Translated from Gegenstandpunkt: Politische Vierteljahreszeitschrift 1-2003, Gegenstandpunkt Verlag, Munich

War against Saddam
The Latest Contributions to the Never-Ending Debate over Just Wars and Unjustified Violence in World Politics

The United States, together with Great Britain, is at war with Iraq. Their declared goal is the removal of Iraq’s ruling regime. With that, they present the rest of the world with what are largely faits accomplis, demanding agreement by everyone and assistance from allies without allowing any other state any influence on their plans and proceedings, and thereby vexing these same allies quite a bit.

This is all happening very publicly. The public is being extensively informed about the war. The US administration explains its actions daily, while skeptical allies have presented their concerns and objections before the broadest of audiences, even — intentionally — in the midst of election campaigns. Both sides have found fertile ground for their stands among the democratic public throughout the whole world. An intense debate over the old but eternally new question of a just war rages on, once again with some original arguments on the part of war supporters. On the other side, a large protest has broken out. Its organizers, just like their similarly concerned mass base, have no illusions about their “chances to stop the war.” But they have achieved one thing: this war, too, has not gone off without a whole pile of bad objections being made.

I. “No to War — Yes to Peace!” Since “war implies the failure of politics” and “can’t be allowed to become a normal means of politics.”

There exists a time-honored and simply indestructible sort of anti-war critique that distinguishes itself by an especially high level of abstraction and corresponding general applicability. It thus also suffices as intellectual ammunition for a big part of the protest against war in Iraq: one imagines the “unimaginable” brutality of war and is against it — an easy exercise that pacifists and generals, war policy makers and civilians, Europeans and Americans from Heidemarie Wiezorek-Zeul to Condoleeza Rice[1] have all mastered equally well. Then instead of war, one wishes peace for oneself and all the other “innocent victims,” one demands that politicians renounce war — and one has thereby already made the first bad mistake. For, it is precisely the transition to war that makes drastically clear what the peace wished on mankind in general, and on the Iraqis in particular, is actually worth. It is true that there is no bombing and shooting in a big way during peacetime; but the reasons for the heavy bombardments and bloody battles were created during precisely those years — when else? — and by precisely those “circumstances” — how else? — that are now, in view of their consequences, ennobled with the honorable term “peace.” Whoever protests in the name of peace, especially in the case of the war in Iraq, must have missed something, or at least forgotten it in the course of objecting; namely, that the peace in the Gulf that should not have been broken consisted in twelve years of periodic bombing, the placement of the Iraqi leadership under a strict embargo, the widespread hardship suffered by the Iraqi people at the hands of their own government and an all-encompassing UN quarantine, impoverishment on a massive scale, and — not to be forgotten — growing American discontent with the continued existence of a positively outlawed enemy. And what holds in this case holds also in general: the wars that nation-states put on the agenda time and again are necessarily connected to the state of peace existing between them. For, it is precisely the same conflicts of interest and hostilities constituting the real content of the condition called peace that explode with such a big bang in wartime — the only difference being the plain fact that in peacetime, “military interventions” haven’t yet occurred. Therefore, whoever makes no demands beyond that politicians, whatever else they might do, keep away from war: well, maybe he’s a decent guy or just naive; but above all he shows himself to be ignorant of all the violence and violence-prone affairs that go on in the world of states right up to the “outbreak” of war, and ignorant as well of the criteria according to which politicians deem the transition to the proper deployment of armament to be due — armaments, by the way, that they’ve amassed also during none other than the previous peacetime.

This ignorance nearly turns into a political program when war opponents, faced with a declared war, not only say “No!” and call for peace, but also share their discovery that war might signal — fundamentally and eternally — “the end of politics,” or even more deeply felt, “the failure of politics.” The fact that politicians speak such nonsense goes without saying: when the violent consequences of their handiwork, the transition to acts of violence that they — and no one else! — are ready and able to bring about, and the terrible results that they — and no one else! — demand take place, are all ascribed to them, their offices and their handiwork, well they simply don’t like it. It is for this reason that they readily and emphatically insist on a distinction that is even more idiotic than if the assertion were, for example, that the atom bomb were “the end” of atomic physics, or that the construction of tanks signaled “the failure” of the auto industry: they maintain that politics has nothing to do with war. As if war arose in some kind of politics-free environment. As if the everyday politics between nation-states weren’t marked with all the nastiness and extortion that at some time or another leads to the equally political resolve to lay into an enemy with military force. As if really somebody other than professional politicians were capable of the sort of conflict for whose proper conduct they very wisely pursue an armament policy as far-sightedly as possible. And as if they of all people had come to the end of their professional lives and, in view of the “logic of war,” had to capitulate just when they finally got down to business and carried out their political goals on their declared enemy by force of arms. Again, it is obvious that politicians would like to see a distinction made between politics and war; for, in this way they provide themselves with the most convenient, i.e., the most fundamental and sweeping of all possible alibis for all their actions up to and including the declaration of war. But surely that doesn’t mean that the opponents of war, of all people, have to parrot this nonsense. If they really want to be against — in this case America’s — war, then the first thing — and it really wouldn’t be demanding too much — would be to renounce the hand-me-down wisdom of the phrase, “the failure of politics,” even and especially when it comes from legislative leaders, and instead to pick apart the alibi given by the authors of these political activities. And yet the opposite is the case. Regardless of whatever other reflections and objections — and they aren’t any better either — that they might entertain, the protesting masses and their peace-loving spokesmen think especially highly of precisely this “rebuke” of “failure:” the entire political profession would have to practically resign should “it,” despite all politics, indeed “come to war” in some unfathomable manner. Of all people, it is the opponents of war that stand up for the violent business simply called “politics” that the state actually practices, against its final product: war. As if they simply couldn’t think their form of political organization and their politicians capable of the amount of brutality committed in war by states, and so then couldn’t attribute this brutality to them when “it” really comes to war once again. As if they wanted to keep their trust in politics and politicians from being called into question when the latter go over to actions, with which they, the protesters, are definitely no longer able to be in agreement.

