Gar Smith

The Pentagon Is a Massive, Unacknowledged Threat to the Global Climate

During the November 15 Democratic Presidential Debate, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders sounded an alarm that "climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism." Citing a CIA study, Sanders warned that countries around the world are "going to be struggling over limited amounts of water, limited amounts of land to grow their crops and you're going to see all kinds of international conflict."

On November 8, the World Bank predicted that climate change is on track to drive 100 million people into poverty by 2030. And, in March, a National Geographic study linked climate change to the conflict in Syria: "A severe drought, worsened by a warming climate, drove Syrian farmers to abandon their crops and flock to cities, helping trigger a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people."

The sobering insight that climate change can accelerate violence should weigh heavily on the minds of delegates to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris—a city that, on November 13, suffered grievously from the blowback of the Syrian conflict. But there is another looming threat that needs to be addressed.

Put simply: War and militarism also fuel climate change.

From November 30 to December 11, delegates from more than 190 nations will convene in Paris to address the increasingly visible threats of climate disruption. The 21st Conference of the Parties (aka COP21) is expected to draw 25,000 official delegates intent on crafting a legally binding pact to keep global warming below 2°C.

But it is difficult to imagine the delegates reaching this goal when one of the largest contributors to global-warming has no intention of agreeing to reduce its pollution. The problem in this case is neither China nor the United States. Instead, the culprit is the Pentagon.

The Pentagon's Carbon Bootprint

The Pentagon occupies 6,000 bases in the US and more than 1,000 bases (the exact number is disputed) in 60-plus foreign countries. According to its FY 2010 Base Structure Report, the Pentagon's global empire includes more than 539,000 facilities at 5,000 sites covering more than 28 million acres.

The Pentagon has admitted to burning 350,000 barrels of oil a day (only 35 countries in the world consume more) but that doesn't include oil burned by contractors and weapons suppliers. It does, however, include providing fuel for more than 28,000 armored vehicles, thousands of helicopters, hundreds of jet fighters and bombers and vast fleets of Navy vessels. The Air Force accounts for about half of the Pentagon’s operational energy consumption, followed by the Navy (33%) and Army (15%). In 2012, oil accounted for nearly 80% of the Pentagon's energy consumption, followed by electricity, natural gas and coal.

Ironically, most of the Pentagon's oil is consumed in operations directed at protecting America's access to foreign oil and maritime shipping lanes. In short, the consumption of oil relies on consuming more oil. This is not a sustainable energy model.

The amount of oil burned—and the burden of smoke released—increases whenever the Pentagon goes to war. (Indeed, human history's most combustible mix may well prove to be oil and testosterone.) Oil Change International estimates the Pentagon's 2003-2007 $2 trillion Iraq War generated more than three million metric tons of CO2 pollution per month.

The Pentagon: A Privileged Polluter

Yet, despite being the planet's single greatest institutional consumer of fossil fuels, the Pentagon has been granted a unique exemption from reducing—or even reporting—its pollution. The US won this prize during the 1998 Kyoto Protocol negotiations (COP4) after the Pentagon insisted on a "national security provision" that would place its operations beyond global scrutiny or control. As Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat recalled: "Every requirement the Defense Department and uniformed military who were at Kyoto by my side said they wanted, they got." (Also exempted from pollution regulation: all Pentagon weapons testing, military exercises, NATO operations and "peacekeeping" missions.)

After winning this concession, however, the US Senate refused to ratify the Kyoto Accord, the House amended the Pentagon budget to ban any "restriction of armed forces under the Kyoto Protocol," and George W. Bush rejected the entire climate treaty because it "would cause serious harm to the US economy" (by which he clearly meant the U.S. oil and gas industries).

Today, the Pentagon consumes one percent of all the country's oil and around 80 percent of all the oil burned by federal government. President Barack Obama recently received praise for his Executive Order requiring federal agencies to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, but Obama's EO specifically exempted the Pentagon from having to report its contribution to climate chaos. (As a practical matter, the Pentagon has been forced to act. With battlefield gas costing $400 a gallon and naval bases at risk of flooding from rising seas, the Pentagon managed to trim its domestic greenhouse-gas emissions by 9 percent between 2008-2012 and hopes to achieve a 34 percent reduction by 2020.)

