On March 31 in remarks to a group of British
foreign policy experts, Rice justified the U.S.-led invasion by saying
that otherwise Iraqi President Saddam Hussein “wasn’t going anywhere”
and “you were not going to have a different Middle East with Saddam
Hussein at the center of it.” [Washington Post, April 1, 2006]
Rice’s comments in Blackburn, England, followed
similar remarks during a March 26 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in
which she defended the invasion of Iraq as necessary for
of the “old Middle East” where a supposed culture of hatred
indirectly contributed to the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“If you really
believe that the only thing that happened on 9/11 was people flew
airplanes into buildings, I think you have a very narrow view of what we
faced on 9/11,” Rice said. “We faced the outcome of an ideology of
hatred throughout the Middle East that had to be dealt with. Saddam
Hussein was a part of that old Middle East. The new Iraq will be a part
of the new Middle East, and we will all be safer.”
But this doctrine –
that the Bush administration has the right to invade other nations for
reasons as vague as social engineering – represents a repudiation of the
Nuremberg Principles and the United Nations Charter’s ban on aggressive
war, both formulated largely by American leaders six decades ago.
Outlawing aggressive wars was at the center of the
Nuremberg Tribunal after World War II, a conflagration that began in
1939 when Germany’s Adolf Hitler trumped up an excuse to attack
neighboring Poland. Before World War II ended six years later, more than
60 million people were dead.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who
represented the United States at Nuremberg, made clear that the role of
Hitler’s henchmen in launching the aggressive war against Poland was
sufficient to justify their executions – and that the principle would
apply to all nations in the future.
“Our position is that whatever grievances a nation
may have, however objectionable it finds the status quo, aggressive
warfare is an illegal means for settling those grievances or for
altering those conditions,” Jackson said.
“Let me make clear that while this law is first
applied against German aggressors, the law includes, and if it is to
serve a useful purpose, it must condemn aggression by any other nations,
including those which sit here now in judgment,” Jackson said.
With the strong support of the United States, this
Nuremberg principle was then incorporated into the U.N. Charter, which
bars military attacks unless in self-defense or unless authorized by the
U.N. Security Council.
This fundamental principle of international
behavior explains why British Prime Minister Tony Blair was so set on a
Security Council vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq or at least
indisputable evidence that Iraq remained a serious military threat to
other countries. Based on internal British legal opinions, Blair knew
the invasion would be illegal.
This concern led the Bush administration to hype
evidence of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, which included
Rice’s famous declaration that she didn’t want the “smoking gun”
evidence of Hussein’s WMD to be “a mushroom cloud.”
Bush even considered staging his own casus belli
by tricking Iraq into firing on a U-2 reconnaissance plane painted
with U.N. colors to win U.N. backing for attacking Iraq, according to
minutes of a Jan. 31, 2003, meeting in the Oval Office that involved
Bush, Blair and senior aides, including then-national security adviser
Despite Bush’s promise at that meeting to “twist
arms and even threaten” other nations, the United States couldn’t bully
a majority of the U.N. Security Council into supporting an invasion,
especially with Iraq giving U.N. weapons inspectors free rein to search
suspected WMD sites and with nothing found.
On March 19, 2003, Bush chose to press ahead with
the invasion anyway, ousting Hussein’s government three weeks later but
then stumbling into a bloody insurgency that has now pushed the nation
to the brink of civil war. Tens of thousands of Iraqis – possibly more
than 100,000 – have died, along with more than 2,300 U.S. troops.
U.S. arms inspectors also failed to find any caches
of WMD. Other allegations about Hussein’s supposed collaboration with
al-Qaeda also proved unfounded. Gradually, Rice and other senior Bush
aides shifted their rationale from Hussein’s WMD to a strategic
justification, that is, politically transforming the Middle East.
This new rationale – essentially an assertion of a
special U.S. right to invade and occupy any country that is perceived as
an obstacle to U.S. goals in the world – is a spin-off of the
neoconservative Project for a New American Century of the 1990s.
“In neoconservative eyes, the Iraq war was not
about terrorism; it was about the pivotal relationship between Saddam
Hussein and the assertion of American power,” Stefan Halper and Jonathan
Clarke observed in their book, America Alone. “Hussein provided,
in effect, the opportunity to clarify American global objectives and
The PNAC architects saw Hussein as a blot on
American global dominance because he had survived standoffs with the
first Bush administration and the Clinton administration. His removal
would demonstrate that overt resistance to America’s permanent status as
the world’s uni-polar power had dire consequences.
But the American public was less eager to support,
either in treasure or blood, such an open declaration of imperial
designs. So, the invasion of Iraq was repackaged as defensive, to
protect the American people from even a more devastating 9/11 attack.
In late 2002 and early 2003, the Bush
administration and its media allies also demonstrated their dominance of
the domestic political scene, unleashing a war fever inside the United
States in support of Bush’s Iraq War claims.
The few voices of political dissent, such as
former Vice President Al Gore, were drowned out in ridicule or under
accusations of treason. When a singer in Dixie Chicks dared criticize
trucks were driven over the group’s CDs.
Cautionary advice from longtime allies, such as
France and Germany, was greeted with fury, too. “French fries” were
renamed “freedom fries,” and Bush enthusiasts poured French wine into
The U.S. national press corps also bent under these
waves of jingoism. The New York Times and the Washington Post put
stories supporting Bush’s Iraq War claims on the front page while
burying or killing articles that questioned the case for war. MSNBC’s
Phil Donahue was fired for allowing too many war critics on his show.
Even when Bush’s pre-war WMD claims proved false,
the U.S. news media played down disclosures that put Bush in a negative
light. In 2005,
major news outlets shunned revelations in the so-called Downing
Street Memo, which quoted the chief of British intelligence as saying in
July 2002 that the pro-war intelligence was being “fixed.”
Similarly, in early 2006, the big U.S. newspapers
were slow to react to another leaked British memo of the Jan. 31, 2003,
Oval Office meeting at which Bush plotted ways to trick and bully the
world into supporting the Iraq invasion. The memo, which appeared in the
British press in early February 2006, finally reached the New York
Times’ front page almost two months later, on March 27, 2006.
Now, the U.S. news media is turning a blind eye to
Rice’s revamped war rationale. There has been virtually no commentary in
the mainstream press about the extraordinary assertion by a Secretary of
State that the United States has the right to invade other countries as
a means to eradicate something as vague as “an ideology of hate.”
Far more press attention is paid to Rice’s stylish
clothing and her future job prospects, from her professed interest in
becoming National Football League commissioner to speculation that she
will be part of the next Republican presidential ticket.
Indeed, the attitude of the major U.S. news media –
by not objecting to Rice’s hazy doctrine – seems to be that there is
nothing morally or legally wrong with invading a country that isn’t
threatening the United States.
For instance, Washington Post editorial page editor
Fred Hiatt, who
beat the drum often for the Iraq War, penned an opinion piece
criticizing congressional Democrats for not embracing Bush’s vision of
striking out preemptively as part of “a long struggle” against “a new
totalitarian ideology” in the Islamic world.
“The Democrats implicitly reject almost everything
the Bush administration says about how Sept. 11 changed the world, or
our perception of it,” Hiatt wrote in an article entitled “Democrats’
Narrow Vision.” [Washington Post, April 3, 2006]
Yet implicit in the U.S. news media’s non-coverage
of Rice’s new rationale for war is that there is nothing objectionable
or alarming about the Bush administration turning its back on principles
of civilized behavior promulgated by U.S. statesmen at the Nuremberg
Tribunal six decades ago.