Thoughts on the Necessity of Going to War


Mar 15, 2003


The Bottom Line War is never good; but sometimes it is justified.

Let me begin with this quote.

“Iraq is a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, ready to use them or provide them to terrorists, drug traffickers or organized criminals."

To this point, I’ve kept pretty quiet on my feelings about going to war with Iraq. I’ve been listening to the arguments, for and against, and trying to make up my mind. It hasn’t been an easy decision for me.

You see, a long time ago I was a soldier. I saw a war, not from the air-conditioned comfort of a cocktail lounge with a large screen TV, but from inside the cauldron itself. War is a nightmare of bleeding and torn bodies, screaming, moaning, cursing and crying young men, and the smells of blood, feces, urine, and vomit. And fear…a lot of fear.

I don’t take the idea of going to war lightly. I’ve seen its face, and its ugliness haunts me to this day.

Decades later, I’m still not convinced that my war was necessary, and when I, all too often, consider that possibility I am filled with intense sadness and bitterness.

So, is this war necessary?

Or is it really about oil and greed? Or revenge for the attempted assassination of George Bush, Sr.? Or the son attempting to finish what the father started? Is this administration interested in empire building and forcing our will upon the world? Or are our current leaders simply evil warmongers who need to satisfy an obscene blood lust?

These arguments are often put forward by those opposing any military action against Iraq, but, upon inspection, they have little real merit. They are the pat responses of those who are blinded by their own political biases, and those who reject war as a viable option regardless of the severity of any current threat or the likelihood of any dire future consequences.

The mean-spirited sniping and irrational ranting of the politically biased and “peace at any price” groups do a grave disservice to us all in that, in the process of demonizing the loyal political opposition, they tend to trivialize and obscure real issues and, at times, give succor to real demons.

But why war…and why now? And aren’t there any practical alternatives to this war?

I accept the validity of the three points made in my opening quote.

First, Saddam Hussein has a well-documented track record of aggression and brutality toward his neighbors and his own countrymen and women. No one disputes this. He is dangerously unpredictable, and acts in complete disregard for morality, ethics, and the rule of law. It is well known that he has megalomaniacal aspirations to own or control all of the oil in the region. He sees himself as becoming the pre-eminent hero of the Arab world through Iraq’s destruction of Israel. He is universally feared and disliked by every nation within the region. Iraq is, indeed, a rogue state.

Next, I believe that Saddam Hussein has chemical and biological weapons, and is on a track toward development of a nuclear capability. United Nations chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, believes this. Even the most outspoken opponents of war against Iraq…France, Germany, and Russia…believe this. In fact, most of the world seems to believe it. I suspect it is true.

Saddam also has a deep hatred for the United States for thwarting his attempt to annex Kuwait, and for our role in instituting and attempting to enforce the economic sanctions against Iraq. I believe that if it were in Saddam Hussein’s power to hurt this country in any way, he would do so. This includes making accommodations with other groups who would do the job for him. These accommodations would surely include providing these groups with intelligence, training, financing, and weapons, including chemical and biological agents. And perhaps, one day, nuclear weapons.

Henry Kissinger stated that the two most pressing problems of our times are nuclear proliferation and the emergence of global terrorism. He explains that, up to this point, these problems have been running parallel to each other. The danger is in their eventual convergence.

To date, I have seen no convincing link between Iraq and Al Qaeda. I have not seen or heard anything that implicates Iraq in the events of September 11, 2001. But I have no doubt that Iraq’s current regime would not hesitate to ally itself, at least temporarily, with Al Qaeda or a similar terrorist or criminal organization if such an alliance proved mutually beneficial.

To those who say that there is no love between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, I would suggest that history has provided countless examples of bitter enemies joining together for brief periods to defeat a common foe.

Iraq, with Saddam Hussein at its helm, is a chemical, biological, or nuclear disaster waiting to happen…perhaps to Israel, Kuwait, or Saudi Arabia…or perhaps to us.

There are those who think that we can eliminate this threat through increased weapons inspections or the containment of Iraq.

