[saymaListserv] FWD: "War with Iraq," by Peter Sederberg
Michael Austin Shell
bright_crow at mindspring.com
Thu Sep 19 21:27:14 JEST 2002
Peter Sederberg is a member of Columbia (SC) Monthly Meeting (Quakers) and
a professor at the University of South Carolina.
Please read and share this essay.
From: Peter Sederberg <sederberg at schc.sc.edu>
Sent: Sep 16, 2002 0511 PM
Subject: War with Iraq
If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the
road to war with Iraq is paved with myth. Myths, to be sure, often reflect
deeply felt experiences, fears, and hopes, and, in this way, they express a
kind of truth. We would do well, however, not to mistake the mask of myth,
no matter how dramatic, for the face of reality.
Right now a variety of myths infuse the rhetoric of war with
Iraq and obscure our understanding and distort our decision making.
Myth 1: A strike against Iraq would be a preemptive war. What
the administration advocates is a preventive, not a preemptive, war. A
preemptive strike is based on strong, indeed incontrovertible, evidence
that your adversary is about to attack so you throw the first punch. No
such evidence exists that Iraq is preparing to attack the United States or
any of its neighbors. Such evidence did exist prior to Iraq¹s invasion of
Iran in the 1980s and Kuwait in 1990. A preventive war, in contrast, is
based on the hypothetical that since you face a hostile adversary, war is
inevitable at some future time, so you make war now before your presumed
enemy grows any stronger.
Preemptive war is problematic enough on military, political,
and moral terms; preventive war approaches insanity and immorality. War is,
at best, a lesser evil. Initiating war when it might be avoided is
militarily wasteful and ethically challenged. The more hypothetical the
future possibility of war, the less justifiable it becomes to start one in
the present. The Soviet Union represented a far greater threat to our
survival than Iraq ever will, and some military and civilian leaders called
for preventive war in the 1950s and a preemptive strike in the 1960s. Those
advocating preventive war now might consider how following their
predecessors' recommendation back then, in a far more serious situation
than we currently confront, would have improved matters today.
Myth 2: America has never been more vulnerable. Certainly the
attack of 9/11 reminded Americans of their vulnerability. The proponents of
preventive war play on these understandable anxieties to trumpet their
cause and promote war against Iraq as the next step on the path to renewed
security. They exploit our collective Alzheimer's. We were at our most
vulnerable during the cold war, peaking with the Cuban Missile Crisis, when
both the Soviet Union and the United States gazed at the gates of hell but
drew back from the threshold.
Myth 3: Containment and deterrence won't work. Historical
experience certainly teaches us not to expect perfection from any human
stratagem. Containment and deterrence are no exceptions; indeed, critics of
both the left and right raised important criticisms about them during the
Cold War. Nevertheless, we muddled through. Only a fool thinks we would
have muddled through a preventive or preemptive nuclear exchange with the
If you think containment is unpredictable and risky, check out
the unintended, uncontrollable consequences of war. Indeed, the
administration's willingness to risk a preventive war reflects their
judgment that Saddam is not much of a risk. Bolstered by their short-term
success in Afghanistan, they confidently enter upon this adventure.
Ironically, their confidence that the consequences of this war will be
easily borne, undermine their assertions of the seriousness of the threat.
Myth 4: Saddam is a madman with nuclear weapons who must be
stopped now. Saddam Hussein is not a madman. He is a rather rational risk
taker, who sometimes, but not always, miscalculates. He has been deterred
in the past, and we can expect he can be in the future. He has consistently
pursued expanding his military capabilities including weapons of mass
destruction. Such capabilities, though, do not in themselves constitute a
threat. Capability must be matched by intention. If possession of weapons
of mass destruction were the criterion for preventive war, then France,
always a irritant to America, should rank higher on Bush's hit list, as
they already possess hundreds of nuclear weapons and the capability of
striking our country.
Of course, administration hawks repeatedly point to compelling
incidents of Saddam's ruthlessness. Closer inspection reveals that they
undercut, rather than support, the administration's case. Saddam used
poison gas in two different situations‹against attacking Iranian forces
threatening his survival and against rebellious districts in his own
country. Both of these, incidentally, were countenanced by the Republican
administration at the time, because Iraq was a de facto ally opposed to
what was deemed the greater threat from Iran.
These war crimes share an important similarity: The victims could not
effectively retaliate. Where his targets could retaliate, he proved much
more cautious during the Gulf War. For example, he could have lobbed
chemical weapons at Israel but did not, knowing such an attack would end
Myth 5: The situation confronted is like that faced with Hitler in 1938.
President Bush and others beating the drums of war summon up images of
Europe in 1938, when a weak-kneed Neville Chamberlain and the hapless
League of Nations failed to respond vigorously to Hitler's mounting
aggressions. This historical comparison is ludicrous. Forgetting the
obvious lack of similarity between Bush and Churchill or, for that matter,
Hitler and Hussein, several substantive differences are compelling. Germany
in 1938 was arguably the strongest country in Europe; the United States
possesses overwhelming military superiority over every nation in the world.
