Phyllis Bennis

Expert warns U.S. warplanes and drones will continue to bomb Syria: 'ISIS has not been defeated'

President Trump has announced that the U.S. will withdraw troops from Syria, in a move that has been praised by some in the American peace movement and some progressive lawmakers, as well as anti-interventionist Republicans, including Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee. We speak with Phyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, who warns that the U.S. warplanes and drones will continue to bomb the country. ”ISIS has not been 'defeated,' and the U.S. should not remain in Syria militarily,” Bennis says. “You cannot defeat terrorism militarily. Terrorism is a phenomenon that emerges out of social and economic and national and all kinds of crises, in all kinds of countries. And stopping it doesn’t mean playing whack-a-mole with your military.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Just before we went to air this morning, President Trump issued a number of tweets about Syria. He wrote, quote, “Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer. Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing there work. Time to come home & rebuild. #MAGA.”

“Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever? Time for others to finally fight..... ....Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us. I am building by far the most powerful military in the world. ISIS hits us they are doomed!”

Those are the words of President Trump this morning.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring into the conversation Phyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She’s written a number of books, including Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror.

So, the question is: Has ISIS been defeated? And whether or not it has, should the U.S. stay in Syria? Across the political spectrum and the political establishment, mainly the Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are attacking President Trump, especially his Republican allies. There are a number of anti-interventionists and people in the peace movement who are actually saying this is a good idea. Phyllis Bennis, your thoughts?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, I think the answer to your questions, Amy, is no and no. No, ISIS has not been, quote, “defeated,” and, no, the U.S. should not remain in Syria militarily.

I think that the notion of a military defeat of terrorism, we know this is—if we want to talk about fake news, that’s been the classic piece of fake news for the last number of years, in the so-called global war on terror. You cannot defeat terrorism, as Yazan said, militarily. Terrorism is a phenomenon that emerges out of social and economic and national and all kinds of crises, in all kinds of countries. And stopping it doesn’t mean playing whack-a-mole with your military, slapping them down here, and they rise up again there, and slapping them down there, and they rise again there. That’s precisely what will happen again.

It’s fascinating to hear these tweets from Trump claiming, on the one hand, we’ve defeated ISIS, and that’s why we’re coming out, at the same time saying, well, ISIShasn’t been defeated, but we’re going to leave it to the people in whether it’s Syria, whether it’s Russia, whether it’s Iran; it’ll be their job to wipe them out. Where you look at the distinctions between what the various presidents have said is the reason for U.S. troops being in Syria in the first place: We’re there to go after ISIS. OK, except that the Pentagon says we’re there to protect our allies—in this case, it’s the Kurds, who, as Yazan says, will be quickly abandoned by the U.S. John Bolton, the national security adviser, says we’re in Syria to make sure that Iran doesn’t build up its presence there. And the State Department says that we have to stay there because ISIS is still there. So we don’t even know what was the rationale for U.S. troops to be in Syria. There certainly is no clarity on what any future rationale should be, because we know that terrorism cannot be destroyed militarily. And I think that’s the fundamental question here.

We do know that the warplanes and the drones are going to continue to be bombing in Syria. And it’s those U.S. bombs and U.S. coalition-led bombs that are creating enormous pressure, enormous—wreaking enormous havoc on the people of Syria—again, this is something that Yazan spoke about very eloquently—when we look at Raqqa, when we look at the other cities that have been largely destroyed by U.S. bombing, after being under attack, both people and the infrastructure of cities, by ISIS. This is not going to qualitatively change that on the ground. The presence of 2,000 U.S. troops, most of them Special Forces, that’s not enough to change a military balance of forces, when you’re talking about thousands of fighters from all these different countries, on all these different sides, fighting each other to the last Syrian.

The Syrians are doing the dying. It’s the militaries of the U.S. and Britain and Russia and Iran and the Saudis and Qataris and Turkey, all these countries in the region, the global powers have been fighting each other, in combination, in Syria since 2011. And I think, in that context, the withdrawal of any one of those major military forces is important as an advantage for the people of Syria, who will have one less force bombing them. Is it going to change the political dynamics on the ground? No.

We don’t know whether the Kurdish forces, the [PYD], is going to now turn towards renewing their old alliance with the Assad regime. That’s probably the most likely possibility. This is, of course, not the first time that Kurdish forces have been first embraced and then abandoned by the United States. That’s been a legacy of Kurdish history for almost a century now. So, in that context, it’s not going to change the situation on the ground for the population of Syria. It will temporarily shift things around for who the Kurdish forces will be relying on.

Whether or not the Turkish forces go into Syria and go after the Kurds that they have identified as their Kurdish enemies because of their ties to Kurdish forces inside Turkey, we don’t know whether the Turks will do that. We don’t know if that’s part of the negotiations that are now underway between Turkey and Iran, on the one hand, perhaps between Turkey and the United States, on another hand, where we see a rapprochement on both sides. So, Turkey may stand to gain, but there also may be a diminished level of fighting if there is less tension emerging between Turkey and the various other forces.

So the complexity, where you have at least—in my book on ISIS, I identified 11 separate wars that were being waged in Syria, none of them in the interest of Syrians, but all of them causing enormous death and destruction to the people and cities of Syria. If some of those wars will be diminished by this withdrawal, that can only be a good thing.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Phyllis, I want to ask about the—well, what a U.S. involvement is likely to be in the future, even if this withdrawal does take place. I mean, Trump’s announcement was a radical departure from comments that his own administration senior officials had been making, including national security adviser John Bolton. But also, Trump’s special envoy for the global coalition to defeat the Islamic State, Brett McGurk, just last week, in a press conference, said that U.S. troops were going to be in Syria for the foreseeable future.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Right. And James Jeffrey, the political envoy—

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to that clip of McGurk.


