by Laila Juma (Book Review, Crescent International Vol. 31, No. 17, Sha'ban, 1422)
War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know by William Rivers Pitt with Scott Ritter. Pub: Profile Books Ltd., London, UK, 2002. Pp: 78.
Pbk: $8.95 / £4.99.
Targeting Iraq: Sanctions and Bombing in US Policy by Geoff Simons. Pub: Saqi Books, London, UK, 2002. Pp: 274.
Hbk: $22.95 / £14.99.
By Laila Juma
The current crisis surrounding the US’s apparent determination to go to war against Iraq is only the latest chapter in a long saga of war by various means that dates back to Saddam Hussain’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. During this time, discussion of the issue has been routinely distorted by the masses of propaganda, misinformation and political rhetoric generated by the US and its allies to justify whatever their immediate policies and objectives of the time may have been. One routine element of this has been a constant rewriting of the history of the confrontation, truth being, as is well-known, the "first casualty of war" (and, in the case of modern Western politics, of peace as well).
Both these books are attempts by critics of Western policy on Iraq to try to reintroduce the facts of the case to the debate. They are, however, very different in their style and content. The first is a small volume by American activist and Middle East expert William Rivers Pitt, most of which consists of an interview with former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who has emerged as a key voice in the debate and has been subjected to an intense campaign of character assassination by the pro-war establishment. The second book, by Geoff Simons, is a far more detailed and academic volume, which discusses events over the whole of the last decade, focusing on several of the many perspectives from which the Iraqi situation can be discussed.
Before his interview with Ritter, Pitt provides two chapters introducing the current situation and modern history of Iraq, assuming that many readers who are concerned about the current situation will probably not have much of the background that better-informed activists take for granted. These chapters provide excellent and highly readable introductions to the subject.
The book’s main section, however, consists of a long interview with Scott Ritter, who describes himself as a patriotic American, a former US Marine officer, a protector of the US Constitution, a Republican who supported George W. Bush in the presidential elections of 2000, and (in reply to suggestions that the US’s Iraq policy may be driven from Tel Aviv) "very pro-Israel". He is also the leading critic of US policy toward Iraq, which he believes to be in clear contravention of international law.
Most people’s perceptions of Ritter are based either on the small articles that he occasionally publishes in the media, on quotes attributed to him by other writers, or on other people’s writings and sayings about him. It is refreshing to have the opportunity to read his opinions at length, in his own words, and the interview format Pitt adopts produces a clear and extremely readable exposition of his opinions. Indeed, one suspects that Ritter may be a better talker than writer. He is certainly a very clear thinker, getting straight to the point of the key issues, directly countering much of the misinformation put out by the establishment, and addressing the concerns many ordinary people have on the basis of what they read in most of the press and media.
Tempting though it is, this review is not the place to regurgitate large chunks of Ritter’s arguments; suffice it to highlight some issues he addresses, in order to demonstrate his style and the sort of points he makes. The first thing that comes across with great clarity is that he is by no means an apologist for Saddam Hussain. Asked whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction (WMD), he does not simply say no. Instead he explains clearly that although Saddam Hussain has a record of obstructing weapons inspectors, and of trying to develop WMD, the UN Inspectorate of which he was a part succeeded, according to its own reports, in destroying the vast majority of Iraq’s capabilities and potentials in this area, and that it is virtually impossible that Iraq can have restored them to any significant degree without those activities being noticed and reported by UN bodies and Western intelligence agencies, even from outside the country.
He also gives considerable and convincing details of the UN inspectors’ work in Iraq, pointing out that UNSCOM, the inspection agency, achieved a great deal in Iraq despite the constraints imposed by the Iraqi authorities. At the same time, he highlights some of the ways in which the inspectorate was misused by the West for its own purposes, and how its experiences have subsequently be misrepresented by Western politicians for political reasons. He confirms that CIA operatives with the inspectors were used by the US to provide intelligence for attacks on the country. In one interesting section, he states that the inspectors deliberately avoided testing facilities for biological weapons in case they were forced to admit that Iraq did not have them; rather, they preferred to be able to say that they could not carry out the necessary tests — implying that this was because of Iraqi obstruction — and therefore could not confirm that Iraq did not have biological weapons. He also points out that the best way for the US and its allies to find out about the current state of Iraq’s weapons programme would be simply to allow the inspectors to return to the country, as they are willing and ready to do.