They themselves know better than that, and in the very next breath turn the rather close relation between war and politics into an argument — they just won’t be pinned to freedom from contradiction — when they insist with all modesty that war should not be allowed to become a normal, more or less everyday, hand tool of politics. It is no wonder that they are once more at one with the politicians on this point, or at least with all those presidents, chancellors and foreign ministers that haven’t exactly been asking for war, and who therefore keep on preaching that war should not be allowed except in extremely exceptional situations, whose onset once again nobody besides themselves determines, obviously. Neither does the thinking get any better when radicalized into the maxim — to which no one who “bears responsibility” would ever subscribe — that war should absolutely not be allowed (any more) to be or (again) become a means of politics. It doesn’t exactly take a long-term, historical memory to realize that war is a means of politics, and not even such a remote one at that; and it shouldn’t be demanding too much of an opponent of this means, that he draw a conclusion from the means to the ends, which just can’t be managed without violence. With their imperative that it should not be this way, however, war opponents and peace lovers are already well beyond every such conclusion. War is rebuked as a method; every unbiased look at the ends — at politics that is, on behalf of which the method of destroying foreign state power is called into action time and time again, and with armaments prepared well in advance — is rejected. And not only that: the political purpose for which war is declared is rather biasedly given a categorical blessing; not only is it not criticized, it is even — in one or another harmless sounding version — approved and considered absolutely right as rain, in order to draw the conclusion that this happy matter must really be taken care of without force of arms. In the case of the war on Iraq, the opponents of war cling to the belief that it truly might only have been a matter of a somewhat more comprehensive search for landmines, which UN inspectors should have been able to complete in a wholly civilized manner, like some kind of technical assistance bureau of the international community. In any case, that’s how the protestors would understand their Chiracs and de Villepins, their Schröders and Fischers.[2] They thereby completely ignore the threat these politicians give precedence to over their “vision” of a “peaceful solution.” They ignore the hypocrisy of these leaders of militarily second or third rate powers starting in practice from the USA’s war program, the military deployment, and the twelve-year long, unrelenting, low level air war, only to abstract from this program at the same time in order to diplomatically play themselves up as advocates of a peaceful realization of American war aims. And the protestors absolutely do not hear the US administration’s assurance that the political aims at issue are only to be realized through war. They don’t want to know about this sort of national cause — at least not in connection with precisely their dogma that, in the last analysis, politics really has to be able to be managed without war, the honorable nation’s honorable cause carried out without any violence. Unmoved by the actions of the largest and most honorable military power on earth, the opponents of war insist on rejecting war as an inappropriate method, without rejecting the cause for which states arm, prepare for war, and fight them when necessary.

And that’s just the beginning of their ideal lawsuit against America’s warlords, in which they draw one false conclusion after the other, just so as to put the Bush administration in the wrong before the childish ideal of a charitable world rule.

II. “No Evidence!”

The US government has provided its publicly planned and prepared military invasion of Iraq with a justification that leaves little to be desired in the way of clarity and explicitness. It intends ‘to take the war to our enemies before they are able to attack us and our allies.’ This declaration is valid for every enemy force, no matter how organized, and of course for every government, that is “against America” and could be capable of acquiring means with which it could harm America, Americans, or American interests: such a potential threat must be eliminated before it becomes an actual threat. This sweeping and universal preventative war doctrine draws its moral justification — and this really is a new idea in the “theory” of just war — from the unique damage the country suffered a year and a half ago in the attacks on the WTC in New York and the Pentagon: the deaths legitimize precautionary strikes against anything and everything the US subsumes under the “attack” of 9/11. The US already carried out a proper war against Saddam Hussein, who nevertheless remains in power and just by that could, without any doubt, possibly take some action or other against America; this suffices to identify him as a danger that justifies preventative countermeasures. His former will to make war and continuing self-assertion proves he’s up to some kind of evil. That he still possesses the means to assert himself substantiates the suspicion, not easy to refute, and is in fact, strictly taken, the whole proof, that he employs these means to resist America, i.e., to damage it. Widely disseminated information about “Saddam’s reign of terror” in his own country illustrates the enemy’s malevolence, helps along the repugnance of the enemy deemed necessary for democratic war preparedness, and at the same time soothes the humanitarian worries about a massacre of the Iraqi people, which might be necessary in the course of removing their dictator.

It doesn’t take much to discover America’s reason for war in this war morality. First of all, the world power declares itself as being extremely vulnerable, in so far as it is in principle always and everywhere — not least in such an important region as the Gulf — very easy to hit and damage; not exactly vital damage, but damage to its vital interests. For with these interests and the material means with which America enforces them, America is simply ubiquitous. Secondly, due to these universal and permanent threats, America is, to that extent, terribly easy to push to the extreme. For, due to the high level of demands its interests give rise to, and for the sake of the credibility of its means, the US must insist on absolute and unconditional respect. In every affair and with every hostility, it is not only this or that interest, or one or the other asset that is at stake, but rather its recognition as the leading world power. Either the US enforces this recognition always and everywhere, or it is lost, and America is downgraded to being just one, relative power among others. Thirdly, America is only able to demand total respect, but can also really afford to do so, because — Bush never misses an opportunity to proudly emphasize this — it possesses the military capability to reliably destroy any identified enemy. The world power sees itself above any necessity to seek a “modus vivendi” with forces it finds hostile and dangerous. To that extent, with his war against the insubordinate, aggressive, dangerous, in short evil regime in Baghdad, the US President provides a drastic lesson about how imperialism functions today — and his profusely preached war morality adds a virtually crystal-clear commentary.

