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is war imminent? - article by j.d.douglass

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    Is War Imminent?
    by Joseph D. Douglass, Jr.
    February 4, 2003


    Nearly everyone will say yes – absolutely, it’s just around the corner – perhaps next week or before the end of February, or middle of March at the latest.

    Maybe yes; maybe no.

    What most assessments fail to take into account is the “war of words” that dominates the news: invective, name calling, finger pointing, and lots of action, all designed to communicate how serious and unyielding each side is.

    Will President Bush attack? Borrowing a quote from an expert reported in USA Today the morning following the State of the Union speech, “If anyone listening to this doesn’t think he won’t move ahead on Iraq, they’re crazy.”

    Maybe I’m crazy, but it seems to me that certain developments suggest that the true state of affairs may not be so clear cut or obvious.

    President Bush’s 2-Track Policy

    Roughly a month ago, there emerged a noticeable change in U.S. political strategy: a second track.

    The first track, which we have been on for about nine months, has been an all out effort to demonstrate how determined President Bush is to depose Saddam Hussein. If not restrained by Secretary of State Powell, we probably would have gone to war against Iraq months ago. No question, Saddam is going, in a box or in chains, one way or another.

    President Bush described the essence of his strategy in his State of the Union message: “Our war against terror is a contest of wills in which perseverance is power.” And, “We’ve got the terrorists on the run. We’re keeping them on the run. One by one the terrorists are learning the meaning of American justice.”

    The second track now running in parallel is an all-out effort by other parties to convince Saddam to leave. It seems to have started about a month ago when the Canadians offered sanctuary and political asylum to any of Saddam’s generals who would leave Iraq. Almost simultaneously, Saudi princes were reported traveling to Baghdad to try and talk Saddam into leaving Iraq and going into exile in, for example, Syria.

    Without hesitation, when asked about exile as a solution, Secretary Rumsfeld responded that it would certainly be an acceptable option. The Bush Administration was so agreeable that no one seemed to even object to giving Saddam amnesty from persecution for all his crimes against humanity. This was a large step insofar as the White House had stated very clearly last summer that they intended to not only remove Saddam but also have him put on trial for his atrocities as well. These atrocities even appeared at times to be more important that his weapons of mass destruction, perhaps because there was so much more factual data or to arouse the American people by playing on their heart strings.

    Even the former Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, stated that exile would be an excellent way to defuse the situation.

    Why this sudden flurry of effort to get Saddam to leave?

    There has been no official explanation or even any indication that there was a second track. The reasons, however, would seem to be rather logical.

    There is a growing concern that this time a war with Iraq will not be a “cake walk.” Saddam is the target and his removal and the destruction of all “reported” weapons of mass destruction are the reasons for going to war. This cannot be accomplished by just launching a few hundred precision bombs and cruise missiles. There will need to be an invasion and, more likely than not, chemical warfare, biological warfare, and a serious possibility of increased terrorism within the United States, including nuclear terrorism, quite possibly even escalation to regional conflict involving Israel directly. These possibilities were discussed in prior editorials, Assessing the CBW Threat http://www.financialsense.com/editorials/douglass/121102.htm and War In the Middle East: If It Comes, Get Ready for the Worst http://www.financialsense.com/editorials/douglass/2003/0122.htm . Casualties could easily exceed those of the Vietnam War. Moreover, any of these consequences could push the United States and other nations into serious economic problems bordering on depression. Just consider how nervous the international financial markets have been over the past few weeks.

    It would not be an over exaggeration to suggest that the Presidency itself might be seriously at risk. In other words, time had come to seek an alternative. Getting Saddam to leave and go into exile is another way of achieving a regime change while minimizing the risks and enabling a peaceful “invasion” and occupation by U.S. forces while they search to find and destroy weapons of mass destruction.

    Eroding Support

    Another development that has clearly affected the search for a way out without war is the dwindling support for an invasion. Public opinion polls in Europe show overwhelming opposition to a U.S.-led war. Polls in the United States show support only if it is a coalition effort and, even then, only if the administration produces proof that Iraq has a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, these polls in the United States might drop even lower if the people recognized that an invasion by U.S. forces might trigger major terrorist responses in the United States by a wide variety of different terrorist groups or further negative economic repercussions.

    How Serious is the Threat?

    The determining factor in the dwindling support for an invasion is the absence of any demonstrated urgency or, for that matter, evidence that there is a serious threat to the United States.

    Although the principals in the administration may believe that Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, no evidence has been presented and the arguments presented suggest that this “belief” may be more of an assumption. All that has been said in response to requests for proof is that Saddam has the material to manufacture biological and chemical weapons.

