Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
I'd like to spend the next few minutes with you discussing an issue of utmost urgency: the impending invasion of Iraq that the Bush Administration is planning.
This invasion would be unconstitutional.
It would be against international law.
It would violate the Christian doctrine of "just war."
It would further damage U.S. relations with its allies, relations that are already frayed by Bush's mindless unilateralism.
It would wreak havoc in the Muslim world, where there's plenty of havoc already.
It could shake the U.S. economy, which is trembling right now.
And most importantly, it could result in the deaths of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of innocent people.
Worst case: It could end with the United States dropping a nuclear bomb on Baghdad.
President Bush acts as though he has the right to go attack Iraq anytime he wants to. That's false, and very dangerous for a democracy. Our founders gave the right to Congress and only to Congress to make the momentous decision of whether to take the United States to war or not. It's all there in Article 1, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution.
The founders knew that to give the President such power would risk dragging the country and its people into one senseless war after another.
Sadly, since World War II, Presidents have usurped this power of Congress, and Congress has abdicated it. There has not been a Congressional declaration of war since December 1941, though there sure have been plenty of wars since then, most notably Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War, but also Panama, Grenada, the Dominican Republic, and myriad other nations the United States has assaulted directly or covertly over the last six decades.
To this extent, we have a lawless Presidency. And if we are to restore our democracy, we need to insist that the Constitution be followed. That means Congress, not the President, has the sole power to declare war.
In the current circumstance of Iraq, the President's apologists argue that he has the authority to wage war by virtue of two Congressional acts. First, in 1991, Congress gave the President the authorization to wage war against Saddam Hussein (though technically it did not declare war). But how open-ended is this authorization? Congress did not intend to give the President a blank check to wage war against Iraq forever, or anytime he happened to feel like it. The Congress did not grant the President the right to change the regime there more than a decade later.
The second Congressional act that Bush's cheerleaders cite is the September 14, 2001, use of force authorization, which allows Bush to attack any person, group, or country that he believes was involved in the attack of 9/11. Now the Bush hawks have been doing their damnedest to pin some of the blame for that heinous act on Saddam Hussein, but there's hardly a tissue connecting the two.
International law is quite clear: Country A cannot attack Country B unless Country B has already attacked Country A or is about to attack Country A. Iraq has not attacked the United States. And it's not about to. Saddam, as brutal as he is, loves to cling to power. He knows that attacking the United States would be suicidal.
Actually, under international law, Saddam Hussein may have a better case for attacking the United States today than Bush has for attacking Iraq, since Bush is threatening an imminent war against Iraq. But no one wants to hear that!
Furthermore, for the United States to take this aggressive action without the approval of the U.N. Security Council would be a violation of the U.N. charter, which the United States has ratified.
To get around this, the Bush Administration is hyping the danger that Saddam poses to the United States. Cheney recently called Saddam a "mortal threat." That's getting a little carried away.
The United States has a $400 billion Pentagon budget; Iraq's military budget is about $4 billion.
The United States has thousands of nuclear weapons; Iraq doesn't have one yet, much less the means to deliver it.
And even if Iraq obtained one nuclear weapon or two, would that present a "mortal" danger to the United States? Remember, the United States managed to survive for four decades against an enemy with thousands of nuclear weapons aimed at us.
The fact is, there is no justification under international law or under Christian "just war" theory for Bush to attack Iraq. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury has said so.
There is no causus belli--no precipitating act that Saddam Hussein has engaged in that would justify it.
Nor has President Bush exhausted all peaceful means to resolve the issue, as required by just war theory. Quite the contrary: Rumsfeld and Cheney are openly disdainful of getting U.N. inspectors back in, which was and would be the best way to grind down whatever program Saddam Hussein has for weapons of mass destruction. (By the way, we hear a lot about Saddam Hussein kicking out weapons inspectors. But remember, President Clinton is as much to blame for those inspectors having left Iraq as anyone. Saddam did not kick them out. Clinton pulled them out right before he decided to wage his own little bombing attack on Iraq back in December 1998, to deflect attention from Monica Lewinsky.)
In addition, just war theory requires that the risks of doing more harm than good with a war must be minimal. But with this invasion those risks cannot be dismissed lightly.
Let's look at some of those risks.
First, on the diplomatic front, a unilateral war against Iraq--or even one with our viceroy Tony Blair on board--would drive a wedge between the United States and many of its allies in Europe and around the world. The German government has already said it would not support such an adventure. The French are not enthusiastic. Nor are the Canadians, the Russians, and the Turks. And Saudi Arabia, whose kingdom--all right, whose oil--the United States fought to defend in the first Gulf War, won't even allow U.S. troops to use its land as a staging ground. Egypt and Jordan are also opposed to this war.
This would be the second Muslim nation the United States has invaded in the last two years. Scenes of innocent Iraqis being killed on Al Jazeera will not, it is safe to say, enhance the image of the United States in the Muslim world, an image already badly, badly smeared by Ariel Sharon's offensive against the Palestinians and the 11-year embargo the U.S. insists that the U.N. impose on Iraq, an embargo that has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi kids.
