"One of the delightful things about Americans is that they have absolutely no historical memory."
—Zhou Enlai

A history lesson for the president....1

On 12 September 2002 (not coincidentally the day following the one year anniversary of the World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks) President George Bush II presented what had been promised to be a strong case for going to war with Iraq (though the administration continued to do all it could to pretend that "war" was not the intent). Rather than that offering what has been promised or any actual "new" evidence, people were subjected to a long version of the same two or three speeches and recycled old evidence and conjecture as has been pouring out of the White House as of late. The only thing that seems to have been left out was an "or else."

And all the while showing a gross ignorance or deliberate ignoring of the historical record.

He spoke about the United Nations gaining legitimacy and credibility by capitulating to US demands for action—not in those words, his speech writers are smarter than that. This of course, from a country that has a shaky hold on that sort moral high ground (no matter how conservatively evangelical Attorney General John Ashcroft is). The man who claimed Jesus Christ was his favorite "political philosopher" spoke of how "After generations of deceitful dictators and broken treaties and squandered lives, we dedicated ourselves to standards of human dignity shared by all, and to a system of security defended by all," apparently without any sense of knowing that many of them were funded and supported by the US.

Every one of these individuals or groups was at one time getting overt or covert paychecks and usually arms from the US, all while repressing their people, usually violently, stripping them of their freedoms and compromising hope of anything resembling "democracy": successions of brutal Guatemalan dictators (after the US fomented a coup that toppled the democratic and democratically elected government in 1954—it was time for a regime change), Augusto Pinochet, Ferdinand Marcos, Manuel Noriega, a corrupt and brutal government in El Salvador, the Contras (who were terrorists, themselves), Mohammed Siad Barre (Somalia), Francois Duvalier and Jean-Claude Duvalier (Haiti), Hissène Habré (Chad), Idi Amin, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge (after 1978), Anastazio Somoza (Sr. and Jr.; Nicaragua), Suharto (Indonesia), Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina (Dominican Republic), Mohammad Reza Pahlevi (the Shah of Iran whose repression and brutality led to the rise of extremism and the Ayatollah Khomeini—in turn leading to the storming of the US Embassy and the taking of hostages), numerous heads of state in Africa and elsewhere. The combined body count (not to mention the pain and suffering and psychological damage) of these and others is larger than that of the Holocaust (this is merely a comparison of numbers).

And don't forget to add one other name to the list: Saddam Hussein.

When the question comes up "why do they hate us?" it rarely gets mentioned that supporting such tyrants might be part of the equation. Since 1946, the US has run the infamous School of the Americas (often referred to as "School of Assassins" for good reason) where it has taught over 60,000 Central and South American soldiers in "counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics" (School of the Americas Watch: www.soaw.org). Basically, they were taught how to conduct state-run terrorism against their own people. Started in Panama, it has been at Fort Benning, Georgia since 1984. On American soil. Trained for export to other countries.

People who graduated went on to careers in harassment, beating, torture, rape, murder, and massacre. Targets including women and children, the clergy, aid and human rights workers, and labor organizers. Some of the leaders of the "elite" unit that perpetrated the massacres at and around El Mozote were graduates. Several of those that were part of Pinochet's notorious intelligence agency were graduates. Other graduates of the program from El Salvador were connected to or took part in both the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the rape and murder of three Catholic nuns and a layworker (all Americans; the crimes became noticed mainly because the families refused to accept the "official" version of what happened given by the Salvadoran government, which was accepted by the US government). A name from above reappears: Manuel Noriega. Since 2001, it has been run under a new name: the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. But not under new management.

Bush II discussed the series of ignored or broken UN Security Council resolutions. He asked "Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence?" This is important, since the implication is that any country that regularly defies Security Council resolutions must be a rogue state (unless it's Israel, which has also benefited from the US permanent member veto on more than 30 occasions). In 1984, Nicaragua filed a case against the US for violations of international law (and the UN Charter and the Organization of American States charter, both of which according to Article VI of the US Constitution—as ratified treaties—are considered the "supreme law of the land") regarding its support of the Contras and actual actions (sabotage and mining a harbor, among others) taken by operatives of the US.

(The ensuing Iran-Contra scandal demonstrated just how well a nation can whitewash its sins when policing itself.)

The World Court ruled in favor of Nicaragua. Rather than dispute the evidence, the US simply ignored it. Nicaragua took the case to the Security Council where the US (predictably) used its veto to stop a resolution calling for states to observe international law. It fell 11-1, 3 abstentions. In 1987, the General Assembly voted on a resolution against terrorism. It was nearly unanimous. One abstention, two vetoes. The US was one of those (Israel was the other).

