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 What Happened to the War on Terrorism? 

February 6, 2003

Notice what Colin Powell didn’t say. Addressing the United Nations Security Council, the meticulous secretary of state — the Bush administration’s most credible spokesman — didn’t say that Saddam Hussein had anything whatever to do with the events of 9/11.

That was supposed to be the whole point of the “war on terrorism”: to avenge and punish the destruction of the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon, and to prevent a recurrence of that horror. It’s hard to see how war on Iraq will achieve either purpose. What do Iraq’s hidden “weapons of mass destruction,” however terrible, have to do with a score of terrorists armed only with box-cutters? Nothing.

Nor did Powell say that conquering Iraq would amount to a victory. Or that it would defeat or diminish terrorism. Or that Americans would be safer from terrorists if the United States launches war on Iraq.

Have Americans already forgotten that the “war on terrorism” is supposed to be about — terrorism?

The rest of the world seems to remember. It wonders what the real purpose of this war is, when North Korea is both far more evil and far more menacing.

[Breaker quote: How one war morphed into another]Powell did allege nebulous “links” between Iraq and al-Qaeda, but he gave no evidence of any operational conspiracy in the events of 9/11. He didn’t even try. He knew better. Instead he offered horrifying descriptions of the weapons in question — particularly chemical weapons — and made a plausible-sounding case that Iraq has them and has deceived the UN inspectors. But his claims were so technical that few of us can assess them, and we had to take his word even for what the satellite photos showed.

In short, there was no “smoking gun” — or, more to the point, smoking box-cutter. All this had nothing to do with 9/11. Powell, like the rest of the administration for the last year or so, was talking about an entirely different subject and hoping we wouldn’t notice.

Al-Qaeda’s modus operandi is totally different from Hussein’s. If he had wanted (and been invited) to help it stage the 9/11 attacks, he could have supplied the 20 terrorists with flight training, lodgings, money, and chemical weapons. They obviously didn’t rely on him at all. If they even asked him for support, they may well have been refused. But more likely they are entirely separate from him. In his eyes they would be fanatics and loose cannons. He likes to be in control, and it’s hard to imagine him sharing his precious weapons with them to do what they please with them. For their part, they saw him as one of the many “traitors to Islam” who rule the Arab world.

So why does the Bush administration want this war so badly? What’s it all about? Oil? Israel? There are plenty of rabid Zionists in the administration, and they do want war with Iraq (for starters), but they aren’t in command. The oil men are. Not that they need access to Middle Eastern oil; the free market could take care of that well enough.

But whoever controls the Arab world controls everyone’s access to oil. If the United States conquers Iraq, then Iran, it will gain enormous leverage over the whole industrialized world — including a little country that has been largely ignored during the recent discussions: China. No wonder China has been resisting the American war plans.

Not too long ago, the United States had virtual control of the region through compliant rulers in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. But Iran overthrew the shah, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are also vulnerable to Islamic revolution, and Iraq acquired its own ambitions. So if the United States wants global hegemony, it must step in and take the reins in its own hands.

The purpose of the 1991 Gulf War was to restore the status quo when Iraq seized Kuwait. Gulf War II has no such pretext. The American people aren’t in the mood for yet another war. So the trick was to convert the shock of 9/11 into war fever, then to redirect it at Iraq by “linking” Saddam Hussein to “terrorism.” This required some slippery semantics and a lot of propaganda — which is mostly sheer repetition of nonsense until resistance is worn down, and logic surrenders.

That’s about where we are now. Osama bin Laden may have started one war, but Saddam Hussein is about to lose the other one it has morphed into.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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