Almost invariably, when protesters cry "peace" they mainly mean peace for their own minds – absolution from sacrifice or the need to make difficult choices. To that end, they are willing to wage total war against the truth. From accusations that America is starving Iraqi children, to accusations that Bush plan a silent genocide, to accusations that multibillion-dollar wars are fought over $1 billion construction projects, their version of reality requires reassigning motives and responsibility, downplaying or exaggerating facts, and fabricating fantastic lies.
For example, former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter is a novice war protester who instinctively understands what is needed, but isn’t perfectly polished yet. In a September interview with Time, he was reluctant to answer a question about a prison he’d seen during his inspections career, but nonetheless replied:
"[It] appeared to be a prison for children – toddlers up to pre-adolescents – whose only crime was to be the offspring of those who have spoken out politically against the regime of Saddam Hussein. It was a horrific scene…Actually I’m not going to describe what I saw there because what I saw was so horrible that it can be used by those who would want to promote war with Iraq, and right now I’m waging peace."
Since becoming a film maker in the employ of an Iraqi-born Michigan real estate developer, Ritter has been a pioneer of the claim that 5,000 Iraqi children die each month from the effects of sanctions.
At one time, this man had some sense. "Saddam Hussein is willing to parlay the suffering of his people for economic gain," he said in a 1999 interview with Britain’s notoriously far-left newspaper the Guardian. But by 2002, he’d learned not to emphasize Hussein’s role in that suffering. His notorious address to Iraq’s parliament on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary drew comparisons to "Hanoi Jane" Fonda’s conduct during the Vietnam War. His decision to blame all the world’s pain on the one superpower, however, ensures him a faceless future as simply one more clone of the anti-war Left.
The assertion that America is starving Iraqi children is not new. While body counts vary, the "5,000 per month" allegation, with its implications of systematic genocide, has proven popular. Now no informed person questions that large numbers of children and adults have perished in Iraq due to malnutrition and disease. According to a U.N. press release from March 24 2000, Secretary General Kofi Annan raised the question of "who was responsible for the situation: President Saddam Hussein or the United Nations."
Since Hussein first agreed to the oil-for-food program in 1996 (having rejected earlier offers), the United Nations has handled approximately $55 billion in authorized oil sales, bringing Iraq’s total exports near pre-war levels, but with the U.N. skimming enormous administrative fees and diverting part to war reparations. Iraq orders shiploads of supplies and presents the manifests to the U.N., which normally grants approval and cuts a check.
The U.N. handles deliveries in the ethnically-Kurdish north of Iraq, but disbursal to the Baghdad-controlled areas of Iraq is the job of Hussein’s regime. Further, Hussein is the one who must make the actual orders, and has deliberately left $21 billion – more than half of his share – unspent.
In September the Wall Street Journal pointed out the U.N.’s growing financial incentive to uphold the status quo, since it is "working, on commission, for Saddam." France and Russia, the biggest importers and re-sellers of Iraqi oil, have actively obstructed regime change. The longer the Saddam problem remains, the more money France, Russia and the U.N. make.
Meanwhile, Hussein has managed to smuggle about $3 billion in oil each year , and has even worked a finger into the oil-for-food pie, orchestrating kickbacks from intermediaries and collecting further billions for his palaces and weapons programs. This is, of course, standard operating procedure in the Arab Middle East, the land that invented baksheesh.
All this makes an excellent case for deposing Hussein, if only "for the children" as liberals love to say. Yet both his fellow travelers and Ritter, who knows firsthand the true plight of Iraqi children, advocate a laissez faire Iraq policy. Sanctions, he told the Guardian, make America "party" to the Iraqi people’s suffering.
To the truly fanatical "peace"-niks, the evil of war is not that people die, but that involvement forces Americans to make painful, conscience-tasking choices. This discomfort is anathema to a group that, during its 1960s incarnation, declared everything from the draft to academic standards to be a "hassle."
Protesters such as William Blum remain vigilant even during peace. A former Johnson Administration staffer still fulminating over American intervention in Latin America, in 1995 Blum wrote Killing Hope: U. S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, which boasts these paragraphs:
"Everyone knows of the unbelievable repression of women in Afghanistan, carried out by Islamic fundamentalists, even before the Taliban. But how many people know that during the late 1970s and most of the 1980s, Afghanistan had a government committed to bringing the incredibly backward nation into the 20th century, including giving women equal rights?.. What happened, however, is that the United States poured billions of dollars into waging a terrible war against this government, simply because it was supported by the Soviet Union. Prior to this, CIA operations had knowingly increased the probability of a Soviet intervention, which is what occurred. In the end, the United States won, and the women, and the rest of Afghanistan, lost. More than a million dead, three million disabled, five million refugees, in total about half the population."
When the U.S. kicked off its own invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, the legend makers were standing by with pens primed, ready to list the atrocities. Their greatest hope was for mass starvation to break out, something predicted confidently by Edward Herman in Nov. 2001 in "Genocide as Collateral Damage, But With Sincere Regrets," an article scattered thickly through anti-war cyberspace.