It is all the more astounding how sensible people who feel challenged to make head or tails of America’s war declaration actually deal with the US government’s clearly stated justifications: they refuse to believe them! The danger the US conjures up has indeed precious little to do with Iraq but everything necessary to do with America’s demand for invulnerability — they take this danger for a mere pretext for war. The diagnosis of danger makes it clear that the US government indeed sees its highest good, namely the credibility of its power, put at risk by their declared enemy’s continued self-assertion — they declare this diagnosis to be implausible. In the process, Bush’s peace-loving critics get themselves into the awkward position of completely buying into the hostile image with which the man illustrates, for even the crudest taste, how unbearable Washington’s civilized folk find their colleague in Baghdad. The whole of western civilization, which for at least ten years hardly lifted a finger against Saddam Hussein’s unspeakable state crimes, and which even now only knows what American and British war propaganda announces, suddenly shows itself to be knowledgeable — now that the man appears on America’s hit list. Out of duty or conviction or even both, they break out in a chorus of curses against Saddam’s inhumanity whenever his name is mentioned. No opponent of the war wants to be accused of taking the side of the “tyrant in Baghdad;” everyone puts on record their honest and deep conviction that this beast must go; on this point, no peace lover lets himself be outdone by Mr. Bush. And not only that: even the sheer possibility in which America anchors its verdict against the Iraqi regime — the business with the ‘weapons of mass destruction,’ their possession and the possibility of their being passed on to anti-American terrorists, all of which those in Baghdad are thought capable of at any time — is accepted word for word by American war moralists. That is, up until the one, last point concerning the proof of a truly operational and threatening Iraqi weapons arsenal. And yet the opponents to war in Iraq are here, too, in agreement with the war’s organizers, that the existence of such an arsenal, or even of suitable manufacturing facilities, would be absolutely judged as an emergency for which something would have to be done right away. They thus put their full faith in the polemic image of the Iraqi danger — lacking nothing more nor less than the final proof:

“There is no concrete evidence that Iraq has or is developing weapons of mass destruction. Scott Ritter, a member of the UN weapons inspection team has said Iraq no longer has this capacity.” (Exeter Stop the War Coalition — 15 arguments against the War on Iraq, Great Britain)
“The US government justifies the necessity of a preventative war with the fact that Iraq still or once again possesses weapons of mass destruction, and stays in close contact with terrorist organizations. There is at this time no evidence for this. Neither the capability of producing weapons of mass destruction, nor cooperation with Islamic terrorists, from whom Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime has always kept its distance, are likely.” (Resist Campagne, German National Committee of the Peace Advisory Council, Germany)[3]

The US President and Secretary of State can point out as clearly as possible what they mean by this business of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, namely that they take their old enemy’s sheer existence to be its crucial offence, and the mere possibility of damage as the deed itself; that the actual investigation of Iraq’s industrial facilities by UN inspectors was a diplomatic concession, and not a procedure for providing reasons for their definite hostility against Iraq; that they are not actually interested in dealing with an imminent danger of attack, but with the preventative elimination of its possibility; that the constant talk of “weapons of mass destruction” is nothing but the easy-to-understand, popular edition of its reasons for war — the good folks from the peace front still insist on a “smoking gun.” They simply refuse to notice that a “smoking gun” in any case only “proves” Iraq’s dangerousness if one buys America’s whole construction of the matter, namely that the existence of such weapons in Saddam’s hands already proves his will to use them — and that then the “proof” doesn’t matter any longer. The Bush administration may insist as emphatically as possible that their judgment concerning the public danger of the Iraqi regime is final, and that the danger can only be removed by removing the regime; that the “evidence” offered possesses “evidentiary value” only if and insofar as it affirms that Saddam is a trouble-maker; that simply nothing could prove that the US does not need to be concerned about Iraq — the opponents of the war still demand proof of a genuine arsenal in the wrong hands, of a real and imminent threat to America, before agreeing with the Bush administration that the American world power definitely can no longer tolerate the continued existence of the Saddam regime. And because no proof is offered — at least not “at this time” — they simply don’t believe the US government’s reason for war. They don’t want to hear anything about a “world power at risk” — that just doesn’t terrify them, they simply don’t believe that the world power in all seriousness actually sees itself challenged by Iraq.

The opponents of the war even have their own “proof” for this, which only a pacifist could dream up. Seeing that what is at issue is something as decent and honorable as the removal of weapons of mass destruction from the hands of rogues, they point with a big, fat, finger at North Korea, which they say needs to be disarmed much more urgently than Iraq does. How do peace lovers actually know that North Korea is constructing atomic weapons? How do they become so certain that these weapons, if they indeed exist, are far more dangerous than all the atomic arsenals that are already known to exist? Where do they get their standards by which they identify this government as being unpredictable and therefore dangerous? And above all, how do they get the idea that, once again, it would have to be America’s job to remove North Korea’s atomic weapons if necessary? The answer is very simple and in all cases the same: they see that the USA has declared North Korea to be fundamentally the same type of problem as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. So now the opponents of the war cite America’s own declaration of hostility against a country on the other end of the Asian continent to prove that the reasons for war that America brings to bear against Iraq are implausible due to inconsistency. They get instructed by Bush & Co. that Iraq and North Korea are entirely similar problems for world order and are thus both cases for supervision, and yet they refuse to consider the American demand for world order and supervision that make the two countries similar cases. Instead, they would instruct the world that the “Bush warriors” are not at all serious about this demand, because otherwise they would have to carry out the missions in inverted order.

And yet one thing is indeed proven here: the opponents of war in Iraq would hold the liberation of the world from wrongly controlled weapons arsenals to be a rather good reason for war, or in any case one that is understandable and morally worthy of discussion, if only America were indeed actually concerned with that, which is simply not the case. And with this false analysis, they enter into the next round.