Climate Chaos: Deception and Denial

According to recent exposés, Exxon executives knew the company's products were stoking global temperatures but they opted to put "profits before planet" and conspired to secretly finance three decades of deception. Similarly, the Pentagon has been well aware that its operations were wrecking our planetary habitat. In 2014, Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel identified climate change as a "threat multiplier" that will endanger national security by increasing "global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict." As far back as 2001, Pentagon strategists have been preparing to capitalize on the problem by planning for "ice-free" operations in the Arctic—in anticipation of US-Russian conflicts over access to polar oil.

In 2014, Tom Ridge, George W. Bush's Homeland Security chief, stated flat-out that climate change posed "a real serious problem" that "would bring destruction and economic damage." But climate deniers in Congress continue to prevail. Ignoring Ridge's warnings, a majority of House Republicans hammered an amendment onto the National Defense Authorization bill that banned the Pentagon from spending any funds on researching climate change or sustainable development. "The climate . . . has always been changing," Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va) said dismissively. "[W]hy should Congress divert funds from the mission of our military and national security to support a political ideology?"

Since 1980, the US has experienced 178 "billion dollar" weather events that have caused more than $1 trillion in damages. In 2014 alone, there were eight "billion dollar" weather calamities.

In September 2015, the World Health Organization warned climate change would claim 250 million lives between 2030 and 2050 at a cost of $2-4 billion a year and a study in Nature Climate Change estimated the economic damage from greenhouse emissions could top $326 trillion. (If the global warming causes the permafrost to melt and release its trapped carbon dioxide and methane gases, the economic damage could exceed $492 trillion.)

In October 2015 (the hottest October in recorded weather history), BloombergBusiness expressed alarm over a joint study by scientists at Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley that predicted global warning "could cause 10 times as much damage to the global economy as previously estimated, slashing output as much as 23 percent by the end of the century."

This is more than a matter of "political ideology."

The Pentagon's role in weather disruption needs to become part of the climate discussion. Oil barrels and gun barrels both pose a threat to our survival. If we hope to stabilize our climate, we will need to start spending less money on war.

Frankenstorms and the Fukushima Factor: More Than 20 Nuclear Power Plants Are in Sandy's Path

As Hurricane Sandy barreled towards the Northeastern US, 60 million coastal and inland residents suddenly found themselves in the crosshairs of climate change. Large enough to hammer the eastern third of the country with record-breaking winds, rain and floods, the Halloween Hurricane packed an unprecedented punch—it was set to collide head-on with a massive blizzard storming in from the northwest.

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Politics and Plutocrats: A Parade of Inequality

America is currently engaged in the most expensive presidential contest in world history. In the United States, money doesn’t just talk – it dictates. How can we hope to make progress on the path to sustainability when the road is blocked by barricades of bullion backed by battalions of billionaires? How do we break through the political gridlock?

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The Toilet That Can Help Solve Our Water and Energy Problems

Upwards of 3 million people die annually from diarrhea, dysentery, and parasitic diseases -- all for the want of clean water. Meanwhile, each year in the water-rich United States, 2.1 billion gallons of the world's most precious liquid are used, not to water thirsty crops or slake parched throats, but to flush human waste from home toilets to municipal sewers. While harvesting rainwater and recycling graywater are fine strategies, it's time to get to the seat of the problem. We need a Toilet Revolution.

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Time for a Green Geneva Convention

War is humanity's deadliest pastime. From 500 BC to AD 2003 more than 1,000 major wars have burned their way into the pages of recorded history. As many as 258 million people died in the 165 wars that ravaged the Twentieth Century. But for each of the 17 million soldiers who fell in WWII, two innocent civilians also died. Today, the major victims of modern warfare (75 percent) are civilians.

But there is another overlooked casualty of war -- the environment. In 2002, United Nations Resolution 564 created the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. The first anniversary of the UN's "Green Day Against War" falls on Nov. 6, 2003.

UN Environment Program Executive Director Klaus Toefer explains the need for this special day of reflection: "The environment and its natural resources are all too often forgotten as the long-term casualty of war.... Environmental security... must no longer be viewed as a luxury but needs to be seen as a fundamental part of a long-lasting peace policy."