BRETT McGURK: The military mission is the enduring defeat of ISIS. We have obviously learned a lot of lessons in the past. And we know that once a physical space is defeated, we can’t just pick up and leave. So we’re prepared to make sure that we do all we can to ensure this is enduring. …

Areas that we have cleared of ISIS, they have not returned or actually seized physical space. There’s clandestine cells. Nobody is saying that they are going to disappear. Nobody is that naive. So, we want to stay on the ground to make sure that stability can be maintained in these areas. …

I think it’s fair to say Americans will remain on the ground after the physical defeat of the caliphate, until we have the pieces in place to ensure that that defeat is enduring.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Phyllis Bennis, that’s Brett McGurk speaking just last week. Now, do you think, first of all, that U.S. military strikes, as Yazan said earlier—that those strikes are not only likely to continue, but might even intensify, so, in a certain sense, there will be continuity in U.S. policy there and that this was just a symbolic gesture on Trump’s part?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: I think that’s largely true. I think that the politics of it, as we get into the Christmas holiday period, when Trump has been under fire for saying that he’s leaving the White House for two-and-a-half weeks to go play golf, and others have said, “Why aren’t you going around the world to visit U.S. troops that are in harm’s way?”—he’s not doing that—this may be his effort to undermine those attackers.

But I think what is clear is that U.S. military engagement is not fully ending here. The bombing is going to continue. It may well escalate.

We should be clear that the involvement of the United States militarily in Syria was never aimed at protecting Syrians. If it were the goal of those troops to protect Syrian lives, Syrian lives would have been protected also by allowing them to come to the United States as refugees. And we know how well that worked. With the Muslim ban, Syrians were among the hardest hit of refugees around the world, desperate to escape certain death in their towns and cities, partly caused by United States and its U.S.-backed forces, partly caused by other forces. And the refusal of the United States to allow Syrians to enter as refugees is one more example, if we needed any, about the fact that the U.S. engagement militarily has never been about protecting Syrians. So, if there is an escalation in the air war in Syria, the U.S. air war in Syria, it will be without any regard to the impact that that will have on Syrian lives.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, just the chaos now in Washington. You have Republican Senator Bob Corker saying he was stunned by Trump’s, quote, “precipitous decision” to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. He is the chair, of course, of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This is what he said.

SEN. BOB CORKER: We are about six or eight weeks away in Syria from really, really getting to the next threshold there. And we’ve got allies around the world that have been with us all this time, have been fighting with us. There’s probably 50 or 60 countries that have been involved in some form or fashion. To my knowledge, we didn’t even communicate with them that this morning we were going to make this announcement. It’s caught everybody off guard. I know that—I doubt there’s anybody in the Republican Caucus in the Senate that just isn’t stunned by this precipitous decision, that just like you woke up in the morning and made it.

AMY GOODMAN: So Republican Senator Bob Corker went to the White House to meet with Trump. That was canceled. Reporters being sent to the Pentagon and the State Department, which canceled its briefing, by the White House, and then both of those places were just saying, “No, you have to ask the White House,” because apparently both of them were surprised by this. If Trump is doing this because of the something like 17 investigations of him and he’s feeling very under siege, do you see—as these investigations encircle him and as he feels more targeted, will he be pulling troops out from many other places in the world?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: I think that that’s unlikely, given that he sees what the result is politically to his move here. He’s not getting embraced by those. He is getting a certain distraction, and that was undoubtedly at least part of his thinking in pulling this off. It’s got to be a question whether this is even going to happen. I don’t think even this commander-in-chief has ever issued an order to the military by tweet. Now, whether there was another order given, we don’t even know that. The Pentagon has simply said, “As of now, we are continuing to cooperate with our colleagues in the coalition.” Now, we know about how the U.S. deals with their so-called coalitions, what—

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank Phyllis Bennis for joining us and end with the comments of Ro Khanna. Ro Khanna is the Silicon Valley congressmember, who tweeted yesterday, “The withdrawal of troops from Syria is a good first step toward ending our policy of interventionism but we also need to End U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen Withdraw our troops from Afghanistan Repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force,” he tweeted.

We want to thank Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies and Yazan al-Saadi, Syrian-Canadian writer and researcher.

When we come back, we’re going to Jackson, Mississippi, to talk with Derrick Johnson, the head of the NAACP, why they’re staging a boycott of Facebook for a week. Stay with us.

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Is the Right Really Rising Up Against the Iraq Occupation?

The sudden "surge" of anti-war positions among powerful Republican senators, most recently John Warner and Richard Lugar, and other elite forces (such as the editors of the New York Times) is putting intense new bi-partisan pressure on the White House to begin withdrawing troops. And while it is certainly an indication that our years of work are bearing fruit, this new period is going to be very dangerous, and create new problems for the anti-war movement.

Television and radio hosts are begging Washington pundits to define the new buzz-phrase allegedly being heard all over town: the "post-surge redeployment." Last December's Baker-Hamilton report is also back in the news, with many analysts pointing to broader bipartisan support for many of its key provisions, including partial withdrawal of some troops and direct negotiations with Iran and Syria. Internationally, close Bush allies are feeling the heat. In Australia, pressure is mounting on Bush-backer John Howard to withdraw troops from the collapsing, now tiny "coalition." A cautious break-through editorial from the country's leading paper, the Sydney Morning Herald, acknowledged, "There are clear signs in the United States and Britain that a crucial 'tipping point' is, indeed, nearing. It is not that elusive moment when coalition troops and Iraqi units finally gain the upper hand against insurgents, but rather the turning of the tides of political and public opinion. With the lofty goals of the invasion now so distant, and the human cost of the war so appalling, the only way forward may be backwards."

Bush administration officials are responding with new dire reports from military and White House officials about the dire consequences of troop withdrawals. But with mainstream Republicans increasingly distancing themselves from Bush on Iraq, there's a danger that their counterparts in the Democratic leadership are likely to soften their own [already wobbly] opposition to the U.S. occupation in order to reach the brass ring of a "bipartisan" [read: politically safe] position. That could well mean agreement on a "post-surge redeployment" designed to partially withdraw some troops (probably about half the current 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq), and establish what is already being touted as the prize: a "sustainable" U.S. military occupation of Iraq. Sustainable, in this context, means permanent. Partial withdrawal will set the stage for permanent occupation. A smaller, less visible occupation force stationed primarily at the huge U.S. bases built across Iraq will keep U.S. soldiers mostly off Iraq's IED-filled roads and far away from Iraq's resistance-stoked major cities. The U.S. troops will no longer maintain even the fiction of responsibility for protecting Iraqi civilians, and crucially, will take far fewer casualties. The result (since the far more numerous Iraqi casualties are so easily ignored): Iraq will be largely out of the headlines and off the front page.

According to the Washington Post's lead editorial (June 3, 2007) "It's about time for the president and Congress to begin talking about a smaller, more sustainable mission in Iraq." According to General Petraeus, Iraq's "challenges" could take ten years. Hillary Clinton says that even with redeployment, "remaining vital national security interests in Iraq" require "a continuing deployment of American troops."

Baker-Hamilton Redux

The Baker-Hamilton report, the consummate elite bipartisan consensus, appears to be enjoying a second life. But it has not improved in the months since its high-voltage release last December. It does indeed talk about the desirability of "a reduction in the U.S. presence in Iraq over time," but it does not call for ending the occupation and bringing home all the troops. It outlines a set of roles for those continuing U.S. occupation troops, but beyond the specified training and "counter-terrorism" roles, the troops would be deployable for any "missions considered vital by the U.S. commander in Iraq." It says nothing about closing the bases, abjuring efforts to control Iraqi oil, etc. The White House is itself embracing the Baker-Hamilton report, which it initially shunned. Its website's "Iraq Fact Check" quotes James Baker saying that the surge in Iraq "ought to be given a chance" and that "setting a deadline for withdrawal regardless of conditions in Iraq makes even less sense today because there is evidence that the temporary surge is reducing the level of violence in Baghdad." (Why should anyone be surprised that Baker, the longstanding councilor to the Bush dynasty and orchestrator of the Florida 2000 non-recount, would do anything to undermine the authority of this administration?)

So What About The Anti-War Forces

All of these developments of course reflect the free-fall of credibility for Bush and the war. But how they play out will be difficult. In Congress, the stronger opposition - centered in the Out of Iraq, Progressive, and Black Caucuses - appears resolved to continue their so-far unsuccessful fight against funding the war. In both houses, votes to set timetables or begin withdrawing some troops failed to win enough votes to override a veto.

There are indications that the bill to "fully fund full withdrawal" of the troops, introduced by Progressive Caucus co-chairs Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey, may be allowed to come to the floor for a vote.But even the strongest of the anti-war congresspeople will worry about marginalizing themselves if they maintain a principled stance. The mainstream leadership of both parties will likely move to consolidate a bipartisan deal that will sound like withdrawal, look like withdrawal, but will in fact be a recipe for continuing, permanent occupation. President Bush himself said on the 4th of July that "We all long for the day when there are far fewer American servicemen and women in Iraq." Following the September "status report" from General Petraeus on the state of the war in Iraq, the deal could gain White House acquiescence and happen very quickly. Those who stand against such a deal on principle, those who continue to demand that ALL U.S. troops and mercenaries be brought home, that the U.S. bases be closed, and that the U.S. abandon its efforts to control Iraqi oil, will be vulnerable to being isolated and attacked by party leaders eager for a bipartisan consensus. Only massive public pressure will enable them to stand firm and resist those pressures.

This moment's spike in anti-war sentiment, including from some unlikely sources, is an indication of the strength and breadth of the anti-war movement and of anti-war sentiment throughout the country. The claim that advocating troop withdrawal means one "does not support the troops" is quickly being abandoned, discredited as war hawks work to retool their language into dove-speak, talking about "redeployment" and "redirection" as if they meant real withdrawal.

All of this points to the importance of remembering that Congress is not the peace movement. Alternative centers of power, such as local and state governments, and international allies, are playing an increasingly important role in mobilizing against the war. The peace movement must continue to engage those alternative power centers, while still ratcheting up the direct pressure on Washington, on those politicians and power centers openly supporting the war, as well as those attempting to relegitimize and rename this war into something they can call "redeployment." U.S. occupation of Iraq, "sustainable" or not, must end. Until it does, the anti-war movement will continue its fight.

How to Prevent a War with Iran

In 1982, angered by a White House secretly escalating an unpopular war in Central America, the House passed the Boland Amendment, a rider to the Defense Appropriations Act of 1983.

The amendment was crafted by Massachusetts Congressman Edward Boland, and was designed to cut off funds the CIA and other intelligence agencies were using to carry out sabotage attacks in Nicaragua and to support the anti-government Contra guerrillas. The Senate had a Republican majority at the time, but even members of President Reagan's own party were outraged when he launched his Contra-backing warfare without even notifying Congressional oversight committees.

So far, the newly Democrat-controlled Congress has not been outraged enough to use its constitutionally-mandated power to force an end to the lethal war in Iraq. Perhaps they will still rise to the occasion, ending the war by cutting funds for the war.

But there is still time right now -- before the Bush administration makes good on its rising threats -- to stop the looming war in Iran. We need a new Boland Amendment, one that will pre-empt any possibility of the White House launching an attack against Iran.

In recent weeks the threat of war in Iran has qualitatively escalated. Provocative U.S. attacks on Iranian diplomatic offices, arrests of Iranian officials inside Iraq, and the installation of a second U.S. aircraft carrier group in the Persian Gulf seem all but openly designed to goad Tehran to respond.

Repeated Bush administration threats about "dealing with" alleged Iranian involvement in attacks on U.S. soldiers resonate back to equally unproven claims about Iraq's WMDs. Both have been calculated to ratchet up public and media support for a U.S. attack -- on Iraq then, and on Iran now--and to undercut any potential congressional move to stop a new attack.

Meanwhile, the White House appears oblivious to recent Iranian developments that should have lessened the tensions, including the diminishing domestic popularity of the provocative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Tehran's apparent technical failures in nuclear power technology.

The timing of the recent intensification of threats against Iran is breathtakingly dangerous for the Bush administration itself. It is emerging even while debate continues in the administration about whether Iraq's U.S.-backed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is capable of leading the war-wracked country, or whether Washington should reorganize Iraq's government to give more power to the Iranian-backed forces currently at the center of Maliki's own coalition.

It is also a moment in which the U.S. is again increasingly isolated internationally. Canada's right-wing prime minister and former Bush ally Stephen Harper is publicly excoriating the White House for keeping Canadian citizen Maher Arar on the U.S. "no-fly" list despite Arar's absolute exoneration (complete with an official apology and an $8.5 million settlement) by Canada.

Germany and Italy are issuing arrest warrants against dozens of CIA agents involved in the kidnapping and "extraordinary rendition" of European citizens sent to be tortured around the world. And even in loyal Britain, Tony Blair's heir-apparent Gordon Brown has made clear he is considering a very different relationship with Washington than that of "Bush's poodle." Is this a new incarnation of the Old Europe of the months before Bush's Iraq War?

