[In many of these essays, the date matters. Probably in none more than in this series. These were written in the winter of 2002-03. I had been instinctively opposed to an invasion of Iraq until then, going so far as to sign a petition to that effect and writing several columns critical of the rhetoric and logic of politicians urging war. But I began to be persuaded by the "humanitarian justification" and, to a lesser extent, the "drain the swamp" idea, and, least but not negligible, the "how much risk is too much" argument. This series of columns is a picture of that turning point. None of them is what I thought before, nor fully what I came to think soon afterward, about the whole Iraq adventure. I publish them as an archival record of a mind being changed.]
The FIRST CASUALTY
Tom Daschle, the U.S. Senate's top Democrat, probably cooks a perfect soft-boiled egg. He knows just how high to turn up the heat, and just when to cut it.
For a month, Daschle made formal objections to President Bush's drive to start a war with Iraq. Then, when it came to a vote, he dropped them, like a Good American, and gift-wrapped the President's bipartisan support.
If the invasion goes well, Daschle can say he rallied 'round the flag. If it goes poorly, he can say, we warned you. It's the kind of democracy you can expect from statesmen who look no higher than the next election. And Daschle's sound-byte, when -- surprise, surprise -- he decided to back the President, was the basis for the afternoon paper's banner headline in my town. "Because I believe it is important for America to speak with one voice at this critical moment -- I will vote to give the president the authority he needs," Daschle said.
"One voice." The mainstream media stories I read and saw were all about closing the ranks, getting on America's team. It was a textbook lesson in Chomsky's "manufactured consent."
Yet the news reporting was sandwiched around quotes, excerpts from speeches on the floor of Congress, that seemed at times to be the words of madmen.
There was Sen. John McCain, saying Saddam Hussein is a "threat to every nation that claims membership in the civilized world by virtue of its respect for law and fundamental human values."
OK, so Saddam's a bastard (albeit, until not too long ago, our bastard). So, America should prove its membership in the club of "law and fundamental human values" by starting a war with another nation, snubbing international legal organizations, and bombing the slaves of Iraq because we don't like their master.
There was GOP whip Rep. Tom De Lay, digging right into the rhetoric of Dec. 8, 1941: "The question we face today is not whether to go to war, for war was thrust upon us. Our only choice is between victory or defeat."
Yes, with Iraqi paratroopers dropping over Dallas, war has truly been thrust upon us. Nobody, in any of the "one voice" articles I read that quoted De Lay, pointed out that Iraq has not attacked America, has not declared war on America, has not even asked the international community to clear the path for it to rain bombs down on America.
America speaks with one voice? If this is the voice, it's not a very observant one.
Democratic Rep. Dick Gephardt, the minority leader, invoked Sept. 11. "If you're worried about terrorists getting weapons of mass destruction or their components from countries, the first candidate you worry about is Iraq."
No it isn't. Start with Pakistan, or some of the former Soviet republics. As a Missourian, Gephardt does a piss-poor job of showing me. He makes no attempt to genuinely connect Iraq and al-Qaida.
Republicans, of course, are even more emphatic than Gephardt in asserting a connection, and even less interested in proving it. Dick Armey, majority leader in the House, plowed on about Saddam's "ongoing working relationship with a myriad of evil terrorist organization."
De Lay called Saddam "the world's leading purveyor and practitioner of terror." By the time De Lay finished, he'd left not an inch of space between Saddam and the Sept. 11 killers. "We'll defend our country by defeating terrorists wherever they may flee around the world," he shouted over the rattle of his sabre.
And, in what he evidently thought was a ringing conclusion, De Lay urged his fellow legislators to "put faith in freedom and raise your voices and send this message to the world: The forces of freedom are on the march, and terrorists will find no safe harbor in this world."
According to those who have followed the situation, Bin Laden and Saddam don't break bread on any level, which is logical because Osama seeks a return to a medieval Islamic community of the faithful, and Iraq is a modern strong-arm secular state that ruthlessly represses every Islamist or fundamentalist movement that crops up in its borders, as it would any group that could threaten Saddam's monopoly on power.
Yet U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, endlessly hint at a link between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein. What's frightening is to think that they may be diverting resources of the CIA and other intelligence agencies, in a bid to prove what isn't true, for a political purpose. The certainty that, somehow, Saddam must have been behind Sept. 11 is the domestic equivalent of the insane belief in many Muslim lands that, somehow, it was all the work of the Jews.
