Iraq Invasion: The Road to Folly
Maj. Gen. J.F.C. Fuller, Britain’s leading military thinker of the 20th century, wrote that the object of war is not victory, but peace. A war that fails to achieve clear political objectives is merely an exercise in violence and futility.
In its headlong rush to invade Iraq, the Bush administration is violating Fuller’s simple yet immensely important strategic dictum. Britain’s Prime Minister Anthony Eden committed the same grave error in 1956 when he launched an ill-conceived invasion of Egypt which, like modern Iraq, had the audacity to defy a great power. The Suez operation was a military success that turned into a political fiasco.
The Bush administration is clearly obsessed with Iraq, but it has no clear plan on what to do with this Mideast version of ex-Yugoslavia once America’s military might overthrows Saddam Hussein’s regime. Nor is there understanding of how invasion and occupation will affect the Fertile Crescent, America’s client Arab regimes, Turkey, indeed, the entire Mideast.
There is also the dearth of reliable political information on Iraq from human sources that has long plagued U.S. Mideast policy. Much of the Bush administration’s current view of the region has been fashioned by neoconservatives, who hold key policymaking positions in White House, Pentagon, and vice president’s office. Equally significant, the administration’s non-electronic human intelligence on the Mideast and terrorism relies heavily on self-serving data supplied by foreign intelligence services and Iraqi exile groups.
The ideologues and Pentagon hawks driving administration policy recall the Roman senator Cato, who ended every oration with, “Carthage must be destroyed!” Few of these armchair warriors have even been to Iraq; less have ever served in U.S. armed forces, yet all are eager to send American soldiers to fight a potentially bloody war whose benefits to the United States are doubtful.
Lust for destruction is not policy, no matter how much Pentagon hawks and neoconservative media trumpets may yearn to plow salt into the fields of Iraq. Nor is the piratical proposal that the U.S. “liberate” Iraq and plunder its great oil reserves to bring “civilization and democracy” to that benighted nation.
If Washington were truly concerned about democracy and human rights in the Arab World, it could long ago have promoted democracy in the military dictatorships and feudal sheikdoms over which the U.S. exercises paramount influence: Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf emirates. Instead, under the banner of a war on terrorism, the U.S. has been buttressing autocracy and despotism, most recently in Central Asia and Pakistan.
The first question, of course, is why should the U.S. attack and invade Iraq, a nation that has not committed any act of war against America? The rest of the world will rightly see such an act as naked aggression, a return to British and Soviet-style imperialism, and a personal vendetta by George Bush against Saddam Hussein.
According to President Bush, Iraq must be destroyed because Saddam Hussein might possess some hidden chemical or biological weapons (WMDs), or because Iraq might one day develop nuclear weapons, or might slip WMDs to anti-American terrorists, or simply because he is “evil.” The Bush administration’s insistence on the right to preemptively intervene anywhere on earth recalls the old Brezhnev Doctrine of Soviet days.
Why Iraq alone is a danger among the 18 nations that possess weapons of mass destruction – including India whose new ICBMs will be able to deliver nuclear weapons to the U.S. – remains a mystery. Why Saddam’s ravaged, hermetically bottled up Iraq would be more of a danger to the US than 1.5 billion Muslims enraged by America’s perceived persecution of Iraqis, Afghans, and Palestinians also remains unclear. Terrorists don’t need Iraq to concoct germ weapons, as Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo showed, and Saddam Hussein is too intelligent to invite nuclear attack by the United States or Israel by slipping germ weapons to terrorists. If Saddam had wanted to do so, he had ample opportunity from 1991-2001.
Equally unclear is why the U.S. refuses to seek diplomatic accommodation with Iraq rather than war. Saddam Hussein has repeatedly shown himself a wily survivor willing to deal with the devil, when necessary. The United States was a close ally, financial backer, and provider of arms and intelligence to Saddam in the 1980s. He is certainly not eager to face an American invasion that would bring his own demise, and would therefore welcome a diplomatic escape from the dire fate he faces.
Just before the 1991 Gulf War, this writer discovered a group of British scientific technicians in Baghdad who had been “seconded” to Iraq by the British Ministry of Defense and the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, to help Baghdad develop biological weapons. The British technicians were based at the secret biowarfare complex at Salman Pak where they were developing anthrax, botulism and possibly Q-fever for Saddam’s military – with the full knowledge and support of the British and American governments. Other British scientists were developing poison gas for Iraq. They showed me documents confirming that the feeder stocks for Iraq’s germ weapons had been supplied by the United States.
