U.S. Aggression Against Iraq: Historical and Political Context

January 1, 2000

"We do not have any defense treaties with Kuwait and there are no special defense or security commitments to Kuwait."

–U.S. State Department, July 24, 1990

"We have no opinion on Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait….We have many Americans who would like to see the price go above $25 because they come from oil-producing states."

–April Glaspie, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq officially conversing
with Saddam Hussein, Baghdad, Iraq, July 25, 1990

When U.S. President Bill Clinton unilaterally chose to launch weapons of mass destruction into Iraq on December 16, 1998, his decision was simply a continuation our country’s historical pattern of grotesque criminal and lawless foreign interventions. The U.S. has exhibited extraordinary opportunism in how and when it chooses to either abide by, or defy, the United Nations Charter, other international laws, and its own Constitution. By far, the U.S. has become the worst offender in the world for committing lawless aggression and interventionism. It is now an unprecedented global empire.

U.S. Presidents have chosen to overtly intervene with U.S. armed forces on more than 400 occasions since 1798, violating the sovereignty of over 100 nations. Since World War II, as the Cold War unfolded, the U.S. constructed a global network of several thousand military bases and "listening" installations which have supported more than 200 U.S.-led interventions, virtually all in the "Third World" [Joseph Gerson and Bruce Birchard (Eds.), The Sun Never Sets: Confronting the Network of Foreign U.S. Military Bases (Boston: South End Press, 1991), p. 12]. The U.S. is the only nation to have used nuclear and atomic weapons, causing the deaths and maimings of millions. In addition, U.S. Presidents have directed more than 6,000 major and minor covert actions since 1947, destabilizing and overthrowing governments and justice movements, and assassinating political leaders throughout the world. More than 20 million people have been murdered, many more maimed for life. All of these overt and covert interventions have been illegal and unconscionable under the United Nations Charter, international law, and, as well, under U.S. Constitutional law.

During the impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Clinton, many U.S. Congresspersons declared that their Constitutional duty to consider impeachment was equal in gravity to their duty to consider a declaration of war. It is one of the tragedies of our so-called constitutionally-based civilization that while the House of Representatives was preoccupied with impeaching a President for lying about consensual sex, the same political body didn’t even blink when the President chose punish the people of Iraq, whether with cruise missiles or sanctions.

The economic sanctions imposed against Iraq, enforced by international blockade, have reportedly led to premature deaths of over one million children under the age of 5–in effect, a weapon of mass destruction. The insensitivity of U.S. political leaders is revealed by remarks made by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on CBS "60 Minutes," May 12, 1996. Leslie Stall commented, "We have heard that half a million children died; that’s more children than died in Hiroshima." Then Stall asked, "Is the price worth it?" Madeleine Albright responded, "We think the price is worth it," and did not deny the fact that a massive number of children had died.

It is difficult to comprehend the arrogance of our governmental leaders. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, in addressing military combat troops on the USS George Washington aircraft carrier in the Gulf poised to attack Iraq, declared, "You are the steel in the sword of freedom. You are the tip of the sword" (Associated Press story, Feb. 12, 1998). Whose freedom? Whose sword? And who has thought about the justice, fairness, and long-term wisdom of the sword?

The tragedy and sickness continue: We think and act as if we are worth more than others; that others are worth far less than us.

Congress has declared war on only five occasions in the history of our Republic, the last vote being in 1941, authorizing our participation in WWII. Since WWII, as noted above, the U.S. Presidents have initiated over 200 overt military and 6,000 covert interventions. None of these interventions, nor the Presidents who ordered them, have been the object of serious discussions in Congress about impeachable offenses, and none of these aggressions have received serious debate, if any, about the need for declaring war as required under our Constitutional system of government.

Recent major examples of U.S.-led or supported aggression include the bombing of Libya in 1986, the invasion of Grenada in 1983, the invasion of Panama in 1990, and the "contra" wars against the people of Mozambique (at least 900,000 murdered), Angola (at least 500,000 murdered), and Nicaragua (at least 50,000 murdered and maimed).

