The Day War Broke Out
Author: Joseph Schumacher
Originally published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on 03/31/2003
After an unparalleled period of debate and protest, and the most serious international diplomatic furor in recent memory, it was expected the second Gulf war would start with an U.S attack on Baghdad of awesome devastation. Instead, hostilities began with an unexpectedly restrained bang, when the Pentagon attempted, as they put it, a ‘surgical decapitation’, taking the opportunity to destroy a downtown Baghdad bunker, suspected of housing Saddam Hussein. It was far from the overwhelming ‘shock and awe’ bombing campaign that many had predicted to kickoff operation ‘enduring Freedom’ Most Newspapers in the United States, Britain and Australia were understandably striking a somber but determined note of support for their troops. Elsewhere in the world, sentiments in the opinion pages deviated wildly from the most vitriolic condemnation of the invasion, and George Bush’s personal qualities to dispassionate justification for its unfortunate necessity. The only thing agreed on by all, was expressing concern for the fate of Iraqi civilians, who will inevitably be caught in the middle of the fighting.
In keeping with the American tradition of putting aside personal opinions and rallying behind their fighting men and women in time of war, the prevalent tone on the US editorial page was one of resolute, though guarded optimism.
The Washington Post wrote:
- “Yet, even if the operation does not go smoothly or fast, it must go forward… The days and weeks ahead may be difficult, and the costs high, both for Americans and for Iraqis. But the reward, if America and its allies can sustain their commitment, will also be great: the end of a despot who has haunted a people, and the world, far too long.”
The New York Times voiced similar sentiments, though also deigned to remind its readers of the ideals that George Bush hopes the war will bring to Iraq.
“Our job here is not as transcendently clear as the soldiers’ job. Now that the first strikes have begun, even those who vehemently opposed this war will find themselves in the strange position of hoping for just what the president they have opposed is himself hoping for: a quick, conclusive resolution fought as bloodlessly as possible. People who have supported Mr. Bush all along may feel tempted to try to silence those who voice dissent. It will be necessary to remind them that we are in this fight to bring freedom of speech to Iraq, not to smother it back home….
The more bellicose rhetoric in North America was supplied by The Toronto Sun, which had this to say about the war.
- “It’s bizarre how America is expected to fight a war like no other nation on Earth. Let Russia invade Chechnya, let China occupy Tibet, or France invade the Ivory Coast, and no one marches in the streets worrying about civilian casualties. …
- The double standards go on and on.
- No other nation is expected to clear its wars in advance with the UN – except the U.S.
- No other nation is expected to rebuild the countries it wars against – except the U.S.
- No other nation is condemned for intervening (Iraq) and for not intervening (Rwanda)…
- We, too, hope for as few Iraqi casualties as possible. But we want our American (and British and Aussie) friends to know we support them and pray for their safety (along with our Canadian forces in the region still prosecuting the war on terror). And that Jean Chretien and his trained seals don’t speak for all of us.”
Meanwhile in Tehran the war was met with consternation and uncertainty. After all, they may suspect the USA of believing Iran merits it’s attention next
The Tehran Times:
- The dark shadows of war have fallen on the Persian Gulf, creating an abnormal situation in countries of the region… Undoubtedly, the outbreak of a U.S.-led war against Iraq would worsen the already critical situation in the Gulf States. This, in turn, could lead to an unpredictable development that would itself aggravate matters even further. It goes without saying that the U.S. insistence on attacking Iraq augurs an unclear future for the Persian Gulf.
The state owned Islamic Republic News Agency, went further with its condemnation, quoting at length Iran’s Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi.
‘American military operations on Iraq are unjustifiable and illegitimate,”. Kharrazi, however, stressed that “the Islamic Republic of Iran will not enter into action to the benefit of either side…The extent of the threats emanating from the American military attack can be far more extensive and unpredictable and can put the lives of thousands of innocent people in unprecedented danger,” Kharrazi said as he called for a halt to the attacks. He also said, “a new round of efforts in order to reduce the horrible and extensive consequences of the war must start.” He continued “The third war in the sensitive (Middle East) region has started, challenging the authority of the United Nations. The continued heedlessness of America to the collective wisdom will totally destroy the precious mid-century-long achievements of nations and governments for institutionalizing cooperation for security and peace,”‘
Amongst Iran’s other neighbors there was also scant support for the war, only mistrust The government owned ‘
- “Objective observers cannot believe the U.S. administration’s statement on the revival of the so-called road-map plan at a time when President George W. Bush himself continues to connive with the daily war crimes being perpetrated by the Sharon government….The 48-hour ultimatum given by Bush is tantamount to a declaration of war. This declaration is the worst move made by the leader of the only superpower, who is supposed to be a peacekeeper not a warmonger.”
The Gulf Times in Doha, went in for a long-term view, even finding a glimmer of hope for the United Nations in it’s final sentence:
- “Few people doubt that Saddam Hussein will lose this war. Most expect him to lose quickly, but nobody can predict exactly how the tragedy will play out….The only certainty is that historians, politicians, and diplomats will pour over the history of the diplomacy that ended so badly yesterday in an effort to discover what went wrong, why, and what it means for the future of the international community. In a unipolar world, it is important to have a regulatory body, which tries to regulate international affairs according to its perceptions of what is just, not according to the wishes of its mightiest member. Yesterday may have been the culmination of a diplomatic disaster-but it might also be the Security Council’s finest day.”
Some oblique support for military action against Saddam Hussein’s regime could be found on Arab editorial pages. The pro government Khaleej Times in Dubai commended the leadership of Arab governments during the crisis.
- “The reality is that, despite the stand taken by major powers at the Security Council, there is no tangible evidence of public support for the Iraqi regime in the region where it matters most. And confounding the dire predictions of ivory tower intellectuals, Arab governments have handled the crisis with commendable maturity and wisdom. From the outset, they have put the interest of ordinary Iraqis ahead of polemics and spared no effort to ensure full Iraqi compliance with the U.N. Security Council’s Resolution 1441. That in the end, the permanent members of the U.N. body failed to achieve their objective is something that Arab states regret greatly but for which they can hardly be held accountable.
One of the most effective editorials was on the ArabNews website, in which the Editor quoted German Leader Gerhard Schroder to elucidate his opposition to war.
- ‘”My question was and remains” Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said yesterday, “does the degree of threat stemming from the Iraqi dictator justify a war that will bring certain death to thousands of innocent men, women and children?”…The ‘shock-and-awe’ strategy the Pentagon has threatened during the initial hours of the war on Iraq will rain down upon the country more than 3,000 satellite-guided bombs. It will be an assault of such awesome power that, in the words of an official who wisely withheld his name, “they are not going to know what hit them…A humanitarian tragedy of immense proportions, then, is beginning to unfold. As we are shown endless pictures of ordnance and other paraphernalia of war from the invader’s point of view, of this or that military-looking structure precision-bombed off a video screen, the dead and the dying – and the displaced people who were lucky enough to escape the carnage – will not be much talked about…Footage showing their plight will be at best unsuitably depressing, at worst deemed “offensive” for the viewers of the evening news. Once again, the media and the Pentagon will collude to sideline the millions whom the war will hit worst.
- There can, therefore, be only one answer to Gerhard Schroeder’s question: The one he himself gave. Does the situation justify a humanitarian catastrophe of such proportions?
- My answer was, and remains, no.’
In Turkey focus was clearly on how the impending war would affect it, and acknowledging that Turkey’s role in the conflict was still far from settled. The liberal Milliyet paper in Istanbul had this to say:
- “There is no doubt that the United States and Britain are both determined to attack Iraq without waiting for another U.N. resolution…We are currently facing a truly strange picture: Although the Turkish Parliament recently rejected a proposal authorizing U.S. troops to be stationed at Turkey’s military facilities, the Bush administration is even now stockpiling ammunition in Iskenderun and continuing to rent land in the region for logistical purposes. But if Turkey and the United States have failed to reach an agreement on such a proposal, why is the United States still continuing its military preparations within our territories?”
The editorial for March 20th in The Times of London argued that this war is necessary, but also that its executioners should do a better job of explaining why this is so.
- This need has sharpened the focus on Saddam Hussein. He is a particularly vile dictator but there are, alas, many sadists in power across the planet. He has murdered and tortured on a vast scale but that alone would not make him a menace to the populations of London or other cities…what makes action imperative and urgent is his arsenal of banned poisons and, possibly, illicit nuclear materials. The issue is that of weapons of mass destruction….
- There is a coherent “Bush doctrine” on America’s role in the world, and the impact of September 11 has been such that his successors are likely to be strongly influenced by it. It requires constant explanation and repetition to those who live outside its borders. It demands patience and fortitude. Sophisticated battlefield technology does not constitute an irrefutable argument.
- The phrase “axis of evil” made for compelling rhetoric and accurately identified those nations – Iraq, North Korea and Iran – whose known interest in weapons of mass destruction make them a particular threat to peace and stability. But it also left the impression that the Oval Office was operating on the basis of a hitlist compiled in the basement of the Pentagon…The Bush Administration would be wise to recognise that this distorted picture exists and address it.
