A liberal Argument for Regime Change

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Sample Arguments about War with Iraq


1. Rushdie, "A Liberal Argument for
Regime Change"

2. Todd Gitlin on Iraq


3. Mitchell Cohen On Iraq

4. Chomsky, “Drain the Swamp"


5. Zmirak, “Annexing Iraq, a Big Mistake"

6. Kurtz,“Zmirak is Wrong about Iraq”


7. Scowcroft, “Don't Attack Saddam”

8. Pipes & Schanzer: “Brent Scowcroft is
Wrong: We Must Attack Saddam


9. Kristof, "War & Wisdom"

1. A Liberal Argument For Regime Change

By Salman Rushdie

The Washintgon Post, Friday, November 1, 2002; Page A35

Just in case it had slipped your memory -- and as the antiwar protests grow in size and volume, it easily might have -- there is a strong, even unanswerable case for a "regime change" in Iraq. What's more, it's a case that ought to appeal not just to militaristic Bushie-Blairite hawks but also to lily-livered bleeding-heart liberals; a case, moreover, that ought to unite Western public opinion and all those who care about the brutal oppression of an entire Muslim nation.

In this strange, unattractive historical moment, the extremely strong anti-Saddam Hussein argument isn't getting a fraction of the attention it deserves.

This is, of course, the argument based on his 31/2-decade-long assault on the Iraqi people. He has impoverished them, murdered them, gassed and tortured them, sent them off to die by the tens of thousands in futile wars, repressed them, gagged them, bludgeoned them and then murdered them some more.

Saddam Hussein and his ruthless gang of cronies from his home village of Tikrit are homicidal criminals, and their Iraq is a living hell. This obvious truth is no less true because we have been turning a blind eye to it -- and "we" includes, until recently, the government of the United States, an early and committed supporter of the "secular" Hussein against the "fanatical" Islamic religionists of the region. Nor is it less true because it suits the politics of the Muslim world to inveigh against the global bully it believes the United States to be, while it tolerates the all-too-real monsters in its own ranks. Nor is it less true because it's getting buried beneath the loudly made but poorly argued U.S. position, which is that Hussein is a big threat, not so much to his own people but to us.

Iraqi opposition groups in exile have been trying to get the West's attention for years. Until recently, however, the Bush people weren't giving them the time of day, and even made rude remarks about Ahmed Chalabi, the most likely first leader of a democratized Iraq. Now, there's a change in Washington's tune. Good. One may suspect the commitment of the Wolfowitz-Cheney-Rumsfeld axis to the creation and support of a free, democratic Iraq, but it remains the most desirable of goals.

This is the hard part for antiwar liberals to ignore. All the Iraqi democratic voices that still exist, all the leaders and potential leaders who still survive, are asking, even pleading for the proposed regime change. Will the American and European left make the mistake of being so eager to oppose Bush that they end up seeming to back Saddam Hussein, just as many of them seemed to prefer the continuation of the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan to the American intervention there?

The complicating factors, sadly, are this U.S. administration's preemptive, unilateralist instincts, which have alienated so many of America's natural allies. Unilateralist action by the world's only hyperpower looks like bullying because, well, it is bullying. And the United States' new preemptive-strike policy would, if applied, make America itself a much less safe place, because if the United States reserves the right to attack any country it doesn't like the look of, then those who don't like the look of the United States might feel obliged to return the compliment. It's not always as smart as it sounds to get your retaliation in first.

Also deeply suspect is the U.S. government's insistence that its anti-Hussein obsession is a part of the global war on terror. As al Qaeda regroups, attacking innocent vacationers in Bali and issuing new threats, those of us who supported the war on al Qaeda can't help feeling that the Iraq initiative is a way of changing the subject, of focusing on an enemy who can be found and defeated instead of the far more elusive enemies who really are at war with America. "We don't want to change your mind," as one Islamist leader put it recently in Lebanon. "We want to destroy you." The connection between Hussein and al Qaeda remains comprehensively unproven, whereas the presence of the al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan, and of al Qaeda sympathizers in that country's intelligence services, is well known. Yet nobody is talking about attacking Pakistan.

Nor does America's vagueness about its plans for a post-Hussein Iraq and its own "exit strategy" inspire much confidence. Yes, the administration is talking democracy, but does America really have the determination to (a) dismantle the Baathist one-party state and (b) avoid the military strongman solution that has been so attractive to American global scenarists in the past -- "our son of a bitch," as Roosevelt once described the dictator Somoza in Nicaragua? Does it (c) have the long-term stomach for keeping troops in Iraq, quite possibly in large, even Vietnam-size numbers, for what could easily be a generation, while democracy takes root in a country that has no experience of it whatever; a country, moreover, bedeviled by internal divisions and separatist tendencies? How will it (d) answer the accusations that any regime shored up by U.S. military power, even a democratic one, would just be an American puppet? And (e) if Iraq starts unraveling and comes apart on America's watch, is the administration prepared to take the rap for that?

