War in the Gulf

Ulli Diemer

A few hours before we went to press, the first wave of air attacks on Iraq was launched, thus setting off a war whose start could have been avoided and whose outcome could be far different from that foreseen by those who began it.

War was unnecessary even in the narrow view because the sanctions imposed by the United Nations after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait are being remarkably successful: well over 90% of Iraq’s imports and exports have been stopped, a level of effectiveness not achieved by any sanctions previously implemented by the world community.

When sanctions were imposed, knowledgeable observers said 12 to 18 months would be required to cripple Iraq’s economy, though there was hope that Saddam Hussein's dictatorship would be forced out before then.
Yet the United States embarked on a military ‘solution’ from the beginning, finally commencing an attack well before the time required for sanctions to work, making it difficult to escape the conclusion that the Bush administration wanted war. How else to explain the rapid, massive military build-up at levels far beyond those needed to enforce sanctions? How else to explain the U.S.-sponsored UN resolution setting a January 15 deadline - a date set in the full knowledge that sanctions would not have had time to complete their very effective strangling the Iraqi economy? How else to explain the American interpretation of that resolution, in which a provision that force may be used became an imperative that force must be used? Most damning of all is the clear but little mentioned evidence that the U.S. knew of Saddam’s intention to invade Kuwait - evidence which includes the U.S. ambassador telling Hussein a few days before the invasion that the U.S. had no position on the border dispute and how it was resolved, as well as a CIA report which predicted days in advance not only that Iraq would invade, but the exact date.

If there was a sincere will to avoid a hugely damaging war, there is no reason even now why, after the initial air attacks on Iraq’s military installations, further attacks couldn’t be stopped and the pressure of sanctions resumed against an Iraq whose military capabilities have been greatly diminished.

Instead, we see the U.S. and its allies launching themselves into an unnecessary but potentially calamitous war, all the while believing they remain in control of events and that everything will turn out just as they planned.

Those who will pay the cost will be those who had nothing to do with starting the war. Ordinary Iraqi working people, who have already suffered for years under an exceptionally brutal dictatorship, will face death and maiming, the loss of loved ones and of homes and possessions. Iraqi soldiers, most of them conscripted and forced into the front lines, many of them the survivors of the eight-year war that resulted from Saddam’s aggression against Iran, will face mass death.

On the other side of the lines, American soldiers, many of whom - like their Egyptian, British, French, and Canadian counterparts - joined the armed forces to escape poverty and unemployment, will also shed their blood in a needless war. The injured and shell-shocked survivors will return to the same neglect and ingratitude that greeted the American Vietnam veterans now living in poverty and pain, and the crippled Iraqi veterans who beg in the markets of Baghdad.

Those fighting against Iraq will be facing weapons provided to Saddam Hussein by the Americans, French, and Soviets, and chemical weapons developed with the help of German companies. The arms merchants who made huge profits providing these weapons will make more profits replacing those destroyed in the fighting. Almost certainly, whatever Iraqi regime emerges from a war will be massively rearmed, once again, by western arms dealers, before the decade is out. And western governments will once again be providing the loans and subsidies to make it all possible.

From a broader point of view, too, war was anything but inevitable. The U.S. and its allies backed Saddam Hussein for years, pouring in aid even as Saddam’s forces massacred Kurdish villagers and tortured and murdered political dissidents. Without that support, Saddam would never have been able to launch his invasions of Iran and Kuwait. Only because he threatened western oil interests is he being attacked now, while other reprehensible acts of force, like the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, the Syrian and Israeli occupation of Lebanon, or the American invasion of Grenada and war against Nicaragua are ignored.

Equally unnecessary, but inevitable given the current Canadian government, is Canada’s role in the Gulf mess. The part played by the Mulroney government has been predictable and squalid. Canadian forces were sent to the Gulf not under UN auspices or in response to a UN request, but because George Bush told Brian Mulroney to send them. Flouting democratic norms in a way that has become a trademark, the Mulroney government sent troops to a theatre of war without Parliament being allowed to even discuss it. They were already flying combat missions when Parliament was finally ostensibly deciding whether Canada should be involved. In a reversal of the policy of all previous governments during Canada’s history as an independent nation, Canadian forces have been placed under foreign command: American commanders will decide when, where, and how Canadians will fight and die. Presumably it is only a matter of time until the Mulroney government, with its penchant for cost-cutting, replaces the Department of External Affairs with a fax machine attached to the phone line from Washington.

And so a crisis caused by the greed, cynicism, and irresponsibility of those in power has turned into war. Most of us, to a greater or lesser degree, are hostages to events that were none of our choosing.

If there is a positive side to all this, it is that this is not merely an end but a beginning. Social upheaval will be an inevitable outcome of the events in the Gulf. Regimes will be overthrown as populations rebel against the misrulers who inflict repression, dictatorship, poverty, and war on them.

Let us hope that the results of these upheavals will be more democratic and just societies, in the Middle East, and in Canada and the United States as well. And let us make sure we do our part to make it happen.

Published in the Connexions Digest, Issue 53 (January 1991).

See also Ulli Diemer's article The Iraq Crisis in Context on the 2003 Iraq War.


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