The recent U.S. interventions against Iraq include "Desert Storm" in 1991 (perhaps 300,000 murdered), bombing of missile sites and a nuclear facility near Baghdad in January 1993, and bombing in 1996 ostensibly to punish Iraq for venturing into Kurdish "safe havens." Additionally, President Clinton sent 40 Tomahawk Cruise missiles into downtown Baghdad in June 1993 in an effort to punish Saddam Hussein for a supposed plot to assassinate ex-President George Bush when he was visiting Kuwait during Spring 1993. Seymour Hersch wrote a New Yorker article about this incident in which he could find no credible evidence for the plot. Furthermore, 16 of the 40 missiles missed their target, killing eight people, one of whom was a famous Iraqi painter.

When President George Herbert Walker Bush quickly ordered U.S. ground and naval forces to Saudi Arabia on August 7, 1990, in response to Iraq’s August 2nd "naked aggression" against the Sheikdom of Kuwait, many knew that was not the real issue. There have been numerous "naked aggressions" committed by one country against another in the Middle East, as well as elsewhere, including Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980, and Israel’s numerous "naked aggressions" against Arab people–Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis, and Egyptians–over three decades. These include Israel’s 1981 bold and criminal bombing of Iraq’s nuclear power plant, and Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon where over 20,000 people were killed. Though all of Israel’s aggressions have received harsh condemnation from the United Nations, never have sanctions been imposed or bombs launched against Israel by the U.S. It is significant to note that we have always either overtly supported these aggressions or abstained from voting in the U.N. Rarely, if ever, has the U.S. condemned Israel’s aggression.

The U.S. has consistently provided Israel $3-4 billion of aid each year, despite the fact that Israel is a nuclear state which has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and U.S. law prohibits furnishing aid to any country that has not signed this treaty. In a similar situation, the U.S. ceased aid to Pakistan in 1988 when her nuclear weapons program was discovered.

So the immediate response by the Bush administration to Iraq’s 1990 actions–when the U.S. has ignored, voted against, and/or defied 42 U.N. resolutions during the previous 23 years condemning Israel’s aggression against four sovereign nations as well as her occupation of Palestine–demonstrates an incredible double standard that infuriates people of conscience everywhere. This double standard promotes a seething bitterness among many of its victims, and revolutionary activity among those who refuse to be silent or complacent. It creates shame for conscientious citizens of the United States and demands their nonviolent revolutionary resistance and affirmation of an alternative vision. The behavior of the U.S. Government shows total contempt for international law and reveals, for anyone and everyone who wishes to face basic empirical truth, what a shameless international outlaw our nation-state really is.

Though President Bush declared Iraq’s invasion and occupation of the Sheikdom of Kuwait as an arbitrary and egregious aggression, Kuwait in fact had been a historic district of Iraq under the Ottoman empire up to WWI. During the breakup of Middle East lands after the war, Great Britain created tiny Kuwait as a separate territory, cutting off much of oil-rich Iraq’s convenient access to the Persian Gulf. Subsequently, to this day, Iraqi governments have never accepted Kuwait as a separate sovereign nation.

On July 25, 1990, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie personally told Saddam Hussein, "We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait" (New York Times, 9/23/90). This conversation has led some analysts to suggest that Saddam Hussein had clear reason to believe that the U.S. would not respond to Iraqi aggression against Kuwait over border and oil well location disputes.

Furthermore it is important to note that the U.S. and Western European countries were major suppliers of chemical and biological weapons to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. A report from the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs declared that 9 out of 10 biological materials used in Iraq’s weapon systems were bought from U.S. companies. Furthermore, the U.S. supplied satellite intelligence to Iraq when they used U.S.-supplied chemical weapons against Iran in 1988 (Los Angeles Times, Feb. 19, 1998).

U.S. double standards were again revealed when a 1997 Senate Bill allowed the President to deny international inspections of U.S. weapons sites "on grounds of national security," which violated the global treaty mandating the dismantling of chemical weapons (Associated Press, Feb. 27, 1998). The U.S./U.N. sanctions imposed against Iraq are a gross violation of the Geneva Protocol 1, Article 54, prohibiting starvation of civilians as a method of warfare.