These are some of the reasons why I, among others, have remained unconvinced by President Bush's Iraqi grand design. But as I listen to Iraqi voices describing the numberless atrocities of the Hussein years, then I am bound to say that if, as now seems possible, the United States and the United Nations do agree on a new Iraq resolution; and if inspectors do return, and, as is probable, Hussein gets up to his old obstructionist tricks again; or if Iraq refuses to accept the new U.N. resolution; then the rest of the world must stop sitting on its hands and join the Americans and British in ridding the world of this vile despot and his cohorts. It should, however, be said and said loudly that the primary justification for regime change in Iraq is the dreadful and prolonged suffering of the Iraqi people, and that the remote possibility of a future attack on America by Iraqi weapons is of secondary importance. A war of liberation might just be one worth fighting. The war that America is currently trying to justify is not.

Salman Rushdie is the author of "Fury" and other novels.

2. Todd Gitlin on Iraq

If wishes were arguments, the strongest argument for an American war would be the most ambitious-the wish, or prayer, that by deposing Saddam Hussein and occupying Iraq, the United States would install the first democratic regime in the Arab world, a regime that, in turn, would undermine the autocratic consensus that governs the region, reverse the Islamist movement, and foster the growth of anti-Islamist tendencies elsewhere. Such an outcome is devoutly to be desired. If only the wish sufficed.

But the world in which the wish would suffice is not the world we live in. An American war in Iraq is unlikely to turn the wish into reality. What it is far more likely to bring about is carnage and a boost to terror. The risks are too great to justify war. Wars get out of control and are, after all, hellish. That is why they must be matters of last resort. In Iraq's neighborhood, there are simply too many ways in which this particular war could get out of control. The scenario most likely to bring about the use of weapons of mass destruction is precisely the one George W. Bush has been angling for: an attack on Saddam Hussein's regime. The scenario most likely to bring about terror attacks-even on Americans-is precisely the same. The scenario most likely to win recruits for al-Qaeda is precisely the same. Against Saddam Hussein's future threats, there are substantial, not merely rhetorical, alternatives. The case for containment is strong. Smart sanctions (not the current blunderbuss kind), coercive inspections, and maintenance of the no-fly zones are the alternatives to full-blown war.

UN-imposed inspections are legal, proportionate to the threat, therefore just. The unanimous Security Council resolution mandating inspections is a testament not only to Bush's power but also to the strength of the case. The proportionate threat of force to ensure that inspectors have access to whatever they wish to inspect is justified. So is the use of force-if, and only if, it is proportionate. The use of force for "regime change" is not proportionate, nor is it justified by the Security Council Resolution.

Bush's preemptive doctrine is so sweeping, so unilateralist, so morally arrogant, so (in a word) imperial, it is likely to wreak havoc and endanger Americans. To define preemption expansively, as Bush's "National Security Strategy" does, is to grant oneself a warrant for war wherever and whenever the president desires-a recipe for disaster. As I've argued in Dissent ("Empire and Myopia," Spring 2002), empires can accomplish some good, and some empires and some imperial policies are better than others. But the Bush doctrine is cavalier. Among America's actual and potential allies, it is likely to turn suspicion to fury. To draw a line in the sand, the mountains, the forests, everywhere is to court disaster-not necessarily soon, but eventually.

Should Bush take the country to war, I would join an antiwar movement-or rather, I consider that I already belong to an antiwar movement. (I spoke against war at a rally on September 12, 2002, outside the UN building, for example.) My way of joining is not uncritical. To paraphrase Camus, I belong to the antiwar movement despite the antiwar movement. I've written critically about the leadership groups, arguments, and styles of the early antiwar movement, and expect to do so again. In any given antiwar protest I expect to see and hear some, or much, that I cannot abide. I'll abide what I can until I no longer can. I'll look for coalitions that are not fronts for the sectarian left, that reach out to realists and conservatives, that make practical and not just pacifist arguments, that aim for political influence and not self-satisfying theatrics.

What are the long-term goals of the United States in Iraq? No doubt, the main one in force is the "regime change" that Bush, who doesn't "nuance," blurted out as his objective until (largely Republican) political pressure drove him to endorse UN inspections. Compliance with Security Council resolutions did not rank among his goals until relatively late in the run-up to war. What should be American goals? To contain Saddam Hussein territorially, to force him to comply with the Security Council's writ, to prevent his development of weapons of mass destruction, to support Kurdish autonomy, to support democratic tendencies in Iraq-and to do all this under a UN mandate. These objectives do not rule out the use of force, but it should not be unilateral force.

