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The naked empire. (Comment).

These are the days of empire. Unrivaled and untrammeled, the United States bestrides the globe like a colossus. The President of the United States, endowed with more power than Alexander the Great and Napoleon combined, can now wreak havoc at his whim and leisure. President Bush sits upon Zeus's throne and treats Congress, the United Nations, and U.S. allies as mere vassals.

Disdainful of international law, dismissive of the U.N. Charter, the Bush Administration has thrown off the cloak of diplomacy and the ill-fitting garb of legality and is content now simply to flex its muscles and let everyone else cower.

At an hour Bush alone appoints, this jejune man will decide the fate of thousands upon thousands of innocent people in Iraq.

War is his plaything, the world his playpen.

Ours is supposed to be a system of checks and balances. But particularly in matters of war and peace, that system has shattered. Congress, which is granted sole power in the Constitution to declare war and to call forth the militia to "suppress insurrections, and repel invasions," has abdicated. It has pawned off its war powers to the President, who has been more than willing to accept them at discount value.

The resolution of force authorization that is sailing through both houses would grant to the President the right "to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to (1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and (2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq."

This is a war writ unlike any other delivered to a President. The unofficial tide: "Go to Town." It leaves it entirely up to the President to decide if and when he wishes to take the United States to war. It gives him the latitude to do so without getting the approval of the U.N. Security Council, without giving U.N. inspectors an opportunity to conduct their searches in Iraq, and without a precipitating act of war from Saddam Hussein.

In a moment of pusillanimity, Dick Gephardt, the leading Democrat in the House of Representatives, threw his support behind Bush's warmaking. Undermining those in his party who were courageously resisting the rush to war, Gephardt helped draft a "compromise" resolution on the use of force that was no compromise at all.

Gephardt patted himself on the back for negotiating "a number of important improvements," but these were all procedural or rhetorical.

For instance, the compromise resolution expressed "support for United States diplomatic efforts" and would require the President to notify the leaders of Congress within forty-eight hours that diplomacy has failed. Once Bush starts the war, he would have to report back to Congress every sixty days instead of every ninety days.

Those are "important improvements"?

Gephardt said that Saddam Hussein poses "a unique and dangerous threat to our national security." Here, like Bush, Gephardt is hyping the extremely unlikely possibility that Iraq would wage a surprise attack on the United States or dish his weapons off to terrorists to do the dirty deed.

Note that the original White House draft resolution had referred to these possibilities as a "high risk" but the current resolution has since deleted the adjective "high." Nonetheless, Bush called the Iraqi regime "a threat of unique urgency" on October 2, and Gephardt went along for the ride.

By leading the Democrats into the war tent, Gephardt has forfeited any right to legitimacy as Minority Leader. He, Joe Lieberman, and the other Democrats who are echoing Bush, bellow for bellow, in bellicose rhetoric only serve to validate a main argument of Ralph Nader and the Green Party: that on issues of militarism and war, there is not a lot of difference between most of the Democrats and the Republicans.

Yes, some Democrats did have spine enough to stand up and say no. Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio organized a group of colleagues who opposed this warmaking grant. And Representative Barbara Lee of California introduced a resolution demanding that the President use peaceful means to avoid the conflict.

On the Senate side, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin bemoaned the failure of his colleagues to debate a formal declaration of war. And Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts cautioned against reckless unilateralism.

But it was Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, who rose to the occasion and denounced the reckless lawlessness of the Bush Administration in tones that echoed Robert La Follette. Byrd aptly quoted from Abe Lincoln's letter to William H. Herndon:

"Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion and you allow him to do so whenever he shall choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose. When you allow him to make war at pleasure, study to see if you can fix any limit to his power and disrespect."

And then Byrd denounced the Congressional resolution for stating that the President "has authority under the Constitution to take action in order to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism." Said Byrd: "Nowhere, nowhere in this Constitution which I hold in my hand, nowhere in this Constitution is it written that the President has the authority to call forth the militia to preempt a perceived threat. ... What a cynical twisting of words."

There was a quaintness to Byrd's speech, not just in its erudition but in its proud defiance of a President gone mad on war.

At this writing, the U.N. Security Council has not yet passed a resolution that would give Bush the green light to make war redder. But Bush's attitude toward the United Nations became altogether clear on September 12 when he told the United Nations that it must go along with his war on Iraq or render itself "irrelevant."

The audacity of the speech was amazing to behold.

Bush unilaterally appointed the United States to be the enforcer of U.N. Security Council Resolutions that are not obeyed. How would Bush feel if Russia told Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that unless he obeyed U.N. Security Council Resolutions and pulled out of the West Bank and Gaza, Russia would impose regime change on Israel, and if the United Nations didn't go along with that, it would make itself "irrelevant"?

The United States would be appalled. An international crisis would ensue. Bush would properly denounce Vladimir Putin as arrogant and lawless.

But when Bush is arrogant and lawless, he tends to get his way.