The world still recoils at the images of the 1991 Gulf War, when lakes of oil poisoned land and sea and the soot from 700 flaming wells darkened the skies. Thousands of seabirds, sea mammals and fish died in the aftermath.

War exterminates wildlife, disrupts habitats, contaminates the land, air and water, destroys villages, farmland, and urban infrastructure. In Vietnam, the US dropped 25 million bombs and 19 million gallons of chemical weapons on forests and fields. In 1991, the US dropped 5,000 tons of bombs on Iraq, destroying 9,000 homes. In 2003, the US hit Iraq with 28,000 rockets, bombs and missiles, many containing potentially toxic depleted uranium.

To put it simply: war pollutes. Bombs, missiles, shells and bullets flood the environment with lead, nitrates, nitrites, hydrocarbons, phosphorous, radioactive debris, corrosive and toxic heavy metals. Military exercises and military bases also damage and despoil the environment. With 247,000 soldiers stationed at 752 bases in 130 countries, the Pentagon is the world's biggest military polluter.

Toepfer notes that "tens of millions of explosives remain scattered around the world in former conflict areas like Afghanistan, Cambodia, Bosnia and on the African Continent." Unexploded landmines and clusterbombs prevent farmers from returning to their land, frequently forcing them to clear-cut forests to plant new crops.

The world's armies burn nearly 2 billion barrels of oil annually and generate as much as 10 percent of global air pollution. The 1991 Gulf War produced an estimated 80,000 tons of climate-warming gases.

While international clashes are devastating, even internal conflicts can wreak environmental calamity. Civil war has eliminated 90 percent of the wildlife in Angola's national parks and reserves and has triggered the felling of an estimated five million trees in Sri Lanka.

The environmental damage is not confined to foreign lands. Unexploded ordnance now lies scattered over more than 15 million acres in the US. The US is home to more than 14,000 contaminated military sites, many located near low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell has wisely remarked: "Poverty, environmental degradation and despair are destroyers of people, of societies, of nations. This unholy trinity can destabilize countries, even entire regions".

Global spending on the military now stands at around $16.2 billion a week. The cost of one $1.5 billion Trident submarine could immunize the world's children against six deadly diseases and prevent 1 million deaths a year.

As Klaus Toepfer notes: "a polluted environment, contaminated water supplies and sullied land and air, are not a long term recipe for stability." With this in mind, Toepfer has issued a call for the creation of a "Green Geneva Convention."

"We have the Geneva Conventions, aimed at safeguarding the rights of prisoners and civilians," Toepfer argues, "We need similar safeguards for the environment."

Gar Smith is editor emeritus of Earth Island Journal and co-founder of Environmentalists Against War.

The Noble American Traditon of Tax Resistance

If you ask the average citizen to identify a famous American war-tax resister, most folks (if they came up with a name at all) would probably cite Henry David Thoreau. But how about Joan Baez, Noam Chomsky or Gloria Steinem?

While the author of Walden Pond is remembered for the night he spent in a Massachusetts jail for refusing to pony up to support the Mexican-American war of 1846, his solitary protest was an anomaly. But 120 years later, Baez, Chomsky and Steinem were joined by more than 500,000 Americans who openly opposed paying taxes to support Washington's bloody war in Vietnam.

Today, with tens of millions of Americans marching to protest the administration's invasion of Iraq, the nonviolent tactic of war-tax resistance is gaining new converts. And, as the April 15 tax deadline approaches, Baez and company have issued a new Appeal to Conscience proclaiming that citizens have a "moral duty" to oppose Washington's war of occupation by "refusal to pay taxes used to finance unjust wars."

The link between taxpayers and warmongers was indelibly etched during the Vietnam Era when U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig dismissed the anti-war protests filling America's streets with the comment: "Let them march all they want, as long as they continue to pay their taxes."

The War Resisters League (WRL) agrees with Haig on this point: "Taxation is the closest war-making link between the government and most citizens. The U.S. government's ability to threaten and coerce other nations is a direct result of the unprecedented size of our military arsenal ... The maintenance of this arsenal depends upon the willingness of the American people ... to finance it."