Todd Gitlin is the author of Media Unlimited and the forthcoming Letters to a Young Activist (Basic).
3. Mitchell Cohen on Iraq

Is Baghdad simply another miserable regime? Just one of those unpleasant tyrannies that, sadly, speckles our globe, but ought not to compel overbearing concern? Much depends on how one answers this question. The answer, I think, is no. Saddam Hussein's dictatorship is pathological and distinct from other rotten regimes today, including those rooted in a similar ideology (Syria, for example).

It is not just a matter of this regime's fascist-like character (call it fascism-plus), although its ruling Ba'ath Party fused Pan-Arabism to the worst ideas of early twentieth-century Europe. It is not just Baghdad's brutality, although it is difficult to imagine a more vicious, vengeful regime. It is not just a question of Saddam's totalitarian aspirations at home and aggressive ambitions abroad, although Iraq's citizens and neighbors know firsthand that these aspirations and ambitions are beyond question. It is not even a matter of Iraq's dogged pursuit of weapons of mass destruction-although this is clearly Saddam's fixation, and he has demonstrated his readiness to use them against citizens and neighbors (and would be pleased to do likewise against Americans).

No, it is not "just" these things. It is their combination with the fact that this regime never keeps agreements. Virtually every major accord Saddam has reached with domestic or foreign foes-usually under pressures produced by his recklessness-lasts only until he recovers sufficiently to pursue his purposes. Ask Iranians. Ask Kuwaitis. Ask Iraqi communists. Ask Iraqi Shiites. Ask Iraqi Kurds. Recall the UN inspections.

So I conclude, reluctantly, that the options are not "war or peace," but "sooner or later." Unless there is a coup, force will eventually be needed to defang Saddam's regime. The only real questions are when, how much force, and what aftermath.

Some people will, undoubtedly, protest: how can you support the Bush administration? I worry a great deal about the Bush administration-about the fact that it has not thought out adequately what happens after a war, about its cynical exploitation of the Iraq crisis to pursue its dreadful domestic agenda, about its unconstructive unilateralist instincts, displayed in matters like Kyoto and the International Criminal Court. But I urge people on the left to judge the Iraqi danger independently both of distrust of Bush and of third-worldist prejudices.

Sooner or later? "Sooner" will be costly, dicey, scary. Wars always are, which is why every sensible means ought always to be used to prevent them. "Sensible" is the key word, however, and it is perilous and not sensible to invent choices that are comfortable to you, and then to choose between them. So although I think that arguments against preemptive war are formidable, and although I share many of their assumptions, I don't think that they are always persuasive. "Kantianism has pure hands, but it has no hands," warned Charles Péguy, the French essayist, a century ago.

"Later" will allow Baghdad to shore up, to expand, and to conceal further its lethal capacities. There can be no doubt that Saddam will do so. UN inspectors, who are arriving in Baghdad as I write, will, I hope, impair his efforts at concealment, but their success is likely to be temporary and partial. Inspectors were readmitted only because of an immediate American threat, not because of a Security Council resolution-even if some Western governments, intellectuals, and activists won't admit it. For Saddam, inspectors are a problem to be overcome, and he has proven staying power. Disarmed-Saddam is an oxymoron. So, I'm afraid that "later" just means rescheduling to his advantage, and the likelihood of immeasurably more suffering among Iraqis, their neighbors, and any outside forces moving against him at another date.

The past inspection record is mixed. After its spring 1990 inspection of Iraq, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Baghdad's claim to be fulfilling its duties as a party to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. ("Exemplary" cooperation, said the supervisor of the Agency's safeguards division.) A year later, after the Gulf War, it was revealed that Baghdad had initiated and concealed an ambitious nuclear weapons program-between ten and fifteen billion dollars of investment in some thirty sites, in a workforce of twenty thousand, and, significantly, in the production of highly enriched uranium. And there was insurance: each important level of the program had a duplicate.

The United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), established in 1991 to deprive Baghdad of its biological, chemical, and nuclear arms and longer range ballistic missiles, achieved a good deal. The problem lies in what it could not achieve because of Saddam's determination to undermine inspections. (He acceded to them in the first place only because of military defeat.) So UNSCOM verified that thirty-nine tons of VX, the deadly nerve agent, were destroyed, but it also feared that Baghdad had sequestered chemical materials sufficient to produce another two hundred tons of it. Saddam manufactured mobile germ laboratories and the like. Around a hundred and sixty bombs and two dozen Scud missiles mounted with anthrax could not be found by UNSCOM, according to its final report. Its mission ended in 1998-not because it was completed but because it was frustrated so well by Saddam's apparatus.