Germany was clearly a power on the rise; Iraq is a defeated country hemmed
in by sanctions and military "no-fly" zones. Its government possesses
little or no control over the south and the north of its nominal territory.
Germany was building a true axis of evil, that was soon to include, albeit
temporarily, Stalinist Russia; Bush's axis of evil has only a rhetorical
Politicians like Bush enjoy invoking the hackneyed aphorism about those who
fail to remember history. More dangerous are those who remember history
poorly or, for that matter, manipulate it cynically. We would do well to
remember the other World War, where the contestants swaggered off to wage
quick war and ended up in a mutual bloodletting that left all parties in a
far worse position than when they began.
Myth 6: The United States can easily win this war. This myth
of victory appears literally true; our absolute military superiority could,
in the phrase of some enthusiasts, turn Iraq into glass. The pivotal
question involves whether we can win the war at an acceptable cost, in
terms of military resources and/or moral standing in the world. We could
have "won" in Vietnam; we just couldn't win with three-quarters of a
million military personnel invested in the Southeast Asian theater. The
deteriorating base of support for the war made it impossible for either the
Johnson of the Nixon administration to invest more. Ultimately, both
administrations reluctantly concluded the war could not be won at a cost
Americans were prepared to pay.
Curiously, hawkish predictions of how dominos would topple with the
American retreat came true in a backward way. They toppled, all right, but
in the opposite direction. Communist Vietnam invaded communist Cambodia and
was, in turn, invaded by communist China. One communist state after another
crumbled by 1990.
The cavalier assumptions of an easy battle with few
consequences in the wider world would be amusingly fatuous were they not
taken seriously by the Bush's civilian warriors. We might ask whether the
military command is quite so optimistic, but like the loyal soldiers they
are trained to be, they will acquiesce to the civilian leadership and make
the best of the situation. General Powell has reason to remember the
consequences for the military of a similar situation in Vietnam.
Thomas Friedman reminded us recently that no one seems to be
discussing Saddam's war plans. The administration also remains vague about
the situation we will face the day after our presumed victory. Rather we
are entertained with briefings by the Administration's spokesperson, Rosie
Scenario: Saddam's forces will collapse or go into open rebellion. No
biological weapons will be hurled at our troops, against Saudi oil fields
and terminals, or Israel. No serious outbreaks of anti-American violence
will spread across the Islamic world. Terrorism against American will not
significantly increase, and America's "war on terror" will not be hampered.
We will quickly construct Islamic democracy in this bitterly divided
country. America can neatly manage "nation-building" in both Iraq and
Afghanistan. And, by the way, on to Teheran!
Myth 7: We must act now, if not sooner. Iraq, we are repeatedly told,
represents an immediate threat to its neighbors and to us. Congress and the
UN must respond immediately. Of course, following the marketing advice of
White House advisor, Andrew Card, the Administration waited until August
was over before launching its "new product"‹war with Iraq. In justifying
the urgency of the campaign, Bush repeats a litany of Saddam's outrages
stretching back fifteen years.
Bush repeatedly asks, "If not now, when?" How about after the election?
Bush undermines the credibility of his argument for urgency by threatening
recalcitrant Democrats with reprisals in the fall campaign if they delay
deliberation on the war resolution. I would like to believe that the
President has not sunk so low as to frivolously risk American and Iraqi
lives merely to gain electoral advantage. I cannot believe otherwise,
however, unless he requests, given the seriousness of the potential
consequences of the decision, that Congress delay deliberation until after
the election. Alternatively, he needs to present clear evidence that six
weeks makes a difference.
Myth 8: Congressional endorsement will legitimize the war. If the Bush
administration gains Congressional approval for this adventure, then we,
American citizens, become morally complicit in the actions that our
government commits in our name as endorsed through our elected
The Iraqi subjects, in ironic contrast, are victims of an oppressive
tyranny. Indeed the Bush administration uses precisely this
characterization as one of their justifications for war. The people of Iraq
are, therefore, are not responsible for the actions of their government. If
we indiscriminately kill them in our effort to oust Saddam, they are truly
innocent victims. And we, the American citizens, will be complicit in their
deaths through the actions of our elected representatives. We will not be
able to claim the high moral ground when the anger of the Islamic world is
directed against us.
Therefore, all American have a great stake in this decision. We all need to
be confident of the rightness of the actions of our government. We need to
be assured that we are being told the truth; that we are not being
manipulated into war; that the threat is immanent and serious; that all
possible means short of war have been exhausted; that the true costs and
presumed benefits have been honestly calculated. For when this war is
waged, we will most certainly bear the costs of its failures and not only
reap the benefits of its presumed success.
Peter C. Sederberg, Professor
Department of Government and International Studies
University of South Carolina
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