The Center for Defense Information (CDI) notes that the FY 2004 federal budget includes "$782 billion for discretionary spending (the money the President and Congress must decide and act to spend each year), $399 billion of which will go to the Pentagon." Put another way, CDI says, spending for "national defense" now comprises more than half (51 percent) of all discretionary spending in the federal budget.

According to WRL, since WW II, the percentage of the federal budget devoted to military expenses (past and present) has ranged from 45 percent to 90 percent. The true impact of this military spending is obscured by several accounting tricks, WRL claims. "Each year, when the government announces the budget, they mix Federal Funds with Trust Funds (such as Social Security) to create a 'Unified Budget.' But, in reality, Trust Funds are completely separated from Federal Funds." The Unified Budget, the WRL states, was created during the Vietnam War to mask the impact of the war's cost by making the military portion of the budget appear smaller and the human needs portion larger.

As WRL comments, "millions of people are underfed, unemployed and homeless while billions of dollars are spent to fuel, house and store weapons, tanks, planes and ships, and to recruit and train our youth in the ways of war." And, because the Pentagon is one of the worst polluters on the planet, taxpayers also "end up paying again to clean up after the military." A Short History of Taxation and Resistance Until the outbreak of WWII, war-tax resistance was largely limited to a few religious communities -- notably the Quakers, Mennonites and Brethren. The rise of a U.S. "War Economy" required an expanded tax base so, in 1943, the government introduced employee withholding -- a preemptive seizure of earnings that brought the majority of the population under the tax laws.

In April 1948, American pacifist A. J. Muste created a tax-resistance group called the Peacemakers. As Muste memorably observed: "People are drafted through the Selective Service System and money is drafted through the Internal Revenue Service."

In 1964, singer Joan Baez made war-tax resistance a national issue when she announced her decision to withhold the 60 percent of her taxes that were tagged to fund the Vietnam War. Muste issued a new tax-resistance statement that was signed by Baez, pacifist David Dellinger, poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, MIT linguistics professor Noam Chomsky, publisher Lyle Stuart, Nobel Prize winner Albert Szent-Gyorgyi and thousands of others.

When Washington imposed a 10 percent surcharge on phone bills to pay for the escalating costs of its failing war, Gore Vidal, Gloria Steinem, Kirkpatrick Sale and 528 colleagues formed the Writers and Editors War Tax Protest.

By the early 1970s, the number of war-tax resisters soared to more than 20,000 while phone-tax resisters swelled to an estimated 500,000. The IRS had to throw in the towel when it came to phone-tax refuseniks because the individual amounts withheld were so small, the government actually lost money on the few cases it did pursue.

By 1972, War Tax Resistance chapters had sprung up in 192 U.S. cities. Churches began to openly encourage their members to refuse war taxes. Congressman Ronald Dellums (D-CA) introduced the World Peace Tax Fund Act to create a special "conscientious objector" status for taxpayers. The legislation, now called the Peace Tax Fund, has been introduced in every session of Congress for the past 30 years.

In 1981, Seattle's Roman Catholic Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen called upon his flock to oppose the nuclear arms race by withholding 50 percent of their income taxes. Resistance Strategies Resisting war-taxes can be as simple as filing a blank 1040 with a note of explanation. Some resisters fill out 1040s but refuse to pay all or a token amount of taxes due. Some people refuse to pay just the percentage that goes to war while others withhold a symbolic $10.40 or underpay their tax levy by a dollar. Some make their checks payable not to the IRS but to the Department of Education, Headstart or the EPA.

Phone-tax refusal remains the least risky form of tax resistance. Phone companies have no interest in collecting taxes for the government, so this act of resistance is widely tolerated.

Contemporary resisters argue that the principle of "no taxation without representation" clearly applies to an administration that routinely ignores such popular programs as environmental protection, public education, affordable healthcare, labor issues and women's rights. Bush's refusal to abide by a host of international agreements covering landmines, global warming and the rights of children bolsters this argument.

Finally, the government's aggression in the Middle East has given tax-resisters new justification for non-cooperation. With Washington operating in open defiance of the United Nations Charter, the Nuremberg Principles, the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Constitution, some resisters fear that paying taxes could render them complicit in the commission of war crimes. Better Leavenworth, they reason, than Nuremberg.