In recent months, as the crisis intensified, some voices protested: by what right does the United States press this issue? The more important question is this: why was Baghdad willing to forgo a hundred and fifty billion dollars in oil earnings rather than disarm? In some extreme cases "right" doesn't matter. For instance, Vietnam invaded Cambodia without right, for its own purposes, in violation of international law, and installed a new regime. I'm glad it did so because it ended the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge.

Other voices protest: isn't this Iraq business just a ploy by Bush? "War should not start from a bolt from the blue, but be the consequence of demonstrated Iraqi unwillingness to accept international rules," wrote Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, last summer. He is, of course, right that war ought never to originate from nowhere. But that is a banality. If Saddam has not demonstrated unwillingness to accept international rules, then unwillingness to accept international rules is indemonstrable. The UN-alas!-has demonstrated its inability to enforce them adequately.

Current intelligence reports of Baghdad's accelerated efforts to produce nonconventional weapons surprise no one who has paid adequate attention to and understood Saddam's pathology and priorities. True, people don't always pay attention. Back in the late 1990s, while Saddam was freeing himself from UNSCOM (and while, elsewhere, al-Qaeda was planning attacks), our patriotic Republicans thought the nation's focus ought to be on Monica Lewinsky.
Why deal with Saddam now? Because his menace, especially nuclear, will only swell. The situation was captured long ago by words attributed to Cicero: "How can you believe that a man who has lived so licentiously up to the present time will not proceed to every extreme of insolence, if he shall also secure the authority given by arms? Do not, then, wait until you have suffered some treatment and then rue it, but be on your guard before you suffer; for it is rash to allow dangers to come upon you and then to repent of it, when you might have anticipated them."

I am wary of words like "anticipation" and "preemption" because they can be abused politically. They ought not to be a "doctrine." But they are appropriate in some cases, and Saddam's priorities demonstrate why he is one. His pursuit of nuclear capabilities began over two decades ago, although plentiful oil gives Iraq no need of nuclear energy. Baghdad's budget priorities after the vast carnage of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), which Saddam initiated, placed Iraq's high technology military industry over civilian reconstruction. Saddam's principal concern since UN sanctions began has been his arms and not his citizens.

Sanctions permitted Iraq to sell oil to buy medicine and food, but not military goods. Yet for some time now a loud, scurrilous public campaign has claimed on the basis of a UNICEF report that sanctions helped to kill some one million Iraqis. But why, then, did Saddam rebuff UN appeals to buy baby formula in 1998-1999? Why was he exporting food? Why was he importing massive quantities of scotch for his hierarchy and building an amusement park for the Ba'ath elite? Why has he spent two billion dollars on presidential palaces since the end of the Gulf War and offered another one billion dollars in aid to the Palestinian intifada? Why did mortality rates fall in the semi-autonomous Kurdish areas, where the UN-rather than Baghdad-administers proceeds of "oil for food"? Doesn't anyone notice that the UNICEF report was written in collaboration with Saddam's Ministry of Health?*

It is true that Iraqis have suffered. The reason is not the sanctions regime (which has, in fact, been quite porous). The problem is Saddam's exploitation of it. I do believe that there is a moral debt to be paid to Iraqis, but not because of sanctions. It is due because the United States encouraged Iraqis, especially the Kurds and Shiites, to rebel at the end of the Gulf War, and then stood back while Saddam slaughtered their intifada. I am not optimistic about democracy in Iraq, but this debt can be paid at least in part by support for a Saddam-free Iraq, and by making it clear that whatever the immediate post-war arrangements, post-Saddam Iraq belongs to Iraqis, not to the United States.

So I will not support an antiwar movement, even if it includes many good people. I hope, for the sake of honest public debate, that those good people keep this movement focused on Iraq. Iraqi suffering ought not to be exploited by "activists" with other agendas (such as Israel/Palestine, which has nothing to do with Saddam's tyranny and must be addressed on its own, unhappy grounds). In the meantime, I will support Iraqi democrats, even if they are few in number and their prospects difficult. I am antifascist before I am antiwar. I am antifascist before I am anti-imperialist. And I am antifascist before I am anti-Bush.

*I cull these points from Michael Rubin's devastating report, "Sanctions on Iraq," Middle East Review of International Affairs (online), December 2001. At various points in these comments I also draw material from the Economist, December 8, 2001, Chen Zak's Iran's Nuclear Policy and the IAEA (Washington Institute for Near East Policy Military Research Paper #3, 2002) and articles in the New York Times, September 8 and 16, 2002.

Mitchell Cohen is co-editor of Dissent and professor of political theory at Baruch College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York. He is currently visiting professor at Stanford's Center for Integrative Research in the Sciences and Humanities.

4. Drain the Swamp and There Will be No More Mosquitoes

By Attacking Iraq, the US Will Invite a New Wave of Terrorist Attacks
Noam Chomsky
The Guardian, September 9. 2002

September 11 shocked many Americans into an awareness that they had better pay much closer attention to what the US government does in the world and how it is perceived. Many issues have been opened for discussion that were not on the agenda before. That's all to the good.

