“Doomed if you do, doomed if you don’t.”

That’s how a Bushwhacked-sounding Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz described the box President Bush has put Iraq in to American journalist Norman Solomon.

Solomon is one of the few American journalists who has tried to get Iraq’s side of the crisis over whether the Mideastern country’s purported “weapons of mass destruction” are such a threat to world peace that the United States has a right to take preemptive military action against it.

Of the many tragedies of last year’s terrorist attacks on America, one of the worst was that it turned a war wimp like President Bush into an international bully. Bush is intent on telling the world what to do, and if the rest of it won’t go along with him he will go it alone.

But Bush won’t be the one to pay the price for the latest manifestation of his bullyism. American troops and the Iraqis will be the ones to do that for him unless it sets off a wider Mideast conflagration - which is a real possibility. American civilians might pay later if, as is likely, a U.S. attack on the Arab country leads to more Islamic terrorism. But Bush will be safely ensconced in the fortress-like White House if that happens.

Little about this seemingly imminent war makes sense. The Bush administration has not produced a credible scrap of evidence to back up its claim that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is on the verge of developing, and using, a nuclear bomb.

Scott Ritter, a former U.S. Marine and hawkish chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, has said that Iraq was "qualitatively disarmed" in 1998 and is in no position to produce chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

Ritter, author of Endgame: Solving the Iraqi Problem Once and For All, also said: "The move for a new Security Council resolution is a deliberate provocation to scuttle inspectors. The Iraqis acceded to the international community's demands on the weapons inspectors. They should be held accountable; they will be held accountable. The inspectors should do their job, Iraq should comply and the U.N. should ensure that the inspectors are not misused as they have been in the past. Why is the U.S. government rushing for another resolution now? Because it is not interested in compliance and disarmament -- it wants war."

The closest the Bush administration has come to producing evidence that contradicted Ritter was its claim that Iraq’s alleged attempt to acquire thousands of high-strength aluminum tubes point to a clandestine program to make the enriched uranium needed for nuclear weapons. But that was quickly challenged by a scientific report that the evidence contradicts Iraq’s past nuclear efforts. The Institute for Science and International Security’s report, which was revealed by the Washington Post, also contended that the administration was trying to silence its own analysts over how to interpret the evidence. The report was written by David Albright, a physicist who investigated Iraq’s nuclear weapons program after the Persian Gulf War as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team.

USA Today bolstered this claim a few days later when it reported that the administration is “expanding on and in some cases contradicting U.S. intelligence reports in making the case for an invasion of Iraq.”

In some cases, USA Today said, top administration officials disagree outright with what the CIA and other intelligence agencies report. As an example, the newspaper said, these officials repeat accounts of al-Qaeda members seeking refuge in Iraq and of terrorist operatives meeting with Iraqi intelligence operatives even though U.S. intelligence reports have doubted such meetings ever occurred. On Iraqi weapons programs, sources said, the administration draws the most pessimistic conclusions from ambiguous evidence.

The Bush administration also showed its true colors on biological weapons in mid-September, when it abandoned international efforts to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention against germ warfare. When a U.S. envoy abruptly abandoned the negotiations last year, the administration said it would return with new proposals. Now the administration says that the revisions supported by most other countries won’t work and there is no use pursuing the issue.

The decision, as is the case of many emanating from Washington these days, dismayed and perplexed other nations. They warned that the decision will hurt efforts to curb germ- warfare programs at the very time they are a key part of Bush’s threats to attack Iraq.

So if Bush’s threatened war on Iraq isn’t about the threat of Iraq’s supposedly imminent use of nuclear and biological weapons, what is really about?

¨ Power in the hands of a newly awakened bully.

¨ Revenge for Hussein’s alleged assassination attempt on President Bush I in Saudi Arabia.

¨ Fear of terrorists, even in a country there is no evidence that they exist.

¨ But if you have to narrow Bush’s motivation down to one word, that word would be oil.

A perceptive Washington Post report on September 15 that the rest of the nation’s news media virtually ignored made this fairly clear.

The story said that a U.S.-led ouster of Hussein “could open a bonanza for American oil companies long banished from Iraq, scuttling oil deals between Baghdad and Russia, France and other countries, and reshuffling world petroleum markets, according to industry officials and leaders of the Iraqi opposition.”

The newspaper said that U.S. and foreign oil companies have already begun jockeying for position in Iraq’s huge proven reserves of 112 billion barrels of crude oil.

That makes it the largest source of oil in the world outside Saudi Arabia. And Saudi Arabia, as revelations made since last year’s terrorist attacks show, is being overrun by radical Islamic fundamentalism that make the Saudis’ longtime dependability no longer such a sure thing.

