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Why Russia won't benefit from US war in Iraq (fwd)
by Boris Stremlin
10 October 2002 18:15 UTC
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In an effort to avoid the fate of Germany's ousted justice minister,
Robert Skidelsky instead compares US policy to that of the Hapsburg
Monarchy.  But for those of us who've read _The Good Soldier Sveik_
(incidentally, the greatest anti-war book of all time), that
doesn't sound like much of a compliment, either.

(from Moscow Times).

Thursday, Oct. 10, 2002. Page 8
War on Iraq: Who Needs It?
By Robert Skidelsky

The United States wants to remove Saddam Hussein from
power; its main allies would be content with his
disarmament. The United States, therefore, wants to
keep the United Nations weapons inspectors out of
Iraq; its allies want to get them back in.

To reconcile these aims -- at least formally -- is the
point of the intense jockeying now going on at the UN.
The United States wants a new Security Council
resolution so drawn up as to make legal the early use
of force. France and Russia, while not opposed to the
use of force as a last resort, want to use existing
Security Council resolutions to give disarmament a
last chance. Britain finds itself between a rock and a
hard place. It is co-sponsor with the United States of
a resolution whose not-so-hidden aim is to force out
Saddam, while being openly committed to nothing more
than his regime's disarmament.

In one sense the maneuvers at the United Nations are a
side show.

The United States will go ahead with "regime change"
whatever the UN decides. So the unenviable choice for
America's allies is either to accede to the U.S.
demand for a new UN resolution that brings about
"regime change" in Iraq -- probably by war -- or to
acquiesce in unilateral U.S. action to remove Saddam.
No other choice is open, because there is no force
capable of stopping the United States. This is the
reality of a world with only one superpower.

The U.S. draft resolution -- at the time of writing --
makes eight demands on Iraq. Under extreme pressure
Iraq might be expected to accept seven of them, but
not the one which gives the inspection teams "the
right to declare for the purposes of this resolution
... ground and air-transit corridors which shall be
enforced by UN security forces," i.e. which allows
U.S. forces to enter Iraq where and when they want.

The technique of demands drawn up to be rejected
rather than accepted is not new. On July 23, 1914,
Austro-Hungary presented a 10-point ultimatum to
Serbia following the assassination of the Archduke
Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo, giving it 48 hours to
reply. Serbia accepted nine points, but not
unexpectedly rejected the 10th, which would have
allowed Austrian officials to conduct the murder
investigation on Serbian territory unhindered. The
Austrian invasion of Serbia followed a few days later,
and led to World War I.

A more recent example, also involving Serbia, was the
so-called Rambouillet accord of March 20, 1999. In
order to enforce "peace and self-government in
Kosovo," NATO forces were to enjoy "free and ...
unimpeded access throughout the Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia." U.S. bombing started four days after
Serbia's rejection of this implementing provision.

Monstrous though Saddam Hussein's regime is, there is
much less justification for forcing a war on Iraq
today than there was for going to war in 1914 or 1999.
In the first case, the existence of Serbia did pose a
threat to the survival of Austro-Hungary; in the
second case, there was -- arguably -- a humanitarian
disaster in the making which only the expulsion of
Slobodan Milosevic from Kosovo could avert.

Today, there exists no legal or security case for a
pre-emptive U.S. attack on Iraq. Saddam is not a
threat to the United States, though he may be a menace
to some of his neighbors. He is not an Islamic
fundamentalist, and no evidence has been adduced of
Iraqi involvement in the terrorist attack of Sept. 11,
2001. In any case, effective disarmament of the Saddam
regime -- a legitimate peace aim following Iraq's
expulsion from Kuwait -- can be secured by a toughened
inspection regime: Even the much-evaded inspectorate
system in place between 1991 and 1998 succeeded in
liquidating most of its external military capacity.

There is a moral argument for removing any regime
which oppresses its own people, whatever international
law says. But it is rather late in the day to come up
with this in Saddam's case, and in any event, why stop
with Iraq? The newly-proclaimed moral argument is
simply a pretext for a war desired for other reasons.
Why then is the United States so keen on a war against
Iraq? Put to one side President George W. Bush's
personal motive for "finishing Dad's business" and
vague talk of oil interests. These may play some part
in the thinking of the Bush administration but they
are not of its essence. The fundamental reasons seem
to be three.

The first lies in the area of psychological
reassurance. The American people, devastated by the
attack of Sept. 11, are looking to their government to
restore a vanished invulnerability. Given the
subterranean and elusive nature of the terrorist
threat, the only available riposte is against visible
instruments of anti-American power, however little
threat these actually pose.

In practice, absolute security is impossible and
attempts to achieve it by using pre-emptive strikes
against "rogue states" open up the grim prospect of
"perpetual war to achieve perpetual peace." Secondly,
the United States is probably trying to alter the
balance of power in the Middle East in favor of Israel
by setting up a client state in Baghdad. Finally, and
somewhat at odds with the first reason, the United
States today is immensely conscious of its power to
reshape international relations to its own and -- it
would say -- the world's benefit.

Russia cannot stop the United States going to war if
it chooses to. It can veto a Security Council
ultimatum, but this will not stop the United States.
However, there is a big difference between dignified
acquiescence and undignified support. The political
benefits the United States can offer in return for
active support are pretty meager. Russia does what it
wants to anyway in Chechnya and Georgia despite the
United States, and promises of huge oil pickings in a
new Iraq are unlikely to materialize.

There is no business reason for the United States to
give Russia access to the vast Iraqi oil reserves, and
the political calculation that the United States will
"reward" Russia for its support by sacrificing the
interests of its own oil companies and those of its
long established allies is pretty flimsy. If Russia,
lured by inducements, were to support the U.S. policy
of regime change in Iraq, it would be sacrificing its
principle of great power cooperation centered on the
Security Council in return for fool's gold.

Russia can best play its relatively poor hand in world
affairs by cooperating with the world's superpower to
the maximum extent compatible with preserving its
independence and self-respect. It should always
support the United States when it thinks it is right,
but not be afraid to oppose it when it thinks it is
wrong. It should reject Bush's simplistic alternative
"you are either with us or against us." Putin's
response to the Sept. 11 outrage was the right
response to a monstrous act. Slavish adherence to the
U.S. line on Iraq would be wrong.

And what is true of Russia applies to America's other
partners. We stand at a threshold in world affairs.
The future can develop either according to the
dictates of an unstable imperialism, with a growing
gap between the West and Islam and scattered military
interventions and terrorism feeding on each other, or
according to the logic of a cooperative hegemony of
the great powers, with a growing plurality of
In truth, the United States is fitted neither by its
history nor present civilization to be a serious
imperialist. It was the first product of
anti-colonialism. Vietnam showed that it had no
appetite for ruling foreign countries. Since Vietnam,
its willingness to suffer casualties in pursuit of
foreign policy aims has shrunk to almost zero.
A haphazard U.S. imperialism, which stirs up the rest
of the world to fury, while failing to produce the
benefits of orderly government, would be the worst
possible outcome of Sept. 11.

Robert Skidelsky is a cross-bench peer in the House of
Lords and professor of political economy at Warwick
University, England. He contributed this comment to
The Moscow Times.

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