    I am not aware of any indication that time was of the essence, or that there was or is an immediate threat to the United States and, therefore, that it is essential to attack Iraq now before it is too late.

    If this were the case, would not it be irresponsible to even involve the UN or mess around with all the invective and finger pointing? The UN is not a friend of the United States nor does it reflect any of the traditional U.S. values and principles. It borders on being a worse than useless organization, as clearly reflected in President Bush’s speech to the UN in which he referred to them as largely irrelevant and why he indicated in his State of the Union message that we would certainly not trust our fate and world peace to such a group of people.

    If there were an immediate real threat, it is hard to imagine any members of the President’s war cabinet even thinking about involving the UN. If there were an immediate real threat, we logically would have quietly notified key allied leaders, informed the public, and invaded quickly without fanfare, more or less in the same spirit that governed our strategy when the missiles of October in Cuba were discovered. But, thus far, no information has been released that indicates that the Iraq threat is comparable.

    The President has said the threat was growing. Without evidence and dates, what this means is unclear. Has it been growing since the UN inspectors arrived or was the growth just in the late 1990s and growth of precisely what?

    The bottom line is that no factual information has been provided that would lead us to believe that we are in immediate danger and that initiating war with Iraq as fast as possible is important.

    Are There Alternatives?

    Which is more dangerous: to attack Iraq and accept all the risks identified above, or to scale down the rhetoric and undertake a delaying action while trying to find a less risky alternative? Unless there is very good intelligence that justifies immediate action, which may or may not exist, it is hard to see any reason to attack Iraq now.

    Are there alternatives? Of course; there always are. For example:

    Continue the UN inspection, and pressure the UN to expand their inspection by 1) increasing the number of inspectors, 2) enlarging the inspection charter to search for violations rather than just verify a fraudulent declaration, and 3) seal the inspection team so that Saddam can not learn in advance where inspectors are going.

    The United States could undertake efforts to find external means to find priority targets for inspection. There are commercial capabilities that are available but which have not been employed. Over the past twenty-five years there has been a notable shift. Earlier, the most advanced technologies were in the government or funded by the government. Today, the most advanced technologies are, more often, in private industry, such as the computer industry.

    If Iraq is a terrorist state as the President has clearly stated, then bottle-up all the financial assets that support those terrorist activities, including anything related to the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. Freeze Saddam’s financial assets and revenues that support his terrorist activities. After all, that is one of the primary pillars of President Bush’s war on terrorism strategy – or does this strategy just apply to charitable institutions?

    Serious Flaws in the Underlying National Security Strategy

    Serious problems with the National Security Strategy (for war on terrorism) appeared almost the instant it was signed by President Bush on September 17, 2002. What was instantly evident to people in the United States, more so those in Europe and other regions of the world, was the tone of boastful pride and arrogance that dominated the document. This was to be an era of American imperialism. Is it any surprise that this official statement of U.S. policy was not warmly received around the world?

    The real flaw in this policy may be the assumption that it was the United States’ responsibility to rid the world of evil. Or, as President Bush stated in his State of the Union message, “Whatever the duration of this struggle and whatever the difficulties, we will not permit the triumph of violence in the affairs of men…” America will lead the world in ridding the world of the “evil of international terrorism.” This is “America’s duty.” In brief, “America’s purpose is . . . to achieve a result: the end of terrible threats to the civilized world.”

    From a Christian perspective, it is not our task to eradicate evil. Nor could we eradicate evil if we wanted. This is up to God. Our mission is to resist evil as instructed in Scripture and carry this guidance to others who are interested. Our mission is to live according to our principles within a world ruled by evil: to be “in but not of the world.”

    This should apply to the United States as a nation. Unfortunately, there is not much hope for this because the U.S. foreign policy, like that of other nations, is strictly pragmatic. As explained by a former Secretary of State, “There is no room for principle in foreign policy.” This helps explain why the United States has been partly responsible for the rise in terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We have provided technical and financial assistance to terrorist states – outlaw regimes as President Bush referred to them – and have kept silent about the growing threat for over forty years. Missing from the National Security Strategy was any sense of our role in the rise of terrorism or even of the “outlaw regimes” mostly responsible and that are still in power.

    The Critical Factor

    President Bush (and his close and most influential advisors) is what counts. The image he has been careful to project emphasizes pride, being in charge, action oriented, and one who has faith in his instincts. Moreover there is strong suggestion that he has a mission: to preside over an era of an American imperialism and to lead the world in battle to destroy terrorism.