III. “No Blood for Oil!” — and especially “Not in Our Name!”

If the Bush administration doesn’t in truth intend to carry out its war against foreign weapons and terrorism, then what does it want? The anti-war movement pleads for lowly motives:

“It is rather obvious that the governments of the USA and Great Britain are not concerned with human rights and democracy, not primarily with the fight against international terrorism or with alleged weapons of mass destruction, but rather with political and economic interests in one of the earth’s richest oil regions.” (attac-Projektgruppe 15.02., “No War on Iraq! NEIN zum Krieg gegen den Irak,” February 15, 2003, Germany)

There’s no telling whether peace activists find something strange about a war for human rights and democracy. They simply count off the motives for a military operation that they apparently hold to be morally at least tenable, in order to find these motives lacking and to voice a dark suspicion: the attack on Iraq is about interests instead of ideal aims, i.e., base, material interests “in one of the earth’s richest oil regions.” And why do such interests necessitate a war?

“With an invasion, the US intends to secure access to the world’s largest oil deposits in Iraq and to further extend their supremacy in the region. The Iraqi regime is to be replaced with a government friendly to the American oil conglomerates. Without a regime change, the US would no longer have control over these important deposits, while European and Russian oil conglomerates have signed contracts with Iraq for years.” (Resist Campaign, “Five reasons to actively oppose a war,” Germany)[4]

Without a doubt, America’s war aim consists in secured access to the oil deposits in the Gulf region. After all, what is at issue is the most important of all raw materials for energy for the world economy, and in that respect a significant source of capitalistic wealth. On the one hand, this includes — according to the Bush administration’s candid announcements — America’s right to determine business access to Iraqi oil sources after the war as they see fit. For if the US is indeed going to take upon themselves the trouble and expense for an occupation of Iraq and an occupying regime — alternative scenarios for this having long since been calculated — then it intends to profit in just proportion, i.e., exclusively, from whatever proceeds can be obtained from the country. On the other hand, the fact that it insists on bringing about the complete military subjugation of Iraq pretty much all by itself is due to the American world power’s exceedingly demanding need to secure its “vital interests,” which are not least directed toward the oil rich regions of the globe. It finds itself to be and feels sufficiently secure if and only if the ensemble of relations of force within and between the sovereign states that sit upon the sources of capitalistic wealth are completely and incontestably under its control; it simply holds this to be a political necessity of vital significance for world order. What is not compatible with this necessity is a bin Laden, or even more the existence of a potentate who still clings to power despite having already lost a war with America, and who despite embargo has even managed to acquire the means from the sources of wealth he controls to hold on to power. This “tyrant” simply must go. To sum up: the “campaign against terrorism” that the Bush administration has announced and begun; business with fossil fuel stocks, which US conglomerates are after worldwide like the devil after poor souls; and the war against Saddam Hussein are all connected through the capitalistic world power’s demand for total control and its worldwide-ranging, material interests. And it is for this reason that in the well-regulated world of democracy and market economy, nothing is more normal than ‘Blood for Oil.’ — Is that what was really meant?

Actually, the peace lovers who indignantly report their discovery that oil interests are at stake in the current Gulf War, and that American firms will hold all the best cards after a victory by US armed forces, mean something a bit different. They in no way intend to critically examine the fact that, and to what extent, and why, the security of the oil business is a completely sufficient reason for war in a world controlled by the Free West; rather the complete opposite: something as banal and calculating as the taking of national advantage in the oil business should not be allowed to be a reason for war. The objective — and in accordance with all the rules of modern imperialism, also objectively necessary — connection between economic interests, political need for control, and military strikes interests these peace lovers only in one sense: they refuse to accept this connection. At least in theory: in fact they live in a world in which ultimately — notwithstanding a few imperialistic intermediate stages — the control of oil is in all cases taken as a reason for war by the leading authorities of world politics, but pacifists don’t take this so seriously nor so tragically that they would then have to directly criticize the entire democratic and free-market constitution of the world of states; in the final analysis, if they could no longer reject war as an unsuitable exception to the rule of an otherwise, on the whole, really peacefully and in general not-so-horribly organized world, then they would never get around to their brave “No!” With this defiant gesture, they display their ambition to intervene directly and practically to dispel the idea of a connection between oil and war, to virtually eliminate the military consequences of a security policy necessary for world trade. And since that is impossible in practice, they find it all the more important to morally dismiss the imperialistic reasons for war, to put the connection between control over oil and a war of aggression in the wrong. In a world full of reasons for war, control over sources of wealth being not at all the least significant, the oil business just simply is not allowed to be a reason for war! They are taken with the baseness of the “Oil!” motive; the world should not sink so low as to let the profits of US oil conglomerates pass as sufficient grounds for war. At least a protest should be registered at this point: no blood merely for oil! And when the war can’t be stopped after all, then the responsible authorities should at least not be allowed to assert that the war is happening “in our name.” This request naturally finds its strongest echo where governments do prepare for war in the name of their citizens, but cosmopolites the world over thoroughly share this demand, too.

