[saymaListserv] FWD: "War with Iraq," by Peter Sederberg

Michael Austin Shell bright_crow at mindspring.com
Thu Sep 19 21:27:14 JEST 2002

Dear Friends,

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.

Blessed Be,

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 
Soviet Union.

             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 
Israeli restraint.

	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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