While editorials supported last week's Anglo-American bombing of the outskirts of Baghdad on grounds that it was a necessary part of ongoing efforts to bottle up Saddam Hussein, a man one editorial called "quite simply the most dangerous man in the world," who could "threaten the entire gulf region," it is the US that is far more dangerous. More Iraqis have been killed by the Gulf War, sanctions, and the incessant bombing of Iraq by American and British forces, than all the Iraqis and Kuwaitis killed by Saddam Hussein. If you define dangerous in terms of body count, the US and its junior partner, Britain, have Iraq beat.
What about the potential to add to the body count down the road, on a larger stage than the Middle East alone? Washington's insistence on forging ahead with its National Missile Defense, despite the ABM treaty it signed but now denounces as archaic (while seeming to have an infinite patience for truly archaic and undesirable institutions like the electoral college or the Saudi and Kuwaiti monarchies), and notwithstanding the threat of touching off a new arms race, puts the US in a class all its own. As too does Washington's refusal to renounce the use of a nuclear first strike, even against non-nuclear countries, to say nothing of its readiness to ignore the UN, international law and the wishes of international community whenever it feels the need to flex its ample military muscles.
Iraq, it will be recalled, has, over the last decade, been paying the price for trampling international law by invading Kuwait. But over the same period, the US, in its best "do as I say, not as I do" manner, has been routinely flouting international law -- bombing Iraq on an almost daily basis, pulverizing Yugoslavia, lobbing cruise missiles at Sudan and Afghanistan. Few in the Western media have marveled at the sheer hypocrisy.
As to destabilizing the Middle East, Israel, a US client state, and a country with its own history of invading and occupying its neighbors, has done more to stir up tensions in the region through its ill-treatment of the Palestinian population than Iraq has. Ariel Sharon's provocative visit to the Al Aqsa mosque hardly cast a pacific calm over the gulf region. And Israel is widely acknowledged to have its own weapons of mass destruction -- in the form of 200 nuclear warheads, some aimed at Baghdad.
Which invites the question, why demonize Iraq and Saddam Hussein, but not Israel and a man with his own long record of atrocities, Ariel Sharon?
The difference, apparently, is that Israel doesn't threaten Washington's control of the region, and so its violations of international law, its atrocities, and its barbarism are excused at worst, and overlooked at best. The Sabra and Shatila massacres did nothing to undermine US dominance of Middle East oil, and nor do Israeli bullets fired at the heads of stone-throwing Palestinian youth. Indeed, they may help it along. But Iraq's invasion of Kuwait struck at the heart of US imperial ambitions in the region, so Iraq gets to play the goat, with Saddam Hussein, along with Slobodan Milosevic and other assorted "strongmen" and "terrorists", trotted out every now and then to justify an obscenely bloated US defense budget -- larger than necessary to "keep Saddam in his cage" and to punish weakling countries who aren't sufficiently keen on turning over their natural resources and economic infrastructure to US investors.
No doubt, secure access to the Middle East's oil is a sine-qua-non of the smooth functioning of the West's economy, but is it worth the effective dismantling of the system of international law, the elevation of US might makes right to the organizing principal of international relations, and the contemptuous and arrogant disregard of the world community, to say nothing of over a million Iraqi dead?
Sanctions, too, are an integral part of the plan of keeping "Saddam in his cage", so that he won't threaten "the West's access to the Middle East's oil." Sanctions exact a hefty toll in human lives, but they're Iraqi lives, and so, apparently, are expendable -- a price well worth it, as Madleine Albright once remarked.
To the United States and Britain, who arrogantly strut around the world as self-appointed cops, above international law but demanding adherence to it by all but themselves and their client states, to Canada and Poland, alone in supporting last week's Anglo-American bombings, the deaths, the terror, the violations of international law, are worth it. Access to oil is vital, no matter what the cost.
To the rest of the world, and a fair number of citizens who find themselves in the unenviable position of watching their own countries put oil and its profits above human life, before the rule of law and ahead of morality, it's not Iraq that's the most dangerous country in the world -- it's the US.
It seemed to escape the notice of one editorial writer who described Saddam Hussein as "unbound by international law, vicious, with a huge appetite for weapons of mass destruction," that the same description fits George W. Bush, and a long line of American presidents, to a tee.
Mr. Steve Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.