No Case for War. (Editorials)

The Nation, September 30, 2002 | Go to article overview

No Case for War. (Editorials)


Why now? Why, one year after September 11, is the Bush Administration attempting to overthrow decades of precedents and precepts of international law, along with the best traditions of US foreign policy, in a relentless push to war? As high-level officials try to sell the Administration's case to the American people and the President prepares for an appearance before the UN General Assembly, the White House continues its attempt to restrict the debate on Iraq to details of timing and tactics while ignoring the basic question of whether an invasion of Iraq should be considered at all.

Elsewhere in this issue Stephen Zunes provides a detailed refutation of the points the Administration has used to argue for war. The arguments are debatable at best, spurious at worst--like the innuendo that Iraq is linked to Al Qaeda (in fact, Osama bin Laden regards Saddam Hussein as an apostate); that "containment has failed" (since the Gulf War, Iraq's military capabilities have weakened significantly and the regime poses little or no threat to its neighbors, who oppose invasion); or that inspection cannot adequately determine whether Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction (from 1991 to 1998, inspectors destroyed much of Iraq's stockpile of chemical and bioweapons). One could go on, but the point is that all along, this Administration has followed the Alice in Wonderland logic of the Queen: sentence first, verdict later.

The White House has sought to justify the right to mount an attack by the new Bush doctrine of pre-emption--or anticipatory self-defense. But this country is a member of the United Nations, which was founded to prevent wars of aggression. And under that body's charter, the United States can use force only in response to an attack on itself, or if approved by the Security Council. Otherwise, the Administration has no right to take this country into war--or even to threaten the use of force.

The Administration has found this doctrinal deviation a difficult sell even among its closest allies and thus has begun to search for new ways to bestow some international legitimacy on its actions. Hence the talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair, out of which has come a plan for a Security Council ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to meet British-American terms unconditionally or face "severe consequences." In short, the Administration, with British support, may have devised the perfect pretext for war: a UN demand for the reintroduction of inspectors into Iraq that Saddam will likely not accept. …

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