A Verdict, Finally: War Is a Bad Idea

As I was telling a friend in an e-mail the other day, I started out being not terribly opposed to the forthcoming Operation Whaq Iraq, as there is no real case to be made against ushering Saddam directly to Hell. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, etc. If ever a man needing killing, as we say back home, it’s Saddam Hussein, and while we’re de-verminating the Fertile Crescent, let’s make sure we save a bullet or two for his sons, especially the sub-human Uday.

But as this thing has evolved, I have found myself increasingly against invading Iraq. I have listened to and read a good deal on the subject, including a host of opinions for, against, and undecided. I’ve noted the forceful voice of the anti-war forces and have further noticed that it seems to be getting larger and louder by the day.

Now, it should be understood that large rallies, regardless of what is being protested, rarely make much of an impact on me. I’ve never been a big joiner, and for whatever reason have always been kind of cynical about the possibilities of public collective outrage. Not that I want to dismiss the earnest, informed, passionate efforts of people who genuinely care – I don’t. It’s just that this isn’t how I form opinions.

With respect to this particular issue, maybe my problem is that many of these protesters would oppose war under any circumstances, up to and including Iraq’s use of weapons of mass destruction against baby harp seals, and as such they have dick for credibility. I’m not a big fan of war, but I do understand that sometimes it’s inevitable. Evil feeds on weakness, and it only stops when it’s forced to. When the best among us refuse to stand against it, evil and her minions soon enslave us. So while war is to be avoided if possible, it is to be joined wholeheartedly when necessary.

So no, I haven’t been terribly swayed by the anti-war camp. It’s the pro-war crowd that has made me anti-war. It’s Dubya and his circle, all lathered up and lusting for blood, and I have to tell you, I’m always uneasy when a mob grabs its torches and pitchforks and takes to the countryside in search of an enemy it doesn’t fully understand. I can’t help observing that almost all of those howling for war are chicken hawks. You know what a chicken hawk is, right? That’s somebody who dodged war when they were younger, but now are all for it. People who were privileged, who had daddies who could pull strings, who wound up not going to Vietnam, but instead were posted to cushy stateside duty protecting the country clubs of Texas from the Viet Cong.

The folks who have been in a fight seem a lot less excited about heading back. (Colin Powell may be the point guy at the UN, but for the longest time he was the most visible and vocal voice of dissent in the administration – makes me wonder what he really thinks, even now, you know?) The pro-war camp probably likes the idea of war a lot more than they would if there was a chance in hell they would have to assume some personal risk. Bet the farm – a lot of body bags will come back from the desert, but none of them will bear tags identifying the dismembered contents as sons of Clans Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, etc.

There are other issues that trouble me, as well.

1. First, despite the Bush PR machine’s best efforts to pretend otherwise, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are not the same person. (I know this will come as a surprise to some, given how you never see the two of them together.) It’s hard to believe how, less than a year and a half after 9/11, you almost never hear bin Laden’s name when Team Dubya is out stumping for mayhem. At least, this was the case up until the last few days, when somebody at the White House apparently had an “oh fuck” moment and decided that they better build a connection between Iraq and who we’re really mad at, just in case anybody with an IQ of 80 or better is paying attention. So now we’re presented, out of the freakin’ blue, with “evidence” linking the two, evidence that attempts to show that Saddam is supporting bin Laden.

Well, he might be. I mean, it’s plausible enough. In fact, I’d be surprised if Hussein hadn’t given comfort of some sort to al Qaeda along the way. But the case so far has not been made to the satisfaction of a reasonable observer. Even if there are al Qaeda operatives in Iraq, that’s not a case for war. Places like London are probably thick with bin Laden’s people, and today’s Orange Alert tells me the fine folks at Homeland Security think we have some of them here, too. So bombing every place we think al Qaeda might be hanging out, well, I’m not sure that makes for workable policy.

Also, I’m always skeptical of evidence that sort of bubbles into view in such timely, convenient fashion, and you should be, too.