Like so many carefully negotiated congressional moves, the Boland Amendment was in fact neither unequivocal nor absolute. It prohibited the U.S. government from providing military support "for the purpose of overthrowing the Government of Nicaragua."

But it became the symbol of public anger and insistence on ending U.S. support for the Contras and their brutal war. And it thus came to embody an even more powerful check on the White House's war-making capacity than the resolution's actual language might have imposed. When the Reagan team decided to violate the Boland Amendment, to make an end run around the law, their actions lead directly to what quickly became known as the Iran-Contra scandal.

Both former war supporter Republican Congressman Walter Jones and the courageous California Congresswoman Barbara Lee have introduced different bills that take some steps towards prohibiting a U.S. attack on Iran. Either one, or perhaps a different bill altogether, could become the Boland Amendment for Iran -- capturing the breadth of both public anger and congressional opposition.

It remains unclear whether the White House needs to be concerned about Congress actually cutting off funds for the war in Iraq. But it is certain that the Bush administration is very worried about the possibility of a new Boland Amendment to prevent an attack on Iran. As one former senior intelligence official told Seymour Hersh, "they're afraid that Congress is going to vote a binding resolution to stop a hit on Iran, à la Nicaragua in the Contra war."

A Prize and a Plea

The Nobel Peace Prize is rarely just about peace. It's almost always as much about making a diplomatic point--or several--as it is about acknowledging a noted peacemaker. Often the political purpose is subtle, even hidden.

But that wasn't the case this time around. In awarding the prize to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N'.s nuclear watchdog, and its director-general Mohamed el Baradei, the political point was open and clear. It was the Nobel Committee's slap in the face to the Bush administration's unilateralism, its undermining of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and especially its war in Iraq.

The official citation's statement that el Baradei is "fearless" puts the prestige of the Norwegian Nobel committee squarely behind the man who first stated publicly that the U.S. claims regarding Iraq's alleged purchase of yellowcake uranium from Niger were based on forged documents. Its recognition that the work of the agency el Baradei leads is "incalculably" important represents a direct refutation of the Bush administration's pre-invasion claims that the IAEA nuclear inspections in Iraq were tantamount to the UN doing nothing.

And the statements that "the threat of nuclear arms ... must be met through the broadest possible international cooperation" and that the "clearest expression" of that cooperation is found "in the work of the IAEA and its director general," stand in clear repudiation of the Bush claims that unilateral U.S. action can legitimately be used against such threats, and that the IAEA and el Baradei should be sidelined in favor of the U.S. veto-dominated U.N. Security Council.

Overall, the award is a not-very-subtle reminder that the consistent IAEA assertion that there was no viable nuclear program in Iraq was true, while Bush administration claims of Iraqi nukes and other WMDs aimed at U.S. targets were lies.

It was Mohamed el Baradei, after all, who refused to bow to U.S.pressure in 2002 and 2003, and instead continued to report to the Security Council that IAEA inspectors had found no evidence of nuclear weapons in Iraq. He put the arms inspectors, like the United Nations as a whole in that period, on the side of the global mobilization for peace taking shape in the streets of capitals throughout the world. As The Washington Post described it, "El Baradei became a champion in the eyes of many who opposed the war in Iraq, especially those in the Arab world." And his actions made Bush administration view the IAEA, and especially el Baradei himself, as implacable opponents.

It was not as if el Baradei had always rejected U.S. views. To the contrary, the former Egyptian diplomat's appointment as director-general of the IAEA in 1997 was orchestrated largely by U.S.diplomats.

But even beyond his role in opposing the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a day he called "the saddest in my life," el Baradei had long staked out independent positions far at odds with Washington's demands. In particular, he had criticized Israel's widely known but formally unacknowledged nuclear arsenal, calling on Tel Aviv to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty and bring its nukes under international inspection. Further, he called for creation of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, a concept outlined in the U.S.-drafted 1991 resolution ending the U.S. war in Iraq of that period but never championed by other UN officials.

But it was his opposition to the Iraq War, and his refusal to back false U.S. claims of Iraq's nuclear capacity that consolidated the Bush administration's opposition.

From 2003 on, Washington tried without success to orchestrate el Baradei's departure from the IAEA. What an effort it was, starring none other than John Bolton, Bush's U.N.-bashing, treaty-unsigning, unconfirmable-but-nonetheless-ambassador to the United Nations, who was, until 2004, undersecretary of state for disarmament affairs. Mohamed el Baradei became a particular obsession of his, and The Washington Post revealed that Bolton's efforts to get the IAEA chief fired included extensive bugging of el Baradei's phone in a fruitless effort to find material to discredit him. Not a single other government--not even the always loyal Tony Blair--followed along, and eventually the United States, isolated, gave up its effort and el Baradei was confirmed for a third term earlier this year.

The Nobel Committee called for the abolition of nuclear weapons, and asserted that the fact "that the world has achieved little in this respect makes active opposition to nuclear arms all the more important today."

This focus on the global urgency of nuclear disarmament stands in stark defiance of the U.S. position that only proliferation of nuclear weapons in new states is dangerous, and that recognized nuclear weapons powers somehow have the right to increase or even use their nuclear arsenals at will. By contrast, the Nobel Committee stated specifically that "when disarmament efforts appear deadlocked...IAEA's work is of incalculable importance."

The timing of this prize was clearly linked to the increasingly visible role of the IAEA in the context of the escalating U.S. threats against Iran linked to Tehran's nuclear program. In its determination to get the Iran nuclear issue into the UN Security Council, where it believes, contrary to international assessments that there might be the possibility of imposing harsh international sanctions on the country, the Bush administration has continued to ratchet up pressure on the IAEA.

That has included pressuring el Baradei, whose recent language towards Iran has grown somewhat harsher most likely as a result of that pressure, but the IAEA has refused to cave in to U.S. demands for findings of current illegality by Iran. ElBaradie has maintained the consistent position that Iran's nuclear fuel production is under close IAEA scrutiny and there is no evidence of illegal weapons activity.

The Nobel Peace Prize does not stop wars or bring down empires. But, as el Baradei said a few hours after the announcement: "The award sends a very strong message. 'Keep doing what you are doing--be impartial, act with integrity,' and that is what we intend to do."

If the prize helps Mohamed el Baradei keep the IAEA on the side of the global challenge to Bush's wars and unilateralism, it will prove its importance.

A Declaration of War

The Bush administration has declared war on the world. The 450 changes that Washington is demanding to the action agenda that will culminate at the September 2005 United Nations summit don't represent U.N. reform. They are a clear onslaught against any move that could strengthen the United Nations or international law.

The upcoming summit was supposed to focus on strengthening and reforming the U.N. and address issues of aid and development, with a particular emphasis on implementing the U.N.'s five-year-old Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Most assumed this would be a forum for dialogue and debate, involving civil society activists from around the world challenging governments from the impoverished South and the wealthy North and the United Nations to create a viable global campaign against poverty and for internationalism.

But now, there's a different and even greater challenge. This is a declaration of U.S. unilateralism, uncompromising and ascendant. The United States has issued an open threat to the 190 other U.N. member states, the social movements and peoples of the entire world, and the United Nations itself. And it will take a quick and unofficially collaborative effort between all three of those elements to challenge the Bush administration juggernaut.

The General Assembly's package of proposed reforms, emerging after nine months of negotiations ahead of the summit, begins with new commitments to implement the Millennium Development Goals--established in 2000 as a set of international commitments aimed at reducing poverty by 2015. They were always insufficient, yet as weak as they are, they have yet to be implemented.

The 2005 Millennium Plus Five summit intended to shore up the unmet commitments to those goals. In his reform proposals of March 2005, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan called on governments north and south to see the implementation of the MDGs as a minimum requirement. Without at least that minimal level of poverty alleviation, he said, conflicts within and between states could spiral so far out of control that even a strengthened and reformed United Nations of the future would not be able to control the threats to international peace and security.

When John Bolton, Bush's hotly contested but newly appointed ambassador to the United Nations announced the U.S. proposed response, it was easy to assume this was just John Bolton running amok. After all, Bolton, a longtime U.N.-basher, has said: "There is no United Nations." He has written in The Wall Street Journal that the United States has no legal obligation to abide by international treaties, even when they are signed and ratified. So it was no surprise when Bolton showed up three weeks before the summit, demanding a package of 450 changes in the document that had been painstakingly negotiated for almost a year.

But, in fact, this isn't about Bolton. This Bush administration's position was vetted and approved in what the U.S. Mission to the U.N. bragged was a "thorough interagency process"--meaning the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and many more agencies all signed off. This is a clear statement of official U.S. policy--not the wish- ist of some marginalized extremist faction of neocon ideologues who will soon be reined in by the realists in charge. This time the extremist faction is in charge.

The U.S. proposal package is designed to force the world to accept as its own the U.S. strategy of abandoning impoverished nations and peoples, rejecting international law, privileging ruthless market forces over any attempted regulation, sidelining the role of international institutions except for the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO, and weakening, perhaps fatally, the United Nations itself.

It begins by systematically deleting every one of the 35 specific references to the Millennium Development Goals. Every reference to concrete obligations for implementation of commitments is deleted. Setting a target figure of just 0.7 percent of GNP for wealthy countries to spend on aid? Deleted. Increasing aid for agriculture and trade opportunities in poor countries? Deleted. Helping the poorest countries, especially those in Africa, to deal with the impact of climate change? Deleted.

The proposal puts at great risk treaties to which the United States is already a party, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The U.N. Summit draft referred to the NPT's "three pillars: disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy." That means that states without nukes would agree never to build or obtain them, but in return they would be guaranteed the right to produce nuclear energy for peaceful use.

In return recognized nuclear weapons states--the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia--would commit, in Article VI of the NPT, to move toward "nuclear disarmament with the objective of eliminating all such weapons." The proposed U.S. changes deleted all references to the three pillars and to Article VI.

The U.S. deleted the statement that: "The use of force should be considered as an instrument of last resort." That's also not surprising given the Bush administration's "invade first, choose your justifications later" mode of crisis resolution.

Throughout the document, the United States demands changes that redefine and narrow what should be universal and binding rights and obligations. In the clearest reference to Iraq and Palestine, Washington narrowed the definition of the "right of self-determination of peoples" to eliminate those who "remain under colonial domination and foreign occupation."

Much of the U.S. effort aims to undermine the power of the U.N. in favor of absolute national sovereignty. On migration, for instance, the original language focused on enhancing international cooperation, linking migrant worker issues and development, and the human rights of migrants. The U.S. wants to scrap it all, replacing it with "the sovereign right of states to formulate and enforce national migration policies," with international cooperation only to facilitate national laws. Human rights were deleted altogether.

In the document's section on strengthening the United Nations, the U.S. deleted all mention of enhancing the U.N.'s authority, focusing instead only on U.N. efficiency. Regarding the General Assembly the most democratic organ of the U.N. system--the United States deleted references to the Assembly's centrality, its role in codifying international law, and, ultimately its authority, relegating it to a toothless talking shop. It even deleted reference to the Assembly's role in Washington's own pet project--management oversight of the U.N. secretariat--leaving the U.S.-dominated and undemocratic Security Council, along with the U.S. itself (in the person of a State Department official recently appointed head of management in Kofi Annan's office) to play watchdog.

The Bush administration has given the United Nations what it believes to be a stark choice: adopt the U.S. changes and acquiesce to becoming an adjunct of Washington and a tool of empire, or reject the changes and be consigned to insignificance.

But the United Nations could choose a third option. It should not be forgotten that the U.N. itself has some practice in dealing with U.S. threats. President George W. Bush gave the U.N. these same two choices once before--in September 2002, when he threatened the global body with "irrelevance" if the U.N. did not embrace his call for war in Iraq. On that occasion, the United Nations made the third choice--the choice to grow a backbone, to reclaim its charter, and to join with people and governments around the world who were mobilized to say no to war. It was the beginning of eight months of triumph, in which governments and peoples and the U.N. stood together to defy the U.S. drive toward war and empire, and in doing so created what The New York Times called "the second super-power."

This time, as before, the United States has threatened and declared war on the United Nations and the world. As before, it's time for that three-part superpower to rise again, to defend the U.N., and to say no to empire.

The Price of Imperial Folly

The recently released Senate Intelligence Report demonstrates what so many have known for so long: The claimed justifications for the invasion of Iraq were based on lies. But lost in the Beltway debate over intelligence failure is the enormous price we – Americans, Iraqis, the world – are paying for the Bush administration's self-serving war.