In other words, it was fine for Iraq to shower poison gas – and potentially germs – on Muslim Iranians and Kurdish rebels during the Iran-Iraq War. But once Iraq invaded Kuwait, a protectorate inherited by the U.S. from the British Empire, and once Israel felt threatened by Saddam WMDs, then it was time to destroy Iraq. But Iraq did not use its WMD arsenal during Gulf War I, though U.S. troop concentrations at crowded Saudi ports would have made ideal targets.
No matter, answer administration critics, Saddam might have some gas or germ weapons hidden away. Yes, he might. But as former UN arms inspector Scott Ritter has observed, all leftover WMDs from the 1980s have a shelf-life of only 3-5 years and are no longer lethal. Iraq may have developed a few toxins since then, but it has no delivery systems for these complex, unstable, clumsy weapons. Britain, France, Israel, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Libya, India and Pakistan, Ukraine, Russia, Serbia, China, Taiwan – and Cuba – also have chemical weapons; some have biological weapons. Castro’s are only 90 miles from Miami.
Then, there is North Korea. Amidst cries for war against Iraq, it’s fascinating to consider Stalinist North Korea, a nation that, unlike Iraq, well and truly threatens Americans. The 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea are within range of North Korea’s huge numbers of heavy guns, rocket batteries, and Scud missiles that can deliver tons of poison gas and biowarfare toxins. U.S. bases in South Korea, Japan, and Okinawa are prime targets for North Korean WMDs and attacks by its 100,000-man commando force, the world’s largest. North Korea has at least two nuclear devices and has repeatedly threatened to “burn” Seoul and “slaughter” American troops in South Korea. The North continues to work on an ICBM capable of reaching Japan and the U.S. mainland.
Surely on the scale of threats to Americans, aggressive, sinister and wholly unpredictable North Korea should demand more urgent attention than demolished Iraq? On the contrary, both the Clinton and Bush Administrations chose to negotiate with Pyongyang and bribe it to be good with $ 4.6 billion worth of light water nuclear reactors, oil, food, and cash. American aid feeds starving North Koreans while the US denies Iraq chlorine to purify its contaminated drinking water, the main cause of death for hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.
Why indulge North Korea while scourging Iraq? First, oil. Iraq’s oil reserves are second only to those of Saudi Arabia. Considering that the Bush administration has embarked on a long-term campaign militarily to dominate and exploit the oil of Central Asia’s Caspian Basin, it is not a stretch of imagination to believe that control of the more proximate oil of Iraq is also high on the administration’s petro-agenda.
Second, Iraq, unlike North Korea, poses a potential threat to Israel’s regional hegemony and Mideast nuclear monopoly because of its oil wealth and – at least until 1991 – industrial base. For Administration hawks who view the Mideast mainly through the lens of Israel’s strategic needs, crushing Iraq is a high priority. A shattered Iraq, divided into Kurdish, Sunni, and Shia regions, would permanently terminate any future challenge to Israel.
Iraq’s northern oil fields could then be annexed by Israel’s new strategic ally, Turkey, which has no oil. Turkey’s generals have long eyed Iraq’s oil-rich Mosul and Kirkuk regions, once part of the Ottoman Empire. Oil would transform Turkey from a financial cripple into a major political and military power, and assure its role as America’s regional gendarme.
Overthrowing Saddam Hussein and splintering Iraq would certainly be beneficial for Israel, but there are a host of arguments to be made why such aggression would be inimical to America’s interests. First and foremost, the substantial loss of American lives, unless there is a surprise coup against Saddam, in what inevitably would be a conflict fought out in urban areas where U.S. firepower and technology would be attenuated.
During the 1973 war, the crack Israeli army was forced to withdraw from Suez City in the face of stubborn resistance from dug-in Egyptian troops and irregulars. Though U.S. forces could quickly defeat Iraq’s regular army in the field, there is a high risk of prolonged urban guerilla warfare and great numbers of civilian casualties.
If Saddam does have any active chemical or biological weapons hidden away, he might well use them against American troops concentrations in the Gulf, unlike 1991. A cornered Saddam facing death might fire a few Scud missiles with chemical warheads at Israel in a Mideast Gotterdammerung. Israel warns it will retaliate with nuclear weapons if Iraq attacks with WMDs.
Virtually the entire world is against an invasion of Iraq, save Israel and Britain, and Tony Blair’s Labour Party is deeply split over the issue. Waves of anti-Americanism would intensify across the Muslim world, jeopardizing American diplomats, businessmen, and tourists. The costs of an invasion of Iraq using at least 100,000 troops would begin at $75 billion and soar from there. Reserves will have to be mobilized.
