Sunday, October 13, 2002

(WARNING: Blatant defiance of my "no politics here" pledge coming up.)

So, for the second time in my life, a President named George Bush is going to take my country to war against Iraq.

I am no expert on such matters, but I see little reason to expect America vs. Saddam, Release 2.0 to be much different than the first. I expect our military to pretty much clobber the Iraqi forces. A worst-case scenario would involve a lot of close-quarter combat within the streets of Baghdad and Iraq's other cities, with the Iraqi military actually deploying the chemical and biological weapons already in inventory against our troops. A best-case scenario would involve the Iraqis themselves, whom some maintain are not as enamored of their dictator President as he would have us believe, rising up to provide our forces with some kind of assist, if not a full-out coup or revolt. In either case, I expect fairly swift victory for US forces -- being secured in less than three months, say -- with the main difference between the best and worst case scenarios being the number of dead Americans and Iraqis.

I've been reading a lot about the coming war, in the Blogosphere on both sides and in newspapers and magazines. I listened a bit (though not much) to the Senate's debate on the war resolution. It's not inaccurate to say that on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I have been pro-war, while I've been anti-war on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. (Sundays, I'm a Bills fan.) The anti-war arguments have struck me as being fairly ineffective -- clinging to an unrealistic view of the world and America's role in it; more derivative of anger at President Bush the Second than anything else; curiously bankrupt in terms of offering options other than outright war. Being anti-war seems to have become something of a reflex for some. (And I'd be dishonest if I didn't admit to sharing that reflex, at least in part.)

The problem I'm having is that if the anti-war arguments are striking me as hollow, the pro-war arguments are not proving convincing, either. It seems to me that the burden of proof should always reside with the people who would send American soldiers into battle, and yet the burden of proof has not been met, not by a longshot. The Administration insists that Saddam is very close to nuclear capability, and yet no real proof is offered -- instead we're shown pictures of places that we think could possibly resemble nuclear bomb-making facilities, or we are given cloak-and-daggerish type arguments (like the inspectors who saw Iraqi soldiers removing boxes of something from the facilities....). The pro-war side constantly invokes 11 September 2001 as a justification, and yet no concrete link of Iraq to Al Qaeda is ever forthcoming, so instead the entire rationale for sending Americans into war is changed: no longer do we require a smoking gun to go to war; instead, it is now sufficient that we suspect the existence of a gun in the first place. The implications for such a paradigm shift regarding war are better examined by persons better versed in such things than I; suffice it to say that I don't find "We have to go to war to stop what we think could conceivably happen at some point in the future" particularly convincing, because there is still no guarantee at all that even if we go to war, what we think could conceivably happen if we didn't now won't happen. We are told that we must go to war because it is the only way we can keep, say, Philadelphia from being obliterated by a terrorist nuke. But what if we go to war, defeat Saddam, destroy every weapon of mass destruction that we find, and then a year or two later Al Qaeda strikes us all the same? Our war with Iraq will have turned out to be useless -- and we will be faced with another war, somewhere, somehow. And I am forced to wonder if we are really, truly prepared to go to war against any country that has any dealings at all with Al Qaeda or some other terrorist state.

So, I am unconvinced that war with Iraq will in any way prevent future September 11's. I am unconvinced that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction are as numerous or as present a threat as the Administration is claiming. And I tire of the Administration's cagey insistence that they have the information, and that we have to take their word for it. "Trust us, we know what we're talking about" is simply not reassuring when we're considering war; and when we ask for the information that would convince us, we shouldn't be satisfied with "We could tell you, but then we'd have to kill you." The burden of proof must lie on those who want to go to war, and it doesn't help when the CIA itself is releasing reports that call into question just how big a threat Saddam really is.

It also does not help when President Bush the Second publicly says things like, "This is the guy who tried to kill my dad." And it doesn't help when Ari Fleischer, the President's spokesperson, publicly states that the whole thing could be avoided if some Iraqi would only assassinate Saddam Hussein. Statements like that make me question our Administration's motives: is this really a war to "make the world safe for democracy" (so to speak), or is this just a bit of unfinished personal business on the part of the Bushes? If our goal is to remove from the scene a possible source of weapons of mass destruction, why would an Administration official publically say things that imply that the real goal is simply the death of Saddam Hussein?

And for that matter, I've seen precious little discussion of what our post-war strategy would entail. I would like to see some assurance that the void in Iraq left by Saddam's death would be filled by something safer...but then, even that wouldn't be entirely convincing, considering how Saddam is a product of the United States in the first place. It certainly wouldn't be convincing given the conflicting signals coming from Washington as to just how big a threat Saddam is in the first place. And given our relative lack of concern with Afghanistan once the Taliban was removed from power a year ago, I wonder how well-equipped we are to run things in Iraq once we create a power-vacuum there.

Finally, I want to know who's next. Who is our next target in the war on terror? Where do we go from Iraq? Iran? North Korea? Saudi Arabia? And what do we do if and when Al Qaeda strikes again, as nearly everyone I've read is convinced will happen?

These are not arguments I am advancing against war in Iraq or anyplace else. My country was brutally attacked on 11 September 2001, by agents of a stateless terrorist group. I don't believe, not for one second, that we should adopt a pacifist stance in hopes that this will mollify the terrorists. But I am also not convinced that war in Iraq will have anything to do with a larger war on terrorism, despite the description of Iraq by many as the next logical phase of "this war". We are told that there will be more attacks on American soil and more Americans will die, but that war in Iraq is necessary to prevent these attacks. We appear to be damned if we do and damned if we don't. I don't think I'm asking for much here: I just want to be shown that the lives of Americans will be safer for having gone to war in Iraq. Not "might be", not "trust us", not "he's evil and we should do it anyway". Especially not that last, if it later turns out that we're still willing, as we've been all too willing in the past, to ignore evil when its existence is in such a place that does not particularly engage our sense of urgency. I don't object, on principle, to the United States being the world's policeman. I do object to the United States being a bad policeman.

What it comes down to, I suppose, is that I fear that in the case of the coming war against Iraq (and I cannot in good conscience consider the war against Iraq to be another theater in the war against terrorism....yet) just might be an instance of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, because next time it will be all the easier to fall victim to the same reasons. I am not against the war on a priori grounds, as most of the anti-war folks seem to be. And I am most definitely not for the war on a priori grounds, either...and neither side has made a strong a posteriori case.

One of William Randolph Hearst's newspapers, in exhorting the United States to fight the Spanish-American War in 1898, used the headline: "War? Sure!" The feeling I'm getting now is, "War? I guess so...." Somehow that just doesn't seem like enough.

No comments: