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Hear the bloody drums of war

February 09, 2003
By Raffique Shah

WITH so many local side-shows grabbing media headlines, most nationals of this country remain ignorant of or indifferent to the great tragedy thats about to unfold in the Middle East. They are aware that George Bush and Tony Blair are gearing up to launch an assault on Iraq with the aim of dislodging Saddam Hussein from office. They hear Bush, almost on a daily basis, issuing threats to Saddam and Iraq as though he were scolding a schoolboy. They listen to Colin Powell outline "evidence" of Iraqs possession of weapons of mass destruction: no one asked why Powell and Bush did not furnish the UN weapons inspection team with that evidence before the latter went into Iraq recently.

If we in Trinidad and Tobago prefer to bury our heads in the oil-and-gas boom thats a-coming, or so we feel, then our collective stupidity may well prove to be our undoing. Let us not fool ourselves. War against Iraq has nothing to do with Saddam or weapons of mass destruction or even the prospect of self-destruction. Its all about oil, 131 billion barrels that are buried beneath the sands of Iraq. Its that simple. And the fallout, if or when it comes, could hurt this country badly. Because if Bush and Blair get their bloodstained hands on that oil, then "crapaud smoke we pipe"-and those of oil-producing countries as powerful as Saudi Arabia or Venezuela. Maybe when reality hits us squarely between the eyes, when we find the price of oil plummeting to US$15 a barrel, then we'll wonder what went wrong and where it did.

While we are busy playing make-believe terrorists and opportunistic defenders of workers rights, in the real world thinking people, and in instances millions of people who care about the future of humanity, are speaking and writing against the Bush-Blair axis-of-evil. A few weeks ago, in the UK Mirror, veteran journalist John Pilger, who has covered many wars, from Vietnam to the Gulf War, wrote a piece titled "Bloody Cowards". Pilger: "In 1946 the judges at Nuremburg who tried Nazi leaders for war crimes left no doubt about what they regarded as the gravest crimes against humanity. The most serious was unprovoked invasion of a sovereign state that offered no threat to ones homeland. Then there was the murder of civilians, for which responsibility rested with the 'highest authority."

Pilger continued (and I am quoting heavily from him since if I were to express similar views, they would be interpreted as anti-American rhetoric): "Bushs State of the Union address was reminiscent of that other great moment in 1938 when Hitler called his generals together and told them: 'I must have war!" The current American elite, Pilger wrote, "is the Third Reich of our time". He reminded readers that it was the CIA that installed Saddams Baath Party in power, quoting one of the Agencys operatives as saying at the time, "That was my favourite coup." The journalist also asked why the Americans confiscated 12,000 pages of Iraqs weapons declaration that contained the names of 150 mainly American companies that supplied Iraq with nuclear, chemical and missile technology.

In the London Times about one month ago, John le Carre, famous spy novelist, began his commentary on the "drums of war" this way: "America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember. (It is) worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs, and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War." He argued that the second war against Iraq was planned long before the events of September 11, 2001. "But it was (Osama) bin Laden who made it possible." He cited a rise in Americas defence budget from US$60 billion to around $360 billion. And he reminded the world that the US fully backed Israel that has continued to disregard a number of UN resolutions.

I particularly like this Le Carre special: "The religious cant that will send American troops into battle is perhaps the most sickening of this surreal war-to-be. Bush has an arm-lock on God. And God has very particular political opinions. God appointed America to save the world in any way that suits America. God appointed Israel to be the nexus of Americas Middle Eastern policy, and anyone who wants to mess with that idea is (a) anti-Semitic, (b) anti-American, (c) with the enemy, and (d) a terrorist."

Saddams misfortune, Le Carre continued, was to "sit on the second biggest oilfield in the world". "If Saddam didnt have oil, he could torture his citizens to his hearts content. Other leaders do it every day, Think Saudi Arabia, think Pakistan, think Syria, think Turkey, think Egypt." And, Im sure, I can add scores of other US-sponsored regimes that were/are allowed to oppress their people in the worst manner.... until they run afoul of the State Department, as puppet and cocaine dealer Manuel Noriega of Panama did some ten years ago.

As I remarked at the start of this column, we could choose to bury our heads in oil or be distracted by the antics of our surfeit of mimic men. The realities of war, though, are savage. And if we have a shred of humanity left in us, we should understand whats in store for the people, most of all for the children of Iraq. Pilger gave this graphic description of a scene in the Vietnam War. "They (the US B52 bombers) dropped 70 tons of explosives on that day... when I reached one village, the street had been replaced by a crater. I slipped on the severed shank of a buffalo and fell hard into a ditch filled with pieces of limbs and the intact bodies of children. The childrens skin had folded back, like parchment, revealing veins and burnt flesh that seeped blood....a small leg had been so contorted by the blast that the foot seemed to be growing from a shoulder. I vomited."

Although I've never engaged in war, as a trained military officer I remain to this day a student of military history as well as strategy and tactics. I am currently reading a relatively new book on Stalingrad (written by a Sandhurst-trained officer Anthony Beevor), one of the epic sieges/battles of World War II. If anyone wants a true picture of the ugly face of war, read that book. Its a chilling reminder of what could yet happen in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East. And why people with a sense of justice, of humanity, must speak out against war. To remain silent is to condone gross inhumanity, not to add "advantage", as we Trinis dub the actions of bullies.