War is in the air. What we’re hearing now is that the deal is done; we’re just a couple weeks from war with Iraq.

Zac Peskowitz

Who are you with? The protesters telling us it’s all about oil? Or television’s gung-ho graphics and theme music driving for that big story?

Whatever the ups and downs of the polls might say, I get the impression that most people are on the fence about this one. Toppling Saddam Hussein sounds like a good idea and annoying the French appeals to many, but people just can’t shake the nagging feeling that for all the national interests being asserted and unintelligible satellite photos being bandied about, this just isn’t something we need to do.

Can you support a war that may be justified for many reasons, but just isn’t necessary for your own security?

As for justifications, there are many: Saddam Hussein starves Iraqis by using money from oil he is allowed to sell to buy personal luxuries and maintain his military rather than feed his people. His proclivity for invading his neighbors is well known and his brutality to his own citizens is terrifying. According to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, Iraq is a place of mass arrests and summary executions; of “disappearances” by the thousands; of political prisoners being beheaded in front of their homes; of gouging out eyes; of punishment for crimes of family members; of the tongues of government critics being cut out and much worse.

The anti-war argument that goes, “so what, things like this happen all over the world, why should we only do something about it here?” is unconvincing. Maybe it’s time we started doing this in more places. There are certain values I hope we have the courage to say are universal. It’s the tip of the iceberg, but if nothing else, can’t we draw the line at summary executions and torture? Yes, lots of countries do these things, but by any measure, Iraq is a particularly egregious offender. Why shouldn’t we start with them and move forward with a policy of serious promotion and enforcement of human rights – the rights that have been established by international law and which we have been derelict in demanding for too long?

A pro-war argument that I’m partial to is that this will free the Iraqi people. Whatever happens, Iraqis would certainly be better off without Saddam, no matter what the consequences in blood, money and hatred for us. There will, of course, be costs borne by innocent Iraqis in a war. Saddam will make sure of that. But a less sociopathic government will save and improve lives, as will the sure end to U.N. sanctions after Saddam is gone.

Humanitarianism isn’t what’s driving the U.S. promoters of invasion, of course. Human rights may be more respected post-war, but they’re not why it will happen.

The most common pro-invasion argument is that Iraq is a danger to us – that it is building weapons of mass destruction and directly or through distribution to terrorists, they will be a threat to us. Good reason. It seems to me, however, that the logical conclusion to that line of reasoning is not full-scale invasion, occupation and a never-ending al-Qaida-like hunt for the bad guys that get away, but continued containment and possibly military action against only those sites where we know or strongly suspect that weapons of mass destruction are being produced.

Containment has worked so far and the political will currently exists in the world to enforce it vigorously and support a strong inspections regime, which is cheaper and less dangerous than war, and has worked very well in the past.

Invasion might be the only sure solution, of course, and the sheer humanitarian reasons for removing Saddam are compelling. But looking at what this war may cost us, I wonder if any of it is enough.

The administration has wanted this war so badly that it’s pushed some friendly governments out of the way and pushed others to make choices conflicting with popular sentiment – and creating danger for them – to get it. This may be creating long-term rifts in our alliances, which is not good for our security.

In another troubling move, to win over various allies, such as Turkey, the Bush administration seems to have committed to keeping post-war Iraq in one piece, while the majority of Iraqis, by all accounts, would rather see the country – a vestige of colonial line drawing – broken up. This means the United States or a new government having to coerce a very large, sharply-divided populace spread over an area the size of California to be a political entity they don’t want to be. Our complicity in any such arrangement will only worsen our already reviled image in the Middle East, possibly fueling more hate driven terrorism.

I’d really like to see Saddam Hussein gone, but I can’t stop thinking we’re sacrificing an awful lot to see it happen. That’s why I’m having trouble getting off the fence.

Cunniffe can be reached at pcunniff@umich.edu.

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