The Things We Really Thought and Said Before the Iraq War
Re-posted from Politinotions
Documented civilian deaths from violence as of November 25, 2007:
77,327 – 84,244
Of all rationales for the war, [the policy of preemption], I believe, is far and away the most misguided… if acted upon, it represents a much greater danger to world stability and peace than does Hussein. If preemption is okay for the U.S., then, as the world “leader” doesn’t this implicitly signal to other nations that preemption is a proper and acceptable course of action to follow when confronting an outside threat real or imagined? If we invade Iraq because of what they might do, what then stops India from invading Pakistan? China from invading Taiwan? Russia from invading Georgia? The police from arresting you because you visited a mosque? What kind of Pandora’s Box are we opening here?
March 3 & 7, 2003
Dear Friends & Family,
I don’t usually do this, but I believe in the U.N., I believe in diplomacy over force when possible, and I believe we must act in ways large or small to protect not just the substance but the spirit of our principles. My very small way of acting upon principle is to send out this e-mail and to urge any who receive it to give at least some consideration to reading the forwarded email below and signing the online petition it refers to. For those who do not want to read on, here is the link: [MoveOn.org link no longer active]
For what its worth, here is my take:
While the world community has generally been in agreement that Saddam Hussein is a horrific dictator who must not be allowed to run amuck, they have done little to force compliance with longstanding U.N. Security Resolution mandates. Thus, it is to Bush’s credit that the firm United States stance is finally forcing the issue. Ironically, however, Bush is now poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The “old” countries of Europe and many other countries, even if they had to be cajoled, perhaps even bullied, into finally taking action, seem to “get” one very important thing that Bush and his advisors apparently don’t – the ultimate rationale behind the threat of force is the hope that its use can be avoided. That said, as it now stands, the U.S. government only seems to be listening to lead weapons inspector, Hans Blix, and our allies when it suits our seemingly preordained rush to military action, a conclusion one might reasonably come to when even concrete, tangible steps such as destruction of missiles are labeled “deception” by this administration.
It’s as simple as this: the real threat of force is tentatively working and should be given a chance to continue to work. Given that, why not give that approach more time to work? For that matter, why not lay out clearly measurable objectives by which to judge the concept of “working” in the first place? I don’t think we’ve done that in a realistic way when we say that *everything* must be accounted. Our own military can’t even always account for all its arms, nor can it figure out what happened to 250,000 protective suits to guard against chemical attack.
It begs the question: Just what can Saddam Hussein realistically do to avoid war? What will be enough? At what point can we claim “victory” on a diplomatic field where the goal posts keep shifting?
Don’t get me wrong. I am no fan of Saddam Hussein and would like, even love, to see the Iraqi people liberated, but this is not how Bush et al. have framed the issue, at least not until recently. They talk of WOMDs [sic] and American security, terrorism links and most disturbingly the policy of “preemption”. Now interestingly enough, they are belatedly “spinning” this in terms of liberating the Iraqi people in tandem with 12 years of past non-compliance with U.N. resolutions. In other words, the argument du jour. Whatever will get world opinion behind us.
But let’s actually take a look at some of these rationales we’ve been given on an individual basis:
Of course this is a serious matter. Inconsistency of rationale aside (i.e. North Korea), isn’t that what these weapons inspections are all about in the first place? Enough said.
What threat does Saddam Hussein realistically pose to American security either directly or as a threat to Mideast regional stability? He leads a crippled nation and is an internationally impotent, albeit brutal runt of a dictator, and not even a very expedient dictator at that since he could have “played along” with the U.S. and U.N years ago and been in a much stronger and hard to touch position now ala North Korea. Whats more, he spends half his time running around playing a shell game with his decapitated military and trying to outsmart sanctions like a two-bit conman on steroids. To my way of thinking, it is simply not accurate that Hussein has not been contained.
But, you say, Bush has better information than you or I? Well, why then are the Europeans, who also supposedly have that information, not convinced? Furthermore, ought we to blindly trust and follow our leaders? From bread lines in the 30’s to witch hunts in the 50’s to the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam in the 60’s to Watergate in the 70’s, Iran Contra in the 80’s and “What the meaning of is, is” in the 90’s I think we can safely agree at least that our leaders are not always “right” or trustworthy.
Since the Persian Gulf War there is just no real solid evidence of Saddam Hussein supporting anything other than your run-of-the mill espionage scams and doing the same things that our own CIA does (i.e. try to assassinate foreign leaders such as Bush Sr.).
The “Policy of Preemption”
Of all rationales for the war, this one, I believe, is far and away the most misguided. The policy of “preemption,” if acted upon, represents a much greater danger to world stability and peace than does Hussein. If preemption is okay for the U.S., then, as the world “leader” doesn’t this implicitly signal to other nations that preemption is a proper and acceptable course of action to follow when confronting an outside threat real or imagined? If we invade Iraq because of what they might do, what then stops India from invading Pakistan? China from invading Taiwan? Russia from invading Georgia? The police from arresting you because you visited a mosque? What kind of Pandora’s Box are we opening here?
