two ways for Washington to respond to the threats that are, in part, engendered by its actions and startling proclamations.
One way is to try to alleviate the threats by paying some attention to legitimate grievances, and by agreeing to become a civilised member of a world community, with some respect for world order and its institutions.
The other way is to construct even more awesome engines of destruction and domination, so any perceived challenge, however remote, can be crushed, provoking new and greater challenges.
Noam Chomsky is a political activist, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author.