Far be it from me to attempt to explain why Pope John Paul II, who spoke out 56 times against President Bush’s War on Iraq, opposed the president’s war. But whatever his reasons were, he was right to do so because President Bush’s true reason for invading Iraq — regime change — was a poor and immoral excuse for initiating a conflict that has killed and maimed tens of thousands of innocent people — many more innocent people, in fact, than died on 9/11.
Unlike other U.S.-approved dictators, such as the shah of Iran, Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, and Augusto Pinochet of Chile, Saddam was not a “team player” as far as the U.S. government was concerned. Perhaps the best example of this was Saddam’s decision to reject a U.S.-approved oil pipeline across Iraq, despite the fact that the U.S. government had provided him with advice and assistance, including weapons of mass destruction, in his war against Iran.
Here’s how John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2004), put it:
The EHM [Economic Hit Man] presence in Baghdad was very strong during the 1980s. They believed that Saddam would eventually see the light, and I had to agree with that assumption. After all, if Iraq reached an accord with Washington similar to that of the Saudis, Saddam could basically have written his own ticket in ruling his country, and might even expand his circle of influence throughout that part of the world…. I could not help but wonder how many other people knew, as I did, that Saddam would still be in charge if he had played the game as the Saudis had. He would have his missiles and chemical plants; we would have built them for him, and our people would be in charge of upgrading and servicing them. It would be a very sweet deal — even as Saudi Arabia had been.
But once Washington officials realized that Saddam would not see the light and become a “team player,” the objective became to oust him from power and replace him with a regime that would be a “team player.” But they needed a good excuse to do so, because regime change historically has not been a well-received justification for invading another country, especially when such an invasion is likely to kill and maim lots of people.
Regime change was the objective behind the cruel and brutal sanctions that the U.S. government and the UN maintained against Iraq throughout the 1990s, which contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. (See the articles posted in the Feb. 9, 2004, issue of FFF’s Email Update.) Although the ostensible excuse for the sanctions was to persuade Saddam to “disarm,” U.S. officials emphasized that the sanctions would never be lifted so long as Saddam Hussein remained in office, making it clear that regime change was the real objective of the sanctions. (Given the manifest love that the pro-life Pope had for children, it does not come as a surprise that he was also an ardent opponent of the sanctions, unlike U.S. officials, who claimed that the deaths of the Iraqi children were “worth it.”)
The attacks on 9/11 provided new impetus for regime change in Iraq, despite the fact that neither the Iraqi people nor their government had had anything to do with those attacks. But Bush knew that 9/11 had generated tremendous fear within the American people and that people placed tremendous faith in the federal government after those attacks: Americans were unlikely to question anything he said or did with respect to foreign policy.
Because he undoubtedly knew that regime change as the reason for invading Iraq would encounter resistance among people who place a high value on human life, Bush developed his wide range of alternative justifications (WMD, ties to terrorists, dangerous dictator, liberation, democracy-spreading, etc.) for invading Iraq. But all those alternative justifications were nothing more than false and fallacious covers for the decades-long policy of the U.S. government to extend its power around the world through the support and installation of U.S.-approved regimes. Those who “play ball” with the U.S. Empire, whether democratically elected or not, will be installed in power or supported with financial and military aid. Those who don’t will inevitably find themselves the targets of regime change, no matter how much it costs in terms of money and in terms of lives.
That’s the real reason — regime change — that more than 1,500 U.S. soldiers and countless Iraqi citizens, both civilian and military, are now dead or maimed. I sometimes wonder whether that was why the Pope called Bush’s War a “defeat for humanity.”