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.
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
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
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
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.
—Feb. 11, 2003