It is also the merest sanity, if we hope to reduce the likelihood of future atrocities. It may be comforting to pretend that our enemies "hate our freedoms," as President Bush stated, but it is hardly wise to ignore the real world, which conveys different lessons.

The president is not the first to ask: "Why do they hate us?" In a staff discussion 44 years ago, President Eisenhower described "the campaign of hatred against us [in the Arab world], not by the governments but by the people". His National Security Council outlined the basic reasons: the US supports corrupt and oppressive governments and is "opposing political or economic progress" because of its interest in controlling the oil resources of the region.

Post-September 11 surveys in the Arab world reveal that the same reasons hold today, compounded with resentment over specific policies. Strikingly, that is even true of privileged, western-oriented sectors in the region.

To cite just one recent example: in the August 1 issue of Far Eastern Economic Review, the internationally recognised regional specialist Ahmed Rashid writes that in Pakistan "there is growing anger that US support is allowing [Musharraf's] military regime to delay the promise of democracy".

Today we do ourselves few favours by choosing to believe that "they hate us" and "hate our freedoms". On the contrary, these are attitudes of people who like Americans and admire much about the US, including its freedoms. What they hate is official policies that deny them the freedoms to which they too aspire.

For such reasons, the post-September 11 rantings of Osama bin Laden - for example, about US support for corrupt and brutal regimes, or about the US "invasion" of Saudi Arabia - have a certain resonance, even among those who despise and fear him. From resentment, anger and frustration, terrorist bands hope to draw support and recruits.

We should also be aware that much of the world regards Washington as a terrorist regime. In recent years, the US has taken or backed actions in Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama, Sudan and Turkey, to name a few, that meet official US definitions of "terrorism" - that is, when Americans apply the term to enemies.

In the most sober establishment journal, Foreign Affairs, Samuel Huntington wrote in 1999: "While the US regularly denounces various countries as 'rogue states,' in the eyes of many countries it is becoming the rogue superpower ... the single greatest external threat to their societies."

Such perceptions are not changed by the fact that, on September 11, for the first time, a western country was subjected on home soil to a horrendous terrorist attack of a kind all too familiar to victims of western power. The attack goes far beyond what's sometimes called the "retail terror" of the IRA, FLN or Red Brigades.

The September 11 terrorism elicited harsh condemnation throughout the world and an outpouring of sympathy for the innocent victims. But with qualifications.

An international Gallup poll in late September found little support for "a military attack" by the US in Afghanistan. In Latin America, the region with the most experience of US intervention, support ranged from 2% in Mexico to 16% in Panama.

The current "campaign of hatred" in the Arab world is, of course, also fuelled by US policies toward Israel-Palestine and Iraq. The US has provided the crucial support for Israel's harsh military occupation, now in its 35th year.

One way for the US to lessen Israeli-Palestinian tensions would be to stop refusing to join the long-standing international consensus that calls for recognition of the right of all states in the region to live in peace and security, including a Palestinian state in the currently occupied territories (perhaps with minor and mutual border adjustments).

In Iraq, a decade of harsh sanctions under US pressure has strengthened Saddam Hussein while leading to the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis - perhaps more people "than have been slain by all so-called weapons of mass destruction throughout history", military analysts John and Karl Mueller wrote in Foreign Affairs in 1999.

Washington's present justifications to attack Iraq have far less credibility than when President Bush Sr was welcoming Saddam as an ally and a trading partner after he had committed his worst brutalities - as in Halabja, where Iraq attacked Kurds with poison gas in 1988. At the time, the murderer Saddam was more dangerous than he is today.

As for a US attack against Iraq, no one, including Donald Rumsfeld, can realistically guess the possible costs and consequences. Radical Islamist extremists surely hope that an attack on Iraq will kill many people and destroy much of the country, providing recruits for terrorist actions.

They presumably also welcome the "Bush doctrine" that proclaims the right of attack against potential threats, which are virtually limitless. The president has announced: "There's no telling how many wars it will take to secure freedom in the homeland." That's true.

Threats are everywhere, even at home. The prescription for endless war poses a far greater danger to Americans than perceived enemies do, for reasons the terrorist organisations understand very well.

Twenty years ago, the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Yehoshaphat Harkabi, also a leading Arabist, made a point that still holds true. "To offer an honourable solution to the Palestinians respecting their right to self-determination: that is the solution of the problem of terrorism," he said. "When the swamp disappears, there will be no more mosquitoes."

At the time, Israel enjoyed the virtual immunity from retaliation within the occupied territories that lasted until very recently. But Harkabi's warning was apt, and the lesson applies more generally.