Furthermore, the U.S. government and U.S. companies sell billions of dollars of weapons of mass destruction to other Gulf states and Israel. It is believed that fundamentalist Iran has a nuclear weapons program. In effect, Iraq has its own legitimate defense considerations in that its adversaries, Israel and Iran, each are believed to have numerous weapons of mass destruction in addition to nuclear weapons. Thus Iraq has every reason to believe it is being unfairly singled out for unprecedented punishment. This discrimination is bound to breed deep resentment against the U.S. for generations to come. Resentment is further deepened by knowledge that President Clinton ordered the CIA to plan and carry out a major program of sabotage, subversion, and organization of armed resistance groups inside Iraq designed to overthrow Saddam Hussein (New York Times, Feb. 26, 1998)–another example of arrogant, outlaw behavior by the U.S. Government.

Following World War II, Pax Americana launched into full swing. The 1947 National Security Act set in motion the intense covert as well as overt activities mentioned above to assure that "Manifest Destiny" would become globally successful. Many of the veterans who have become active against war, for peace through justice, have directly participated in these covert and overt interventions during their military service. For this reason, veterans bring an important infusion of insight and passion to various efforts by people of conscience to end this continuation of the Columbus Enterprise.

In March 1990 the White House issued its National Security Strategy of the United States, reminding its readers that the U.S. has "…always sought to protect the safety of the nation…and its way of life," requiring efforts aimed at "contributing to an international environment…within which our democracy–and other free nations–can flourish." The report states that these goals have guided "American" policy "throughout the life of the Republic," being the "driving force behind President Jefferson’s decision to send the American Navy against the Pasha of Tripoli in 1804 as they were when President Reagan directed American naval and air forces to return to that area in 1986." Tripoli, of course, is today’s Libya, and 1801-1805 was the period of the First Barbary or Tripolitan War.

The report continues by declaring our "pivotal responsibility for ensuring the stability of the international balance," and it identifies the Middle East as a region in which "even as East-West tensions diminish, American strategic concerns remain," identifying threats to, for example, the "security of Israel" and the "free flow of oil." Israel is strategic for assuring U.S. hegemony even beyond the Middle East.

The interest in oil is made very clear: "Secure supplies of energy are essential to our prosperity and security. The concentration of 65 percent of the world’s known oil reserves in the Persian Gulf means we must continue to ensure reliable access to competitively priced oil and a prompt, adequate response to any major oil supply disruption." Of course this policy is not surprising, nor is it new. It is simply worth noting again that the American Way Of Life (AWOL) leaves us little choice but to continue our addiction to oil and other fossil fuels.

It is interesting to note that a post-Korean War major intervention of U.S. troops occurred in 1958 in Lebanon as British paratroopers landed in Jordan. This military action was in response to the perceived threat to the unstable Lebanese government created by the summer 1958 military coup that overthrew the feudal, Western-friendly monarchy in Iraq. The coup in Iraq was considered a shocking setback for the U.S. Our access to cheap oil was thought to be at stake. Gamal Abdel Nasser, head of the newly created United Arab Republic, in February 1958, advocated Pan-Arab nationalism which was considered extremely threatening to Western oil interests. Citing the Eisenhower Doctrine, first espoused in 1957 to protect friendly Middle East countries, President Eisenhower, in a message to Congress, declared Lebanon’s territorial integrity and independence as "vital to U.S. interests" and concluded the likelihood of "indirect aggression from without" [Richard B. Morris and Jeffrey B. Morris (Eds.), Encyclopedia Of American History (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), p. 488]. With 15,000 military forces present in Lebanon, Eisenhower, joined by Britain, warned Iraq’s new revolutionary government to respect Western oil interests. Kuwait and its oil was one of the major concerns in 1958, especially as Iraq was actively seeking to resolve the long problem of incorporating Kuwait which, in Iraq’s mind, had been unfairly taken from its territory by the British in 1922.