Who knew that Saddam was such a bad guy? Not Dick Gephardt. "In 1991," he said, "no one knew the extent to which Saddam Hussein would sacrifice the needs of his people in order to sustain his hold on power." But Baghdad's 1988 genocide of its own ethnic Kurdish population was no secret. Saddam's troops had orders to kill every adult Kurdish male in northern Iraq, and they may have succeeded to the tune of more than 100,000. Some 60 villages were attacked with chemical weapons, in incidents well documented by international human rights and physicians' groups.
So far from being concerned, in those days, about Iraq's chemical arsenal, the Reagan administration secretly supplied Iraqi generals with bomb-damage assessments and information on Iranian troop deployments. Soon after the Kurdish attack, Washington signed off on the export to Iraq of virus cultures and a $1 billion contract to design and build a petrochemical plant that would make mustard gas.
Gephardt's feigned surprise is almost as transparent as Armey's sudden pathos for the poor suffering Iraqis: "The atrocities are beyond belief, beyond tolerance. And those poor people in Iraq live with each day, afraid to leave their home, afraid to speak at their own dinner table, frightened for their children that might be tortured in order to punish the parent's careless moment." For a guy who's been in Congress since well before the Kurdish atrocities, Armey, too, seems to be a bit slow to get in touch with his anger.
Armey said he "struggled" with the "hurdle" of whether a pre-emptive strike would be "compliant with the character of our great nation." But evidently it was a hurdle he was determined to get over. And when he couldn't, he decided it didn't exist. "It all gets involved with this question of pre-emptive strike," he said. "First of all, it is not a pre-emptive strike." Because, like De Lay said, we're already at war!
Saddam, Armey explained, "has consistently been in violation of his own commitments to the world for 11 years." That means he's declared war, see. I just hope nobody's keeping track of America's "commitments to the world."
As for working within the United Nations and the wisdom of building multinational coalitions, that's just so much sissy talk, as far as Sen. Phil Gramm is concerned: "I reject that. And I reject it because when we're talking about American lives, when we're talking about the security of our nation and the lives of our people, I am not willing to delegate the responsibility of protecting them to the U.N."
Gephardt waffled that issue, pointing out correctly that, "Completely bypassing the U.N. would set a dangerous precedent that would undoubtedly be used by other countries in the future to our and the world's detriment." Yet he went on to support a resolution that pleads with the President to play by the rules, while giving him permission not to.
Gephardt perhaps summed up his position with unintended irony when he said, "Exhausting all efforts at the U.N. is essential."
Armey's speech also drifted toward the Christian Right's morbid fixation with Israel: "And nations such as Israel, not exclusively Israel but right now, in the world, today, at a level of danger that is unparalleled by any other nation of the world, Israel struggles for its freedom, its safety and its dignity and it is in imminent, immediate danger by a strike from Saddam Hussein. And that represents a responsibility we have not only to what role we have played in the world, not only to our heroes who have acted it out in sacrifice, but to the character of this nation that we cherish and protect."
By the time Armey got this far into the rambling, it wasn't clear whether "this nation that we cherish and protect" meant Israel or America. In fact, he makes no distinction. "I've said as clearly as I can, to me an attack on Israel is an attack on America." It's a scary hint of how often U.S. foreign policy is driven by kooky Christian "End Times" fixations. Conservative American Christians fiercely support Israel, in large part so that all the Jews can go back there and 144,000 of them get converted to Christianity while the rest are slaughtered by the anti-Christ. That will usher in the Second Coming. No wonder, as the AP recently reported, "Many Israelis have mixed feelings about the support of the Evangelicals."
Even the opponents of the resolution often talked like idiots. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, urged a "no" vote because, if we start a war, our soldiers might get hurt (imagine that). And to make matters worse, our pension funds might take a hit. "The markets do not like war," she said. "They do not like the uncertainty of war."
But leave it to my own Rep. Joe Pitts to point out the next target in the war on terror: those '60s peaceniks. He's even got the ghost of John Lennon at his side. "Years ago, when I was a world away fighting to contain the scourge of Communism in Southeast Asia, a movement grew up here at home to protest what we were doing," he said before the vote. "Late in the war, one of the anthems of that movement was a song by John Lennon called 'Give Peace a Chance.' Now, we’re not here to debate the Vietnam War. But we are discussing war and peace. Peace is a precious thing, and we should defend it and even fight for it. And we have given peace a chance, for 11 long years."
