Although the Bush Administration acts as if the war train has already left the station, the antiwar forces continue to grow, and they are mobilizing in large numbers for a worldwide protest on February 15. The Administration took comfort in statements by eight European leaders–conservatives of varying stripes–and by ten East European leaders backing a US war on Iraq. Yet polls show high and increasing opposition on the Continent to war. In this country, as of early February, sixty-six cities, towns and counties and two state legislatures (Maine and Hawaii) have passed antiwar resolutions.
George W. Bush’s State of the Union address reversed the recent slippage in Americans’ support for war, but such temporary spikes are inevitable on these flag-wrapped, tradition-drenched occasions. As if in rebuttal to the parade of deceit and false piety in Bush’s address, two respected elder statesmen and Nobel Peace Prize winners spoke out. Nelson Mandela, founding father of postapartheid South Africa, loosed a verbal volley at the President: “All Bush wants is Iraqi oil…. We have not had world wars in fifty-seven years, and it is because of the United Nations…. Bush is now undermining the United Nations…. I am happy that the people of the world–especially those of the United States of America–are standing up and opposing their own President.” Former President Carter said that even if Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Security Council presentation proved trickery and deceit by Iraq, “this will not indicate any real or proximate threat by Iraq to the United States or to our allies.” He called for a “sustained and enlarged inspection team, deployed as a permanent entity.” The cost “would be minuscule compared to war.”
After his well-timed conversion to the hard line, at Davos, Switzerland, Powell’s militant Security Council presentation on February 5 came as an anticlimax. Expectations had been lowered in advance (“no smoking guns”), thus allowing the Bush Administration to frame the terms of proof. Powell dumped on the table an avalanche of evidence, old and new, hoping to bury all the doubters and antiwar skeptics. There were satellite photos of trucks, purporting to show that known chemical weapons sites had been “sanitized,” and intercepts of radio chatter–supposedly between Iraqi officers planning to conceal weapons. The multimedia show went on for over an hour with Powell acting as guide, telling the Council members how the evidence was to be interpreted. But for all its magnitude, the point of the presentation was to make the case for war. It boiled down to a simple message: “Forget the inspections process; it’s a loser. Forget Hans Blix telling you he has found no persuasive evidence of things I allege, such as Iraq hiding WMD material or using mobile weapons labs. Accept our evidence. Just trust us. Follow our urgent timetable for war.”
When the smoke cleared, Carter’s objection held: No case had been made that Iraq poses a “real or proximate threat” justifying preventive war. Powell failed to prove that war, with all the suffering and instability it would bring, is superior to the alternative–tough containment working through the UN. The Security Council doubters stayed convinced that inspections should continue, and the gulf between the United States and Europe widened.
The real point of the Security Council exercise was, as former Secretary of State Alexander Haig cynically wrote in the Wall Street Journal, to give the members “good covering reasons other than U.S. orders to justify a vote” for war. [Emphasis added.] In other words, Powell’s job was to hand out fig leaves.
Opposition to conflict is muted in Congress, but peace groups and all citizens who believe this war is unnecessary should make known their support for the Kennedy-Byrd resolution in the Senate calling for another vote before sending US forces against Iraq. In the House, the DeFazio/Paul bill would repeal last October’s use-of-force resolution and co-chair of the Progressive Caucus Dennis Kucinich is trying to raise the issue of the war’s estimated $200 billion price tag with a bill imposing a tax on oil companies’ windfall profits to pay for it.
The peace forces lack national leaders to unify and amplify their message. But the people are speaking, organizing, protesting. We await the emergence of the leaders who will follow them.