Why Bush Wants Saddam's Head

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Now that Henry Kissinger and Christopher Hitchens are both agreed on the desirability of sending in the bombers and finishing off Saddam, I suppose the Bush regime will conclude that the necessary national consensus for war has been achieved. All that remains to be done is to deploy Christiane Amanpour.

Was it Hitchens or Kissinger who wrote the following? "An opponent might argue that inspections offer a better chance on containing the deadly weaponry, and of observing the rights of sovereign states.

"Invasion might cause much death and destruction, and exert a destabilizing effect on the region. It might also trigger the use of the very weapons whose removal was its ostensible justification." Hard to decide, isn't it? But you're right, Kissinger is simply incapable of reflecting on the imminence of death and destruction, whereas Hitchens raises the matter, if only to discount it as of no great consequence.

The on-again, off-again noises from the White House about the desirability of "a regime change" in Iraq have become like white noise, always in the background, then intermittently rising to oppressive levels. What's it all really about? We can dismiss the proclaimed reasons, starting with the "weapons of mass destruction." I'll buy the verdict of Scott Ritter here. Ritter, you'll recall, was formerly one of the most hawkish of the U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq. He has stated repeatedly that Iraq is "qualitatively disarmed" and as of December 1998 was in no position to develop biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

Even the rabid pro-war panel on the first day of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's hearings on Iraq was unable to produce any reason why Saddam would be crazy enough to try and offer the pretext the U.S. has been yearning for. Beyond this, the United States has systematically sabotaged arms control in Iraq and worldwide.

It was Clinton who pulled out the arms inspectors in 1998. It was Bush who killed off the proposed enforcement and verification mechanism for the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, originally passed in 1972. The enforcement mechanism could have been used as a lever to prize open Iraq for arms inspections. In April 2002, the United States removed Jose Bustani, head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, from office. George Monbiot of the Guardian has written that it was because of Bustani's efforts to include Iraq in the chemical weapons convention, thereby opening it to weapons inspections.

Other rationales for attacking Iraq have come and gone. A few months ago, former CIA director Woolsey, buttressed by the writer Laurie Mylroie, were pressing Iraq's implication in 9/11. Few now raise that excuse, though it does remind us that the nation that was host to most of the 9/11 perpetrators is Saudi Arabia.

This offers us the necessary pointer. Remember, where the Middle East is concerned, everything revolves around oil. The conspiracy-mongers mumbling about the natural gas pipeline scheduled to run through Afghanistan and about the Kazakh oilfields are looking at the wrong page in the Atlas. In Afghanistan it's not "all about oil." When it comes to Iraq and Saudi Arabia, it is.

Figure it. In the wake of 9/11 it becomes clear that Saudis, starting with Osama bin Laden, were at the heart of the attack, with some members of the ruling family probably involved or at least tacitly approving. Furthermore, America's local supervisors, the Saud dynasty, face increasing discontent. The Bush administration is led and advised by people trained by origin and business proclivity to see everything in terms of the availability and price of oil. Now Saudi Arabia is the world's "swing producer," meaning it controls the world price by either restricting or expanding supply. Would it not be rational in the wake of 9/11 to seek urgently other "swing producer" options, and to see such an option in the form of Iraq? Iraq nationalized its own huge reserves back in 1972, taking control over sale and pricing. Either upon his own initiative, or conned by the United States, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, thus setting Iraq on the path to utter ruin, and permitting the U.S., via sanctions, to control once more Iraq's oil exports, drastically restricting its supply.

So the U.S. game plan could be to continue with the present "strategy of tension," or to gradually ratchet up the level of military harassment, without all the trumpet blares that accompanied the formal onslaught of 1991. More bombing raids, more attacks from the Kurdish protected areas, more thundering about weapons of mass destruction. Saddam can be counted on to play his own weak hand badly. Last week, for example, he chose to divulge his apparent agreement for new weapons inspectors to a British labor MP, George Galloway, who reported as much in a newspaper column. Result: the concession, if such it was, made about as much noise as a crumpet falling on a carpet.

It probably would not take much in the way of armed intervention for Saddam to be overthrown in an internal revolt. Then the U.S. could substitute a suitably brutal successor and have Iraq ready as the swing producer, and Iran as the next target of opportunity.