He didn't study those '60s anti-war protesters closely enough, I guess. If he had, he would have seen the signs that said, "Fighting for peace is like f---ing for virginity."
So America is ready to rush off, with "one voice," to a new war, when it still has a ton of unfinished business in Afghanistan. A year ago, we were led off to war against Islamist terror groups, and they're still are not beaten -- whether al-Qaida or those who shake hands with them. They're likely behind the revolting carnage in Bali, the bombing of a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen, the attacks on Christians and Westerners in Pakistan, plots to attack U.S. or British warships in the Straits of Gibraltar, and the elaborate plan to hit western targets throughout Singapore.
The Congressional debate was a sham. The final scene of it was a contest to see who could call Saddam a "terrorist" more times than anyone else, without being able to prove it at all. It was all done with a skillful eye to marketing for the next election and no regard -- Sen. Robert Byrd excepted -- for whether history will regard this as the moment America gave up the pretense of being part of the world, instead of the boss of it.
[October 15, 2002]
WHAT MUST BE DONE
The U.N. likely will pass a new Iraq resolution Friday. Inspectors will pack their bags for Baghdad, and Saddam will waste no time in resuming his "cheat and retreat" game with them -- if he even accepts the resolution at all. Either way, it's a countdown to a showdown and the rest of the world will have to get serious about whether to back the Bad Cop against the Murderous Thug.
There's a lot to dislike about this. The Bush administration's Saddam obsession clearly carries some psychological baggage left over from the last movie. The Saddam-Osama connection is unproven. Control of Israel is a tug-of-war between two ultra-hawks, while Pakistan teeters on the edge of Islamist control, and the head of the American FBI warns of a resurgent al-Qaida. An Iraq attack looks like a sideshow distraction from a War on Terror getting longer and harder by the day.
But what if Bush is right?
What if it's a tragic mistake to let a vicious tyrant in the middle of the Middle East acquire weapons of mass destruction? What if the cost of pulling the world along on another Iraq war is less than the cost of doing nothing?
Even if it's a matter of a few years, not a few months, Iraq is undoubtedly racing to make a nuclear bomb. Well, so what? Other countries who have been America's enemies have held such weapons. But Iraq isn't the old Soviet Union, from whom, even in the depths of the Cold War, the U.S. could count on more or less conservative, self-interested decision-making. Saddam is no Khrushchev. He won't do something that will get himself killed, true, but he'll go as far as he can before he swerves. And that's sure to be farther than anyone else wants to go. According to Khidhir Hamza, one of Iraq's defecting nuclear scientists, soon after invading Kuwait Saddam ordered a crash program to build at least one nuclear weapon to fling at Israel if the coalition attacked him.
And he's not very good at understanding where that point is, when his own survival is at risk. Saddam's cabinet is a pack of sycophants as ignorant as he is about the outside world. As Kenneth Pollack recently noted, “For more than 30 years, Saddam's pattern has been to coldly miscalculate the odds, with disastrous results for Iraq and its neighbours.” Having an A-bomb up his sleeve is not likely to sharpen his gambling skill.
I sort of look at things in a neighborhood context. Maybe you don't like your beat cop. Maybe you even suspect he's on the take. But when a crack dealer moves into the house next door to you and your family, flashing handguns, is your fear of the cop a reason to do nothing? Maybe he's a rich crack dealer and you think the cop will steal his stuff. Is that a reason to do nothing? Maybe you can talk yourself out of it if you say, "Well there's a lot of crack dealers out there, and if I get the authorities to chase this one out, another will just move in and maybe shoot my family."
Many in the Arab world hate Saddam, but they hate America more. Think of the yearning to claim revenge, to deal out punishment, to feel validation. And Saddam personally may be a secularist, despised by Islamic clerics, but he knows how to play to the faithful. When you think of a nuclear-armed Iraq, think of the “Mother of all Battles” mosque, built outside Baghdad to celebrate Saddam's birthday in 2001. Each of the minarets is 43 meters high -- for the 43 days of the 1991 war in Kuwait -- and is designed to represent the Scud missiles fired at Israel. A copy of the Koran displayed inside is said to have been written entirely in Saddam's blood, which he is said to have donated to the tune of 24 liters over three years.
