|By A.D. Freudenheim||
6 October 2002
Right now, I would like to say that I am totally opposed to a war with Iraq - but I cannot. But I do not possess enough factual information about Saddam Hussein's plans to make a decision in favor of war, and most of what I do know is information that the political debate in the U.S. has brought to light. Moreover, I am powerless to disagree with most of this supposed evidence; nor, for that matter, can I assert its truthfulness. I would be at a standstill except for what simple reason tells me and what I believe in general about wars.
President Bush has asserted that positions like mine are untenable, and in denial of some basic "facts": that Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction (perhaps true); that he has, in the past, tested chemical weapons against Iraqi minority populations (almost certainly true); that he engages in torture against any real or perceived internal enemies (not hard to believe); and that he suppresses internal dissent and what we Americans would call the "civil rights" of most of his citizens (definitely). In a recent column in Newsweek, Bush administration shill George F. Will argues that these facts are enough to make both disarming and removing Hussein worthwhile goals. In an interesting turn of fate, Will even notes that "The president's turn toward emphasis on the suffering of the Iraqi people underscores this theme: dismantling Saddam's apparatus of totalitarianism is inseparable from disarming him."
Such kindness towards others is not a traditional hallmark of Republican administrations - it reeks of nation building, an activity previously feared by President Bush - nor is Iraq the only country that has engaged in some (if not all) of these repressive tactics against its citizens. Although I do not know whether China has ever used chemical weapons against its own populations, I have reason to believe that it engages in the other repressive acts listed above. The last thirty years has seen many similar regimes with equally dismal policies (many with U.S. support), whether in Cambodia or Burma/Myanmar, Rwanda or the Sudan, Nicaragua and El Salvador, and even allied nations like Egypt and Pakistan. If Hussein's execrable treatment of his people is suddenly cause for "regime change" then the list of other targets in the U.S. sights must be long indeed.
Perhaps in recognition of the many problems a humanitarian response to Iraq might cause, now the president has turned towards a new first strike rationale: preventing Hussein from attacking the U.S., noting that "the Iraqi president has a 'horrible history' of attacking his enemies first." We must strike first, so that he does not. This raises two questions: first, do the weapons Hussein may be developing make a first strike more likely? And does Hussein's history of striking first actually extend to starting wars he cannot win (which a war with the U.S. would surely be)? On the first question, about weapons of mass destruction, whether nuclear, chemical, or biological, there are currently, a number countries with such weapons, and so far, the only nation to use them in war has been the U.S. Several other countries are trying to develop these weapons, or so the U.S. government tells us; most prominent in this list is North Korea, a nation whose poverty and desperation is certainly worse than Iraq's. But while we have made efforts to stall or diffuse the situation in North Korea through political means, we have not heard talk of war against that nation or any buzzing about the need for a militarily-inspired regime change for the equally-crazy Kim Jong Il. It is not only China's proximity to and support for that nation that discourages us, but also a recognition that with a million-plus foot soldiers available, a war with North Korea would be difficult and bloody. Iraq has a well-developed military, but it is not the size of North Korea's.
So, will Hussein attempt to strike us first? The wars he has started have all been wars he has won, or expected to win: with Iran, which he hoped to win and for which he received significant U.S. assistance. A war against Kurdish minorities, in which he successfully short-circuited their efforts to create a Kurdish homeland in Northern Iraq in the era prior to the Gulf War. And the war to capture Kuwait, which Hussein won handily, having encountered no significant military opposition from either the Kuwaitis themselves or the other countries in the region. (The U.S. action to liberate Kuwait was belated, and probably not something Hussein expected - after all, why should we care about a small Arabian sheikdom? If the threat to U.S. oil interests in Saudi Arabia had not been so apparent, Hussein might still occupy Kuwait.) In the period since the Gulf War, Hussein has taken few steps to assert himself militarily, has made only cursory attacks against American and other armed forces occupying the northern and southern portions of his country, and has done nothing to start a broader regional war, despite all of his rhetoric. Hussein may be an evil and paranoid tyrant, but he shows no signs of the kind of suicidal megalomania that mark someone who is intent on war at any cost (viz., Hitler).
Which raises one final question for me, about President Bush: why does he seem so intent on war at any cost, before all other options have been exhausted and before every other solution has been tried? I would like to say that under any circumstances, I am opposed to war with Iraq - but I cannot. If Hussein becomes so dangerous that war is necessary, then those options should and must be considered. What I can say is that under the present circumstances, the President's case for war has definitely not been made.
 "Etchings and Then Posters,"
by George F. Will,
Newsweek, 30 September 2002.
 "Bush Offers New Rational on Iraq," by Ron
Fournier, Associated Press, 6 October 2002.
 "U.S. envoy discusses North Korea's weapons
programs while in Pyongyang," by Christopher Torchia,
Associated Press, 5 October 2002.
Copyright 2002, by A.D. Freudenheim.
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