The Smell of War

This is not a war about terrorism.

This is not a war about weapons of mass destruction.

This is not a war about democracy in Iraq .

This is a war about something else.

As for terrorism: Saddam Hussein is a cruel dictator, but the idea that he might be connected with Osama bin Laden is ridiculous. Saddam heads the Iraqi section of al-Baath, a very secular party. Bin Laden is an Islamic Fundamentalist, and al-Qaeda aims at the destruction of all secular regimes in our region. The official who invented this particular lie is either an ignoramus or a cynic who believes that one can fool all the people at least some of the time.

As for weapons of mass destruction: the USA supported Saddam when he used deadly poison gas against the Iranians (and their Kurdish allies in Iraq ). At the time, America was interested in stopping the Iranians. Today there are chemical and biological weapons in most of the countries of this region, including Egypt , Syria and Israel , and one of them has nuclear arms.

As for democracy: Americans don't give a damn. Some of their best friends in the Islamic world are dictators, some more, some less cruel then Saddam. As the old American adage goes: 'He is a son-of-a-bitch, but he is our son-of-a-bitch.'

If so, what is the war about?

In one word: oil.

There is a strong smell of oil in the air. Without smelling it, one cannot understand what is going on. But once one grasps what it is all about, the actions of Bush & Co., while cynical and hypocritical, are utterly logical.

These, then, are the American war aims:

- To take over the immense oil reserves of Iraq , among the world's biggest.

- To ensure American control of the nearby huge Caspian Sea oil reserves

- To reinforce indirect American control of the oil in all the Gulf states , such as Saudi Arabia , Kuwait and Iran .

Control of most of the world's oil reserves will free the Americans, at long last, from the whims of the oil market. Their hand, and theirs alone, will be on the tab. They, and they alone, will fix the price of oil all over the world. If they want prices to rise, they will rise. If they will want them to go down, they will go down. With one single movement of the hand, they will be able to deal a crushing blow to the economies of Germany , France and Japan . No country in the world will be able to stand up to them in any matter. No wonder that Germany and France oppose the war. It is directed against them.

It follows that the Americans do not intend to enter Iraq , establish democracy and leave. The very idea is ridiculous.

The US enters Iraq in order to stay there, for years and decades. Its physical presence in the Arab and Muslim world will create a new geo-political reality.

Of course, this is not the first time that a great empire used its military power to promote its economic dominance. History is full of examples. Indeed, one could say that all of history is an example. But there has never been a super-power like the US , with no rival left, using its immense military might in order to ensure its domination of the world economy for generations to come.

From this point of view, the coming war on Iraq--a 'small' war, militarily--will have historic significance.

For sure, Bush will try to set up some native Iraqi government, in order to disguise and lend some legitimacy to the American occupation. There are any number of volunteers, ready to serve as Quislings. Then again, Bush may prefer some new Saddam Hussein, a dictator appointed by them.

But war is war. War usually starts with a well-prepared plan, but even the 'best' plan, backed by the mightiest military power, can go awry. The Arab masses may rise against their American-supported, corrupt, lackadaisical governments. The Turks may perpetrate a massacre in the north of Iraq in order to break the Kurds once and for all, and no one can know how this will end. The holy places of the Shiites in the south of Iraq , next to Iran , may cause trouble.

How will this affect Israel ? Or, to use the old phrase: 'Is it good for the Jews?'

The relations between Bush and Sharon are almost symbiotic. In Sharon 's view, the massive presence of the US in our region strengthens Israel and will enable him to implement his hidden agenda.

But, as one says in Hebrew, 'the fat tail of the sheep has a thorn in it.' The permanent occupation of Iraq turns the US into a kind of 'Arab' power, with a vital interest in the stability and tranquility of the region. It will want to prevent by all means chaos in the Arab countries--before, during and after the war.

Sharon and his generals are, on the contrary, interested in as much chaos as possible, in order to use it to 'transfer' millions of Palestinians to the other side of the Jordan. There is a definite conflict of interest between Bush and Sharon.

Sharon, an extremist but a prudent person, knows that he must not under any circumstances infuriate Bush. He will act cautiously. He has lots and lots of patience and lots and lots of stubbornness. He will try to obtain from Bush permission to transfer (at least some) Palestinians, to murder Arafat ('If Saddam, why not Arafat?') and to break the Palestinian people.

Bush, on the other hand, will want Israel to stay quiet, very quiet. At the time, he may use the Israeli threat to ensure that the Arabs, too, will stay quiet, very quiet. He will threaten the Arab rulers, who are mortally afraid of an uprising of their peoples, that if they do not behave, he will let Sharon off the leash.

Is all this good for Israel ? From the economic, social and security points of view, the answer is negative. We are entering an era of adventurism, with the adventurer No. 1 at the helm of our state. The earth will shake in our region, and nobody can foresee the dangers approaching us. Only one thing is certain: This will not bring peace.

I do not belong to those who can speak about war with equanimity. I have seen war, I know its face. I see the thousands who will be killed, the tens of thousands who will be wounded and maimed, the hundreds of thousands who will become refugees, the ruined families, the sea of tears and human suffering.

I join the millions all over the world who say NO.

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Uri Avnery's picture
Columns on STR: 123

Uri Avnery is a peace activist.