But that’s just so consistent. It just makes sense that the protest against war in Iraq would be so expressly declared a matter of personal honor. This protest, with all its objections against the implausible ideals of, and actual base, material motives for the war, acts at the level of the justifications that politicians owe their nation when they claim its money and put its “sons” in harm’s way for a big act of destruction that in any other context would be severely outlawed as a crime. Politicians accompany all their lordly pursuits with a moral sales strategy anyway; and the more they utilize their citizens as maneuverable masses in the service of their state, the more insistently do they treat these same people as moral personalities, who are all the more supposed to agree to those things about which they have no say. So that the calculation comes out right, they offer noble motives for their actions free of charge and in every desired amount, for the sake of which one couldn’t possibly refuse them respect and approval. The peace lovers simply don’t come down from this level of publicly paraded political morality. The staging of war preparations as a show trial against a rogue; the conjuring up of the greatest danger for humanity in the event a timely strike is not made; and the fiction of a moral decision before which every individual, at least ideally, is ultimately put in the same position as their rulers that labor and are heavy laden with decision-making powers — this entire civic circus around the war is not criticized by the peace lovers. On the contrary, here are they in their true element. They place enormous value on the ideal decision-making competence offered to them complementary to their practical powerlessness. They proudly reserve their judgment concerning the moral justifications their commanders present to them, and examine them for credibility, or at least pretend to do so. They don’t for one minute place any value at all on the fiction that something or other might actually depend on their opinions. The formation of their judgment is not based on any notion of practical effect, but rather is a matter for the moral self-consciousness with which they ideally accept the conditions and occurrences that are imposed upon them in practice anyway. But on this level, the opponents of war see themselves challenged to document with audible protest that they see through hypocritical justifications and disapprove of base motives, that they can't be fooled by anything, and that they deny — if indeed nothing else, then at least, and with all determination — their moral allegiance to an implausible leadership. They owe this to the “innocent victims” — or, what amounts to the same thing, to the civic honor of “our name,” in which, whether they like it or not, these and other victims have been done in.

Moved in this way, a few opponents of war in Iraq resort to deeds that logically follow the very same pattern. Opposing the official war morality, which they can’t explain, but for that reason all the more decidedly reject, they strike back on the same moral plane, painting a picture of the US President as base as his motive for war, which they imagine to have exposed. Investigative journalists uncover Bush’s past as an employer and manager in the oil sector, and are not at all beneath denouncing not only the millions that he raked in there, but also his failures at raking it in; his integration into the capitalist clique associated with this business serves them as the “smoking gun” in the question of his real reasons for war. More radical opponents presume to make the rhetorical retort that the real “rogue” in world politics, possibly even ahead of Saddam, is this warmonger in Washington; the whole thing can even be embellished carnival-style with Bush-masks. Yet the most burning indignation still suffers from one blemish: it feeds off nothing other than the ideal of a political leadership that is in all seriousness obligated and dedicated solely to the highest moral values, including the ideal of a charitable world order politics — that is, off of the same ideal picture that apologists of the current Gulf War paint of the war-making US administration. One wouldn’t have any idea how to disgrace the powers-that-be without this standard at hand; and by disgracing them under this standard, the standard itself becomes only unquestionably strengthened. For this reason, no judgment against the purposes of state ever comes out of the condemnation of the political figures that execute these purposes, and who represent these purposes — distorted into morals but still clearly recognizable — in their person. On the contrary, even in its boldest disparagements, this protest operates on the pious presumption that actually, and from the point of view of the true “national cause,” everything being disparaged just couldn’t and shouldn’t be true. It would actually befit America to spread its blessings throughout the world of states and do what it could to make a better world. Then at long last, and actually, that wonderful American community, which every US citizen unswervingly stands by and which every world citizen pays respects to, would be all that it should be, even if for the moment an oil patch cowboy is unfortunately in charge…

Since that’s the case, and since the objections against America’s leadership are born of an unconditionally good opinion of its actual tasks, the denouncing of the “Bush warriors” is hardly the last word from the peace movement on the Iraq case. After all, those stepping up to the microphone are — with a few exceptions that prove the rule — nothing but highly respectable and responsible citizens, conscious of their political responsibility. They simply aren’t content to reject, however falsely, the commander-in-chief of the American campaign. They still have quite a few constructive objections ready.

IV. Victory is fine and good; but, “What comes afterwards?” “War is not the answer!”

The US government doesn’t miss the opportunity to formulate yet another special, morally valuable war aim for that region against whose oil-rich heartland it is conducting an armed encounter for disarmament: the idea is to export democracy to the Arabs, introduce a process of modernization to the entire Middle East, spread the blessings of free markets and thus ensure the stability of political rule from top to bottom, establish security and peace, not least in and around Israel — and the like.

This declaration, like all the others, is remarkable for already containing its own clarification. One need only see the declared goal in connection with the means expedient for its achievement, and one has a complete picture of what the democratic world power is up to and intends to achieve: the peace it desires is only of any use if it is the result of a spectacular war victory, the entire region then finding itself under the salutary shock of America’s display of power. There will only be stability if no serious, political force in the region, and of course no sovereign state, dares to act in any way without authorization; and moreover, if America’s military power is on location in order to directly steer political developments if necessary. Democracy is the synonym for America’s being acknowledged and imitated as the model for a politically reasonable way of life in every respect, from government to the people; which is only guaranteed when a victory of American weaponry convinces the entire region of the supremacy of the “American way of life” by not allowing any alternative anyway. And so on. If America’s victorious war is the parent of all the promised, political blessings by dint of which the Arab world is supposed to recuperate, then precisely these blessings are also nothing other than the effects of the practical proof of America’s superior might. They are aspects or consequences of violently established, new relations of violence, tailored to America as author and guarantor of these relations. One thus experiences first hand what the norms and values of the democratically and capitalistically civilized world are really all about — just another lesson in imperialism.

And yet even here, the opponents of the war in Iraq don’t listen. On the contrary, they repeat to the Bush administration — or to whomever — their mnemonic: “War is not the answer.” On the contrary:

“War will increase Arab hatred of the USA, in effect causing long-term damage to the war against terrorism” (Exeter Stop the War Coalition, “15 Arguments against the War on Iraq,” Great Britain)

“An intervention in Iraq will further aggravate the many conflicts in the region, possibly causing them to get fully out of control. The domestic situation in the Near East would be further destabilized and would fan the flames of fundamentalism” (Resist Campaign, ibid.)

These critics are obviously not concerned with drawing the simple conclusion about the military action that America has commenced for the problem that it actually intends to solve, nor about the goals for which the US really presents the only appropriate, i.e., military, means. Instead, they suddenly believe a whole lot in the President’s rose-colored presentation of his war aims. In any case, they believe him enough to step up with their well-meant concern that the application of military force is ultimately not really the most suitable means to these ends, and that he should, despite the completely justifiable certainty of victory, really not forget about the uncertainties and imponderables of “afterwards.”