In sheer dollar amounts, the costs of this precipitate war are already far higher than any number put forward by Bush officials at the outset of the war. The price tag so far is $151 billion and climbing – already three times the initial estimate provided by Bush's Office of Management and Budget and embarrassingly close to the "$100 to $200 billion" that White House economic advisor Lawrence Lindsay anticipated just before he precipitously left the administration in December 2002.

For most of us, $151 billion is an incomprehensible amount of money. It's hard to imagine what that kind of dollar amount actually means. Well, here are some facts to prod our imagination.

To begin with, $151 billion can pay for health care for 23 million uninsured Americans; or housing stipends for 27 million homeless people in this country; or a year's salary for 3 million new elementary school teachers; or more than 678,000 new fire engines.

The international impact of that kind of money is even more breathtaking. That same $151 billion could feed half the hungry people in the world for two years and provide clean water and sanitation for the entire developing world and fund a comprehensive global AIDS program and pay for childhood immunizations for every child in poor countries that constitute the global South.

The United States instead chose to invade Iraq to depose a tyrant who posed little danger to the United States or to the world.

Startling as $151 billion may be, the costs of the war go far beyond direct economic costs. Local communities across the nation have been affected by the loss of vitally needed federal funds slashed to pay for war. But even more important, they have lost large numbers of 'first responders' – the firefighters, police, ambulance drivers, emergency medical technicians and others who provide crisis care – who are also disproportionately members of the National Guard and the reserves. And with one-third of the entire U.S. military deployment in Iraq made up of Guard and Reserve troops, basic emergency services are facing serious consequences.

Among military families themselves, the impact of this war goes far beyond the fear of death or injury of loved ones. Polls indicate that increasing numbers of military families are facing a serious financial crisis including bankruptcy, unemployment and hunger. The so-called "all-volunteer" army is a creation of the "poverty draft," made up disproportionately of the poor and people of color.

The impact on these families is severe. Between 30 and 40 percent of reservists and national guard members earn a lower salary during military deployment than at their regular job at home. As a result, more military families are forced to turn to emergency food support; one study reported a "several hundred percent" increase in requests for food stamps and subsidized meals by military families between 2002 and 2003.

The future of these families looks just as grim because the U.S. military is overstretched and long tours of duty are likely to remain the norm. While there is talk of reviving the legal draft, even without such a move the pressure on members of the reserve and the National Guard, and on regular troops whose contracts have expired but who are prohibited from leaving the military, will continue to escalate.

The tally of expenses also grows ever longer when we consider the long-term effects of the war. Environmental degradation from the estimated 1000 tons of depleted uranium dropped by U.S. forces, almost three times the amount dropped in the 1991 Gulf War, will certainly have its most damaging effects on Iraqis, especially children, as well as on U.S. and coalition soldiers. The effects are also almost certain to spread beyond the borders to surrounding countries, such as Iran and Kuwait, which share the Shaat al-Arab waterway with Iraq.

The Iraq war's long-term impact on the rule of international law – already made evident by the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib – is likely to be just as destructive. The U.S. decision to go to war without UN approval and in violation of the UN Charter, its assertion of the legitimacy of preventive war (especially one based on false claims), and its law-of-empire style rejection of its obligations under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, all set the stage for international lawlessness and escalating conflict. Be it an Indian attack on Pakistan, a war between Peru and Colombia, or a new Israeli invasion of Lebanon and Syria - in each of these scenarios, the offending nation could argue that their actions have been "legalized" by the precedent set by the Bush administration.

The war has also, of course, transformed Iraq into what it never was under Saddam Hussein – a haven and mobilizing point for international terrorism. According to the prestigious International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, the primary effect of the U.S. occupation on Al Qaeda has been "accelerated recruitment."

And in conclusion, let's not forget the most important cost of this war: the loss of human life. U.S. and so-called "coalition" forces have lost over 1,000 soldiers, including 880 U.S. troops. Thousands more have been wounded, many of them grievously so. Iraqi civilians have lost more than ten times that number. While the Pentagon refuses on principle to track Iraqi dead, the most recent estimates range from 11,164 to 13,118.

That the Iraq war has failed to accomplish its stated purposes is undeniable: Iraq is neither sovereign nor free; The Middle East is no more democratic; Americans are not safer, nor is the world. We are already paying far too high a price for this spectacular failure. Our refusal to change course will merely compound this colossally expensive folly of empire.

In the latest opinion polls, 55 percent of Iraqis say they would feel safer if U.S. and other foreign troops left the country immediately. For a change, the U.S. should give the Iraqis what they want.

All the Facts About Iraq

Nelson Mandela was right when he said that attacking Iraq would be "a disaster." A U.S. invasion of Iraq would risk the lives of U.S. military personnel and inevitably kill thousands of Iraqi civilians; it is not surprising that many U.S. military officers, including some within the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are publicly opposed to a new war against Iraq.

Such an attack would violate international law and the UN Charter, and isolate us from our friends and allies around the world. An invasion would prevent the future return of UN arms inspectors, and cost billions of dollars urgently needed at home. And at the end of the day, an invasion will not insure stability, let alone democracy, in Iraq or the rest of the volatile Middle East region, and will put American civilians at greater risk of hatred and perhaps terrorist attacks than they are today.

Purported Links to Terrorism

It is now clear that (despite intensive investigative efforts) there is simply no evidence of any Iraqi involvement in the terror attacks of Sept. 11. The most popular theory, of a Prague-based collaboration between one of the 9/11 terrorists and an Iraqi official, has now collapsed. Just two weeks ago, the Prague Post quoted the director general of the Czech foreign intelligence service UZSI (Office of Foreign Relations and Information), Frantisek Bublan, denying the much-touted meeting between Mohamed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers, and an Iraqi agent.

More significantly, the Iraqi regime's brutal treatment of its own population has generally not extended to international terrorist attacks. The State Department's own compilation of terrorist activity in its 2001 Patterns of Global Terrorism, released May 2002, does not document a single serious act of international terrorism by Iraq. Almost all references are either to political statements made or not made or hosting virtually defunct militant organizations.

We are told that we must go to war preemptively against Iraq because Baghdad might, some time in the future, succeed in crafting a dangerous weapon and might, some time in the future, give that weapon to some unknown terrorist group -- maybe Osama bin Laden -- who might, some time in the future, use that weapon against the U.S. The problem with this analysis, aside from the fact that preemptive strikes are simply illegal under international law, is that it ignores the widely known historic antagonism between Iraq and bin Laden.