This huge cost, born entirely by American taxpayers, would come just as the Bush administration has created a yawning deficit that will inevitably trigger rising inflation. The faux war in Afghanistan, where some 12,000 US troops are chasing shadows, is costing $5 billion each month. The U.S.-installed Karzai regime rules only Kabul, and that only with the bayonets of western troops.
But the most important practical reason not to attack Iraq comes from General Fuller. What will the US do with this Mideast Yugoslavia once it conquers Iraq?
Consider Iraq’s bloody history: Britain created Iraq after World War I to acquire its oil, and put a puppet king, Faisal I, on the throne. Iraqis and Kurds rebelled in 1920 and were crushed by British troops and bombers. Iraq’s second king, Gazi, vowed to “liberate” Kuwait and died mysteriously soon after, murdered, Iraqis say, by British intelligence.
Faisal II, another British puppet, was overthrown in a 1958 military coup by Col. Kassem. The Kurds rebelled again. Kassem massed troops in invade Kuwait but was stopped by British forces, then murdered in a military coup led by Col. Aref. Two years later, Saddam Hussein seized power. The Kurds rebelled once more, aided by the U.S., Israel, and Iran. In 1979, the U.S. and Britain armed and financed Saddam to invade Iran and overthrow its Islamic regime. In 1990, Washington gave Saddam what he took as a green light to invade Kuwait.
This chronically unstable “Pandora’s Box,” as Jordan’s King Abdullah calls it, is the nation the U.S. plans to rule. When Saddam falls, Iraq will almost certainly splinter. This is the very reason why Bush père wisely decided against marching on Baghdad in 1991. President Bush Sr. and his Arab allies concluded Iran would annex southern Iraq. The only leader who could hold the nation together was the iron-fisted Saddam. Interestingly, one night in 1942, Hitler observed, “The only person who knows how to deal with Russians is Stalin. When I take over Russia, I will put him back in power.”
A gelded, isolated Saddam is far less of a danger than a geopolitical maelstrom in Iraq that might force US troops to put down Kurdish rebels seeking their own state, or battle Shias, Iraq’s religious majority. War in Iraq may spark an anti-western revolution in Turkey or reignite the Kurdish uprising there. Will the Arab world explode, as Egypt warns?
What about Iran? The same rationale advanced by neoconservatives to invade Iraq also applies to Iran, a nation of 68 million, and a greater challenge to Israel than Iraq. Will the U.S. face a lengthy guerilla war in the cities of Iraq or the lush valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, where the British were defeated by the Turks in 1916. The cost of permanently garrisoning Iraq will strain America’s already overstretched armed forces and make them less effective in responding to a genuine threat elsewhere, notably the Korean Peninsula.
The squabbling Iraqi opposition groups cultivated by the United States are sneered at even by their American paymasters, discredited because of their links to Israel, and most unlikely to form a stable regime. Whatever Iraqi general the US puts in power in Baghdad will, like all his predecessors, battle the rebellious Kurds, yearn to annex Kuwait, and inevitably seek nuclear weapons to counter Israel’s nuclear arsenal and Iran’s advantage in manpower. Iraq will be Iraq, no matter who rules. The best way to end the Mideast’s WMD arms race is to impose regional disarmament. This includes Israel, which continues to refuse nuclear arms inspection
However brutal and aggressive, Saddam Hussein has also been Iraq’s most effective ruler since 1957. It was Saddam who transformed Iraq into a modern, industrialized nation with one of the Arab world’s highest standards of education and income. Washington could yet rue the day it failed to keep this Arab Stalin in power.
America may seize and exploit Iraq’s oil in the short term, as neo-imperialists in Washington are urging, but in the long run, the cost of protecting oil installations and a puppet regime in Baghdad will exceed profits gained from pumping stolen oil. Bush is wrong if he thinks Iraq can be turned into another docile American protectorate, like Kuwait or Bahrain.
The Muslim world increasingly views George Bush’s America as set on a crusade against Muslims everywhere, a view reinforced by U.S. attacks on Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and Afghanistan over past two decades.
There is simply no political benefit for the United States in invading Iraq.
On the contrary, such an act of brazen aggression would summon up a host of unforeseen dangers and unimagined consequences that could destabilize the Mideast and Turkey, create a world economic crisis, and, perhaps, cause the aggressive Bush Administration to commit an act of imperial overreach that permanently injures America’s geopolitical interests and, let us not forget, its moral integrity.
Eric S. Margolis is author of War at the Top of the World – The Struggle for Afghanistan and Asia (Routledge, New York 2002) and Contributing Foreign Editor of Sun Media. He has covered Iraq since the 1970s.