On the one hand, that is very idealistic, being concerned as it is with the ideal of a charitable world power instead of with the manifest goals of the war. The peace movement would like to think that the “flames of fundamentalism” must be extinguished, and that the domestic scene in the Arab countries must be pacified — even better than the Bush folks themselves, who first “discovered” this necessity and called out for the important policy imperative of order in the Middle East. With regard to this goal, the peace movement can only warn of the dangers of war; its adherents on their part refuse to see it the other way around — despite the US government’s clear notice that without a war victory, the regional conflicts would really get out of control — that in accordance with the objectively binding opinion of the democratic superpower, stability can only be achieved through a bombing terror from on high, and through the forceful detainment of all dissenting schemers and plotters; because strictly speaking, that is all that stability consists in. On the other hand, notwithstanding all their idealism, the opponents of the war are actually very close to imperialistic realities with their constructive objections. For the peace movement, with its high sense of responsibility, it goes without saying that it is the business of the concerned, “western” world in general, and the USA in particular, to keep the “conflicts in the region” under control, so that they do not “get completely out of control” — out of whose control actually? — and to take care of the “domestic situation in the Middle East,” which obviously can in no way be left up to the “Middle East” itself. Peace lovers find nothing wrong in the distribution of responsibilities for peace and security among the states of the world; on the contrary, this distribution is the firm basis of their own need to get involved. So when they give their detailed, expert advice about the regional conflict situation and can’t avoid reproaching America for having kept itself far too distant from the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” and for not having cleared up this “front” before they opened up a new one in Iraq, then they have really picked the right place to register their complaints. For, the intervention that the Bush administration actually practices — recognizing Israel’s anti-terror war against the Palestinians as part of America’s enormous campaign against anti-American terrorism throughout the world — may indeed be denounced with an accusation of ignorance in the name of a sugar-sweet ideal of peace in the Holy Land. However, with their rebuke of a failed American policy in Palestine, the proponents of peace not only understand as imperialistic fact that the ladies and gents of the United States, more than anyone else, are responsible for conditions between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, that they are ultimately the true sovereigns of the entire region, but also unconditionally affirm this responsibility as the solely “stable” element of order.

With so much affirmatively critical realism in the midst of their hopeless idealism, it is no wonder that those in the peace movement, who put on airs as worldly and politically experienced sentinels against unforeseeable dangers, admonish and object along the same lines as do those US allies outside the “coalition of the willing,” and are in particular word for word in agreement with the stated positions of the German and French governments. These second-class pros of global affairs certainly cannot be accused here of idealistic unworldliness. These dissenting politicians are officially dyed-in-the-wool realists about the world order; they intervene just as globally as do their first-class American colleagues; and they would love to be able to do so just as decisively as does their unbeatably superior — for the time being — ally. They suffer from the fact that they can’t hold a candle to the Americans as far as power and control over the world are concerned; they are especially dissatisfied with their rough treatment from the Bush administration over its new war in the Middle East; they diplomatically cloak their frustration with delaying tactics and other less disruptive maneuvers; in the process, they help themselves to all readily available, cookie-cutter peace rhetoric, from the “failure of politics” if the “logic of war” takes over, to the annoying demand to know how the Americans can possibly imagine an amicable post-war order in the Middle Eastern jumble — and thereby make an enormously good impression on their peace-loving citizens. At the same time, it’s quite clear that whenever Schröder, Chirac, and the like have “problems” in mind that are not solved by war but only aggravated, and when they come up with “concepts” for “afterwards,” then they are always thinking dutifully, in strict accordance with their oath of office, of one thing and one thing only: their Germany, their France, and so on. They are concerned with how their respective countries stand and what kind of influence they can acquire during and above all after the war. And when these officeholders, in reference to “conflicts” never cleared-up but only aggravated, distance themselves from America’s war, they have their eye on the less brilliant roles as vassals that the leading power unreasonably demands of them and their nation with its resolve to wage war. Yet all the empty talk concerning the moral dubiousness of an offensive war and the unforeseeable political fallout from an American military victory is exactly what these second-rate, ruling democrats need for morally winning over their righteous, national publics; and not only the peace-loving minorities, but the entire nation, which, lacking official government war-mongering, is also less than enthusiastic about war.

The movement against the war in Iraq seems to be rather completely unaffected by this cynicism on the part of governing practitioners of imperialism. If the diagnoses offered by a national leadership agree word for word with their own, and if some of the incumbent political bosses are as an exception for once fully in agreement with the “protests from the street,” then the “movement” “understands” this on the contrary as a quasi-official authentication of the seriousness of their “resistance,” meaning above all their realism — a virtue upon which responsibly acting cosmopolites place the highest of all values. The opponents of the war blithely ignore their governments’ political calculations involving national-imperialistic and calculating reflection upon the morality of the public, calculations with which they are indeed in agreement. They refuse to notice a difference, let alone any conflict between their own aversion to war and their governments’ insulted nationalism that sets itself up as opposition to war.

But is there ultimately any conflict at all?!