I don't understand the view that the U.S. pressure on Iraq is killing internationalism. The pressure on Iraq is coming via the United Nation. Bush didn't call the U.N. the League of Nations. He dared it to not be the League, by doing something about Iraq. The odd thing is, many of the ideologues who typically line up behind Bush want nothing more than for the U.N. to be an effete, 21st-century League of Nations. If anything, after the past weeks of U.S. negotiations with France, Russia, Syria, and China, the framework of international law is stronger. Tommorow's another day. But pressuring the U.N. to pressure Iraq to disarm seems to me the perfect sort of internationalist involvement that Bush père once stood as the heir to, before Reagan ate his brain.
But the Bush Administration is muddling its message about Iraq. Its aggressive bid to re-write the basic rights of Americans frightens many at home, and its first-strike military policy angers our old allies as well as neutral nations. The Iraq pressure from the White House looks like bullying, and at times it is. It will make us even more of a magnet for attacks than we already are.
America might as well accept that we are the new Rome. Illusions of our essential innocence ought to end. Being the world's sole hyperpower is a job that can be done well, or it can be done poorly. But it's too late to decide not to do it. We can be Republican Rome, with its self-conscious virtues, or imperial Rome. (Hint: which Roman, Cato or Nero, would have driven an SUV and Supersized his meals?)
We should, however, take this job on behalf of civilization and of human rights. And that will take a lot of change. We need to take a closer interest in being part of the world, and to willingly share the wealth we've hoarded. We also need to exercise a muscular commitment to the values we talk about. One small step toward that would be for the administration to admit that American leaders, including some still in power, backed the bad guy in Iraq for too long.
As for the American voices now gathering to protest the coming war, they have choices, too. They can claim a role in the new Rome, if they seek it. The just-ended election dashed their hope of turning aside the attack. But they can still take up the cause of the Iraqi people after it comes. Iraqis are in hell now, and it will only get worse after their government is wrecked again and stray U.S. bombs have found their neighborhoods and markets. Post-war Iraq may offer Americans the chance to prove their oft-boasted munificence, which was lacking in Afghanistan. Where was "Trick-or-Treat for Afghan Kids" this year?
It's not a pretty business, sweeping up after a war. But the world's a better place for every effort of those who do it. The choice is to see the coming conflict as a chance for liberation in Iraq, or to blindly oppose it just because it comes from George W. Bush, which runs the risk of seeming to back Saddam, just as many seemed to prefer the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, until I see more than "no war for oil" on the banners, and war opponents at least make an effort to convince me that Saddam is something we can ignore and it will go away, I'm going to stay clear of the protests.
[November 7, 2002]
WITH YOU SO FAR
Every morning I get out of bed (afternoon, actually) and check the news to see if this is my stop. Maybe this is the day I get off the bus. So far it isn't. I'm still riding with the President on the matter of Iraq.
Clearly I've crossed the bar into middle age, because the polls say I'm riding with the majority of Americans, too. We agree that Saddam Hussein is a threat to world peace and a plague on his own people. We want him disarmed, and removed from power, and we're willing to see lives lost if that's what it takes to accomplish it -- but only so long as it is done within the context of an international effort, and with the sanction of the United Nations.
We take a lot of crap over this position, but frankly I'm proud of my fellow Americans. This is not a cowboy mentality. I also am pleased with the way the Iraq crisis has been dealt with on the world stage. The United Nations is a restraining force on the administration of the world's superpower-du-jour. Despite the lurid posters of the protesters, diplomacy is still in the driver's seat.
Not only that, but nations such as Spain and Chile and Bulgaria have an important say in a world crisis. People old enough to remember the Cold War will be, I trust, broad-minded enough to applaud that change.
I was one of the generally anti-military Americans who had a change of heart over time after the death of Yugoslavia. I read the news wire day after day as a brutal thug slowly strangled Sarajevo -- the kind of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic community we all supposedly aspire to in America. When the U.S. used its military power to stop him, at his next attempt, I applauded that, and I realized that not every extension of American power is a bad thing.
Always innocent lives will be lost, always women and children will suffer most. War is always a tragedy, and that can't be too often remembered, which is why I'm glad the protesters are out there on Penn Square -- though I respect the ones who show up every day and who actually live in the city, among the dark faces, more than the ones who only drive their SUVs downtown for the weekends to chant and shout.