According to the New York Times, "Shortly after Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait in 1990, Osama bin Laden approached Prince Sultan bin Abdelaziz al-Saud, the Saudi defense minister, with an unusual proposition. ... Arriving with maps and many diagrams, Mr. Bin Laden told Prince Sultan that the kingdom could avoid the indignity of allowing an army of American unbelievers to enter the kingdom to repel Iraq from Kuwait. He could lead the fight himself, he said, at the head of a group of former mujahadeen that he said could number 100,000 men."

Even if bin Laden's claim to be able to provide those troops was clearly false, bin Laden's hostility towards the ruthlessly secular Iraq remained evident. There is simply no evidence that that has changed.

The Human Toll

While estimates of casualties among U.S. service personnel are not public, we can be certain they will be much higher than in the current war in Afghanistan. We do know, from Pentagon estimates of two years ago, the likely death toll among Iraqi civilians: about 10,000 Iraqi civilians would be killed. And the destruction of civilian infrastructure such as water, electrical and communications equipment, would lead to tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of more civilian deaths, particularly among children, the aged and others of the most vulnerable sectors.

We can anticipate that such targeted attacks would be justified by claims of "dual use." But if we look back to the last U.S. war with Iraq, we know that the Pentagon planned and carried out attacks knowing and documenting the likely impact on civilians.

In one case, Pentagon planners anticipated that striking Iraq's civilian infrastructure would cause "Increased incidence of diseases [that] will be attributable to degradation of normal preventive medicine, waste disposal, water purification/ distribution, electricity, and decreased ability to control disease outbreaks." The Defense Intelligence Agency document (from the Pentagon's Gulflink website), "Disease Information -- Subject: Effects of Bombing on Disease Occurrence in Baghdad" is dated 22 January 1991, just six days after the war began. It itemized the likely outbreaks to include: "acute diarrhea" brought on by bacteria such as E. coli, shigella, and salmonella, or by protozoa such as giardia, which will affect "particularly children," or by rotavirus, which will also affect "particularly children." And yet the bombing of the water treatment systems proceeded, and indeed, according to UNICEF figures, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, "particularly children," died from the effects of dirty water.

The most recent leaked military plan for invading Iraq, the so-called "inside-out" plan based on a relatively small contingent of U.S. ground troops with heavy reliance on air strikes, would focus first and primarily on Baghdad. The Iraqi capital is described as being ringed with Saddam Hussein's crack troops and studded with anti-aircraft batteries.

The report never mentions the inconvenient fact that Baghdad is also a crowded city of four to five million people; a heavy air bombardment would cause the equivalent human catastrophe of heavy air bombardment of Los Angeles.

The U.S. and Our Allies

There is no international support, at the governmental or public level, for a U.S. attack on Iraq. Our closest allies throughout Europe, in Canada, and elsewhere, have made clear their opposition to a military invasion. While they recognize the Iraqi regime as a brutal, undemocratic regime, they do not support a unilateral preemptive military assault as an appropriate response to that regime.

Yes, it is certain that if the U.S. announces it is indeed going to war, that most of those governments would grudgingly follow along. When President Bush repeats his mantra that "you are either with us or with the terrorists," there is not a government around the world prepared to stand defiant. But a foreign policy based on international coercion and our allies' fear of retaliation for noncompliance is not a policy that will protect Americans and our place in the world.

In the Middle East region, only Israel supports the U.S. build-up to war in Iraq. The Arab states, including our closest allies, have made unequivocal their opposition to an invasion of Iraq. Even Kuwait, once the target of Iraqi military occupation and ostensibly the most vulnerable to Iraqi threats, has moved to normalize its relations with Baghdad. The Arab League-sponsored rapprochement between Iraq and Kuwait at the March 2002 Arab Summit is now underway, including such long-overdue moves as the return of Kuwait's national archives.

Iraq has now repaired its relations with every Arab country. Turkey has refused to publicly announce its agreement to allow use of its air bases, and Jordan and other Arab countries have made clear their urgent plea for the U.S. to abjure a military attack on Iraq.

Again, it is certain that not a single government in the region would ultimately stand against a U.S. demand for base rights, use of airspace or overflight rights, or access to any other facilities. The question we must answer therefore is not whether our allies will ultimately accede to our wishes, but just how high a price are we prepared to exact from our allies? Virtually every Arab government, especially those most closely tied to the U.S. (Jordan and Egypt, perhaps even Saudi Arabia) will face dramatically escalated popular opposition.

The existing crisis of legitimacy faced by these undemocratic, repressive, and non-representative regimes, monarchies and president-for-life style democracies, will be seriously exacerbated by a U.S. invasion of Iraq. Region-wide instability will certainly result, and some of those governments might risk being overthrown.

The U.S. and International Law

We claim to be a nation of laws. But too often we are prepared to put aside the requirements of international law and the United Nations Charter to which we hold other nations appropriately accountable.

When it comes to policy on Iraq, the U.S. has a history of sidelining the central role that should be played by the United Nations. This increasingly unilateralist trajectory is one of the main reasons for the growing international antagonism towards the U.S. By imposing its will on the Security Council -- insisting on the continuation of economic sanctions when virtually every other country wants to lift them, announcing its intention to ignore the UN in deciding whether to go to war against Iraq -- the U.S. isolates itself from our allies, antagonizes our friends, and sets our nation apart from the international systems of laws that govern the rest of the world. This does not help, but rather undermines, our long-term security interests.

International law does not allow for preemptive military strikes, except in the case of preventing an immediate attack. We simply do not have the right -- no country does -- to launch a war against another country that has not attacked us. If the Pentagon had been able to scramble a jet to take down the second plane flying into the World Trade Center last September, that would have been a legal use of preemptive self defense. An attack on Iraq -- which lacks the capacity, and has not for a decade or more shown any specific intention or plan or effort to attack the U.S. -- violates international law and the UN Charter.

The Charter, in Article 51, outlines the terms under which a Member State of the United Nations may use force in self-defense. That Article acknowledges a nation's "inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security." [Emphasis added.] The Charter does not allow military force to be used absent an armed attack having occurred.

