President Bush speaks at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn., on Monday, July 12, 2004. Bush defended his decision to invade Iraq even as he conceded that investigators had not found the weapons of mass destruction that he had warned the country possessed. “Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq,” Bush said after inspecting a display of nuclear weapons parts and equipment from Libya, which were sent to Oak Ridge as part of an agreement with Moammar Gadhafi to end his country’s nuclear weapons program. Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP
RABAT, Malta — The weapons of mass destruction (WMD) premise has proven useful throughout the United States’ continued imperialist infiltration of the Middle East. Indeed, former President George W. Bush’s address to Congress on Sept. 20, 2001 can be read as a prelude to more recent intervention galvanized under the banner of democracy.
In his address, Bush remarked: “On September the 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country. Americans have known wars – but for the past 136 years, they have been wars on foreign soil … Americans have known surprise attacks – but never before on thousands of civilians.”
He blamed al-Qaida for 9/11, and as his speech continued, he invoked the NATO Charter, Article 5 of which states, “The parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.” Armed with this justification, Bush declared the “war on terror.”
“Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there,” Bush said. “It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”
But it didn’t stop there. The process that facilitated imperialist violence in Iraq was repeated, albeit under different circumstances, during the Arab Spring — especially in Libya. Apart from the U.S., active participants include NATO and the United Nations, whose input ensured the destruction of countries and, consequently, their subjugation.
A 2007 interview with U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark offers insight into the events unfolding around the Arab Spring. Clark said that a U.S. general, whose name is not disclosed, had told him, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.”
A history of subjugation and pretexts for war
The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 represents the first step taken by the British and the French toward limiting Arab independence as they carved out new states from the Ottoman Empire. It established the strategy of dividing the Middle East along ethnic, sectarian and tribal lines.
In 1917, British imperialism set the foundations for a stronger, hostile presence in the Middle East with the Balfour Declaration, which approved a national home for Jews in Palestine. The inception of Israel in 1948 provided a solid settler-colonial presence in the Middle East — a presence hostile to Arabs and one which serves as a stronghold for the U.S.
Then, in 1945, the U.N. Charter established a hegemonic interpretation of intervention and domination. Chapter VII of the Charter legitimizes foreign intervention in the case of “threats to peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression.” U.S. aggression in Iraq is an example of violence being sanctioned under the auspices of the U.N. Charter. In this case, an ambiguous WMD premise was leveraged by the U.S. to facilitate regime change, install a U.S.-aligned government, and provide the foundations for mutating violence – the most recent such mutation to emerge has been the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
On Nov. 8, 2002, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1441, which was meant to serve as a warning that would compel Saddam Hussein to comply with previous resolutions. It specifically asserted that Iraq constituted a threat to the international community due to its “non-compliance with Council resolutions and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles.”
Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, declared Resolution 1441 to be a mere pretext for the intended war in Iraq: “No government that talked to President Bush or his advisers since Resolution 1441 was passed in November 2002 could have any doubt that within a few months the Americans would announce a breach of this resolution as well as retaliatory measures.”
Meanwhile, from August 2002 to March 2003, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Bush publicly reiterated the chemical weapons propaganda to the U.S. public as a pretext for the invasion.
The U.S. also set out to dismantle resistant nations’ means of maintaining their economic independence, thus allowing the U.S. to control oil wealth — a strategy that requires constant turmoil in the region. Bush signed Executive Order 13303 in 2003, giving immunity to oil companies controlling Iraq’s vast oil reserves. Purportedly enacted to protect the Development Fund for Iraq — a project affiliated with the World Bank, it exempts U.S. companies from being investigated for a wide range of violations, including those pertaining to human rights.
Recent reports in U.S. media indicate that troops in Iraq — both American troops and American-trained Iraqi troops — encountered chemical weapons from 2004 to 2011, including remnants of nerve and mustard gases. These weapons had mostly been left behind by Saddam’s regime, and were built with heavy cooperation with the West. However, this discovery was not made public at the time, as it would have rendered Bush’s WMD premise false and distorted the prevailing narrative.
U.N. weapons inspectors found no evidence of WMD manufacturing or possession of banned weapons throughout their investigation in Iraq. Given that the invasion and subsequent military occupation of Iraq was based on allegations that Saddam constituted a major threat through an alleged WMD program, a declaration on behalf of the U.S. government regarding the discovery of old, abandoned weapons would have been in glaring contrast to the propaganda disseminated by the Bush administration.
The truth was kept secret and manipulated to such an extent that affected troops were prevented from receiving medical care. Thus, holding onto that false premise was prioritized over dealing with the reality — troops injured by decades-old weapons.
A New York Times report in October states that the bulk of the material “could not be readily identified as chemical weapons at all. Some were empty, though many of them still contained potent mustard agent or residual sarin.” Manufactured between 1979 and 1981 in an attempt to counter the Iranian Revolution under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s rule, Germany and the U.S. are two countries mentioned as responsible for aiding Iraq’s production of chemical weapons during that period.
Yet the U.S. forces’ use of white phosphorus in Fallujah in 2004 – a toxic and incendiary weapon which is restricted under the 1980 Protocol on Incendiary Weapons and prohibited under the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention — was manipulated to fall beyond the parameters of WMD and accountability. The U.S. State Department attempted to counter reports on the use of chemical weapons during the war in Fallujah by stating that white phosphorus was used “to illuminate enemy positions at night.” However, graphic images are testimony to the fact that white phosphorus was used during the attack in a manner that constituted a massacre.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization remains reluctant to link the high rate of congenital birth defects in Iraq to the depleted uranium used by the U.S. In the FAQ section pertaining to the congenital birth defect study that started in Iraq in 2012, the WHO explicitly states that the study, carried out in collaboration with the Ministry of Health in Iraq, will not delve into the link between birth defects and use of depleted uranium.
Either way, destruction and death
In 2011, prior to NATO’s invasion of Libya under the pretense of aiding the Arab Spring, former justice minister Mustafa Abdel Galil claimed that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was in possession of biological and chemical weapons.
“At the end, when he’s really pressured, he can do anything,” Galil told Al-Jazeera. “I think Gaddafi would burn everything left behind him.”
The destruction which leaders like Saddam and Gaddafi were expected to bring upon their countries was averted, of course. Yet toppling these leaders required a cycle of bombings, massacres and mass graves — all in the name of democracy.
Other than sensationalism to further instability in the Middle East and thus cement imperialist domination, the pretext of WMDs has proven irrelevant as a reason for foreign intervention. While no longer needed as justification for pre-emptive war, imperialist forces are still utilizing a variation of the narrative to divert attention away from the violence wrought by U.S. and NATO bombings. This, in turn, renders “liberated” countries subservient to contemporary forms of colonization.