Tax resisters can face civil penalties of 5 to 25 percent on the amount owed (plus compound interest at a rate of around 10 percent). If the amount goes unpaid, the government can attach wages, bank accounts, cars and homes. Criminal prosecution is possible but uncommon.

Such penalties could become a thing of the past if Congress were to pass (and the president were to sign) the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Bill. This bill would allow citizens to assign the "defense" portion of their taxes to a fund supporting peace work and social services. The Peace Tax Bill will be introduced in the 108th Congress around Tax Day April 15.

Since neither Congress nor the United Nations could prevent the U.S. from launching a preemptive war of occupation in the Middle East, a National Tax Strike may be the last, best tactic for bringing a rogue administration to account. It is unlikely that even Attorney General John Ascroft could secure enough jail space to accommodate tens of millions of peace-loving tax-resisters.

For more information, contact the War Resisters League, 339 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10012, (212) 228-0450,

Gar Smith, the former editor of Earth Island Journal, currently edits the weekly eco-zine The-Edge. He also is a co-founder of Environmentalists Against War.

A Nuclear Nightmare in Baghdad

"The United States has conducted two nuclear wars. The first against Japan in 1943, the second in Kuwait and Iraq in 1991." -- Dr. Helen Caldicott.

Takashi Morizumi wasn't sure he'd be allowed into the United States because his passport was stamped with so many entry marks from the Iraqi customs agents. Fortunately, this courageous Japanese photojournalist was allowed to visit the U.S. in late October and, at a packed meeting at the Asia Resource Center in Oakland, California, he hosted a slideshow that gave his audience a stunning -- and oft-times harrowing -- view of life inside Iraq.

But the shock of Morizumi's photos does not lie in revelations of domestic persecution or social privation at the hands of elected Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein. The evil force that fills the most unsettling frames of Morizumi's photos has its roots in America. That evil finds form in a legacy of twisted bodies, cancer-blistered faces and the silent screams of dying children -- children who have come in contact with the residue of depleted uranium that U.S. forces rained on Kuwait and Iraq during the Gulf War, 11 years ago.

Morizumi's photos of downtown Baghdad capture scenes that look surprising like the core of any large metropolis. Tall buildings festooned with commercial advertising and brand-names tower over crowds of shoppers and commuters shuffling between busy lanes of traffic. There are a few telling differences, however. The distinct dome of a mosque rises between the skyscrapers, signaling that the city lies in the Middle East. And the huge portraits of Saddam Hussein stretched across the facades of downtown high-rises testify that the city is, most definitely, Baghdad.

Morizumi noted with amusement that the portraits of Saddam are not deployed merely for self-aggrandizement. They are also functional.

"They tell you something about what goes on inside the building," Morizumi discovered. If the building served the needs of farmers, there would be a huge picture showing Hussein working in the fields. If the high-rise hosted an office of the state telephone company, the portrait would show Hussein cradling a phone to his ear.

Asked his impression of the average citizen's feeling toward Saddam (who is seldom seen in public), Morizumi stated that the Iraqi leader appears to be thought of as something like "a national "mascot."

A Land of Buried Terror

Despite his nonpartisan role as an independent photojournalist, Morizumi was not completely free to wander about and take photos. Outside the cities he frequently had to deal with security officers assigned to escort him or military personnel who tried to discourage his efforts.

He recalled one occasion when he spotted a Bedouin family off the side of the road. He bolted from his official car and began running into the desert to capture a photo. As he approached the family, the man suddenly pulled a sword from his side and began to brandish it in a threatening manner. At the same time, the Iraqi guards who had been escorting Morizumi's vehicle began firing rifle shots over his head.

It was a good thing he reflexively froze in his tracks. As the Bedoins and guards soon explained, he had just run out into the middle of a minefield.

Despite this close brush with death, Morizumi continued to seek out people in poor villages and was overcome with their generosity as they welcomed him into their homes and treated him to meals of grain, small portions of meat and home-baked breads.

