‘Shock & Awe’ Five Years On by Michael Faulkner

Dandelion Salad

by Michael Faulkner
March 23, 2008

On March 20th five years ago the ‘shocking and awful’ invasion of Iraq began. The anniversary, last Thursday, provided much food for thought and reflection about that unhappy event, the consequences of which are not only still with us but seem likely to darken the horizon for years to come.

I decided in the days before the 20th March that I could not let this anniversary pass without comment. The problem though, in commenting on the war and its terrible aftermath, is to avoid simply echoing what has been said in those sections of the British media that have attempted a serious treatment of the subject. In March 2003, as the drum beats for war were growing ever louder in their attempt to drown out the voices of opposition, I decided to commit to print my thoughts on the impending conflict. By the 16th March it was clear that war was inevitable. I have just re-read the five thousand words I wrote between the 16th and 19th March 2003 under the title Thoughts on the Eve of War. Much of what I wrote was a fairly detailed commentary on what was happening in the UK parliament and at the UN during those critical days. I have decided to devote this week’s column to selected quotes from my 2003 notes, as I feel that there is merit in recalling those events and, I hope modestly, reminding readers that there was in Britain a mass movement of unprecedented size and unity in opposition to the invasion of Iraq.

Thoughts on the Eve of War: Sunday, 16th March 2003. 

Today the armed forces of the United States, backed by those of the United Kingdom, stand poised to unleash blitzkrieg against Iraq. The US and British governments assume, plausibly, that it will be all over very quickly and that within a few weeks at most, Iraq will be occupied and ‘liberated’ from the Ba’athist tyrant. Whatever the outcome may be, this will not be a war in any serious sense of the term. It will not involve two sides, both capable of inflicting serious damage on each other. It will be a turkey shoot. The most powerful military machine in the world is about to crush a weak, fifth rate state that poses no threat to the US or Britain and, despite claims to the contrary, does not possess adequate means to defend itself….

The propaganda barrage 

For several months, in the build up to this attack on Iraq, we have been subjected to what can only be described as a sustained propaganda barrage to justify the coming war. When it is over, those who have promoted it  – primarily the US and British governments, backed by much of the media – will hope that the anticipated ‘victory’ will drown, in a chorus of self congratulation, all the misinformation, lying and hypocrisy that have preceded the resort to force. Bush, Blair and their supporters must be hoping that memories are short and that the millions who have demonstrated globally against this war will disperse in embarrassment and disarray. Blair, in particular, now facing the most serious predicament of his premiership, will be hoping that ‘victory’ will cast into oblivion his defiance of the U.N. Security Council and dispel any current concerns about the war’s legality.

However it may turn out – and it would be rash to discount the dangers of serious political and social unrest in various countries once the war starts, to say nothing of the stimulus it may give to further acts of terrorism against states backing the war – it is important to challenge the propagandists and to expose their campaign of misinformation, hypocrisy and lying.


The US government initiated the war drive against Iraq. The determination to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein pre-dates September 11th. The Republican cabal that helped get Bush into office included this as one of their objectives as long ago as 1996. Their larger objective was to establish the unchallengeable political and military hegemony of the US on a global scale…..

Bush, on the basis of the evidence I have seen, is not competent to hold high office in any country, let alone to hold the office, which, we are told, makes him the most powerful man in the world. The Bush junta (Cheney, Perle, Rice, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz et al) collectively constitute about the most rightwing group of politicians at the centre of any government in American history…..

To make September 11th the casus belli for whatever action the Bush administration decides to take in the name of ‘war on terrorism’ is neither justified nor supportable. September 11th is clearly being exploited in support of the war against Iraq. Neither the British nor the US governments have produced any convincing evidence to link Iraq with Al Qaeda…….

What is the aim of the war against Iraq? 

The main aim of the Bush junta is ‘regime change.’ There are also other aims. Gaining US control of Iraq’s oil resources is not the only objective, but it is a pretty obvious one. To install a government in Baghdad that facilitates US access to the second largest oil reserves in the world, certainly plays a part in the Bush junta’s calculations. Their intention to oust Saddam Hussein has never been denied. No-one is in any doubt about the brutal nature and murderous record of the Iraqi regime – least of all those of us who have not forgotten that Saddam was armed and supported by the US when he used poison gas against the Iranians twenty years ago, or that the US sold him anthrax agents and the British government built his chemical and munitions factories. Saddam Hussein was just as bloodthirsty a dictator then as he is now. The brutal nature of the Iraqi regime is not the reason for the US determination to overthrow it. If ‘regime change’ by full scale invasion is so urgent now, why not then?

….When the demand was made by Britain and the US that Iraq must agree to the re-admission of the UN weapons inspectors, it was confidently assumed that Saddam Hussein would not agree to this. His anticipated refusal would then be sufficient to secure a simple Security Council resolution to trigger war. When he did agree it was then assumed that very soon he would place obstacles in the way of the inspectors, making their work impossible, thereby triggering war.

At this point it is important to look very carefully at the course of events since the passage of Resolution 1441. At the time of writing (16th March 2003), Blair, Aznar and Bush are ensconced in the Azores in a council of war. They are going to say that a second resolution at the UN is not necessary as 1441 warns Iraq of ‘serious consequences’ that will follow from his refusal to disarm. They will then abandon the UN and launch the invasion of Iraq within days.

But Resolution 1441 was worded very carefully to avoid specifically committing the Security Council to sanction the precipitate use of force. The majority of members, including permanent members France, Russia and China, would not have voted for a motion linked to a specific date and containing an ultimatum…….