Even at that early date in the war, Herman was drawing parallels to Vietnam atrocities, claiming the Bush Administration planned for maximum civilian suffering. In choosing to invade at a time inconvenient to Afghanistan as a whole, "the U.S. war's impact on the Afghan starvation crisis is to exacerbate it, making it a policy of mass killing" while the media "are oblivious to the hypocrisy of the food drop program and its PR character."
Also in November 2001, former Herman collaborator Noam Chomsky told the Cairo newspaper Al-Ahram, "Plans are being made on the assumption that they may lead to the death of several million people. Very casually, with no comment and with no particular thought about it. It looks like what is happening is some sort of silent genocide."
Interestingly, when leftists fail to check each other’s notes they sometimes tread on each other’s toes. Robert Scheer wrote for The Nation on Dec. 3 (the article no longer shows up in their archives) that "the new Administration ... even funneled "humanitarian" aid to Taliban-run Afghanistan as a reward for the fundamentalists’ eradication of an opium crop." Impugning Bush’s motives (this is dealt with elsewhere) and putting "humanitarian" in quotation marks doesn’t change the fact that the Bush Administration was feeding Afghans up to the moment the war on terror began and kept feeding them afterwards.
Herman’s and Chomsky’s claims are admirably ambitious, but if massive loss of life doesn’t happen in Afghanistan they may prove of minor use; propagandists will be have to rely on mischaracterizing the Administration’s reasons for invading in the first place, since even a small body count is shocking if it happens for no good purpose. This all ignores, of course, the fact that American intervention in Afghanistan essentially stopped (or grossly curtailed, since no-one is claiming Afghanistan has become Connecticut) a long-running civil war that was costing thousands of lives. Our intervention has thus already saved many times more Afghan lives than have died in our bombings in the most extravagant plausible estimate.
Hence the predictable accusation that this war, too, is all about oil. In the 1991 Gulf War that was a reasonable statement; in Afghanistan the idea takes a little more explaining. Although Afghanistan has little oil of its own, nearby Central Asian nations are brimming with largely untapped reserves. Burgeoning India is a market particularly hungry for natural gas from Turkmenistan and its completely landlocked neighbor, Uzbekistan.
Since the Central Asian republics became independent of Moscow in 1991, Turkmenistan’s government and an international consortium of major corporations, headed by California-based Unocal, have been itching to build pipelines that would deliver oil and natural gas to the world market. Pipelines have been planned that would go in two directions: west across Iran or under the Caspian Sea, through Turkey and to the Mediterranean, and east across Afghanistan, through Pakistan to a port there and on to the gas grid in New Delhi. Troubles related to Islamist regimes in both directions have stopped any of these projects that would bring huge oil and gas profits to Asia’s arid, underdeveloped heartland.
These petroleum projects are essential to keeping the price of oil down in the long run, which is essential to the health of the entire world economy. One is naturally very curious about how many of the people who treat industrial civilization’s pursuit of oil as something shameful actually walk to work or ride in wood-burning buses.
Naturally, in the wake of the Taliban’s ouster it is expected that work will go forward, and a gas pipeline project has already been announced. Although the Unocal-led consortium is still waiting for signs of political stability, stories started running months ago in the British press and campus-oriented web sites calling the war a front for American oil companies.
In the screed "Afghanistan, the Taliban and the Bush Oil Team," put out by the Canada-based Centre for Research on Globalisation and posted to democrats.com last January, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was "a top advisor" for Unocal before the U.S. invasion. The conclusion, of course, is that Karzai was installed for the purpose of furthering U.S. oil interests.
If Karzai had merely been an oil man drafted into government service this might hold some water, but he was already a veteran official from the post-Soviet government overthrown by the Taliban in 1996.
He also belongs to the prestigious Populzai clan, which supplied Afghanistan’s kings from the mid-1700s on. But he had the bad grace to give solicited advice to an American business, and to the campus babblers and scribblers who are the primary consumers of anti-war propaganda, multibillion dollar projects – which inevitably involve American financiers and businesses – are symbols of despised corporate imperialism. Just as any war that involves American interests is suspect, so is any Marshal plan involving American corporations.
To think Afghanistan’s delegates would have supported a know-nothing or an anti-pipeline president is absurd. Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan all want the pipeline; what they lack is the capital and corporate resources to build it themselves. To the anti-Western comfortably ensconced in the West, however, Westernizing the East’s standard of living is a sin in itself.
The current war is generally a popular one with Americans galvanized by 9/11, so its opponents attack from three directions. The first employs exaggerations or fabrications about America’s role in world tragedies, ranging from ad nauseam recitations of single incidents (Japanese internments, Mai Lai) to creative math depicting Americans as mass murderers surpassing Stalin. The second requires minimizing, dismissing or shifting blame for real atrocities committed by enemy regimes. The third requires twisting the motives for a war so the cause eclipses the outcome.
The goal is a policy of abandonment. Renouncing U.S. interests is an article of faith among war protesters, and if that means abandoning the victims of tyranny as well, then it’s a question of tough priorities – and accepting whatever collateral damage it takes to give them a warm feeling of moral superiority inside.
Preston McConkie is a veteran of the first Persian Gulf War and is managing editor of the Ogden City News.