2. Do you think we’d be facing down Iraq right now if the president who mucked up the whole Saddam situation the first time had been named “Clinton” or “Carter”?

3. I fear Dubya is on the verge of isolating the US from the rest of the world. For instance, you can send your mealy-mouthpiece Rumsfeld out to dismiss France and Germany as “Old Europe” all you want. France is what they have always been, and no amount of pointing out their long history of quisling appeasement and invertebrate foreign policy will significantly add to the storehouse of human knowledge. But Juheezus! When you can’t round up Germany’s support for a good boot-stomping, you might want to call a quick time-out.

The fact is that what the rest of the world thinks matters. No, you can’t please everybody, especially if you’re a leader, which we are and have to be. But by the same token, you can’t lead without the confidence of those you hope will follow. Bill Clinton, whatever else may be said of him, spent eight hard years rebuilding the world’s trust in us. For the first time in a long time, America was being the good neighbor, acting in a way that said we’re about more than just us. This is the sort of thing that consistently pays dividends. The payoffs don’t always result in big, bold front-page headlines, but they’re there, and they matter in the day-to-day challenges of guiding the USS Superpower through the choppy seas of global diplomacy.

No, we weren’t perfect during the Clinton years (see Blackhawk Down and the whole Yugoslavia debacle, for example), but talk to some Europeans, some South Americans, some Asians. Ask them how the international view of the US in 1999 compared with the view from 1991, and more importantly, 2003.

Let me say this again – what the world thinks matters. If you’re the big dog and people believe in you, you can get away with anything. If you’re a big dog standing all by yourself, then you’re a bully who’s a-fixin’ to get his ass whupped. And while we’re certainly big dog enough to stand alone against Iraq, we’d probably do well to avoid standing against the rest of the world.

That’s where we’re heading right now. “Old Europe” has abandoned us, and I suspect in the coming days we’ll see more nations doing what Belgium did this morning – making public their opposition to unilateral American action – and it won’t be long before we’re standing out there alone, or nearly so (yeah, the UK will back us, but hell, they’d tag along if we were invading Canada, wouldn’t they?)

4. Of course it’s about oil, but that’s not really the right argument. I have no problems with acting in the world’s economic interests, to a point. Whether you like it or not, we have reached the stage where if it hurts the US economy, it hurts everybody. But I can’t help wondering what life would be like right now if we’d been smart enough after the Gulf War (or for that matter, the 1973 OPEC embargo) to get serious about reducing our independence on Arab oil. And what if, instead of invading Iraq, we dumped the money it will cost us (both direct cost of war expenditures and indirect costs to the economy) into making oil irrelevant now and forever more?

Sorry, I slipped off into a daydream there for a second.

The problem is that we’re again hosing our own credibility by pretending this is about democracy or freedom or whatever. There are dozens of dictators around the world who need a bullet to the head every bit bad as Saddam. And the fact that we only seem to care about the ones who represent a threat to our economic interests undermines what little claim to the moral high ground we have left.

In the end, though, I’m perhaps most distressed by the fact that our leaders aren’t pushing a war because it’s necessary. As I indicate above, I think that’s the ultimate criterion. Bush isn’t pushing a war because he has to, he’s pushing it because he wants to. Nothing, among all the issues that have been raised, debated, settled or tabled over the past few months, nothing is clearer to me than this one simple truth: Dubya wants war. Despite the rhetoric of necessity that his camp trots out as a matter of diplomatic obligation, the last thing in hell Bush wants is to avert war. The thing that keeps him awake at night is the possibility (however faint) that tomorrow morning Saddam Hussein will wake up and decide that he needs to comply in full with all UN resolutions insisting that he disclose and disarm.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask yourself. Do you think, honestly, in your gut, that Bush wants to avert war? And if so, would you do me a favor? Can you point me toward even the tiniest scrap of evidence that supports the contention?

Like I say, war is sometimes necessary. But the decision should never be left to those who see it as anything but a last resort.

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