"Old Europe" Confronts Washington on Iraq

The ink was barely dry on the headline of USA Today -- "Bush: The Game Is Over" -- when the response came from French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin: "It's not a game. It's not over."

For the first time in decades, the "Old Europe" that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld so contemptuously dismissed is standing up to Washington. France and Germany, together with Russia issued a joint statement on Iraq, calling for increased inspections and a postponement of the war that President Bush wants so badly. Within NATO, France, Germany, and Belgium have further angered Washington by announcing they would veto a U.S. request for military equipment to be used by Turkey in the war against Iraq.

It is too early to tell whether the European leaders are serious, or merely setting up political cover for a future capitulation to the Bush Administration. Some would like to give in to Washington but are under pressure from the voting public, which in Europe is overwhelmingly against the war.

Secretary of State Colin Powell's long and boring presentation at the UN convinced only those who really wanted to be convinced. So Saddam Hussein is a liar and a cheat -- what else is new? Powell has been lying, too: his claim that UN inspectors caught Iraq moving and hiding illicit materials was false. So, too, was President Bush's assertion that the International Atomic Energy Agency had found Iraq to be six months away from developing a nuclear weapon.

During the first Gulf War, our government used manufactured evidence of all kinds to deceive the American public. The Pentagon claimed it had satellite photos showing Iraqi tanks and 250,000 troops poised to invade Saudi Arabia. Then there was the horrifying story about Iraqi troops killing 312 babies in a Kuwaiti hospital by stealing their incubators. Both of these stories played a major role in winning domestic support for the war; both later turned out to be false.

Now we have alleged links of Iraq to Al-Qaeda, although denied by our own CIA and British intelligence. This is a joke. According to the standards adopted by the Bush administration -- the presence of people associated with Al-Qaeda inside the country -- "Old Europe" and even the United States would be shown to have stronger ties than Iraq to Al-Qaeda.

The bottom line is that this war has nothing to do with our national security. To the Bush Administration, and its chief political strategist Karl Rove, it is a game. It's a power grab. Having successfully used the confrontation with Iraq to win both houses of Congress last November, they intend to ride their "War on Terrorism" all the way to the White House in 2004.

These people know how to read the polls. The Republicans have a 54-16 lead on "security" issues, but would lose badly on the economy, jobs, the budget, Medicare, or any other set of domestic issues. Not to mention the string of scandals -- Harken Energy, Haliburton, Enron and other corporate malfeasance, and the September 11 intelligence failures -- that the war talk has allowed them to sidestep.

So they can grab power at home, and power abroad -- control over Middle Eastern oil has been a key component of American global dominance since the end of World War II. It's a win-win situation. If the anger provoked by the mass killing of civilians in Iraq leads to terrorist attacks on Americans, this will provide further justification for Dick Cheney's vision of a war without end.

All this is obvious to most of the world, but here at home it is obscured by the media. Although most journalists are against the war, they mainly offer the Bush Administration's point of view -- especially in the broadcast media. Our journalists follow an unwritten rule: unless the leadership of the opposition party offers a strong rebuttal, then reporting the news means reporting the arguments of those who are in power.

And there's the catch: the Democratic leadership has shamefully abdicated its responsibility to oppose the war. This leaves tens of millions of Americans who do not want this war -- a majority in some polls -- with very little representation in the major news media, allowing the Administration a huge advantage in its daily public relations campaign. If not for this advantage, Bush's game would certainly be over.

Mark Weisbrot is currently Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He writes a weekly column on economic and policy issues that is distributed to over 400 newspapers by Knight-Ridder/Tribune Media Services.


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