For several weeks, on Blair’s prompting, it has been assumed that a second resolution declaring Iraq in breach of 1441 and sanctioning the use of force would be necessary and forthcoming. Let’s consider carefully why it is, after so much emphasis on the importance of a second resolution, that Blair, Bush and Aznar are now saying that they do not need it and intend to attack Iraq without breaching the UN charter. Essentially, they have been forced into a position they never expected to be in. It has to do with the stand taken by Russia, China and, particularly France. It has also to do with the position taken by the weapons inspectors. Jacques Chirac and Hans Blix have thrown the war plans awry.


The second report in early March made clear that progress was being made and crucially argued for more time to complete the process of disarmament. Some months were needed. The whole thrust of Blix’s report was that the inspections should continue. This clearly dismayed Powell and Straw but strengthened the French and Russian position, which supported the continuation of the inspections.

The French Case

Whatever its motivation, the French case has been clear, consistent and rational. Chirac has argued that: a) the inspections are producing results and that the objective of disarming Saddam Hussein can be achieved without resort to war; b) that resolution 1441 does not sanction the resort to war and was not intended to do so; c) in view of (a) and (b) any attempt to introduce a second resolution containing an ultimatum and therefore triggering war before the inspections had taken their course, was completely unacceptable and would be opposed by France.

This is a completely logical position that in no way undermines the UN…..

The vilification of France in the US and in much of the British press at present is nauseating. The Daily Express, for example, on the 14th March carried a front page advertisement offering a £5 trip to France with the message ‘Let’s invade France! They’re lousy at war but the booze is good!’

The Sun, on the same day, on its front page, juxtaposed pictures of Saddam Hussein and Jacques Chirac with the caption ’Spot the Difference’ – with the clear implication that there was none. The utterances of the foreign secretary on the same subject are only slightly less scurrilous. In the US it is even worse. Such is the level to which public treatment of these issues has sunk that, apparently ‘French Fries’ have been renamed ‘Freedom Fries.’

Monday, 17th March 2003 

Vilification of France

It is a measure of the bankruptcy of the Bush/Blair case that they have to stoop to the puerile level that characterises their utterances against the French. In Britain, France has been singled out for especially vituperative treatment. A few weeks ago pundits such as the BBC’s normally sensible and well-informed John Simpson, were confidently asserting that the French would ‘definitely’ come round to support Britain and the US. When it came to it, the pundits said, France would not use the veto. It was all a matter of an exaggerated Gallic amour proper. This attitude betrayed a certain disdain for France, which is quite deep-rooted in English political culture.

Then, a week or so ago, when it started to look as though Chirac might mean what he said, the smug, contemptuous smiles began to disappear from their faces. Horror of horrors! The French actually meant what they said! Then began the talk about the ‘unreasonable’ exercise of the veto. If France were to veto a resolution in the Security Council sanctioning war, then, it was claimed, France would be willfully destroying the authority of the UN. Let’s look at this argument.

What is an ‘unreasonable’ veto? 

Since the foundation of the UN Britain has used the veto 32 times – far more often than France. But the US has used the veto much more often. To give two examples amongst many, in June 1982 the US alone vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for the simultaneous withdrawal of Israeli and Palestinian armed forces from Beirut, on the grounds that this plan ‘was a transparent attempt to preserve the PLO as a viable political force.’ Was that veto not unreasonable? In 1975 the US blocked UN action to stop Indonesians from committing aggression against East Timor. Was that reasonable? Reasonable or not, the founders of the UN agreed in 1945 to give permanent members of the Security Council the power of veto. There is no provision for member states to decide which vetoes are ‘reasonable’ and which are ‘unreasonable’ and on this basis to ignore the veto. Fairly evidently, those states against whom the veto is used will regard its use as unreasonable. If, on the basis of such calculation it is deemed permissible to ignore the Security Council and act unilaterally, it is such action and not the use of the veto that flouts the procedures of the UN.

US bullying in the Security Council 

As has been evident for months now, the US and British governments are determined to attack Iraq come what may. Bush has been less concerned about working through the UN than has Blair, whose position in his own party and in the country is less secure than Bush’s in the US. Therefore, he has been very keen to ‘work through the UN.’ What has this amounted to in practice?

The Bush administration has had support in the Security Council from Britain, Spain and Bulgaria. Of the permanent members of the council, France, Russia and China have demanded that the inspections should be allowed to continue and have opposed any second resolution that would trigger war. As it became clear that at least one of these would use its veto, Bush and Blair began to work feverishly to ‘persuade’ six of the apparently undecided non-permanent members to support a second resolution authorising war. If this bore fruit, it could be argued that, as a majority of the members of the council supported the US/British stand, any veto would be ‘unreasonable.’

Although there is nothing surprising in the methods employed by the US in the attempt to bring these states ‘on side’, it is worth considering them briefly, if only because both the US and British governments claim that they occupy the ‘moral high ground’ in defence of their stance. The US has engaged in threats, bribery and bullying to achieve its ends. This is nothing new. At the time of the first Gulf war in 1991, two Security Council members, Cuba and Yemen, voted against the use of force. With regard to Cuba, which for thirty years had suffered from a punitive US blockade, there was nothing that could be done. But, following the ‘no’ vote, the Yemeni representative was told that it was ‘the most expensive vote he would ever cast.’ An economic package was immediately cancelled. Threats of the same kind have been made against those Third World member states over which the US exercises economic leverage. But, astonishingly, this time it does not appear to have worked as well. It seems that the hardening of French determination to use the veto has persuaded the ‘swing’ states to resist US bullying and persuaded them that it is not worth casting their vote for war, which would very likely only exacerbate social and political tensions in their own countries where popular opinion is firmly opposed to war.

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