Well before September 11 it was understood that with modern technology, the rich and powerful will lose their near monopoly of the means of violence and can expect to suffer atrocities on home soil.

If we insist on creating more swamps, there will be more mosquitoes, with awesome capacity for destruction.

If we devote our resources to draining the swamps, addressing the roots of the "campaigns of hatred", we can not only reduce the threats we face but also live up to ideals that we profess and that are not beyond reach if we choose to take them seriously.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

5. Annexing Iraq, a Big Mistake
By J.P. Zmirak, Frontpage Magazine, November 13, 2002

The war-drums are sounding, and their beat is catchy and contagious. I danced to them all too easily, once upon a time. I was a gung-ho College Republican in the heady days of the Cold War. I thought the very word "peace" suspicious-having seen it so often abused by appeasers. I remember seeing U.S. troops landing on a beach on television and rejoicing that we were invading somewhere, anywhere! (It was Grenada, by the way, not that I cared. I would have welcomed an airborne assault on Paris or Vienna-where was Anne Coulter when I needed her?) I led a ragtag band of like-minded folks behind an American flag, singing "From the Halls of Montezeuma..." to barge in on a peace demonstration, and insist on equal time at the open mikes. The New Haven "townies" took our side, and soon we outnumbered the peaceniks.

There were reasons for my enthusiasm-some of them rational. But mainly, I remembered with burning shame images from the fall of Saigon: Soviet tanks knocking down our embassy gates, helicopters with desperate South Vietnamese clinging to the landing gear, our flag hauled down by exultant NVA troops. Worse was to come: The next five years saw slaughter and repression in Vietnam, and then genocide in Cambodia-two countries whose regimes we had set up, and solemnly promised to defend. But superpowers are selfish, by their nature, and once the cost of defending a province becomes too high, the empire withdraws, and leave its allies behind to pay the price....

Wishing to reverse this humiliation-and the ugly spectacle of American helplessness in Iran-I became a ferocious hawk, and hungered for American victories, however easy, wherever they could be had.

Now that I'm older and have recovered from adolescent testosterone poisoning, I watch with growing dismay the onrush of war. Sure, we have the legal justification for an attack on Iraq-and Iraq alone-in the violated terms of our truce of 1991. Hussein has flagrantly resisted and outfoxed inspectors who sought to pry from his bloody hands the "weapons of mass destruction" which we partly helped him develop, when he was our ally against Iran. While we helped give him the pretext for refusing inspections, by using inspectors as spies, we still do have an absolute right, under the peace agreement (and hence under international law) to insist that he disarm. Unlike other governments that have developed such weapons-Israel, Pakistan, India-Hussein's regime has shown a willingness to use these weapons as more than a deterrent, and has earned its status as an outlaw regime. Most neighboring governments would be glad to see Hussein fall. But almost none wish the U.S. to march in with a massive invasion force and depose him. Only two of our allies support such an invasion, and in both Britain and Israel opinion is deeply divided. A bare majority of Americans approve of such a war-and that support shrivels quickly, when you state the possible costs in American lives.

Iraq is not a nation. It is a petty, despotic empire. Unlike other multicultural states-such as Switzerland and the U.S., to cite two of the only successful examples of such a government-Iraq has not existed for centuries, carefully balancing the interests of different ethnic groups and religions through decentralized, liberal government. Quite the opposite-it's an artificial creation of colonial mapmakers, designed by foreigners to suit their interests, which can only be held together, to all appearances, by a tyrannical regime that represses minorities. In other words, it's a lot like Tito's Yugoslavia-and remember what happened, and is still happening, there. Should the U.S. invade, it will become our responsibility to create and maintain a stable regime. All failures will be rightly laid at the feet of the American government, and resentments throughout the Arab and Moslem world will be aimed at Americans-not just American soldiers or policymakers, but at innocent civilians who work in skyscrapers, American tourists on vacation, American businessman and women working abroad.

Should the Kurds-let's say-vote to secede from an American-ruled Iraq, will our Marines repress them by force? The Turkish government has threatened to invade any nascent Kurdish regime. Wouldn't that suit our interests, to have a NATO country crushing the legitimate aspirations of a long-captive nation, as our troops look on?

What if the Shiites-a clear majority in Iraq-decide to establish a theocratic government, imposing Islamic Sharia on the hundreds of thousands of Christians who live (untroubled by the current secular government) in Iraq, as Islamists are now attempting to do in Sudan, Nigeria, and Indonesia? Will we stop them? That should help diminish support for terrorism, shouldn't it?

How will the most educated, influential segment, the Iraqi Sunnis, react to losing power? Will we sponsor them in clinging to it? (All the exiled Iraqis the U.S. supports are members of this elite minority.) Will we abandon them, and align ourselves with the rebel Kurds and pro-Iranian Shiites?