This is also the country that took decades to ratify both the Genocide Convention and protocol to the Geneva Convention prohibiting the use of chemical and biological weapons (the former accompanied by "reservations" and "declarations" making it meaningless). This is the country that has refused to sign/ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (the only other being Somalia), the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and others. That unilaterally broke out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty) and the Kyoto Protocol on global warming (the US being the world's biggest polluter).

The same country that is trying to muster coalition support for its war enterprise, yet refused to vote for the creation of the International Criminal Court. A country seeking the UN's imprimatur, yet refuses to pay off its millions of dollars in debt to the organization from which it is trying to get support.

He discussed UN Human Rights reports about the gross violations committed by Hussein's government. Again, this is selective memory or sheer ignorance. None of the reports on the United Front (Northern Alliance) seemed important enough to cause concern. Not that their violations were mostly the same as those of the Taleban (though on a smaller scale). Even though it's becoming clear that the former warlords have not changed their ways in many respects and that shortly after the beginning of the "war" in Afghanistan, reports began to filter out of summary executions of prisoners (more violations of international law). These reports are starting to be substantiated. Bombings, assassination attempts (and successes) still go on.

Some places report conditions that are virtually the same as under the Taleban in the treatment and subjugation of women, religious persecution (both persecution of religion and by religion), and general lawlessness. Opium production and drug use, which were held at significantly low levels under the Taleban, are making a strong comeback.

This isn't surprising, the US has long ignored human rights violations in many of its allies: Turkey, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Nicaragua (under the Somoza regime—which conveniently changed when they were ousted by the Sandinistas), Egypt (after Israel, the nation receiving the largest amount of US foreign aid—two-thirds of all US foreign aid goes to those two countries), Saudi Arabia...the correlation between regimes the US supports and human rights abuses is striking. But the reports only matter when they serve a purpose. In this case, going to war against Iraq.

The United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM, better known as the weapons inspectors) is mentioned. And while it is undeniable that Iraq cooperated as little as possible, lied, and misled, the fact that the US was undermining the effectiveness of the team by using it to spy on potential military targets—something that was denied, later turning out to be true—goes unmentioned. And when the team finally pulled out (voluntarily—not having been kicked out as the "official" version goes), they did so just ahead of bombing attacks that used the intelligence gathered by their spies.

There was also the case of an unofficial promise to limit access to certain chosen sites (mainly a matter of allowing fewer members of the team). It led to further breakdowns and denial of access to American inspectors. A reluctance to allow them back would be understandable if they feared more bad faith and covert business possibly leading to more attacks (which in the current climate is almost a certainty). When those sites were later examined, they were clean (maybe there were weapons there, maybe not).

That fact that more than one of the members of the team has stated that as much as 90% of Hussein's capacity to create the weapons of mass destruction was disabled (had they been allowed to do their job by both sides, things may have been different). Of course, the main fact is that there is no evidence that Hussein either has or has not stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. It is being assumed that he has. While very likely true, it seems a poor way to "make a case" for war.

The UN sanctions were brought up. Sanctions that are contributing to the misery and deaths of large numbers of Iraqi civilians (as did the targeting of civilian infrastructure during the Gulf Warsanitation, water treatment plants, power facilities—another violation of the Geneva Convention and one that was also practiced in Bosnia). Sanctions that Hussein flaunts. Rather than altering them or halting them and searching for another solution (unless one agrees going to war is a "solution"), they are continued, pressed on by the US. Since the consequences and human costs of the continuing sanctions are clear, the US and UN are partially culpable in those consequences.

There is so much in this paragraph alone:

We can harbor no illusions—and that's important today to remember. Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. He's fired ballistic missiles at Iran and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Israel. His regime once ordered the killing of every person between the ages of 15 and 70 in certain Kurdish villages in northern Iraq. He has gassed many Iranians, and 40 Iraqi villages.

Illusions indeed. How soon "we" forget. Hussein's attack of Iran was supported by the administration. There were no condemnations (beyond some mild statements, quickly said then dumped into Orwell's memory hole) when he used chemical weapons against the Iranian army—not just a violation of international law but a de facto war crime—weapons that were largely created through the help of sales from US pharmaceutical and chemical companies, licensed to sell to Iraq by the US Commerce Department. The anthrax and botulism germ agents found by UN inspectors matched those sold by US companies. Companies that are on the record as having sold same to Iraq.

When the news broke of the evidence of these crimes, current Secretary of War (let's be honest and call it by its true name) Donald Rumsfeld—then-President Ronald Reagan's Middle East envoy—was in Iraq. Support for Hussein and sales of chemical, biological agents, helicopters, and materiel continued. It was well known that Hussein had the weapons and had used them. Computer equipment and other electronics that were widely known to have dual purpose uses (i.e., both commercial/civilian and military use) were also sold to Iraq. Components and systems that could be put to use building missile systems. None of this was a matter of concern.

