Letter from the US: Anti-war forces remain alert

March 11, 1998

By Barry Sheppard

When UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced that he had secured a deal with Saddam Hussein, the anger in Washington was best expressed in Secretary of State Albright's face, twisted with rage, on TV.

President Clinton was forced to accept the agreement, but he reiterated bellicose threats that the US would unilaterally strike Iraq if, in its opinion, Iraq violated the accord, and would maintain the military build-up in the Gulf.

On the far right, Senate majority leader Trent Lott, Senator Jesse Helms and others denounced the accord as capitulation to Hussein, and as giving over US sovereignty to the UN. There were calls for a long-term effort to overthrow the Iraqi government, and the CIA leaked that it was developing plans for covert operations to do that.

An opinion piece in the New York Times by former secretary of state James Baker expressed the view among mainstream capitalist politicians, including the Clinton administration. Baker wrote: "The apparent resolution of the stand off between Iraq and the United States is ... a sobering reminder of the need to prepare now for the next — and, in my opinion, inevitable — confrontation with Saddam Hussein.

"In the short term, the agreement ... freed President Clinton from a nasty dilemma. Had Mr Clinton ordered substantial, sustained air strikes against Iraq — the best of a number of not very good military options — the diplomatic consequences in the region and, indeed, around the world would have been severe. But the consequences of not so acting, after months of threats and a major American military build-up in the Persian Gulf, would have been even worse. We would have lost prestige and credibility in a region that is vital to our interests."

Baker didn't say anything about another side of the "nasty dilemma" Clinton faced: the deep sentiment among many ordinary Americans opposing the proposed bombing.

Predicting that there will be another showdown, Baker says, "The Administration will be in an even tougher position. Our erstwhile coalition partners will surely show no greater enthusiasm for the use of force. And the use of 'pinprick' force or accepting another promise should be out of the question. The Administration should make several things very clear to Iraq, to our former coalition partners, to the Congress and the American people:

"The next time Saddam doesn't comply with agreements ... we will react with force. The force we use will be sustained and substantial.

"Our reaction will not be preceded by months (or even weeks or days) of negotiating or procedural wrangling under the guise of diplomacy ... We will maintain our current military strength in the Gulf for the foreseeable future. We will use force unilaterally if necessary."

While the large mass of people opposed to the proposed bombing gave a collective sigh of relief when it was at least temporarily halted, the core activists remain vigilant in the face of these threats.

On February 21, the day before the agreement was announced, about 1000 people braved a downpour in San Francisco to denounce the bombing plans and demand an end to the embargo against Iraq.

On February 25, hundreds of demonstrators were outside a plush hotel where Clinton addressed a $1000 a plate Democrats fundraising dinner. Clinton cancelled a proposed birthday party for daughter Chelsea at Stanford University in the face of planned protests by students.

On February 28, thousands rallied in Times Square, New York City, and marched to the UN building. On the same day, a march of about 1500 was held in San Francisco, and actions were staged in 30 other cities. A national anti-war conference has been set for March 21 in New York City.

Perhaps by coincidence, but nevertheless further alarming anti-war forces, a report released on March 1 by the Pentagon called for a policy of deliberately projecting US use of atomic weapons in crisis situations.

The report, "Essentials of Post Cold-War Deterrence", was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by an arms control group.

The report shows how the US shifted its threats to use atomic weapons against the defunct Soviet Union to what Washington labels "rogue" states, including Iraq, Libya, Cuba and North Korea.

The report says, "The fact that some elements [of the US government] may appear to be 'potentially out of control' can be beneficial to creating and reinforcing fears and doubts within the minds of an adversary's decision makers ... That the US may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked should be part of the national persona we project to all adversaries."

While Clinton has approved a directive that the US will refrain from first-use of nuclear weapons against signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which includes Iraq, there are exceptions. Since the US regards Iraq as violating international atomic weapons restrictions, it could be such an exception.

Once again, Washington's hypocrisy in railing against Iraq's supposed "weapons of mass destruction", the great bulk of which have already been destroyed, while maintaining its own right to use atomic weapons if its "national interests" are threatened, is exposed.

The report also makes it crystal clear that the US's purpose in arm-twisting other governments to accept the non-proliferation treaty is to protect its own nuclear dominance.

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