Let's remember that Osama bin Laden's overt motivation for the appalling atrocity committed against my home town, NYC, was the presence of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, near Moslem holy places. (He latched onto the Palestinian cause as a convenient way to rally Moslems through murderous hatred of Israel.) Do we want to provide more reasons for angry young Moslem men to attack Americans? If we use military force to impose our values and political preferences upon supine foreign nations, what can we expect but terrorism as the response of a billion humiliated Moslems?

What exactly does the U.S. hope to accomplish by unseating Hussein, and adopting Iraq as the 51st state? To set up a model Arab democracy? Can we manage that? (We had enough trouble holding our own democratic elections in Florida.) To remake the entire region in the image of stridently secularist Turkey, as Norman Podhoretz has modestly proposed? Imagine what that will cost, in money and lives-and remember what happened the last time we tried to save a whole region through the imperial use of force-in Southeast Asia. Friends of Israel-and I count myself one-should remember the fate of our solemnly guaranteed allies in Saigon, the last time thousands of body bags started streaming back to U.S. military airports. We declared victory, and fled.

It's a good thing that President Bush is rattling his saber, to force Saddam Hussein to agree to real inspections, including "presidential palaces," that will keep the weapons of mass slaughter out of the hands of a cruel despot, a man who rained missiles on the innocent civilians of Tel Aviv, who set alight the oilfields of Kuwait, who used chemical weapons against Iran. The threat of force must be credible, in order to be effective. But I pray that we don't have to use that saber-to stick it into the mire of an intractable, almost ungovernable country, in pursuit of aims we haven't clearly thought out, and could probably never achieve.

6. Zmirak is Wrong about Iraq
By Stanley Kurtz, Frontpage Magazine, November 13, 2002

The funny thing about our national debate over Iraq is how little opponents of an invasion seem to understand about the case for action. I’m amazed that even at this late date, critics of the president act as though there is no coherent rationale for war. They complain about imperialist adventurism and lust for oil, without even bothering to restate, much less refute, the president’s case.

John Zmirak may not be an anti-American leftist, but he shares with the Left a tendency to gloss over the argument that he purports to contradict. Between Zmirak’s autobiographical remarks and his worries about the aftermath of an attack, we get only a paragraph on the actual reasons for war with Iraq. Even there, the real issue is ignored.

We are invading Iraq to prevent Saddam Hussein from obtaining nuclear weapons. Once Saddam has possession of such weapons, he will be able to pass them to terrorists for use against the United States. Even short of this, Saddam is very likely to grab for control of the Gulf’s oil, while holding us off with nuclear blackmail. Hussein has already told his aides that his big mistake in Kuwait was invading before he possessed a nuclear weapon.

With a nuclear weapon in hand, Saddam’s decades-long plans for control of the Gulf, and for preeminence in the Arab world, can at last be fulfilled. What would John Zmirak advise that we do to dislodge Saddam from Kuwait’s oil fields if Hussein were to threaten the destruction of New York in response to an American counterattack? Should we cede Saddam control of the world’s economy, or should we put the lives of millions of New Yorkers at risk? Saddam doesn’t even have to go that far to confront us with an impossible choice. He could hold off an American attempt to throw him out of a captured Kuwait simply by threatening to nuke the Saudi oil fields. Such an attack would simultaneously contaminate his rivals’ oil, set off a world-wide depression, and vastly increase the value of the wells that remained under his own control.

It is difficult for us to envision all this, because the only experience we’ve had with nuclear weapons was the Cold War balance of terror. But the U.S./Soviet experience was only a single case, and even that approached disaster during the Cuban crisis. What’s really destabilizing the world is the proliferation of nuclear weapons to countries that are not at all like the United States or the old Soviet Union. The problem with nuclear weapons is that, depending on who handles them, the terror they inspire can make war either less likely, or more. Fear of nuclear conflagration discourages sober and rational states from coming to blows. That’s what kept the peace (relatively speaking) during the Cold War. But in the hands of an ambitious, unscrupulous, and foolhardy dictator, nuclear weapons make a conflagration vastly more likely, not less. Knowledge of the capacity of nuclear weapons to intimidate foes emboldens brinksmen like Saddam to employ their weapons as tools of blackmail–even if the failure of such blackmail would initiate a shattering disaster. We only need one such case of blackmail and failed brinksmanship to plunge the world into catastrophe. Saddam is clearly that case.

I would review Saddam’s terrible history, his disastrous risk-taking in war after aggressive war, and his repeated rejection of the logic of conventional deterrence. I would point to Saddam’s monomaniacal determination to obtain nuclear weapons at the cost of the starvation and impoverishment of his people, even at the risk of his own regime and life. But John Zmirak has already conceded that Saddam is a serial aggressor who ignores the logic of deterrence. The problem is that Zmirak does not understand the significance of the point he so blithely concedes. Saddam has risked all for the moment when he can turn on us with a nuclear weapon in his hand. If we do not dislodge him now, we shall truly have hell to pay.