- Mr Bush and Mr Blair have been accused of a wanton disregard for international order and institutions. The harsh truth is that international order has been challenged already by others. The two men are today attempting to establish a framework appropriate to a world in which order is not imperiled as it was by traditional state-on-state conflict but new menaces…
Elsewhere in the British Press Timothy Gasrton Ashe writing in the Liberal, ‘Guardian‘ was still dissecting where it all went wrong:
- ‘Blair’s idea is that we should re-create a larger version of the cold war, transatlantic west, in response to the new threats we face. What he calls the “coming together” of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism should frighten us as much as the Red Army used to. Europe and America must stick together to defeat it. Yes, Europeans should worry about US unilateralism, but, he told the Commons, “the way to deal with it is not rivalry but partnership. Partners are not servants but neither are they rivals”.
- Blair’s idea is completely right. The trouble is the execution. Blair himself made two major mistakes over the last year. The first was not to do more last septmber to try to bring Europe to speak “with one voice”. Instead, he became almost a part of the internal administration argument in Washington, while neglecting Berlin and Paris as they swung together in an anti-war waltz. The second was to forget that partnership also involves sometimes saying “no”. One has the feeling that Blair is that kind of very decent Englishman who will always say no to drugs and never say no to Washington. The two mistakes are closely related. If you have a stronger European voice, it’s more credible that you might say no – and hence less likely that you’ll have to.
Jacqueline Rose also writing in the Guardian on March 20th was somewhat more skeptical about the underlying rationales for the war:
- ‘Behind the argument for war, we can therefore glimpse another fear – fear of impotence – which no one is talking about. In government circles you only name a fear if you can blast it. When Bush talks of securing a new world order, when supporters of the war speak of liberating the people of Iraq, we should not just be questioning whether this, rather than oil or control of the Middle East, is the true motive. We should also be asking what fantasy we are being required to sustain. America’s aim of “full spectral dominance” is like the rage of a child when he hits the limits of his powers. Except that unlike the raging child, the US, as the strongest military might in the globe, has the capacity to unleash forces a child can only dream about. Against the official credo, it is this, I believe, that we – not to speak of the thousands of Iraqis whose possible deaths we are meant to be able to contemplate with impunity – should be most frightened of.
The Financial Time’s editorial echoed the sentiments of the whole world in expressing concern for the safety of the Iraqi civilian population. The surgical nature of the US offensive so far points to a subtle heeding of this concern.
- ‘Any country undertaking a preventive war must make special efforts to minimize casualties. To say this, as the US and Britain prepare to launch their attack on Iraq, is not just finger wagging from journalistic armchair generals. Nor is it just a question of expecting countries such as the US and Britain to obey the body of humanitarian law built up over the past century in order to minimize the impact of war on civilians. So, even while Saddam Hussein’s tactics will probably be to engineer incidents to shock world opinion, the onus on the war’s prosecutors is to keep casualties in Iraq to a minimum
- Minimising Iraqi casualties will be essential for the US to win the peace after the war. Minimising casualties on both sides will be vital also for the US, for a wider reason. Last year President George W. Bush foreshadowed the Iraq war by setting out a general doctrine to justify pre-emptive war against potential threats of awful weapons being used against the US. It may never be invoked again. It certainly will not be if Iraq shows the cure provided by pre-emptive wars is worse than the disease’
Like Britain, opinion polls in Australia constantly show the majority of the public disagrees with the war. However opinion in the Australian press is more evenly split. This from The Australian‘ newspaper
- Australia’s debate on Iraq has been dominated by the question of support for the UN. We believe that the Howard Government’s decision to stand with the US and Britain on Iraq is the right one and will have the effect of helping to uphold the Security Council’s resolutions. What’s more, it is the right decision given our longstanding and critically important alliance with the US. The course of a war is never easy to predict, but it is likely that the US and its allies will be victorious. The great question is what will happen after the fighting, and here there already are hopeful signs. President Bush has spoken of a role for the UN in the reconstruction of Iraq, indicating that the US is not going to turn its back on the world body and multilateralism, as many had feared. And, on the longstanding issue of contention in Middle Eastern politics, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the Bush Administration has endorsed the “road map to peace” that calls for the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005. Coupled with the prospect of a new, democratic Iraq, the road map offers a vision of a Middle East at peace. It must be hoped that whatever happens in the forthcoming days will ultimately contribute to making that vision a reality.
