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Whose war is it anyway?
Posted: Saturday, September 7, 2002

By Anthony J. Aschettino,

As he enjoys his latest vacation on the ranch in Texas, United States President George W. Bush must be quite perplexed about the attempts to foster some sort of a coalition against Iraq. The government has made no secret about its intentions; indeed, multiple persons have stated that it is not a matter of "if" but "when" Saddam will be taken out. This was not supposed to be a solo venture, however, and hearing countries as varied as Saudi Arabia and Canada state their opposition to any American venture in this vein says something about international consensus on a war in Iraq right now. Perhaps that is what motivated the President to claim, with the Secretary of Defense at his side, that removing Saddam would be a positive thing for the entire world. Would it really? Let's examine the case a bit.

In making its argument, the government relies on several allegations in order to prove that a regime change is necessary. First, there is the time honored "Saddam is a really, really bad man" and that having someone other than a dictator and thug in office would better suit the people of Iraq. In other words, the only reason the people of Iraq suffer Saddam to remain in power is because they have no choice, but that if the United States gave them the opportunity to throw off this yoke, they would in an instant.

This is probably the best argument for the United States to use, as it is probably the only one that rings true. Saddam is a bad guy, and nobody in their right mind is going to argue that he has been a boon to Iraq. Given that, we must look at the potential precedent that this sets in the international arena. If the United States is allowed to get away with a regime change based upon this line of argument, where will the global community be able to stop her?

There is a major difference between pre-emptive and preventive. While the former is still considered aggressive (except in the case of Israel where it is applauded), the latter opens a Pandora's Box the likes of which one must look to the Roman Empire of old to justify. If tomorrow the U.S. decides that Iran's government is also not well suited to her people, does she have the right to overthrow that regime as well? In a few months the U.S. may decide that Saudi Arabia, having failed to stop a boycott of American goods that has already dropped profits over 25 percent in this quarter, is in need of "liberation."

The point here is that even though this argument is probably the strongest case the Bush administration can make, it is also one of the most flawed outside of a vacuum (i.e. when applied on a broad range in international politics).

A second argument used is the infamous "Weapons of Mass Destruction" or "WMD" as has become the popular way of phrasing it. This line of reasoning, a favorite of National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, argues that Saddam is ever trying to develop biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, and the means to deliver them; which he will then either a) use on the United States or her allies (more on that later), or b) give to enemies of the United States in general, and members of Al-Qaeda or other radical Muslim groups in specific. No less than Oliver North has argued on talk shows that if Saddam could acquire these weapons, he would certainly use them against Iran, Israel, and U.S. interests in neighboring regional states.

The more reasonable fear is that if Saddam acquires these weapons, removing him becomes much more difficult and dangerous. Thus, striking now would be better since we know that he does not yet have the capabilities. This argument loses ground not least because it yet again sets a dangerous precedent; moreover, it is based on an assumption. Another issue not even discussed here is the fact that traditionally Arab Nationalists and Islamists have made for very strange (and rare) bedfellows. The idea that Saddam would willingly reach out to al-Qaeda is rather a stretch for those who are in the know about regional politics.

The assumption here is that Saddam will definitely use these weapons if he can get a hold of them and, if penned in, this is certainly a possibility. If Saddam felt that his regime was really about to collapse, there is every right to fear that he could decide to go down in Samson fashion, taking the pillars of the temple down around him. However, Saddam is a highly intelligent person, regardless of how he uses that intelligence. His goal is to have the regime survive and pass it on to his son(s), and the Ba'ath Party is in the same boat, because if he goes at this point, they are next on the list. Why would the U.S. stop at Saddam instead of removing all of his cronies as well?

The BBC reports that a former Iraqi diplomat living in exile summed up Saddam's rule in one sentence: "Saddam is a dictator who is ready to sacrifice his country, just so long as he can remain on his throne in Baghdad." He will do whatever it takes to survive, and using these WMD against a neighboring state right now would force even his Arab brethren to advocate his removal.