V. “No war without a UN-mandate!” — and above all, “No American unilateralism!”

The opponents of the war in Iraq see themselves on safe terrain when they hit the warmongers in Washington over the head with the heavyweight accusation that their unsanctioned unilateralism ignores the UN’s “authority” on questions of force, and that they disregard the magnificent achievements of international law with their “superpower arrogance.” The Federation of German Trade Unions asserts rather mildly:

“The worldwide confrontation with terrorism and the potential for mass destruction, especially in the hands of dictators, is a matter for the international community and not for a single country, even if the only currently existing superpower is involved. If a global monopoly on the use of force must be claimed as a last resort, then this is only permissible in accordance with the rules of international law.” (“War is no solution! Statement of the Federation of German Trade Unions on the Iraq Conflict,” January 13, 2003, Germany)[5]

With this admonition, the love of peace has — at least for now in the German workers’ movement — arrived at the standpoint of conditional willingness for war. Without any preconditions, the unions affirm the US-declared imperative that the world must immediately above all else “confront” “terrorism” as well as the “potential for mass destruction” in the hands of tyrants; in this, they absolutely do not want to be understood to be reproaching America for perhaps not really taking its formulation seriously. However, exactly two restrictively meant conditions are of utmost importance to them in the carrying out of this “confrontation.”

First of all, it has to remain perfectly clear that war be considered only as a last resort — the fighting organ of the German proletariat speaks of the coming slaughter with noble and diplomatic reserve, and in that connection will never mouth the word “force” without “monopoly” preceding it: “…global monopoly on the use of force … claimed as a last resort…” In so doing, they take the words right out of the mouths of their chancellor and his foreign minister — and place themselves and their entire authority behind the cynicism by which the governing rulers and commanders attempt to pass off the license to make war as a restriction. For what war would ever be carried out under the rubric that there are of course lots of other “answers,” and a better “resort” than the “last,” just that they’re not on hand?! All responsible officeholders take every opportunity to emphasize that war would definitely not be carried out unless all other methods of achieving the declared war aims were to be conscientiously tried out beforehand, one after the other; the entire emphasis simply boils down to the intention to definitely carry it out as soon as its initiators have “run out of patience.” That war is the last resort simply means that war is the ultimate means. This banal truth is quite openly presented and explained, especially to the German public, in precisely this manner: the haggling by German diplomats for resolutions from the EU Council of Ministers and the UN Security Council that, in connection with Iraq, speak of “force” as the “last means,” is treated by those concerned as “falling in line” behind America’s war plans, because the war is thereby approved as the proper instrument for world order at some time or other; the political opposition and expert journalists occupy themselves with extensive clarifications of this point for the benefit of the people. Given this, it is understandable that the German government puts a contrary emphasis on the matter, making out as though they were busy fighting an unyielding battle with thoughtless Anglo-American military deployment; foreign policy cannot be made nor sold without such cynicism. The peace movement’s refusal to learn from this is less understandable. The German government is on record for willingness to use force, but war opponents steadfastly detect only the condition; in the condition they detect a restriction; and in the restriction they detect the promise to reject the war. They never noticed their foreign minister’s hypocrisy — by contrast, they are much more sensitive to hypocracy on the part of his US colleagues, and immediately notice everything from that direction — when he implored over and over again that “it’s still not too late,” and for that reason wouldn’t ever favor war. Instead, the movement insists that the government in Berlin show “consistency” — probably so that war doesn’t unexpectedly end up as the third to last means of extortion.

The movement demands yet another, second restrictive condition of this “last resort,” which is just as absurd: it must be legitimized by a UN resolution. Without a proper resolution, war is out of the question — but whoever takes that seriously cannot escape the inverse argument that war then is blessed with a corresponding decision by the “family of nations.” The more decisively and self-confidently this “No to war!” refers to the US president not having yet obtained crucial approval for his war while walking all over the UN charter and other of the highest values of civilized man, the more completely this “No” becomes untenable if the UN decides in Washington’s favor. The more severely one lays into America’s resolve to carry out this war alone if necessary, the less remains of the anti-war standpoint if Bush indeed cobbles together a “coalition of the willing.” With their recourse to the assembly of the rulers of all countries in New York and to the rules of procedure for the diplomatic testing of forces, the war opponents make their love for peace dependent in the last instance upon how the majority turns out in New York’s diplomacy market, how certain privileged powers exercise their veto, and upon who cooperates. And apparently, they find that all quite all right. In other situations, they may well know — anyway, they are informed by all the news reports from this world of diplomatic nastiness and hypocrisy — that the UN is nothing but an organized marketplace for international acts of extortion, all the way up to war. For the purposes of their protest, however, they see the United Nations as the incarnation of the preamble to the rules of procedure, as an international community with the highest moral authority in questions of force. Once again, it doesn’t dissuade them when the USA firmly bring this childish idealism back down to earth with its UN diplomacy, and demands of this illustrious organization that it serve America’s war, in harsh reality the only thing it’s good for: providing America’s actions with its stamp of majority — and therefore universal — approval. Peace lovers, who detest the arrogance of the powerful more than anything, hold untiringly to their opposite version: if the American world power sets the facts that actually determine the competition among the sovereign powers, and moreover enlists the UN and its array of rules to organize generally binding agreement, then they, with indestructible idealism, reinterpret this clear and unambiguous situation as its exact opposite: as the rule of the “community” — if not over the real balance of power between states, then at least over the standards they are supposed to meet.