Iran was an official enemy and Iraq's war against them was a "good" thing as far as the administration was concerned. Hence, no one cared that chemical weapons were used. No one cared that missiles were fired and villages destroyed. At least until it became convenient as fodder for the drums of war.

In fact, it's been reported that US military and intelligence agencies gave Iraq intelligence pertaining to Iranian troop movement, deployment, information that aided in bomb strikes and likely helped to maximize the effectiveness of the mustard gas, VX, and sarin he had developed with the help of "you know who." According to a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) source, the Pentagon "wasn't so horrified by Iraq's use of gas. It was just another way of killing people—whether with a bullet or phosgene, it didn't make any difference." According to another intelligence officer, "The use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern" (New York Times, 18 August 2002). Until now.

And when Hussein gassed those Kurds (of the infamous "gassed his own people" mantra) support continued. For at least another year. Despite an estimated casualty count of 2,500 to 5,000. That many dead only count if they are Americans. One wonders just how much concern the US has for the Kurds, given the way it allows Turkey to repress them, up to and including violence. Hundreds of millions of dollars in US weapons are being used for that. Or given that the US told its soldiers to stand down and do nothing when shortly after the Gulf War, Hussein had his soldiers massacre them in large numbers.

Where was the concern then? Or since? Repression of Kurds in areas under Hussein's control has gone on all along. Before, when he was armed and supported, while there was the "war" by technicality, and in the interim. Only now this becomes an issue. Only now those deaths have any meaning as far as the administration is concerned.

And that same Rumsfeld, who was having meetings with Hussein during the period when he was committing war crimes with tacit approval of the US, within a few hours of the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center, was asking aides to draw up plans to attack Iraq—at a time when evidence confirming that it was al-Qaeda responsible was not yet available. Notes from an unnamed aide (courtesy of CBS News) had Rumsfeld a few hours later asking for "best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H." (Saddam Hussein) - "at same time. Not only UBL" (bin Laden—his first name is sometimes transliterated as Usama). Regardless of a lack of evidence implicating Iraq in the attacks (none has yet been uncovered), he was to looking for an excuse to "go massive," and to "Sweep it all up. Things related and not" (CBS Evening News broadcast, 4 September 2002).

Another news story that has silently been swept under the rug and forgotten.

Iraq has never used its weapons of mass destruction except on Iran (again, with the tacit approval of the US—and arguably with its encouragement) and its own people (Kurds). It has never attacked the US nor fired upon a US citizen prior to being, itself, attacked. And those actions took place within Iraq. But the preemptive strike plan favored—championed—by the current administration (and in violation of international law as well as the UN Charter) is set so that all that is "necessary" to attack another sovereign state is the suspicion that it might at some time possibly commit attacks of military or terroristic nature. "Self-defense" stretched virtually forever.

This is not what the UN was set up to do and it is this sort of unilateral action based on conjecture or simple fear that the UN and the Security Council are supposed to guard against.

No matter how corrupt, brutal, repressive a government is. No matter how despicable its leader is. The UN is set up to find solutions that don't involve the kind of war that is being actively pursued. Like the bitter conflicts that tore apart the many nations in Europe and elsewhere in the past. Looking at history shows the utter hypocrisy and arrogance of the stance being taken by the US.

But history is irrelevant to foreign policy and (irony noted) there is a long history of that. George Orwell wrote that "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." Pretending that the past does not exist (at least not the embarrassing or incriminating historical record) is a full time job in Washington, D.C. Sadly, the mainstream media follows along.

Bush asked if the UN will "serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?" This from a country that has spent a lot of time taking actions and implementing policies that make the UN irrelevant. And "serve the purpose of its founding," here clearly means "do what the US wants."

"Do as I say, not as I have done for decades."

"Or else."

1Sadly, it is necessary to point out that this is not an apologetic for Iraq or Saddam Hussein. It is an attempt to put some things into a historical context that is almost completely absent in the mainstream media and certainly in the rhetoric of those in power who are pushing for this "action." Historical events do not occur in a vacuum and actions have consequences. When those consequences result in the loss of innocent lives, it is intolerable. But to suggest the best solution is to take more human life, it will only make more problems. And acting on that suggestion will create problems that all the flags fluttering from mini-vans in the world cannot protect us from.

As a US citizen, my government has already smeared more than enough blood on my hands. More will not make the world any safer, any more secure.

For further reference and additional sources, some related work:
El Mozote
Declarations and Reservations to the Genocide Convention
UN resolutions relating to Israel vetoed by the US
Northern Alliance
Saddam Hussein
Iran-Contra Scandal
Hissène Habré
Rio Negro massacres (Guatemala; three part writeup): 1, 2, 3
Khmer Rouge
War on Iraq 2002