Since OPEC’s spectacular achievement in 1973 when it took control of oil away from the private companies that had historically possessed control of the industry, the United States has been desirous of military intervention in the Middle East. President Ford threatened to use military force in 1974 if necessary to "break an embargo or fashion reasonable prices" (Gerson and Birchard, op. cit., p. 284). Since the mid-1970s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with private U.S. contractors, has built an extensive network of military bases in Saudi Arabia, according to U.S. specifications and under U.S. supervision, but owned by the Saudis. These installations, more elaborate than needed by the Saudi Arabian military, have been over-built specifically for use by U.S. military forces.

The early 1979 Iranian revolution that toppled the Western-friendly Shah, the hostage crisis that followed, and the Soviet December invasion of Afghanistan, all contributed to catalyze open domestic support for escalated U.S. military buildup in the Middle East. President Carter responded with the "Carter Doctrine," in which he warned that the "United States would use any means necessary, including military forces," to protect its vital interests in the Gulf (Gerson and Birchard, op. cit., p. 283). This went further than the Eisenhower Doctrine espoused in 1957.

When the U.S. was robbed of its closest ally in the Gulf region with the deposition of the Shah in 1979, the newly selected President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, became a (temporary) replacement, of sorts. The U.S. gave tacit approval and support for Iraq’s September 1980 invasion of the hostile (as perceived by Iraq and other nations in the Middle East), revolutionary Islamic Iran. When the war turned for the worse against Iraq in 1982, the Reagan administration provided loans and credit guarantees despite continuing allegations of human rights violations by the Iraqi government. Iraq’s working relationship with the CIA and the Pentagon became ever closer.

In 1986 and 1987 when Iranian troops occupied the city of Fao, the Shatt al-Arab Waterway, and other Gulf port areas of Iraq adjacent to Kuwait, the U.S. became even more alarmed. The U.S. reflagged Kuwaiti tankers for protection and introduced a 42-warship armada to the Gulf, in effect openly aligning itself with Iraq to deter shelling of oil tankers by Iran. A cease-fire was finally signed by Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein on August 20, 1988. After 8 years of war, Iraq suffered 750,000 dead and wounded, a ravaged economy and huge foreign debts, the majority owed to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Hussein had always claimed that the war against Iran was fought in the name of the "Arab nation" and that Iraq had acted as an "Arab shield" against Khomeini’s provocative, fundamentalist Iran.

Before President Carter left office, the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) was developed, initially as a force that could seize oil facilities. It has grown to comprise one quarter of all active duty Army and Marine divisions, Navy carrier groups, and Air Force tactical fighter wings. On January 1, 1983, the RDF was officially transformed into the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) with responsibility for all U.S. military activities in the Middle East region, stretching between Egypt, Kenya and Pakistan. CENTCOM’s strategy for intervention in the Middle East was, and continues to be, based on (a) improvement of military bases in Middle East countries in exchange for U.S. access rights, (b) increased stockpiling of U.S. weapons and supplies in the region, (c) expansion of sealift and airlift capabilities, and (d) development of highly mobile and heavily armed "special operations" forces and "light infantry" divisions. President Reagan described the latter units as "power projection" forces designed for quick in and out intervention in the "Third" world. The "New World Order" was well prepared for the change from a bipolar to unipolar world, ruled by Pax Americana, i.e., peace, U.S. style.

As the "East-West" conflict dwindles, the longstanding "North-South," or rich-poor conflict comes into sharper focus. However, in effect, the rich-poor, or North-South conflict has been operating under the cover of the "Cold War" for 45 years. In 1948, George Kennan, a major architect of the post-WW II containment policy in President Truman’s State Department, wrote:


"We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population…we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our task…is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity…we should cease to talk about…unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization…we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts."

If only our political leaders today were this honest.