With that, they once again agree word for word with the versions put forth by the authorities in Berlin, who actually have quite different and very substantial reasons to “attack” the US government’s lone decisions with an appeal to the UN and a demand for an internationally approved war license. For those who hold the reins of German power, the involvement of the “international community” has, along with some moral profit on the side, a not unimportant political function: they thereby involve a very specific member of this “community,” namely Germany itself, in the passing of resolutions concerned with war and peace in the world. In their seeking to serve America’s interests by getting general agreement to their resolutions — an involved but suitably constructed lever — they can gain influence over these resolutions, or at least try, even though they don’t delude themselves too much about the power of this lever, and know better than peace-loving citizens how the relation between an ideal force monopolist and a real world power is in fact organized in the UN. In any case, that’s the sort of political business that goes on there, and it’s exactly for this sort of business that this highest of moral authorities for humanity headquartered in New York is suitable. And further, Berlin’s globally-concerned politicians don’t make any secret of this: they boast of how cleverly they have struggled for “influence” — and then have to put up with accusations of how clumsy they have been, how much they have thereby damaged Germany’s importance in the world. However, influence and importance are not measured by the non-violence of something they had somehow or other helped on its road to success, but rather simply by whether and to what extent Germany shows itself as a co-decision-maker and wire-puller in any resolution whatsoever, or conversely is convicted of being relatively irrelevant. What the German government formulates in its positions on “peace policy” is wholly in the service of this diplomatic struggling for a respectable and respected position within the narrow circle of real powers — and not a struggle, somewhat the other way around, for influence in the service of “preserving the peace.” Its insistence on a UN license for warfare is the means for the practical proof that even the USA with its solo effort can’t quite get around Germany. The aim and criterion of success of German resistance to the American course of war is the prevention of a decision-making monopoly on the part of America; for Germany, the imperative, “No unilateralism!” is really the whole and politically decisive matter. The fact it carries on this struggle, and incidentally also seeks national and not just international recognition for it, doesn’t at all prevent the leadership in Berlin from simultaneously spinning the contrary version to their peace-loving public, making out their struggle for influence on America’s course of war as an intervention in the name of peace.

And once again, the opponents of the war in Iraq, who immediately see through all the hypocrisy of US politicians, not believing for a moment what they say in plain English, find themselves prepared for unlimited agreement. They would absolutely love to see the German administration throw their entire weight behind the ideal of a peaceful continuation of world history. In any case, certain highly respected representatives of the peace concept don’t count Berlin as one of the governments they must evenhandedly reprimand; rather, as one of their own: a “civil society:”

“…Certain governments are prepared, without good cause, to abandon the more than fifty-year-old rules of international law that are enshrined in the charter of the United Nations to ensure peace. … we demand [Germany] oppose with us all striving for hegemony and all war strategies, and support a peaceful solution to the most urgent problems of mankind.” (“For a world of peace and human rights — statement of the winners of the Aachen peace prize,” January, 2003, Germany)[6]

The organizers of the largest peace demonstration in German post-war history have only one concern about their social-democratic chancellor; namely, that he really might have too carelessly used the absolutely correct decision on general principle, to oppose America’s “striving for hegemony” and the Bush-warriors’ arrogance, as a shallow campaign maneuver, and that he might be prepared to change his mind for the sake of popularity. For this reason, they assign their movement the task of ensuring the proper public mood, in order to “stiffen the spine” of their chancellor so that he doesn’t topple into the American war camp. With that, the closing of ranks is complete; while the unity between ruler and ruled extends a good deal beyond the key word “peace:” even for the movement against war in Iraq, love of peace and patriotic dissociation from the all-powerful American superpower come together most happily.

This agreement is not accidental. It does not consist in the merely superficial coincidence of certain consequences of what were in fact wholly disparate standpoints; even if of course it isn’t the diplomatic calculations of the pros of world politics that moves the peace movement. Their motivation really just stems from an ideal conception of state power, and from a mission of peace in the service of mankind that this power must unconditionally and selflessly fulfill and enforce. Thus pacifists normally find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to uphold their ideal of peace against their own government, as it once again prepares for war, finds war necessary, in the end carries it out, thereby doing exactly the things a peace lover sees as violations of it’s actual task. And since the representatives and apologists of the democratic bourgeois community themselves speak glowingly of the dignity of a monopoly on force and of the mission of its champions, the peace lover can even refer to this honorable notion in support of his view. But with their unconditional fidelity to this ideal, even and especially when war is at hand or under way, pacifists immediately end up in conflict not only with their really existing government, but also in a rather tragic conflict with their own loyalty to the board of directors of their homeland, a loyalty they just won’t abandon. For this reason alone, confessions of pacifism are normally a minority affair; in any case, the state power does its part with police and political means to put down movements that would consider registering a protest against, of all things, a military effort of the entire community, especially in wartime, and to push them to the moral sidelines. But the European protest against America’s war in Iraq is for once a wholly different matter. This time around, it is a foreign government, the one in Washington, that has sinned against the ideal of true peace; this time, the pacifists even have their own government on their side because it sees the national interest being harmed by America’s action. The spirit of true patriotism that inspires peace lovers need not rub against the real patriotism practiced by the government — and need not be rubbed out by it either — because both coincide. Conversely, the wholly normal civic bias for one’s own nation can for once find itself alive and well in the idealism of peace, which the worldly-wise public otherwise partly despises as childishness, and partly ostracizes as a know-it-all deviation from the loyalty the nation requires. With their critique of America’s war, idealists of patriotism not only take the words out of their government’s mouth, but finally and for once feel just like the normal, properly nationalistic citizen does.

In this way, the spokesmen of a small and radical minority can — unexpectedly but in no way accidentally — draw huge crowds to their demonstrations. They only have to watch out a bit not to let any uncool vocabulary from earlier times slip into their speeches, vocabulary that would reflect the spirit of opposition to the “Realpolitik” of their own nation. And they pull this off quite well. They have left behind all the “leftist sectarian” bickering about the correct political opposing line, or never even started with all that. In this way, the German branch of the movement against the war in Iraq has become fully and intentionally wrapped up in the good conscience of a German nationalism insulted by “superpower arrogance,” and in functioning as its public loudspeaker with its ideals of peace.


[1] Respectively, German minister for economic cooperation and development, and American national security advisor.

[2] Respectively, French president and foreign minister, German chancellor and foreign minister.

[3] Resist-Kampagne, Bundesausschuss Friedensratschlag

[4] “Fünf Gründe gegen einen Krieg aktiv zu werden”

[5] “Krieg ist keine Lösung! Erklärung des DGB zum Irak-Konflikt”

[6] “Für eine Welt des Friedens und der Menschenrechte — Erklärung der TrägerInnen des Aachener Friedenspreises”

© GegenStandpunkt 2003