And if we say, “no,” only the U.S. gets to decide what constitutes a world “threat,” then what kind of free and democratic “post new world order” are we envisioning? “Might makes right” sounds an awful lot like Nietzsche to me.
Liberating the Iraqi People
As stated above, I am no fan of Saddam Hussein. I will be amongst the cheering choir on the day of his departure as Iraqi head of state, whether his dispatch be to heaven, hell or a jail cell. That said, our nation’s history of protecting the rights and lives of the innocent is spotty at best and just does not hold water alone as a rationale for war. How long did we stand by in Bosnia and do nothing? Where were we in Rwanda?
In the meantime, the Kurds are currently enjoying more freedom from oppression and autonomy than they have in a long, long time. That might just be the best thing we’ve done for the Iraqis. Do you have faith in Bush Jr. to protect them after this is all over, especially if Turkey reverses itself and comes on board the “Coalition of the Willing?”
What’s more, I can’t say I’m much the convert to the cause of an Administration championing human rights abroad while doing more to destroy the Bill of Rights at home than any other President in my lifetime. Secret Arrests? Detention without right to legal representation? The Patriot Act? The failed attempt at the Total Awareness Project? Is this the American way of life we are fighting to protect?
We will win a war with Iraq. Of that I have no doubt. But at what Pyrrhric cost? If one kills ones principles to save ones principles, what then has been won?
Ongoing Failure to Honor U.N. Security Resolutions
By this logic, the U.S. should have intervened in Israel long ago, as that nation has flouted U.N. Security Resolutions for far longer than Iraq. Now, I’m not suggesting that we should be intervening in Israel, other than perhaps to jump-start a Palestinian solution, but I bring up the point because it saliently underscores that our nation’s world vision is as compromised when it comes to the U.N. as it is when it comes to protecting human freedom and dignity.
In point of fact, however, a thinking opponent to the Bush administration’s seeming rush to war won’t much bother to even note the inconsistency between our rhetoric and action since, from the very outset, the U.S. engagement with the U.N. and Security Resolution 1441 has come across as little more than a transparent, after the fact, ploy to get a world “stamp of approval” on an essentially unilateral U.S. action.
In framing the debate thus far, Bush & Co. have made it all about us, our security, our fear of a 9/11 x 1000. And, even to the world at large, the administration has made that abundantly clear by saying, more or less, and more “more” than “less,” “Do it our way or you’re irrelevant” and “well, we’d love it if you all go along, but we’ll do it without you anyway.” As such, the talk of democracy in foreign lands and the U.N. comes off as callow, shallow, selfish and insincere.
It’s not just this or that reason, but all of them together…
… stewing and recombining into one great big lump of generalized threat that has reached such a critical mass that the risk of inaction is too great to do nothing, especially after 9/11. Indeed, one suspects, if one is inclined to give the Bush Administration the benefit of the doubt for its amorphous and constantly shifting justification for war, that this is the argument being bandied about within the deepest, most powerful recesses of government.
The problem is that not one of their rationales, as outlined above, stands up under scrutiny on its own. Zero plus zero will always equal zero. It will never add up to one or two, and it will certainly never add up to war. To suggest otherwise is a whimsical, alchemical confabulation of the most “Voodoo,” dangerous, nightmarish and deadly kind.
At the end of the day, the United States is the most powerful nation on Earth and with that power comes the immense responsibility to be a good world citizen and to lead by example. That should mean, in part, that we don’t exercise our power unilaterally without regard to our world neighbors just because we can. Rather, we should strive to apply our federalist principles on the world stage by respecting the voices and opinions of weaker nations.
But such leadership and respect begins with transparency and an honest discussion, neither of which we, as a people, or other countries, as members in a fraternity of nations, have received. That’s unfortunate, not only for Saddam Hussein, whose demise I will lose no sleep over, but also for our country and for the world. But it’s most, most unfortunate for the potentially thousands of Coalition soldiers and innocent Iraqi civilians who will be displaced, suffer mutilation, or even die.
May Peace and Sanity Will Out,
ABOUT THIS LETTER
On March 3, 2003, just prior to the U.S. liberation of Iraq I sent out an appeal encouraging friends and family to sign a petition in support of continued diplomacy backed by force. Two days later I received a somewhat accusatory, certainly scathing, reply from a male relative, in which he told me in ad hominemly spiced form, that it was easy to backseat quarterback up on high from the safe perch I occupied, but that Bush knew things I did not know and we as a country needed to trust him; that Bush had to act because the risk of not acting was too great; and that, in any case, we would be greeted by the Iraquis with bouquets of flowers. I responded in great detail to his email on March 7, 2003.
The letter presented below is a composite of those two emails in conjunction with other salient points from other select correspondence of the day, edited to remove personal references, protect personal privacy and enhance clarity
Would We See Graffiti Bearing the Word WATER in our Part of the World?
What Did We Know and When Did We Know It?
Silencing Those Who Speak of Those Who Are Not Silent
Just Flatten the Whole Middle East!
The Rapture List?
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