He also addresses directly some of the myths that are commonplace in the Western media. He points out that there is no evidence of links between Iraq and al-Qa’ida, and that such links would defy the public positions of both parties. He states that Khidir Hamza, the "former Iraqi bomb-maker" who defected to the US in 1995 and is quoted as a major source of information by both the US government and the media, was in fact a mid-level functionary who was dismissed by experts when he first came to the US as a liar whose claims were worthless, and who was later resurrected when it was politically convenient to do so. He discusses the political role of Richard Butler, the Australian former UNSCOM chief who is often used to counter Ritter’s arguments. And he is scathing about the US’s attitude to international law and the UN as he experienced it while working for UNSCOM, and as he sees it now.
Geoff Simons’ background and style are rather different. An expert on the modern Middle East and on international relations, he has written highly-regarded books on major international issues and contemporary history. Subjects he has covered include the history of the UN, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, US foreign policy and economic sanctions as a tool in international politics. He has also written three major books on Iraq: one a general history, one a study of the impact of the UN sanctions, and one a chronology of the 1997-98 crisis, which was the last time that the US came close to launching all-out war on the hapless country.
Of all his work, however, this book may be the most comprehensive and detailed in its coverage of the full range of international politicking on Iraq since August 1990, when Saddam Hussain made the massive error of invading Kuwait. It opens with a substantial chapter called ‘The September 11 Pretext’, discussing the Bush administration’s intensifying campaign against Iraq in the last year, and placing it in the context of earlier events. He points out that many of Bush’s senior officials and advisers were involved in the US’s 1990-91 war on Iraq, under Bush senior, and were advocates of further military action during the period when the Democrats, under Bill Clinton, were in the White House. Although the nature of the work makes it inevitable that it does not cover current events, it provides invaluable explanatory background, and nothing that has happened since its publication in the summer is surprising in view of the argument Simons develops.
In the rest of the book, he looks back over the entire period of the West’s war on Iraq since 1990, focusing on a number of key themes, some obvious and some not so obvious. Chapter 2, ‘1.6 Million Dead, and Counting’, looks at the impact on the Iraqi populace of the policies of the UN and US. Chapter 3, ‘Blocking Essential Supplies’, looks in detail at the realities of the UN sanctions and the West’s economic warfare against Iraq, analysing its instruments, objectives and methods, as well as the evolution of the policy over time. In the next two chapters Simons examines the role of the UN, analysing its major Resolutions on Iraq in detail, and discussing also how it has been subverted by the US for the US’s own purposes.
In Chapter 6, ‘The Israel Factor’, Simons addresses an issue that many Western critics (including Scott Ritter) of the US’s Iraq policies prefer to ignore or gloss over: the inseparability of the Iraq and Palestine issues, and the Israeli contribution to Washington’s Iraq policy. The next chapter, ‘Toward an Arab Consensus’, is one of the most interesting parts of the book, if only because it addresses an issue that is not often raised: the evolution of Arab opinion on the Iraq issue, and Iraq’s partial rehabilitation into the community of Arab nations, few of whose rulers are any less repressive and despotic than Saddam Hussain, and all of whom are deeply concerned about American belligerence, even if they cannot afford to oppose Washington publicly. Chapters 8 and 9 focus again on developments within the last three years or so; their self-explanatory titles are ‘The Bombing Campaign’ and ‘Tightening the Sanctions’ respectively. The volume concludes with a short chapter on Iraqi reparations to the US, Kuwait and other Western countries, whose title is ‘Compensation or Theft?’
Simons’ book is much longer, more detailed and more analytical than Pitt’s discussion with Ritter, but it is just as readable and provides invaluable references, source information and data to counter the false information and perceptions of the Iraq situation that prevail in much of the Western discourse on the issue. Simon’s analyses and judgements are also usually extremely sound. Both these books deserve to be essential reading on the topic. Unfortunately, few who take the Western establishments’ claims at face value will read either, or take them seriously, and the authors of both, and others like them, will continue to be vilified and demonised by those determined to use untruths to pursue their own agendas.