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New Left Review I/185, January-February 1991


Robert Brenner

Why Is the United States at War with Iraq?

Why is the United States at war with Iraq? [*] The following is the written-up text of a talk given at the ucla Moratorium on the Iraq War, held on 24 January. This was a day devoted to considering the war, made possible by a mass student occupation of the administration building the previous week, in which over one hundred protesters were arrested. The author has benefited a great deal from ongoing discussion and political collaboration throughout the crisis with Perry Anderson, and wishes to thank him for all his help. He also wishes to thank Ellen Wood, Jon Wiener and Robin Blackburn for reading the text and offering invaluable criticisms and comments. Finally, he wishes to express his gratitude to his comrades in Solidarity and in the ucla Radical Student Alliance. There are no footnotes because of the nature of the piece and because all information given here is derived from standard, easily available sources. Those who wish to find out about documentation are welcome to contact the author directly. The author has found particularly helpful the following articles: Michael Klare, ‘Policing the Gulf and the World’, The Nation, 15 October 1990; Justin Schwartz, ‘This Gun’s for Hire’, Against the Current, new series, no. 30, January–February 1991; and Thomas Friedman’s debunking of the administration’s rationale for its policy, which appeared on the front page of the New York Times, 12 August 1990. On the recent history of the Kurds’ struggle for independence, see Mohammed Malek, ‘Kurdistan in the Middle East Conflict’, nlr 175, May–June 1989, pp. 79–94. It is a lot easier to say what are not the reasons for us intervention in the Gulf than to provide a fully satisfactory account of its presence there. According to the Bush administration, the usa is fighting Iraq because Saddam Hussein is a ruthless tyrant who has carried out an unjust invasion of Kuwait. In the pompous rhetoric of the President’s State of the Union address, ‘What is at stake is. . .a new world order—where diverse nations are drawn together in common cause to achieve the universal aspirations of mankind: peace and security, freedom and the rule of law. . .Saddam Hussein’s unprovoked invasion. . .will not stand.’ It is important to take the administration’s rhetoric seriously, because what might be called its empirical premisses are, in one respect, obviously correct. Saddam Hussein is a ruthless tyrant and his invasion of Kuwait must be condemned. Popular support in the usa for the administration’s war is based, to an important degree, on the perceived nature of the Iraqi regime and, above all, the injustice of his invasion. For this reason, the peace movement has the task of showing that, although the public’s perception and judgment of the Iraqi regime and its invasion is not in error, nevertheless the us intervention could not be more wrong. This is, most relevantly, because us action is in no way motivated by Saddam’s awful regime or his violation of democratic rights, and will only make things much worse for the people of the region and of the United States itself.

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