And a Land of Buried Children

But it was the memory of the children whose wide eyes and bright smiles surrounded him in cities and villages that stayed with him. And it was the memory of the other children that has haunted him -- children confined to hospital beds with swollen limbs and distended bellies who looked out at the world through sunken eyes as the hair died and fell from their heads. These were the children dying from radiation poisoning -- dying in extended agony in hospitals that had no pain-killing medicines because of U.S.-imposed economic sanctions.

Every day outside the city's children's hospital, Morizumi watched as small wooden coffins were strapped to the roofs of vehicles that carried the small withered bodies away for burial. There are so many Iraqi children dying from cancer now that a special children's cemetery had to be created to accommodate their remains.

In 1983, childhood cancers were virtually unknown in Iraq. Immediately after the end of the Gulf War, however, Iraq's children started to die from cancers in the hundreds. Last year the toll topped 600 and the numbers have been rising steadily each year since the war ended. For the children of Iraq and the parents who grieve for them, the 1991 war has never ended.

Morizumi has made numerous return trips to Iraq to document the tragic toll of the U.S. resort to nuclear warfare. Perhaps his saddest observation is the following: "Whenever I return, I am surprised on those rare occasions when I meet a sick child I met before who is still alive." Sadly, most of the youngsters in Morizumi's photos have since died.

The faces of these children -- and the frozen-in-time record of their suffering -- should be studied by every saber-rattling member of the White House and Pentagon and Senate and Congress.

Gar Smith is the editor of The-Edge and former editor of Earth Island Journal. Takashi Morizumi's photos are now on exhibit across the U.S., thanks to an organizing effort by Japanese anti-nuclear activist Yumi Kuchki. Morizumi's extraordinarily wrenching collection of images and recollections are also available in a 36-page booklet called "A Different Nuclear War: Children of the Gulf War."

The Silence of the Bombs

George W. Bush repeatedly insists that Iraq poses a direct military threat to the U.S. This claim seems rather strange in light of the fact that it is the U.S. that has been bombing Iraq -- not just threatening -- nonstop for nearly four years.

Before exploring the history of U.S. attacks on Iraq and the Iraqi government's response -- which has been limited to 1) anti-aircraft attacks within territorial airspace; and 2) appeals to the world community -- let's first address the obvious.

Granted, Saddam Hussein is a bad man. He has murdered his opponents, assassinated members of his governing inner circle and even killed members of his own family. He employed chemical weapons against Iran (using ingredients and technology supplied by the U.S.) and attacked other countries (again, with either the quiet approval or active support of the U.S.). He even eats his pet gazelles.

That said, let's address the question of "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD). If Saddam still possessed these weapons (and most knowledgeable sources, from the CIA down, claim he does not) why has he neither used, nor threatened to use them in response to the continued -- and increasing -- air bombardment by U.S. and British warplanes?

Those who know him characterize Hussein as "a survivor," not a madman. Like every other world leader, Saddam knows that even the threat of using WMDs would invite a U.S. attack. There is, then, only one situation under which Hussein would ever be likely resort to the use of WMD -- if his country were being invaded and his political power and his life were at stake.

The U.S. simultaneously claims that Iraq has WMDs and that UN weapons inspectors won't be able to find them. In Bush's New World Judicial Order, suspicions and accusations overrule evidence. If the White House is so certain that Iraq still possesses WMDs, it should provide its evidence to the weapons inspectors. That would speed up their work immeasurably.

The big bugaboo is the U.S. claim (again unsubstantiated) that Iraq is again seeking to build a nuclear arsenal. The odd thing about the U.S.'s position on nations with nukes is that nations seeking to acquire nuclear weapons are a grave danger while nations that already have nuclear weapons are somehow less of a threat.

If possessing nuclear weapons were such a concern, the U.S. would be pushing the UN to authorize weapons inspectors to enter Pakistan, Israel, China, France and Britain. I'm surprised that the wily Hussein has not asked the UN to subject the U.S. to "unconditional weapons inspections" since the U.S. maintains perhaps the world's largest stockpiles of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S.'s greatest fear is not that Hussein would use a nuclear weapon in an act of retaliation (or revenge through terrorist proxies) -- that action would be suicidal and Hussein knows it. What the possession of nuclear arms really means is that the U.S. would no longer be able to threaten Iraq as a dominant military power. If Iraq "had the bomb," Bush would not be able to risk invading the country to expel Hussein and set-up a pro-American ruler to uphold "America's vital interests."

