The president goes to war

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With good writing, you can often feel the transfer of energy from the author to the page to you. Last night it was possible to feel the transfer of energy from the president to the state of the union to us, or put another way, you could feel the president come alive “facing down” Saddam Hussein, making his case, and making his way to the very edge of a declaration of war. It was, as a friend of mine commented today, a messianic speech.

In the process, by the way, he — or his speechwriters and policy-makers — managed in the winking of an eye to eliminate another of those boundaries once meant to protect us all. The actual quote, slipped into his speech, was: “Tonight I am instructing the leaders of the FBI, the CIA, the Homeland Security and the Department of Defense to develop a Terrorist Threat Integration Center to merge and analyze all threat information in a single location.” In a single location. So much for the supposed firewall between domestic and foreign intelligence. Just another day at the office.

Amid all the “evidence,” some undoubtedly real, some like the aluminum tubing supposedly meant for nuclear weapons making (a now discredited allegation) or the deep Iraqi links to Al Qaeda, which are absurd but a powerful part of the drum roll of fear meant to hustle us into a war, the crucial line — again but a single line — was, to my mind: “A brutal dictator with a history of reckless aggression, with ties to terrorism, with great potential wealth, will not be permitted to dominate a vital region and threaten the United States.” That’s the oil line. (See the piece below by the Guardian‘s Larry Elliott on the oil war to come.)

In addition, the president murmured quietly about everything we would do to protect the innocent. Who among his listeners could faintly have grasped what this war — say, 800 cruise missiles raining down in two days and God knows what else — will actually be like for the people of Iraq. Unfortunately, we have a very good guess. The piece below by the Guardian‘s Jonathan Steele, “Counting the Dead,” gives a sense of what the UN, at least, expects in its secret projections of the damage the coming war will cause, and believe me, even a modest war could be horrific in its effects.

Finally, in an all-Guardian day, let me just add a piece by the Nobel prize winning German novelist Gunter Grass, one visionary writer’s view of what’s ahead (and just a day after 41 American Nobel laureates in science and economics issued a statement against a “preventive” war without “broad international support”).

Let me just add a single non-Guardian suggestion, click here to play a “game” of war — amusing and horrific at the same time, one worst case scenario for the war that gives George W. Bush such damnable energy. Tom

America’s crude tactics
Of all the rogue states in the world it is Iraq’s oil that makes it a target
By Larry Elliott
January 27, 2003
The Guardian

The Guardian

Let’s get one thing straight. George Bush’s determination to topple Saddam Hussein has nothing to do with oil. Iraq may account for 11% of the world’s oil reserves, second only to Saudi Arabia, but the military build-up in the Gulf is about making the world a safer and more humane place, not about allowing America’s motorists to guzzle gas to their heart’s content. So, lest you should be in any doubt, let me spell it out one more time. This. Has. Nothing. To. Do. With. Oil. Got that?

Of course you haven’t. Despite what Colin Powell might say, it takes a trusting, nay naive, soul to imagine that the White House would be making all this fuss were it not that Iraq has something the US needs.

To read more Elliott click here

Counting the dead
In the event of war, how many Iraqi civilians will die? And how many will starve, or be displaced? In secret, the UN has been doing the sums
By Jonathan Steele
January 29, 2003
The Guardian

With as much secrecy as the Pentagon, the United Nations has been busily counting the likely casualty toll of a war on Iraq. While the Pentagon focuses on its troops, the network of UN specialist agencies is trying to estimate what would happen to Iraqis.

The assessments are dramatic, though for reasons of internal diplomacy or because of American pressure the UN is unwilling to go public with the figures. But a newly leaked report from a special UN taskforce that summarises the assessments calculates that about 500,000 people could “require medical treatment to a greater or lesser degree as a result of direct or indirect injuries”, according to the World Health Organisation.

WHO estimates that 100,000 Iraqi civilians could be wounded and another 400,000 hit by disease after the bombing of water and sewage facilities and the disruption of food supplies.

To read more Steele click here

No beginning or end to war
By Günter Grass
January 29, 2003
The Guardian

War is looming. Once again war looms. Or is war only being threatened so as to stop war coming? Does the limiting word “only” mean that this is just a mock threat, this staged build-up of US and British troops and ships on the Arabian peninsula and in the Red sea, with its supply of pictures to the media of overwhelming military might? As soon as one of the world’s two dozen dictators has crumbled into exile or preferably is dead, will this all turn out to be a show of force which brought peace and can vanish away again?

Hardly. This looming war is a wanted war. It is already going on in the heads of the planners, in the world’s stock exchanges, and in what seem to be forward-dated TV programs.

Günter Grass won the Nobel prize for literature in 1999. His new novel, Crabwalk, will be published by Faber in April.

To read more Grass click here