Help us to stop the war

By Scott Ritter (The Guardian, October 7, 2002)


As a US Republican, I reject George Bush's illegal and unconstitutional plan to attack Iraq.

As a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer and as a registered member of the Republican party who voted for George Bush in the last presidential election, I have to admit to a certain trepidation and uncertainty when I was asked by Labour MPs to participate in the massive anti-war rally in London on September 28.

In my way of thinking, mass demonstrations, regardless of the righteousness of the cause, were the theatre of the political left, and not something with which I should be associated. I was proven wrong on all counts. The outpouring of democratic will that occurred on that day came not only from the left, but from across the breadth of mainstream British society. It sent a message to a Blair government that had grown increasingly isolated from public opinion: UK support for an American unilateral war on Iraq would not be tolerated. That message met a response a few days later from the Labour party at its annual conference in Blackpool. Democracy in action is a wonderful thing.

Across the Atlantic, in the United States, a debate is about to begin in the US Congress over the granting of sweeping war powers that would enable President Bush to wage war against Iraq, even if such action were unilateral and lacking in authority from the United Nations.

To many Americans, myself included, the granting of such powers represents a breach of constitutional responsibility on the part of Congress, which alone under the constitution of the United States is authorised to declare war. There is at least one US senator - Robert Byrd of West Virginia - who recognises this, and has indicated his willingness to launch a filibuster of the debate. Senator Byrd is famous for carrying a copy of the US constitution in his breast pocket, and pulling it out on the floor of the Senate to remind fellow senators what American democracy is founded on. One man fighting in defence of the basic foundation of American society. Where are the large-scale US demonstrations in support of this struggle? Where are the voices of outrage over what amounts to a frontal assault on the constitution of the United States? Democracy silenced is awful.

The constitution has always guided me in my actions as an American citizen. It establishes the US as a nation of laws, and sets high standards for the ideals we Americans strive to achieve as a nation. As an officer of Marines, I took an oath to defend the US constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. It is an oath I take very seriously and I am willing to give my life in defence of this document - something I demonstrated during my time in uniform, including service in Operation Desert Storm.

I am no pacifist, but I am opposed to President Bush's rush towards war with Iraq this time around. As signatories to the UN charter, Americans have agreed to abide by a body of international law that explicitly governs the conditions under which nations may go to war. All require authority of the security council, either through an invocation of article 51 (self defence), or a resolution passed under chapter seven of the charter (collective security). President Bush's case for war simply has not been demonstrated to meet any of these criteria. The president repeatedly announced that Iraq has failed to comply with its obligation to disarm, and as such poses a threat to international peace and security. The president declared that Iraq must allow weapons inspectors to return to Iraq, without conditions, with unfettered access to all sites. Iraq's failure to allow inspectors to return to work since their withdrawal in December 1998 has prompted fear in many circles (recently demonstrated by the UK government's dossier on Iraqi weapons programs) that Iraq has taken advantage of the intervening time to reconstitute its weapons of mass destruction programs dismantled under UN supervision. With no inspectors in Iraq, it was impossible to know for certain what the regime of Saddam Hussein was up to; and, given Iraq's past record of deceit over these weapons, the US and others were justified in presuming ill intent.

But now Iraq has agreed to allow the inspectors to return, unconditionally, and to be held accountable to the rule of law as set forth in existing security council resolutions governing Iraq's disarmament. The opportunity finally exists to bring clarity to years of speculation about the potential threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, as well as an opportunity to resolve this ongoing crisis of international law peacefully. B ut President Bush refuses to take "yes" for an answer. The Bush administration's actions lay bare the mythology that this war is being fought over any threat posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. It has made it clear that its objective is the elimination of Saddam Hussein. And this is where I have a fundamental problem. The UN charter prohibits regime removal. The US constitution states that international agreements entered into by the United States carry the force of law. The US has signed the UN charter. Regime removal is not only a violation of international law, it is unconstitutional. There is a way to deal with the need to change a regime deemed to be a risk to international peace and security, and that is through the UN.

If President Bush truly wanted to seek regime removal in Baghdad, then he would push for an indictment of Saddam Hussein and his senior leadership in the international court for crimes against humanity, something that should not prove hard to do, given the record of the Butcher of Baghdad (and something other members of the UN would clearly support as an alternative to war). But seeking judgment through the international court requires a recognition by the US of the primacy of international law, something the Bush administration has been loath to do. The fact of the matter is this crisis between Iraq and the US goes beyond even the issue of regime removal. It represents the first case study of the implementation of a new US national security strategy, published last month, which sets forth a doctrine of unilateralism that capitalises on American military and economic might to maintain the US as the sole superpower, to impose our will on the rest of the world, even through pre-emptive military action. This strategy is a rejection of multilateralism, a turning away from the concepts of international law.

This new Bush doctrine of American unilateralism reeks of imperial power, the very power against which Ameri cans fought a revolution more than 200 years ago. The streets of Washington DC are empty of demonstrators protesting at this frontal assault on American democracy. Will the streets of London be filled again with protesters against this assault on the rule of international law? I certainly hope so, because the people of Britain could lead by example, sending a clear signal to fellow practitioners of democracy in America that when it comes to determining what actions a government takes in the name of the people, the will of the people cannot, and will not, be ignored.

Scott Ritter was a UN weapons inspector in Iraq in 1991-98 and chief of the concealment investigations team. His interview with William Rivers Pitt forms the core of War on Iraq (Profile Books).

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