This is why we attack Iraq. George Bush entered office a confirmed skeptic of nation building. Even now, the administration has done far less than it promised to subdue and transform an unruly Afghanistan. These are not the actions of an imperialist adventurer. George Bush was transformed by the blow that transformed us all. With the destruction of the World Trade Center by suicide pilots, we learned that sober and rational nations operating under the logic of deterrence were no longer the only game in town. And we learned how high are the stakes of failure in this new world that we are living in. George Bush is not being propelled into Iraq by an excess of testosterone, but by a right refusal to be responsible for the disaster we shall all suffer if Saddam Hussein is permitted to obtain nuclear weapons.

The president’s new policy of preemption is based on the same considerations. His policy stems from the recognition that nuclear proliferation has radically reconfigured the nature and the risks of war. The president’s policy is a message to the Saddam Hussein’s of the world that their plans to obtain nuclear weapons and subject the civilized world to blackmail will not be tolerated. Just as surely, however, our failure to dislodge Saddam Hussein at this critical moment would serve as a signal to every tin-pot dictator in the world that possession of a nuclear weapon or two will suffice to neutralize the conventional might of an already intimidated United States.

As Zmirak points out, a number of our allies say that they oppose an invasion of Iraq. Some of these allies are simply lying. They despise and fear Hussein, and want him destroyed, but hesitate to expend the political capital it would require to say so out loud. France and Russia have undermined the sanctions against Saddam that they solemnly agreed to, all for the sake of oil and money. What’s more, the Europeans believe that they, unlike the United States, are not now targets of nuclear terror. They want things to stay that way (although they are being naive about their ability to remain above the terrorist fray). But we are targets, and shall continue to be targets, no matter what we do. So if we fail to accept and deploy our power, we shall surely be undone by the hatred that our power inspires.

Zmirak correctly points to a very difficult set of problems that will confront this country once Saddam’s regime has been conquered and destroyed. It is not necessary, however, to advocate the immediate democratic transformation of Iraq, or the conquest and secularization of the entire Middle East, in order to favor an invasion of Iraq. My guess is that a friendly Iraqi autocracy will emerge in the short term, perhaps giving way to a workable democracy in the long term. Even that will be exceedingly difficult to achieve.

But Zmirak misses the point. We are already in a new world. We are already targets. And we shall face nuclear blackmail and terror–in Iraq, and beyond Iraq–if we do not act now to show Saddam and his would-be imitators the bad end that their nuclear plans will come to. We must face this new world with a combination of reluctance and boldness–prudence and strength. We require manliness, yes–a manly refusal to place our heads in the sand when our lives are at stake, and a manly willingness to risk our lives to protect our loved ones, and the future of our civilization. But we shall also require the wisdom to hold back in instances when other means besides force might realistically succeed, or when it becomes evident that ambitious attempts at social transformation in the Arab world would be premature and counter-productive.

I myself would never have chosen, under normal circumstances, to use force in an effort to democratize the Arab world. Nor, it is evident, would the president have made such a choice. It is too easy to forget that democracy has social preconditions. Those preconditions are anything but met in the Arab world. Attempts to democratize in the absence of a civil society and the beginnings of a liberal culture can easily bring dictatorship in its wake. Having said that, I do believe that, in the long term, given the dangers of a world filled with rapidly proliferating weapons of mass destruction, Arab society does need to move in the direction of political modernization and liberalization. How, and how successfully, we bring that change about is a very open question. What Zmirak fails to realize, however, is that it is a question that the protection of our very lives has now forced us to ask and to answer.

Will Iraq break apart in the wake of our victory? There will certainly be forces pushing it in that direction. But Zmirak has said nothing of the counter-forces. Even in the absence of a dictator, Iraq is held together by oil revenues. Each of the country’s three main communities wants its share of those oil revenues, and each knows that the others will be loathe to see one community abscond with the wells in its territory. That, and a strong hand by the United States (and yes, by Turkey), will probably suffice to keep the country together.

But that is only the beginning of our difficulties. Managing a conquered Iraq will be a tremendous, demanding, and expensive challenge. Even in the best of circumstances, there will be communal strife, international tensions, and bitterness in the Arab world against us. This is now our fate. We cannot return to September 10. Nor can we return to the Cold War. The twin evils of Islamic terrorism and nuclear proliferation are upon us. We must face them and make the best of them. We must remain angry about what was done to us, but angry in the right way, at the right time, in the right place, to the right degree, and for the right purposes. That is an honor and a manhood that a mature nation can–and must–willingly embrace.

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