Bringing the Wars Home

"President George Bush's 'war on terror' reached the desert village of Hajibirgit at midnight on 22 May." Thus began a chilling story by Robert Fisk of the British Independent.

The essentials are that U.S. Special Forces raided the village of Hajibirgit and shot dead the 85-year-old village leader. Villagers were then accused of being members of the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, flown to an interrogation center in Kandahar (home of the 101st Airborne). One later told Fisk that "the villagers were, by their own accounts, herded together into a container. Their legs were tied and then their handcuffs and the manacle of one leg of each prisoner were separately attached to stakes driven into the floor of the container. Thick sacks were put over their heads. Abdul Satar was among the first to be taken from this hot little prison. 'Two Americans walked in and tore my clothes off,' he said. 'If the clothes would not tear, they cut them off with scissors. They took me out naked to have my beard shaved and to have my photograph taken?'"

Eventually the villagers were taken to the stadium that the Taliban had used for executions, and ultimately released.

According to Fisk, "The Pentagon initially said that it found it 'difficult to believe' that the village women had their hands tied. But given identical descriptions of the treatment of Afghan women after the US bombing of the Uruzgan wedding party, which followed the Hajibirgit raid, it seems that the Americans?or their Afghan allies?did just that."

The villagers returned to find their village looted by a group of Afghans led by Abdul Rahman Khan?"once a brutal and rapacious 'mujahid' fighter against the Russians, and now a Karzai government police commander who had raided the village once the Americans had taken away so many of the men. Ninety-five of the 105 families had fled into the hills, leaving their mud homes to be pillaged."

Now here's a story, replete with specifics about another appalling episode like the slaughter of the Afghan wedding party. A check shows that thus far not a single word of the destruction of Hajibirgit had appeared in any mainstream U.S. news medium.

But the war is coming home, the way wars always do, in the form of drugs and psychosis. Witness the murders of four Fort Bragg soldiers' wives in the space of six weeks. Fort Bragg is the home of the Special Forces Command. Three of the four soldiers had recently returned from Afghanistan, where they served with Special Forces units.

"He was like my own child," said Wilma Watson, describing her son-in-law Master Sergeant Wright. "Until he came back from Afghanistan, I didn't worry about violence." Wright killed her daughter. "He was getting these attacks of rage." One line of defense, discussed in an interesting piece published Sunday in Newsday by UPI reporters Mark Benjamin and Dan Olmsted, is that at least two of the soldiers had been taking Lariam, aka mefloquine, in Afghanistan. As the reporters wrote: "Lariam has been blamed for psychotic episodes and suicidal behavior for more than a decade. The official product information sheet, written by manufacturer Hoffmann-La Roche and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, states Lariam has been associated with aggression, paranoia and suicidal thoughts."

It is the Army's drug of choice to prevent malaria.

There's nothing to equal the military as the incubator of violence. The villagers of Hajibirgit paid the price. The four murdered women in Fort Bragg paid another installment, and the payments in terms of rage, drunkenness, drug addiction and antisocial behavior will be exacted month after month for years to come, amid the resolute determination of the press not to connect up the dots.

Violence Genes

The search for the "violence gene" is always with us. Last week it surfaced once again, when The Economist proclaimed that "the first study has just been published showing how a particular gene and a particular environment interact to produce violent individuals." The Economist cited the publication of "a clear-cut case?a paper showing that the degree of expression of a gene implicated in the development of aggression does indeed interact with a person's early circumstances to shape a violent or a pacific personality.

"Terrie Moffitt, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College, London, and her colleagues, picked MAOA, the gene for a protein called monoamine oxidase-A, for their study, which has just been published in Science. Monoamine oxidase-A is an enzyme that breaks down members of an important group of neurotransmitters, the molecules that carry signals between nerve cells. These neurotransmitters include dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, all of which help to regulate a person's mood.

"There is abundant evidence," The Economist continued excitedly, "that a reduced level of monoamine oxidase-A (and therefore an elevated level of these neurotransmitters) results in violent behavior. There is also evidence that chronically low levels early in life result in an individual who is more than averagely predisposed to react violently to any given situation in adulthood, regardless of monoamine-oxidase levels at the time."

You take your pick: the elusive "violence gene" or a militarized culture that sees unending war, with racism and cruelty associated with that activity. Was it a "violence gene" that drove McVeigh on, or an anti-malarial medication, or what he experienced in his military training and in the war in Iraq?

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