The importance of Iraq’s oil, the Post said, has made it one of the administration’s best bargaining chips in negotiations to win approval from the U.N. Security Council and Western allies for action against the oft-demonized — with some justification — Hussein. The story noted that the four other permanent Security Council members — Britain, France, Russia and China — have international oil companies with major stakes in Bush’s goal of a “regime change” in Iraq.

“It’s pretty straightforward,” former CIA director R. James Woolsey, a leading advocate of eliminating Hussein, told the Post. “France and Russia have oil companies and interests in Iraq. They should be told that if they are of assistance in moving Iraq toward decent government, we’ll do the best we can to ensure that the new government and American companies work closely with them. On the other hand, Woolsey said, “If they throw in their lot with Saddam, it will be difficult to the point of impossible to persuade the new Iraqi government to work with them.”

Iraqi opposition officials have made clear that they will not be bound by any of the deals oil companies have made with Hussein, the Post said.

While few who question Bush’s policies on Iraq in this country dare to use the dirty world oil, that isn’t always the case elsewhere. That’s true even in Great Britain, one of the few nations whose government supports Bush’s bellicose policy to Iraq.

In a caustic commentary in the Guardian, former government minister Mo Mowlam wrote, “Under cover of the war on terrorism, [a war is being waged] to secure oil supplies.” Mowlam argued that Bush’s threats against Iraq have nothing to do “with the war against terrorism or with morality.” She added that, “Saddam Hussein is obviously an evil man, but when we were selling arms to him to keep the Iranians in check he was the same evil man he is today. He was a pawn then and is a pawn now. In the same way he served Western interests then, he is now the distraction for the sleight of hand to protect the West’s supply of oil.”

In a rare interview, Former South African President Nelson Mandela told Newsweek that the United States has become a threat to world peace and Bush’s plans to launch a war on Iraq is motivated by Bush’s desire to please the American arms and oil industries.

Mandela blamed Vice President Dick Cheney (who like Bush, has an oil-industry background) and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for pushing Bush toward war. “They are people who are unfortunately misleading the president,” Mandela said. “It is the men who around him who are dinosaurs, who do not want him to belong to the modern age.”

Oil has a lot to do with those opposing a U.S.-led attack on Iraq, too. Russia and China have basic political objections to permitting the United States to dethrone the rulers of sovereign states such as Iraq. But Jane’s Intelligence Digest says there are other serious concerns. “Russia, in particular, is keen to maintain oil market stability, the publication reported in early September. “Moscow has benefited greatly from the restricted supply of Iraqi oil since the Gulf War in 1991. Relatively high — and stable — oil prices have given Russia a major economic boost.

“However, what the Kremlin fears most is the ousting of Saddam Hussein and his replacement with a U.S.-backed puppet regime. Should such an administration be installed in Baghdad, there is likely to be a marked fall in oil prices as U.S. oil companies are free once again to invest in Iraq’s aging and under-funded industry. While lower oil prices will be welcomed by the U.S., Russia will be facing difficult economic prospects. From Moscow’s perspective, a protracted diplomatic wrangle — and restricted Iraqi oil output — would be best.” The recently re-elected German government believes that a war on Iraq will spur a new oil crisis that would greatly damage its struggling economy. It also believes that the war will lead to a new influx of refuges and other social crises. Broad sections of the German people reject the plans for war against Iraq,” Peter Strauss reported on the World Socialist Web Site. “This popular opposition is rooted in both the traumatic experiences of two world wars and open skepticism towards the arguments of those who favor military action. In the case of Iraq, it is all too evident that the main objective is oil.” As further proof of that, The New York Times reports that rival ethnic groups in northern Iraq are already fighting over the spoils of any future war. Their focus, the newspaper said, is the city of Kirkuk, which has “vast reserves of high-quality oil so close to the surface that in one area natural gas escaping from the ground has been on fire since antiquity.” The Times said the incipient battle suggests that any fighting inside Iraq will not end with Hussein’s ouster and that the U.S. may be drawn into mediating Iraqi factional disputes or risk unleashing a blood bath if it succeeds in unseating the current government.” One of the few positives in all of this has been what it has done for the oil industry. Fears that Bush will order an attack on Iraq have pushed oil prices to an 18-month high of $30 a barrel. The price was half that when Bush started his threats. Oil, it seems, has gone from making the modern world run to running the modern world. And would-be oil barons Bush, Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and the wannabe Rumsfeld are the ones greasing the skids.

Martin Yant is the author of Desert Mirage: The True story of the Gulf War. He is now writing a book on the war against terrorism.

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