Some administration spokespeople are fond of a sound byte that says, "the UN Charter is not a suicide pact." Others like to remind us that Iraq (and other nations) routinely violate the Charter. Both statements are true. But the United States has not been attacked by Iraq, and there is simply no evidence that Iraq is anywhere close to being able to carry out such an attack. The U.S. is the strongest international power -- in terms of global military reach, economic, cultural, diplomatic and political power -- that has ever existed throughout history. If the United States does not recognize the UN Charter and international law as the foundation of global society, how can we expect others to do so?

How Do We Get Serious About Military Sanctions?

Denying Iraq access to weapons is not sufficient, nor can it be maintained as long as Iraq is surrounded by some of the most over-armed states in the world. An immediate halt on all weapons shipments to all countries in the region would be an important step toward containing military threats.

We should expand our application of military sanctions as defined in UN Resolution 687. Military sanctions against Iraq should be tightened -- by expanding them to a system of regional military sanctions, thus lowering the volatility of this already arms-glutted region. Article 14 of Resolution 687 recognizes that the disarmament of Iraq should be seen as a step toward "the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery and the objective of a global ban on chemical weapons."

What About Negotiations?

We are told we must attack Iraq preemptively so that it can never obtain nuclear weapons. While we know from IAEA inspectors that Iraq's nuclear program was destroyed by the end of 1998, we do not know what has developed since. We do know, however, that Iraq does not have access to fissile material, without which any nuclear program is a hollow shell. And we know where fissile material is. Protection of all nuclear material, including reinstatement of the funding for protection of Russian nuclear material, must be a continuing priority.

We should note that U.S. officials are threatening a war against Iraq, a country known not to possess nuclear weapons. Simultaneously, the administration is continuing appropriate negotiations with North Korea, which does have something much closer to nuclear weapons capacity. Backed by IAEA inspections, the model of negotiations and inspections is exactly what the U.S. should be proposing for Iraq.


There has been no solid information regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction since UNSCOM and IAEA arms inspectors left Iraq in December 1998 in advance of the U.S. Desert Fox bombing operation. Prior to their leaving, the inspectors' last report (November 1998) stated that although they had been stymied by Iraqi non-compliance in carrying out some inspections, "the majority of the inspections of facilities and sites under the ongoing monitoring system were carried out with Iraq's cooperation."

The IAEA report was unequivocal that Iraq no longer had a viable nuclear program. The UNSCOM report was less definitive, but months earlier, in March 1998, UNSCOM chief Richard Butler said that his team was satisfied there was no longer any nuclear or long-range missile capability in Iraq, and that UNSCOM was "very close" to completing the chemical and biological phases.

Since that time, there have been no verifiable reports regarding Iraq's WMD programs. It is important to get inspectors back into Iraq, but U.S. threats have made that virtually impossible by setting a "negative incentive" in place. If Baghdad believes that a U.S. military strike, as well as the maintaining of crippling economic sanctions, will take place regardless of their compliance with UN resolutions regarding inspections, they have no reason to implement their own obligations.

If the United States refuses to abide by the rule of international law, why are we surprised when an embattled and tyrannical government does so?

Throughout the 1980s Baghdad received from the U.S. high-quality germ seed stock for anthrax, botulism, E. coli, and a host of other deadly diseases. (The Commerce Department's decisions to license those shipments, even after revelations of Iraq's 1988 use of illegal chemical weapons, are documented in the 1994 hearings of the Banking Sub-Committee.)

It is certainly possible that scraps of Iraq's earlier biological and chemical weapons programs remain in existence, but there is no evidence Iraq has the ability or missile capacity to use them against the U.S. or U.S. allies. The notion that the U.S. would go to war against Iraq because of the existence of tiny amounts of biological material, insufficient for use in missiles or other strategic weapons and which the U.S. itself provided during the years of the U.S.-Iraq alliance in the 1980s, is simply unacceptable.

What About the Opposition?

General Zinni has described an opposition-led attack on Iraq as turning the country into a "Bay of Goats." Nothing has changed since that time. Almost none of the exile-based opposition has a credible base inside the country. There is no Iraqi equivalent to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan to serve as ground troops to bolster a U.S. force. Some of the exile leaders closest to the U.S. have been wanted by Interpol for crimes in Jordan and elsewhere. The claim that they represent a democratic movement simply cannot be sustained.

What Happens After ‘Regime Change’?

There is no democratic opposition ready to take over. Far more likely than the creation of an indigenous, popularly supported democratic Iraqi government, would be the replacement of the current regime with one virtually indistinguishable from it except for the man at the top. In February 2002, Newsweek magazine profiled the five leaders said to be on Washington's short list of candidates to replace Saddam Hussein. The Administration has not publicly issued such a list of its own (though we should note they did not dispute the list), but it certainly typifies the model the U.S. has in mind. All five of them were high-ranking officials within the Iraqi military until the mid-1990s. All five have been linked to the use of chemical weapons by the military; at least one, General al-Shammari, admits it.

Perhaps we should not be surprised by Washington's embrace of military leaders potentially guilty of war crimes; General al-Shammari told Newsweek he assessed the effect of his howitzer-fired chemical weapons by relying on "information from American satellites."

We must challenge the legitimacy of going to war against a country to replace a brutal military leader with another brutal military leader, and knowingly promoting as leaders of a "post-Saddam Iraq" a collection of generals who have apparently committed heinous war crimes.

Whoever may be installed in Baghdad by victorious U.S. troops, it is certain that a long and likely bloody occupation would follow. The price would be high; Iraqis know better than we do how their government has systematically denied them civil and political rights. But they hold us responsible for stripping them of economic and social rights -- the right to sufficient food, clean water, education, medical care -- that together form the other side of the human rights equation. Economic sanctions have devastated Iraqi society -- and among other effects, the sanctions have made the U.S. responsible for the misery of most of the Iraqi population.

After 12 years, those in Washington who believe that Iraqis accept the popular inside-the-Beltway mantra that "sanctions aren't responsible, Saddam Hussein is responsible" for hunger and deprivation in Iraq, are engaged in wishful thinking. The notion that everyone in Iraq will welcome as "liberators" those whom most Iraqis hold responsible for 12 years of crippling sanctions is simply naive. Basing a military strategy on such wishful speculation becomes very dangerous -- in particular for U.S. troops themselves.

Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and an editor of MERIP's Middle East Report. Her forthcoming book is called "Before & After: U.S. Foreign Policy and the September 11th Crisis." Read an interview with Bennis on

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