It seems likely that Bush will be able to coerce, buy off, or cajole the permanent members of the Security Council to endorse his war plans. In exchange, Russia may have a freer hand to attack Chechnyan rebels in Georgia; China may be able to crush Muslim militants and benefit from renewed military ties with Washington. If Bush succeeds in getting the approval of the U.N. Security Council, that would not make this a just war. All it would prove is that Washington can bend that institution to its will.

Bush laid out his rationale for war in a speech to the nation on October 7. He calculatedly brought up the September 11 attacks and tried to transfer Americans' anxiety and anger about Osama bin Laden on to Saddam Hussein. Bush said he was resolved to confront every threat that "could bring sudden terror and suffering to America," and he said, "The threat from Iraq stands alone."

But Saddam is much less threatening to the United States than he was in 1991, and he was no match for U.S. forces back then. Bush made much of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, and the possibility that he might soon acquire a nuclear weapon. But Bush never addressed why Saddam Hussein would dare to launch these weapons against the United States in a surprise attack, since if he did so, he'd be wiped off the face of the Earth. Bush himself seemed to recognize this on October 2 when he said that "a dictator is not suicidal."

So his second argument was, "Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists ... without leaving any fingerprints." But Saddam treasures his weapons of mass destruction, seeing in them a way to gain power, prestige, and a measure of security against attack. He's not likely to part with them. It's also highly dubious that the Bush Administration would not retaliate against Saddam if attacked by terrorists with these

weapons, even if it couldn't definitively trace them back. Rumsfeld was ready to go after Saddam within hours of September 11, and the Bush Administration is scrounging for excuses to attack Saddam today.

A third argument is a humanitarian one: that Saddam is so brutal he must be overthrown to save his people from oppression. Yes, Saddam is a brutal oppressor, but Bush sheds crocodile tears for the Iraqi people, whom Washington has been killing by the hundreds of thousands since 1991 with the destruction of that country's water supply, the use of depleted uranium shells, and the imposition of economic sanctions. And for all its professed horror at Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, Washington was providing him with the coordinates of Iranian positions at about the same time that he was using chemical weapons against the Iranians. He was brutal then. He was an aggressor then. He was using weapons of mass destruction then. But he was Washingtons friend then.

We should not fool ourselves about the reasons for Bush's war.

As Senator Byrd noted, "election-year politics" has a lot to do with it. The Republicans could not run very well on the economy or on Enron, Harken, and Halliburton. So Andrew Card, the President's chief of staff, said it was time to "introduce a new product." And Karl Rove, Bush's chief political adviser, said Bush should "seize the moment" of September 11 to sell the war on Iraq. Rove also instructed Republican candidates to run on the war.

Bush has family scores to settle, as well. Saddam "tried to kill my dad," as Bush put it, and the President has been eager to "finish the job" his father left behind in 1991. Such personalizing of U.S. policy is worthy of The Sopranos, as Lewis Lapham of Harper's has observed.

There are more profound reasons behind Bush's rush to war, however. One of these is oil. The U.S. government does not want Saddam Hussein to control 10 percent of the world's oil supplies, and U.S. energy companies want to get in on Iraqi contracts that have been going to Russian and French companies.

Then there is imperial ideology, pure and simple. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz have for years stressed the need for the United States to "lean forward" and to throw its weight around.

Their obsession became official policy on September 20, when President Bush unveiled a report called "The National Security Strategy of the United States." It says, "We will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively." This doctrine says the United States will defend "our interests at home and abroad by identifying and destroying the threat before it reaches our borders." And woe betide any nation that tries to compete with the United States militarily. "The President has no intention of allowing any foreign power to catch up with the huge lead the United States has opened."

This is a doctrine of endless military dominance. Iraq is just the test case.

The United States stands today at the apex of its power, and this imposes a special obligation on its citizens. All of us who value the rule of law and the protection of innocent lives must act as brakes upon Bush's war machine.

As beleaguered as we may feel today, we should take hope from those who have come before us in the great and long tradition of American anti-imperialism.

This tradition dates back to Daniel Webster, Abe Lincoln, and Henry David Thoreau, who opposed the Mexican War, to Mark Twain, and Jane Addams, who opposed the Spanish-American War, to Robert La Follette and Jeannette Rankin and Eugene V. Debs, who opposed World War I, and to Ernest Gruening and Wayne Morse and Joan Baez and Bob Dylan and millions of others, who opposed, and helped bring to an end, the Vietnam War.

The Pentagon may already be massing troops and supplies, but it is not too late to do what peace activists have done throughout our history: to picket, to rally, to demonstrate, to engage in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience to try to prevent the government of the United States from inflicting grievous harm upon the world.

We must do this together, because one person alone is a kook, two people a curiosity item, three people a cabal, and four people a sect. But ten people is a decent picket line, 100 people a significant demonstration, and thousands and thousands of people in the streets is a mighty force that must be reckoned with.

Nothing less than our humanity is at stake.
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Publication:The Progressive
Date:Nov 1, 2002
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