As much as we all want weapons inspections to work to avoid a bloody war, in truth they’ve been a farce. Saddam Hussein has turned a program that was intended to be one of simple verification that all prohibited weapons have been destroyed into a game of hide and seek. Complicating this game of hide and seek, is the fact that Iraq has the capability to secretly move these weapons from place to place to evade the inspectors. It is not the weapons inspectors’ responsibility to look in every basement or warehouse or to overturn every rock in order to find these weapons or any evidence of their destruction. It is, and always has been, Iraq’s responsibility to provide them to the inspectors.

It is impossible for any group of weapons inspectors, regardless of size, to seek out these weapons in a country with an area in excess of 172,000 square miles without the complete cooperation of the Iraqi government.

And there is little evidence of that cooperation. Saddam has thrown the inspectors an occasional bone, but has yet to produce any real meat.

Where are the chemical and biological agents that Iraq is known to have produced? Or, if these weapons have been destroyed as Iraq claims, where is the evidence of their destruction? Iraq has not even shown the inspectors the original production records for these agents. Even the ever patient and accommodating Hans Blix, in his growing frustration, stated that “mustard gas is not marmalade. You keep track of how much mustard gas you produce.”

We all want peace. And in our fervent desire to avoid war, we grasp at the minimal progress these inspections have made. But we are, in fact, grasping at nothing but the smoke and mirrors that Saddam Hussein has shown us. We want to give inspections more time to work. But we forget that the requirement to account for these banned weapons has been in effect for more than twelve years, and still nothing of substance has been accomplished. The threat continues to exist.

If these inspections fail, and all of the evidence indicates that they will fail, can Iraq and its weapons be contained as an alternative to war?

Rachel Bronson, Director of Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, in an essay that appeared in New York Newsday, makes a convincing argument for the impracticality of containing Iraq. She states that “containment has three basic components: inspections, economic sanctions and a robust military presence.”

She agrees that due to Saddam Hussein’s intransigence, the inspections are not working, and that economic sanctions have been ineffective and have done little more than hurt the innocent Iraqi people because of Saddam Hussein’s misuse of the “oil for food” program. Ms. Bronson points out that the sanctions have also been leaking badly of late, with even friends and allies engaging in illicit trade with Iraq. And maintaining a robust military presence in the region is not only costly to this country in economic terms, but is a source of much of the ill will that is felt in the Muslim world toward our country.

The suffering of the Iraqi people due to the economic sanctions, and the perceived “defilement” of the Muslim world’s holiest places by the deployment of American troops to Saudi Arabia following the Persian Gulf War formed a significant part of Osama bin Laden’s justification for his “jihad” against the United States.

Thus, it is the very nature of our current response to the Iraqi problem…our attempts at containment…that spawn so much hatred against us. The economic sanctions and our military presence in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar are continuing affronts to Muslim sensibilities. A brief incursion to remove Saddam, as bloodlessly as possible (although all wars are by nature bloody affairs), followed by the earliest possible exit of our military forces from the region will do much to allow the healing of the Muslim world’s animosities toward us to begin.

We must somehow disengage from our perceived role as bullies and interlopers in this region, but in disengaging, we must not leave ourselves, or our allies, vulnerable to Saddam Hussein, global terrorism, or their potentially catastrophic convergence.

Saddam Hussein is a real threat to his neighbors and to this country. He will not voluntarily disarm; and he will not just go away. We can not give him more time by confusing his grudging, foot-dragging, minor concessions with real compliance with United Nations resolutions. Time is Saddam Hussein’s friend. Every day that he gains through his delaying tactics is another step toward the eventual erosion of the world’s indignation at his failure to disarm and its resolve to disarm him. He knows the world will eventually tire of this game and walk away.

But, thankfully, this administration won’t.

War is always an abomination; but some wars are necessary.

I believe that this one is.

Oh, yes. The author of the quote that began this essay?

George Bush? John Ashcroft? Donald Rumsfeld? Or some other warmongering Republican party apologist?

No.

President William Jefferson Clinton in 1998.

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