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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:32 03/09/2007
Debate: Commentary (March 17, 2003)

What Drives the Warmongers

Gregory Clark
(Head of Research Japan Office, and Former President of Tama University)

At last count we had been given six different reasons for invading Iraq, some of them false and the rest contradictory. The current favorite -- seeking to change an obnoxious regime -- might carry weight if it was not contrary to international law and if in the past both the United States and Britain had not gone out of their way to support the Iraqi regime when it was far more obnoxious.

Given all this duplicity, the critics assume that a lust to control Iraqi oil must be the main reason. That factor cannot entirely be ruled out. But whether it is dominant is more doubtful.

During the Vietnam War, many on the left mistakenly assumed that the U.S. motive was to control Indochina's resources, until the cost of the war began to exceed any possible value those resources might ever have had. Pumping gas through Afghanistan was supposed to be a motive for the U.S. attack there last year, except that no one wants to build a pipeline in that fractious nation.

What the critics fail to realize is the power and mentality of the military/intelligence complexes that create these various conflicts. Armed with enormous budgets and freed from normal controls, they have become a world unto themselves. Their sole raison d'etre is finding and obliterating enemies. If enemies do not exist, they will create them. Economic motives for conquest came well down in their list of priorities. Inventing enemies is a much easier way for them to get funds and power.

Democracies are highly vulnerable to these people. Firms dependent on the military cooperate willingly. Politicians, academics, think tanks and the media can easily be bought, infiltrated, created or overwhelmed. Precisely because our societies are democratic, they can then easily be persuaded to go along with these arbiters of popular opinion. The few who try to oppose can easily be ignored or ridiculed.

Working in Canberra during the 1960s, I saw time and time again how easily these people could push through their palpably false threat-mongering that China was an aggressive monster, that the civil war in Vietnam was really a Chinese thrust into Asia, and so on.

Even worse was watching them at work under the progressive Whitlam government of the mid-1970s. Skillful use of covert information, much of it from Echelon decoding of Japanese cables, gave them credentials with an initially hostile administration.

In the space of just one year, 1975, they were able to sabotage a planned commerce treaty with Japan by pumping in false information about Japanese plots to dominate Australia's economy, to justify a cruel Indonesian takeover of East Timor by inventing communist conspiracies on that unhappy island, and to thwart moves to open a relationship with Hanoi. No one around me in the bureaucracy was willing to stand up against these efforts to distort the policies of a democratically elected government.

In the context of Iraq, some of the critics have mentioned the way the U.S. military in August 1964 not only invented a mythical North Vietnamese attack on the U.S. Navy in the Gulf of Tonkin, and then rushed a resolution through Congress approving full-scale war on North Vietnam. Equally impressive was the ease with allegedly impartial media such as Time and Newsweek then rushed in with lurid and detailed accounts of this nonevent.

Even more blatant was Operation Mongoose, the U.S. 1962 attempt to create excuses to invade Cuba, even after the failure of the ludicrous Bay of Pigs expedition in 1961. In the official documents that have since come to light, possible 'pretexts' for the attack included everything from inventing alleged Cuban attacks on U.S. spacecraft to organizing mock Cuban invasions of Guatemala. The Iraqi stuff, and before that the mythical Serbian ethnic cleansers in Kosovo or the evil Taliban in Afghanistan, look tame by comparison.

Sometimes these people do not even have to invent pretexts. A favorite technique is to have their government violate a crucial part of an agreement with some alleged enemy. Then when said enemy retaliates in anger, that is then used to justify full-scale confrontation.

The U.S. denial of the 1954 Geneva Agreements for the reunification of Vietnam, leading to more than a decade of brutal U.S. intervention, is one tragic example. Another with equal scope for tragedy is the way the U.S., almost from the start, made it clear that it never intended to abide by the 1994 Agreed Framework under which North Korea was supposed to suspend nuclear ambitions in exchange for normalized relations, and now uses Pyongyang's reaction to that duplicity as an excuse for yet another round of confrontations.

And we have yet to see an end to the many confrontations, some of them nuclear, caused by U.S. backtracking on President Harry Truman's 1949 promise to see the Beijing-Taipei conflict as an internal Chinese problem in which the U.S. would not intervene.

The new doctrine of preemptive war makes it even easier for pretexts to be invented. This says that the U.S. (and now Japan, it seems) can assume the right to attack anyone whom it arbitrarily decides is evil and plans aggression. How do we decide that we face evil planners of aggression? When these people try to defend themselves from our threats of preemptive attack?

So when North Korea buzzes a U.S. spy plane whose only purpose can be to prepare for a U.S. attack on North Korea, we are warned darkly that North Korea is behaving in aggressive ways that could amply justify a future U.S. attack. Needless to say, many in our media are happy to go along with this nonsense.

There is only one way out of this morass: In the future, for every dollar spent on people whose sole interest is to create wars and conflicts, let's spend another dollar on the people who seek to create a better world without wars and conflicts.

(This article originally appeared in the March 15, 2003 issue of The Japan Times)

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