The first major military crisis in the post-Cold War period warns us all of the nature of the New World Order: rich countries, especially as defined by income and consumption patterns, are united under the violent military enforcement power of the United States against local and regional "Third" world, i.e. generally poor, countries to acquire necessary global resources and the profits derived from them. The U.S.-led intervention into the Middle East in 1990-1991, with "the heaviest sustained bombing in history" (New York Times, Feb. 3, 1991), Iraq being the unfortunate victim, was a defense of the hegemonic Western economic system. The Kuwaiti Sheikdom, the other Gulf Sheikdoms, and the Saudi royal family were being defended because of their allegiance to the consumer addicted, waste unconscious, profit for the minority, Western Way of Life as managed by the American Way of Life (AWOL). As one commentator put it, "It is a perfect marriage of a bank without a country [the Sheikdoms] with a country without a bank [the U.S.]."

The U.S. military intervention in the Middle East in 1990-1991 was the first time in 45 years that such action could not be rationalized as defense of "democracy" in response to the Soviet/"Communist" threat. Although about much more than oil, this intervention assured control over the region’s oil by maintaining Saudi and the Gulf Sheikdom’s power in serving as convenient banks for the West. The issue is not so much energy, though that is extremely important in the long run, but the incredible economic and consequently political power deriving from control of energy resources and profits. Petrodollars invested in the Western economies by the Gulf Sheikdoms amount to hundreds of billions of dollars. Such massive intervention and destruction as occurred in Iraq is an ominous warning to all people who get in the way of Pax Americana. Watch out poor people, you are the threat to AWOL, you are the threat to the "New World Order."

The March 1990 White House National Security Strategy, discussed above, declared the presence of "lower order threats" and that "poverty and the lack of political freedoms contribute to the instability that breeds such conflict." It identified regions of concern: East Asia and the Pacific, the Middle East and South Asia, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere. I guess Western and Eastern Europe, the USSR, and Antarctica are safe for now. By the end of the 1990s it was clear that Eastern Europe was also not safe in the region of former Yugoslavia.

A few months before the Gulf War of 1990-1991, General A.M. Gray, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, stated the problem very clearly:


"The underdeveloped world’s growing dissatisfaction over the gap between rich and poor nations will create a fertile breeding ground for insurgencies which have the potential to jeopardize regional stability and our access to vital economic and military resources. This situation will become more critical as our nation and allies, as well as potential adversaries, become more dependent on these strategic resources.

"If we are to have stability in these regions, maintain access to their resources, protect our citizens abroad, defend our vital installations, and deter conflict, we must maintain within our active force structure a credible military power projection capability with the flexibility to respond to conflict across the spectrum of violence throughout the globe" (Marine Corps Gazette, May 1990)

Gray is fairly blunt, with shades of the honesty displayed by George Kennan 42 years earlier. The New World Order means that new pretexts for intervention have to be articulated to continue rationalizing intervention ("narcoguerillas," "terrorists," "madmen"); globalization of the Banana Republics, to include Eastern Europe and the USSR, as well as the remainder of the "Third" world; and the unlimited "freedom" of the U.S. to use whatever military force it thinks is necessary to maintain its hegemony and the American Way of Life (AWOL). This is why I and many others, veterans and non-veterans alike, opposed the 1990-1991 U.S. military operations in the Gulf and the continued bombings and sanctions against the people of Iraq, and later, the bombings in Kosovo and Serbia. Who is next? You? Me? The New World Order is dangerous!

This is the context, historically and politically, for the 1991 Veterans Peace Delegation that traveled to the Middle East to expose the diabolical nature of Pax Americana. We found Armageddon in Megiddo, Green Line Israel; later we explored Babylon in Iraq. But in our hearts we know we are facing Armageddon and Babylon within ourselves, within our culture and society, within our nation-state, within AWOL. We know that the change that really must happen, the transformation that is awaiting, is within us. It is not the poor, of course, who are the threat to the world (order). Our greed blinds us to the kind of injustices that AWOL inevitably, and necessarily, imposes on Mother Earth and her inhabitants. It is only a matter of time before it will catch up with us as well. I hope that we wake up and become willing to endure the painful, but ultimately joyous, process of liberation to the new man, the new woman, i.e. homo amicus. We need you, now!


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