I'm a Republican who voted for Gore in 2000. I'd probably do it again. I don't think Bush is at all stupid, though I think he enjoys being underestimated. I disagree with him on most social and domestic issues, and I'm furious at watching John Ashcroft bitch-slap the Bill of Rights. And I think the U.S. diplomacy during the current crisis has been appalingly amateurish -- by turns high-handed and incompetent -- and the President and his inner circle of stumble-bums are squarely to blame for the mess in the Security Council and the Americans being spat on in cities around the world.
But when the Chomskyites embrace Milosevic as a victim of Yankee imperialism, I realize I'm on the other side. And I haven't seen too many Muslim Kosovars shouting down America as an anti-Islamic evil empire. Have you? Frankly, for as long as I've been paying tax dollars, I've watched them prop up one megalomaniac rapist dictator or another. It'll be nice to see them used to bring one down, for a change. Especially because he's one of our messes.
Yet somehow some folks make a stunning leap into the conclusion that, because I'm not holding up one end of the "no blood for oil" banner, I'm a gung-ho Bushite, slavering for Iraqi blood. What I see when that happens is what a co-worker calls "a bunch of liberal Bob Barrs." They hate Dubya so much, they're reflexively against any idea he has, and never bother to check if this is one of the two times a day when a broken clock is right.
I think Bush is watching those polls. And the people who have been against him all along, just because he's him, have maneuvered themselves out of any influence on his policies. He can't lose them, because he never had them to lose.
Die Bombe fragt im Flug geschwind
Sinds gute Kind? Sinds boese Kind?
Da rat ich euch sagt Gute Kind
Die nur für jene Freiheit sind
Die auch die Bombe selbst bejaht
Dann tut sie keine blutge Tat
Sinds gute Kind fliegt sie zurück
Und wünscht den Kindern nur viel Glück
Sie kriecht ihn den Bombenschacht
Die Kinder schlafen gut bei Nacht
Doch heisst die Antwort Boese Kind
Dann seht nicht hin dann stellt euch blind
Erich Fried (1921-1988)
(A bad, rough translation by me, with help from Markus, who drew my attention to this poem)
The Children's Bomb
The bomb in flight swiftly asks
Are the children good? Are the children bad?
Then I urge you to say good children
Who want only the kind of freedom
That affirms the bombs themselves
Then she does no bloody deed
Good children, she just flies back
And wishes the kids good luck
She crawls back up the bombshaft
The children sleep well through the night
But if the answer is bad children
then don't look pretend to be blind.
And, finally, a word on hubris. Too many people here talk and write about the war to come as though it will be a televised football game. "We're gonna kick Iraq's ass!" Makes me think of Bill Murray's pep-rally speech to his hapless fellow recruits in the middle of "Stripes" (right before the place where you can switch off the movie and know you've seen all the good stuff). "We're ten and one!" he proclaims. I wonder if the Brits are right, and my fellow Americans are blind to satire.
Today, I'm looking at wiredesk pictures of smiling U.S. soldiers, in their desert uniforms, boarding the planes that will take them to the Gulf. And I'm thinking of this:
The same winter the Athenians resolved to sail again to Sicily, with a greater armament than that under Laches and Eurymedon, and, if possible, to conquer the island; most of them being ignorant of its size and of the number of its inhabitants .... The Athenians, and such of their allies as happened to be with them, went down to Piraeus upon a day appointed at daybreak, and began to man the ships for putting out to sea. With them also went down the whole population, one may say, of the city, both citizens and foreigners; the inhabitants of the country each escorting those that belonged to them, their friends, their relatives, or their sons, with hope and lamentation upon their way, as they thought of the conquests which they hoped to make, or of the friends whom they might never see again, considering the long voyage which they were going to make from their country.
Indeed, at this moment, when they were now upon the point of parting from one another, the danger came more home to them than when they voted for the expedition; although the strength of the armament, and the profuse provision which they remarked in every department, was a sight that could not but comfort them. As for the foreigners and the rest of the crowd, they simply went to see a sight worth looking at and passing all belief.
... The ships being now manned, and everything put on board with which they meant to sail, the trumpet commanded silence, and the prayers customary before putting out to sea were offered, not in each ship by itself, but by all together to the voice of a herald; and bowls of wine were mixed through all the armament, and libations made by the soldiers and their officers in gold and silver goblets. In their prayers joined also the crowds on shore, the citizens and all others that wished them well. The hymn sung and the libations finished, they put out to sea, and first out in column then raced each other as far as Aegina, and so hastened to reach Corcyra, where the rest of the allied forces were also assembling.