Bush can prattle on as long as he wants about the United States not being at war with Islam or the Muslim world, but after a while, many in that world will find the argument harder and harder to swallow.
What will this mean?
Well, for starters, the despotic rulers of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt, stooges of the United States, may lose their grip on power if the U.S. invasion galvanizes what Robert Fisk calls the sleeping Arab masses. Hard to see how that would be in the interests of the United States, as Bush defines them.
And secondly, the more brutal the United States appears in the Muslim world, the more likely it is that suicide bombers will come to roost in the United States. It's a warning that we ignore at our peril.
On the economic front, another war against Iraq is sure, in the short term at least, to spike the cost of oil, since Iraq is a leading oil supplier, and since other big oil suppliers--Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iran --are right next door. Now our economy is already in difficult straits. The invasion of Iraq could tip it back into recession.
On the military front, and here's a sobering irony, Bush's invasion may actually increase the odds that Saddam Hussein would use chemical or biological weapons. Bear with me here. Back in 1991, he had chemical or biological weapons loaded onto missiles. Bush the Elder warned Saddam that if he used those weapons, he would face devastating retaliation. Everyone, including Saddam, understood that to mean the U.S. would drop a nuclear bomb on him. So what did he do? He backed down and didn't use those weapons. But today, Bush the Younger is making it quite clear that Saddam is going to be a goner, so Saddam has no incentive not to throw whatever vials of chemical or biological weapons he might have lying around at U.S. troops or at Israel.
Brent Scowcroft made this point in his op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on August 15. "Saddam would be likely to conclude he had nothing left to lose, leading him to unleash whatever weapons of mass destruction he possesses."
This could inflict awful casualties on U.S. troops or Israeli civilians, and then what? Then, the worst case could come true and George W. could drop a nuclear bomb on Iraq, the first time in 57 years that the world has seen such a hideous device used in warfare.
The lesson of 1991 should be that Saddam Hussein knows not to use his chemical or biological weapons. What evidence is there that he's more reckless and suicidal today than he was back in 1991? He hasn't recently invaded another country. He hasn't recently gassed the Kurds or the Iranians (which he did, it must be noted, when he was receiving military intelligence from the United States).
He is still in that box that Colin Powell said he was in just a few months ago. He hasn't exactly been jumping out of it.
The difference is, Bush is more eager than ever to go to war against him. As the President's popularity drops, and as the corporate scandals erode Republican strengths, Bush has a crass political imperative to do something popular. And, in the short term, wars boost a President's popularity.
Plus, Bush and Cheney are overwhelmingly concerned about the control of world oil supplies. "Middle East oil producers will remain central to world oil security" in the coming decades, said last year's Cheney Report on energy. And in his speech before the VFW on August 26, Cheney noted that Saddam Hussein has "a seat atop 10 percent of the world's oil reserves." Cheney added that if Saddam acquires weapons of mass destruction, he "could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East [and] take control of a great portion of the world's oil supplies."
Back in 1991, the peace movement had a slogan: No Blood for Oil. It's a slogan that's even more relevant today.
Now Bush is dreaming of an antiseptic war, a quick strike that would topple the regime at little cost. This is the so-called "Baghdad First" strategy, but I doubt it will succeed. Instead, it could very well lead to some gruesome door-to-door fighting. And let's remember, Baghdad is a city of more than three million people, and they aren't all named Saddam Hussein.
This is the biggest reason to fear Bush's invasion of Iraq, whether it's Baghdad First or Baghdad Last: It is likely to lead to the deaths of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of innocent Iraqis.
It is a fundamental moral precept that every human being is of equal value. We, in the United States, cannot turn our eyes from the great mass murder the United States could be committing by waging this war.
It is the arrogance of empire to even contemplate such an act.
If you're opposed to this war, for any of the reasons I've sketched just now, I urge you to do whatever you can, nonviolently, to express yourself.
Yes, write your Senators and Representative.
But also talk to your friends, family members, neighbors, colleagues. You'd be surprised how many people agree with you that this war in the making is a fool's and a bully's errand.
And don't stop there: You and those who agree with you should organize rallies, teach-ins, and demonstrations in your community, at the nearest high schools and colleges, and in the union halls and churches and mosques and synagogues close by.
Bush wants to take us off a cliff. And it's up to us to stop him, using our words, our arguments, our morality, and our nonviolent activism to prevent this horrendous war before it starts.
And we must do it together.
One person is a crank.
Two persons a curiosity item.
Three persons a cabal.
Four persons a sect.
But ten people, and you've got a decent picket line.
A hundred people is a good demonstration.
And a thousand people: that's practically the Paris Commune.
As the great poet and essayist June Jordan, who died just a few months ago, wrote: "We are the people we've been waiting for."
-- Matthew Rothschild