And Now, Some History

On July 25, 1990, eight days before Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait, U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie met with Saddam Hussein. According to a transcript of the conversation later released to the British press by Iraq, Saddam explained his strategic claims on Iran and Kuwait and asked: "What is the United States' opinion on this?"

The tape transcript records Glaspie's reply: "We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary [of State James] Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America."

The Iraqi leader, believing he'd been given the green light, pounced.

Three weeks after Iraq invaded Kuwait, British reporters confronted Glaspie with the tape as she was leaving the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Before speeding off in her limousine, Glaspie blurted: "Obviously, I didn't think, and nobody else did, that the Iraqis were going to take all of Kuwait."

On Jan. 15, 1991, President George H. W. Bush went to Congress to request authority to wage war. At 3am Baghdad time, Jan. 17, 1991, the U.S.-led coalition unleashed a 24-hour bombing barrage on Iraq that destroyed more targets than the 1942-43 bombing offensive in Europe.

Desert Storm, Desert Fox and the 'No-fly Zones'

Operation Desert Storm was one of the most environmentally destructive non-nuclear wars in world history. Before the short conflict was over, the Gulf would be filled with sunken vessels and spilled crude oil, the oil fields of Kuwait and Iraq would be in flames and storm clouds of soot from hundreds of fires would be carried around the world.

On March 3, 1991, Iraq signed a cease-fire agreement. A month later, the UN added a new condition: removal of economic sanctions was made contingent on Iraq's agreement to disarm and allow UN inspections of its weapons sites.

In 1991, the U.S. and Britain unilaterally claimed the right to fly military missions over two-thirds of Iraq to insure that Hussein's air force could not bomb rebels in the north and south that sought his overthrow. These so-called "no-fly zones" were decreed without UN approval and, as Reuters and other news agencies occasionally note, they have no legal standing and "Iraq does not recognize the zones."

Iraq maintains that it has the right under international law to "defend" its sovereign airspace against overflights by hostile foreign military aircraft. Nonetheless, Iraq tolerated these airborne intrusions -- until Dec. 16, 1998 when the U.S. and Britain launched "Operation Desert Fox," a deadly four-day air attack. After that attack, Iraq ordered its ground forces to begin firing at enemy aircraft. Hussein even posted a $14,000 bounty for anyone who managed to shoot down a U.S. jet.

Economic Sanctions and Dying Children

In 1996, UNICEF reported that economic sanctions imposed on Iraq were responsible for 4,500 "excess deaths" a month among children under 5. Two years later, the World Health Organization reported that sanctions were killing as many as 6,000 Iraqi children each month.

In 1997, UNICEF reported that more than 1.2 million Iraqis, including 750,000 children below the age of 5, had died from starvation and nearly a million more were chronically malnourished.

On Sept. 30, 1998, Dennis Halliday, Director of the UN Oil-for-Food Program resigned to protest the impact of sanctions on the health of Iraqi citizens. (On Feb. 13, 2000, Halliday's successor, Hans von Sponeck, would also resign to protest the effects of sanctions on the starving Iraqi population.)

The Bombing Begins

On Dec. 16, 1998, fighters and bombers from the British RAF and U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps launched a devastating air assault on Iraq under the codename "Operation Desert Fox." The four-day bombing blitz launched more cruise missiles than were fired during Operation Desert Storm. It sparked protests around the world.

The United Nations Association in Britain called the attacks "almost certainly illegal" and warned that the resort to military attack "would almost certainly cause the end of the UNSCOM presence in Iraq."

A second wave of warplanes swept over Iraq on Dec. 28. At least a million pounds of high-tech bombs and missiles rained down on more than 400 military targets. It was the beginning of the longest U.S. air war since Vietnam.

The U.S. air war against Iraq has continued unabated for nearly four years yet, as James W. Crowley observed in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the bombardment remains "largely unreported in the United States and Europe." Needless to say, the details of the bombing campaign are well known to millions of citizens throughout the Arab world.