[Thucydides, "The History of the Peloponnesian War," Book VI, 431 B.C.E., translated by Richard Crawley]
[From the leader in today's "Guardian"]:
Mr Blair has invaded Iraq for different reasons from Mr Rumsfeld. In Mr Blair's world, Saddam is a moral outrage, both for the way that he treats his own people and for the threat that he poses to others, especially if he were to use weapons of mass destruction or to put them into the hands of terrorists. Putting Iraq to rights, in Mr Blair's view, should be the whole world's business. The more that all the nations make common cause to do this, the better. The less this happens, the more vital it is to balance any absence of common cause with a series of equitable and humanitarian initiatives - on the Middle East and on reconstruction in particular - which can help to establish what Disraeli, seeking to justify the British invasion of Abyssinia in 1867, called "the purity of our purpose".
[February 25, 2003]
SOME WHO GOT IT RIGHT
Yes, it's been a roller-coaster ride, and yes, it's not over yet. As a journalist, I think my fourth estate colleagues are doing overall a heroic job. I've been reading the commentaries, too, and I feel special empathy for those who accepted this war with reluctance, as a last resort, and have been execrated for it by reactionaries who wouldn't lift a gun to fight Hitler if America was his enemy.
The wisdom and justice of this war will be proven by the thirty-year rule. It will take that long to know if the follow-up America puts into its new client is worth the blood spilled. We need to be big enough to know how big we are, and approach the problem with a calm enthusiasm and an open heart.
I'm rooting for the soldiers and the innocent Iraqis, and I'm rooting for these men and women -- colleagues of mine in a way, some of them intellectual, some workaday -- who raised their heads above the anti-war herds in their newsrooms and saw the chance in this moment to shape a real future for the world, by facing painful and ugly choices now. Here are some excerpts from what they've written, along with bits of other pieces that, I think, are making sense in this crazy time:
Who wants to live in a world where there are no stable rules for the use of force by states? Not me. Who wants to live in a world ruled by the military power of the strong? Not me. How will we oblige American military hegemony to pay "decent respect to the opinions of mankind?" I don't know. When the smoke of battle lifts, those who support the war will survey a battle zone that will include the ruins of the multilateral political order created in 1945.
To support the war entails a commitment to rebuild that order on new foundations. To support the war entails other discomforts as well. It means remaining distinct from the company you keep, supporting a swift and decisive victory, while maintaining your distance from the hawks, the triumphalists, the bellowing commentators who mistake machismo for maturity.
...During Vietnam, I marched with people who thought America was the incarnation of imperial wickedness, and I marched against people who thought America was the last best hope of mankind. Both positions seemed hopelessly ideological, and at the same time, narcissistic. The issue was not fundamentally about our souls; it was about what was right for the people of Vietnam. Just as in Vietnam, the debate over Iraq has become a referendum on American power, and what you think about Saddam seems to matter much less than what you think about America.
But the fact is that America is neither the redeemer nation, nor the evil empire. It isn't always right, but it isn't always wrong. Ideology cannot help us here. In the weeks and years ahead, the choices are not about who we are or what company we should keep nor even about what we think America is or should be. They are about what risks are worth running, when our safety depends on the answer, and when the freedom of 25 million people hangs in the balance.
Michael Ignatieff, "The Guardian," March 24
What we’ve seen in the last few weeks is that for Europeans the real clash of civilisations is not between Islam and the West but between what the French call "Anglo-Saxon" capitalism and Eurostatism. I was amused by the sheer snobbery of Martin Amis’s analysis in the Guardian last week: the condescension to Bush’s faith, the parallels between Texas and Saudi Arabia, both mired in a dusty religiosity. America’s religiosity, now unique in the Western world, is at least part of the reason it reproduces at replacement rate, also uniquely in the Western world. Besides, for all Amis’s cracks, Texas doesn’t seem as fundamentalist as the radical secularism of post-Christian Europe. Why would anyone think a disinclination to breed or to defend oneself is the recipe for success?
Mark Steyn, "The Spectator," March 17
Who are the real imperialists here: those who want to carry out the wishes of the Iraqi people, or those who want to ignore them in the name of a non-existent peace? And, yes, it was non-existent. There is no peace if, at any time, people can be captured, tortured, burned or raped. Read the Amnesty reports. This was the everyday reality of Saddam's Iraq. Only the dishonest can say that British and American soldiers are interrupting "peace"; they are interrupting a decades-long war, waged by Saddam against the Iraqi people, to bring it to an end. Do not weep that this happening; be proud.