    Unfortunately, instincts may not be all that dependable when perceptions of the problem are flawed. There are many examples of this problem in the President’s State of the Union message. Reorganization is unlikely to solve the fundamental problems, especially when there is no indication that anyone in charge is talking about those problems. How can one say “the gravest danger facing America and the world is outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical and biological weapons” and not be more concerned about Russia, China, North Korea, and Cuba than Iraq. The “threat” is not new, it is decades old. The only thing new is the White House attention it is getting. Communism was not defeated by the will of free people. Communism (more accurately, Marxist-Leninism) is very much alive and well. Nor did we win the Cold War: the Soviet Union lost the Cold War notwithstanding U.S. efforts to keep it afloat. Also, to understand Saddam’s reasons for going after weapons of mass destruction, it is necessary to go back thirty-five years when he began his efforts. It is unfortunate that these reasons and the nature of terrorism and closely related international revolutionary crimes such as international narcotics trafficking and organized crime do not appear to be in any sense understood by those involved in the decision-making process, as reflected in Woodward’s Bush at War, the September 17 National Security Strategy (for war on terrorism), and relevant sections of the State of the Union message.

    The real uncertainty is who, in this decision process, are the President’s closest and most influential advisors and what are their interests? President Bush is known for consulting with others before rendering key decisions, especially ones of great importance and with international consequences. This would certainly be true also of one that clearly could influence his chances for re-election.

    Secretary of State Powell

    The upcoming public linchpin in the going-to-war process is Secretary Powell’s delivery to the UN Security Council on February 5. The President said Secretary Powell would present “information and intelligence about Iraqi’s – Iraq’s illegal weapons programs” at that time. Presumably, that is when the UN Security Council will also be asked to authorize, one way or another, a U.S.-led invasion. What could be extremely important is Saddam’s evident role in 9-11. But, it is not clear whether intelligence on this subject will be discussed or not. This could be significant because just the “presence” of illegal weapons does not constitute an immediate and real threat, witness North Korea, Cuba, Syria, and Iran. Another topic whose exposure might be threatened is Saddam’s use of oil blackmail and bribery in influencing a wide variety of nations.

    To justify an attack, it seems critical to show unequivocally that Saddam is preparing to attack the United States, or poses a real threat against which the United States has to act. It could also, in this case, be explained that the past nine or more months of invectives and finger pointing were designed to focus public attention on Saddam, thus immobilizing him until we could assemble the necessary forces and initiate war. This may have been the situation, in which case it should be evident from the information and intelligence that Secretary Powell presents.

    Alternatively, a mountain of information and intelligence on Saddam’s efforts to thwart the inspectors and lots of defector reports on Saddam’s gigantic stockpile or more details on the materials from which chemical or biological weapons can be produced are unlikely to move public opinion. Indeed, it only brings out the absence of real threat intelligence.

    Nor will it help to blow the usual intelligence smoke. There are too many well informed people who will be watching, listening, and reading and who do not believe there is any serious intelligence that would justify a pre-emptive invasion at this time.

    The problem is that there has been no information to date. It has all been hype, finger pointing, invectives, and smoke. The best description may have been the USA Today headline on the State of the Union message: “Speech heavy with concern, light on details.”

    To a great extent, everything depends on what the pertinent facts are and do they justify an immediate attack. On February 5, the eyes of the world will focus on Colin Powell.

    Is an attack imminent?

    If Secretary Powell presents a strong case, we should expect an attack within a few weeks.

    If there is not strong evidence, the likelihood of an attack decreases significantly because of the pressure that will be placed on President Bush to find an alternative. Even delay is an alternative.

    Because President Bush has displayed a reluctance to go against the grain of his advisors, the question becomes does the threat justify the risks, or with respect to those who are not in the Administration are they willing to undertake the risks just to advance the New World Order agenda, or will they chose a more prudent path than attack.

    There should be no misunderstanding here. There is a tremendously lethal threat to our country and culture. It has been building for nearly a century (greatly increasing over the past 40 years) and has taken an immense toll on our security, safety, and savings. Terrorism is a serious threat, but there are other threats that are equally (if not much more) devastating to Americans and to other people around the world and with as critical a need to counter as Iraq.

    Responding to this broader threat does not seem likely. It is unreasonable to expect the “strategists” to devise an effective counter-strategy without a no-holds-barred analysis of the threat. This is probably impossible because the institutions responsible for conducting and presenting such an analysis have a long history of hiding the nature of the threat, suppressing relevant intelligence, and lying about it. This is still the case.

    © 2003 Joseph D. Douglass, Jr.
    February 4, 2003

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