"We can bomb countries and it's not even news because we do it so often," Peace Action spokesperson Gordon Clark told the Union-Tribune, "And, then we wonder why terrorists are targeting us."

Once again, the U.S. attempt to topple Saddam Hussein's regime through military attack failed. Still, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Henry H. Shelton boasted to the press, Desert Fox killed as many as 1,600 members of Hussein's Republican Guard and seriously damaged 85 percent of the facilities targeted.

Unfortunately, Shelton's figures failed to account for the remaining 15 percent of the strikes.

Civilian Casualties

An on-the-ground investigation by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF ) reported that the bombs and missiles released over Baghdad during the December attack damaged a maternity hospital, a teaching hospital, an outpatients' clinic in the Saddam Medical City and the Health Ministry. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs received a direct hit. Desert Fox's bombs also targeted the capitol's water system, knocking out water supplies for 300,000 people.

The air attack damaged 10 schools in Basra. In Kirkuk a secondary school for Kurdish children took a direct hit. The World Food Program reported that a missile destroyed a storehouse in Tikrit stocked with 2,600 tons of rice.

Since the Pentagon unilaterally declared the existence of the "no-fly zones" over two-thirds of Iraq, U.S. and British warplanes have flown more than 336,000 sorties. Between December 1998 and June 2000, U.S. and British warplanes entered Iraq's airspace on military missions 21,600 times.

According to UN casualty figures and reports in the June 16, 2000 Washington Post, these U.S./UK "sorties" dropped bombs or missiles inside Iraq on an average of once every three days. During this 18-month span, 300 Iraqis were killed and more than 800 injured. At least 200 of the victims were civilians -- averaging one civilian death every other day.

In July 1999, the U.S. Central Command claimed that U.S. planes had destroyed a missile battery near Abu Sukhayr and a military communications site near Al Khidr. But that wasn't all the planes hit. The U.S. pilots also killed 17 Kurdish civilians along a highway near Najaf. (Ironically, this occurred in a "no-fly zone" supposedly created to "protect" the Kurds.)

In 1999, former UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, Hans von Sponeck, undertook an independent investigation of civilian casualties. He concluded that air attacks that year had killed 144 people and left 446 injured. The Clinton administration rewarded von Sponeck's efforts by attempting to have him fired. Von Sponeck resigned in disgust in February 2000.

In 2000, Iraqi civilians were killed in 24 different air attacks. In 2001, U.S. bombers attacked Iraq on 31 different occasions. As of Sept. 9, 2002, Allied aircraft had struck Iraq 37 times, including eight days in August.

Despite nearly four years of punishing attacks, Saddam Hussein has neither threatened to use nor used any weapons of mass destruction.

Bush Escalates the Bombing

According to U.S. Bombing Watch, in the 20 months from March 2000 to October 2001, 235 Iraqi civilians died in U.S. bombing attacks.

On June 8, 2002, some 100 U.S. and UK aircraft attacked Iraq's major western air defense installation -- the largest military air operation against Iraq since the December 1999 bombing. Nine U.S. F-15 Strike Eagles and three RAF Tornado GR4 ground attack fighters flying out of Kuwait dropped precision-guided bombs designed to take out Iraqi radar defenses in what one British defense correspondent characterized as "a prelude" to a U.S. Special Forces helicopter raid.

The British press reported that this marked "the first time that a target in western Iraq had been attacked during the patrols of the southern no-fly zone." Previous attacks had been focused on air defense sites in the south, near Basra, Amara, Nassairya and Baghdad. Some 26 civilians were reported killed in the June 8 raids.

On Aug. 25, U.S. and British warplanes again struck Iraq, killing eight Iraqi civilians and wounding nine more. Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark visited the survivors of the attack in a Basra hospital accompanied by a team of international investigators and a film crew from the People's Video Network. Clark's visit was unreported in the U.S. media. In a debate with Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. David Lapan, Clark called the U.S./UK-imposed "no-fly zones" illegal and immoral and characterized the continued U.S. air attacks on the Iraqis as a "criminal campaign."

Gar Smith, former editor of Earth Island Journal, is now Roving Editor at The-Edge, a weekly electronic magazine of "News from the Brink."