Daniel Pipes argues that Saddam is the only leader in the world today who has used WMD, alluding to his use of poison gas during both the war with Iran during the 1980s, and during his suppression of the Kurds in Northern Iraq. Here, our concept of WMD must come under fire. During the Gulf War in 1991, the United States used depleted uranium in the shells of their tanks and attack helicopters. These shells, besides being extremely destructive, were found in many cases to cause cancer and other severe illnesses, not only among Iraqi troops but also among U.S. soldiers who were around the areas where they were either dumped or used. According to some sources, Iraqi rates of cancer in the aftermath of the Gulf War have gone up over 50 percent in some regions. This, combined with U.S. led efforts to keep medicine out of Iraq, has exacerbated the situation and overwhelmed doctors in Baghdad, Mosul and Basra.

Even more recently, and perhaps more alarmingly, there are reports that the Israelis have used depleted uranium in their takeover of the Jenin Refugee Camp, due to its explosive capabilities. We should not be terribly surprised if we find, ten years from now, rates of cancer in certain areas of Palestine where the Israeli incursions were the greatest, twenty or fifty times what they are now.

Yet another argument is the "threat to his neighbors" contention. This line of reasoning claims that Saddam is an imminent threat to neighboring states, and that the United States will be doing them all a favor by removing him. U.S. Government leaders have also constantly reminded us that no matter what these mainly Gulf leaders have said publicly, in private they are all but begging the United States to remove Saddam and finish the job they started ten years ago. Again, sadly for the government, this thread falls into the category of "wishful thinking," much like the others. Looking at his neighbors, one finds that none of them are really into removing Saddam, and at best have offered lukewarm support for the U.S. initiative, mainly by not coming out against it.

On that note, we must say that several of Saddam's "threatened neighbors" have spoken out against any U.S. invasion. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Kuwait, and Iran, have all at one point or another come out against any U.S. action in the region. The latter two are especially important because they are two states against which Iraq has waged war in the last twenty years.

That Kuwait, whose invasion in 1990 sparked the war that has led to this, should be against the venture is remarkable, and it should show that even the militarily weakest state in the region is prepared to move on with things. Iran, which lost about a quarter of a million men in her decade long war with Iraq, would stand to gain perhaps the most out of this, and even she has argued against it. As was previously stated, no Arab state is really all for this. In fact, the only state in the region that has constantly supported any kind of action against Iraq is also the only state in the region with a record of attacking Iraq: Israel.

That brings us to the crux of this argument. Israel seems to be the only country that stands to really gain from removing Saddam from power and decimating the Iraqi state. For starters, they are the only state in the region with which Iraq remains on bad terms. They have a legitimate concern that if WMDs were deployed, they would bear the brunt of it, and on this they speak the truth, since we have already seen Saddam lob a few missiles on Israel during the Gulf War. Saddam is also paying the families of martyr's in the al-Aqsa Intifada sums of money to help alleviate their plight, and is seen as a hero for standing up to Israel and the West.

Vice President Dick Cheney argues that the logic of those who oppose replacing Saddam is "deeply flawed." Really? He argues, as does the rest of the administration, that it is not necessary for the President to obtain Congressional approval for waging a war on Iraq. This is true; the President has the ability to wage war for a length of time without obtaining a declaration of war from Congress or an extension for the activities of the Armed Forces. How many young men will have to be sacrificed on the plains of Mesopotamia in order to bring about a region in which it is safe for Israel to exist?

The last time an administration took this kind of attitude was during the Cold War, when it was necessary to fight Communism everywhere and anywhere. It led to the Vietnam War and the tearing apart of the American moral fabric, much of which has never been regained. Is this what we want or what the world needs? We must remember that along with the fifty thousand American lives lost during Vietnam, as many as two million Vietnamese lost their lives. How many Iraqi civilians and soldiers will fall to remove one man?

As an American, I will not support such a war, even at the risk of sounding unpatriotic. This kind of an operation has the potential to lead down a very slippery slope towards totalitarianism, and an international consensus of the United States being a global policeman. There is a level of morality that says when you are fighting your enemy, be sure that you do not, in the process, become that which you fight. When I was in Gaza, there was a billboard (on Palestinian soil, no less) that said, "The pains of peace are better than the agonies of war." For the world's sake, someone should erect a similar sign near Crawford.

[This article was originally printed on]

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