Some of the most vitriolic criticism of the U.S invasion and of George Bush himself came from media in developing countries. Mondli Makhanya, writing for the Mail & Guardian in Johannesburg was indicative of the media mood amongst many of those nations which have been against, what they regard as George Bush’s personal folly, often focusing on attacking the man rather than his arguments, a problem that seems to have become epidemic with this U.S president and his ideas in certain parts of the globe.
- ‘With all due deference to his esteemed office, Bush is a whore who, more than any of his 52 predecessors, has prostituted himself to his country’s industrial interests. Yes, Oliver Stone and other conspiracy theorists have said so much about the stranglehold of the military-industrial complex as to discredit the notion.But the reality is that there is a greater power that controls the White House and that power is not the being whose blessing Americans so nonchalantly request each time they want to bomb a small nation…The greatest weakness of the American model of democracy – and one that we in this part of the world should eschew – is the inordinate influence wielded by business interests and the Washington lobby establishment over elected officials
Israel’s premier liberal newspaper ‘Ha’aretz‘ had this interesting spin on the outbreak of war:
- ‘The opponents of the war in Iraq are right: It is indeed a colonialist war. The Anglo-American decision to intervene in the domestic affairs of a Third World country, to disarm it and change its government, is a decision from another era. In the universal terms of equality between nations and cultures, and the supremacy of international law, it is impossible to justify such a war. It is an expression of a relationship of mastery by one part of the West toward part of the Arab world. Thus, it returns us to the conceptual world of 1956. It takes us back to the spirit of the Suez Campaign.’
‘El Mundo‘ newspaper in Madrid looked at the risks to George Bush:
- ‘Only a miracle could prevent the war, since Bush demanded…not only that Saddam Hussein should leave the country in the coming hours but that the Baghdad regime should accept, without resistance, the entry of U.S. soldiers. These words only highlight the fact that Bush has never really been interested in the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. What he has always really wanted was Saddam Hussein’s removal and a U.S. protectorate in the region. It is a risky decision, and Bush may ruin his hopes of being reelected if the war grows complicated. Blair has already started to pay a high price.’
The New Delhi ‘Outlook‘ asked what the ramifications were for Washington’s already troubled relationship with the average Muslim on the street
- ‘If Saddam Hussein refuses to quit; the triumph of the inevitable U.S. military action should not be in doubt. The question is not whether the United States will win, but how soon. But it will be a Pyrrhic victory which will not contribute to enhanced peace and security for the United States, Israel, and the rest of the international community. The world has nearly a billion Muslims. No world leader can afford to be insensitive to their feelings of hurt and anger. Ultimately, whether the world is spared the consequences of their anger is not going to depend on the autocratic rulers of the Islamic world on whose support the United States is counting for removing another autocratic ruler from power. It is going to depend on the perceptions and feelings of rage of the ordinary Muslims in the streets, mosques, and madaris.’
B Raman writing in the Singapore’s ‘The Strait Times‘ questioned the official line for justifying the war.
- ‘The Americans have a valid reason for being angry with President Saddam Hussein.It is not because he had clandestinely acquired weapons of mass destruction for use against the United States and Israel – despite all the Americans’ fabricated evidence, so diplomatically and so embarrassingly exposed by the United Nations inspectors for what it was…It is not because he was hand in glove with Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda – he was not… It is because he funded the acts of suicide terrorism against Israel and failed to grieve over the deaths of thousands of Americans on Sept. 11, 2001′
State run Xinhua News Agency in Beijing urged for peace.
- ‘War will inevitably lead to humanitarian disasters and undermine the security, stability and development of the region and the world at large. People throughout the world detest war and want to see peace preserved. The Chinese government is always committed to peace and stability in the world. We stand for settlement of international disputes by political means and reject the use or threat of force in international affairs. The Chinese government strongly appeals the relevant countries to stop military actions and return to the right path of seeking a political solution to the Iraq question’
Finally the editorial in the Moscow Times entitled ‘Treading a dangerous Path’ sought to remind it’s reader that war and its consequences are by nature the most uncertain of beasts.
- ‘The president of the United States, George W Bush, has set the world on a dangerous path with his threat to invade Iraq…The arrogance of the Bush administration has left old alliances in tatters. At the same time, treaties that were drawn up in a much more dangerous era limiting the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons are now being questioned…Yesterday, Russia’s lower house of parliament decided to indefinitely put off a vote on ratification of a US-Russia nuclear arms treaty. The reason: the US threat of impending war against Iraq.