...It might seem perverse to seek to spread peace at the barrel of a gun; but the peace we enjoy here in Europe exists only because we (along with the Americans) acted with weaponry to banish tyrants. The Iraqi people want and deserve the same. If their wishes -– as reported unambiguously by Kenneth Joseph and many more like him –- are not compatible with international law, then an urgent priority once this war is over must be to reconstruct international law to make it encourage, not hinder, the overthrow of tyranny.
Johann Hari, "The Independent," March 26
Slowly, obscurely, enunciated with difficulty in thick Texan accents, a new doctrine of international order is emerging, of which the imminent war is a crucial outing. It is the doctrine of humanitarian intervention —- or, to give it its proper name, neo-colonialism. This doctrine is driven by the firm belief -— uncluttered by relativist self-loathing —- in the universal principles of liberty and justice. It gives expression to our sense that everyone, not just the West, has a right to live in a decent country — and that the West has a duty to help them do so. In particular, it gives substance to the vacuities of the "ethical foreign policy."
...Let there be no talk of "imposing" "Western" values here. As President Bush says, the values of liberty are universal, not Western. They only seem Western because the West has applied them most successfully, and grown rich on the proceeds. Liberty might just as easily have flourished in the Korean peninsula or at the junction of the Tigris and the Euphrates. Then it would be Koreans and Iraqis, to the dismay of limp do-gooders among them, exporting "Eastern" values to us, the benighted nations of the world.
Daniel Kruger, "The Spectator," March 19
Nobody wants war, me included. The question is, is there something worse than war? I have been answering "yes" for years. One thing that is worse than war is genocide –- that is, the extinction of a whole people. Many people said this before Auschwitz. In Greek tragedy, it is revealed in the destruction of Troy. This is indeed the horizon of western history. That is why I don’t believe that the refusal to take part in a war against Saddam should be seen as an expression of humanism, but of a blindness that exists not only in Europe, but in all civilisations. We all want to live peacefully, oblivious and happy. That wish already existed in ancient Athens, and there is nothing wrong with it as such, except that it is not very realistic.
Interviewer: Do you think France will stick to its opposition against the US?
Longer than in Germany. Here in our country, the rivalry with America is more prominent. But at the moment, the people in the street are only asking themselves, how can we stand up against Bush? Saddam Hussein doesn’t come into the equation, and that is where my whole objection lies. Because the issue here is actually Saddam.
Bush is a challenge for American democracy; Aznar, the challenge for Spanish democracy. Why are there fewer protestors in France than in Spain, England or Italy? Because in Italy they fight Berlusconi, in Britain they fight Blair –- and in France they fight nobody.
But the overriding question remains: what about Saddam Hussein? If I may be a little moralistic here: I could not look at myself in the mirror if Saddam Hussein were still in power because I have been to a demonstration against Bush, and as a result, the people in Iraq had to live in this totalitarian regime for another twenty years.
André Glucksmann, French philosopher, interview on German Web site Info 3, March 31
This war for me has always been a fine judgment call, a choice between deeply shitty alternatives (my big argument with some in the anti-war campaign has been their belief that there are -- or were -- No-Die options in Iraq). Agnostic on the threat of weapons of mass destruction (though believing that Saddam would develop them if permitted to), sceptical on alleged Iraqi links with new Osama bin Laden-type groups, it finally came down to the lesser of these three evils: Saddam unchained; a "contained" Saddam plus sanctions and endless inspections; invasion and no Saddam. In the end, I chose the latter.
Even so, there has always been the possibility of a war that was worse even than another 20 years of Saddam, Uday, Qusay, Chemical Ali and Dr Germ. And there have been moments in the past few days when I have wondered whether we aren't fighting it.
... Kosovo was, most of us agree, "worth it." Worth it even though we hit the train on the bridge at Leskovac, killing 10, and the refugee convoy at Prizren in Kosovo which slaughtered more than 70. "Worth it" to both Robin Cook (then foreign secretary) and me. As was the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 or, in Afghanistan, the infamous missile attack on the gun-toting wedding party.
If this sounds callous, my answer is that we make choices like this all the time. Except no one rushes to the scene of motorway crashes to report on how an ill-timed phone-call, speeding, or pre-drive joint has left body parts scattered along the fast lane of the M6. We know it, but you still couldn't get 500 people to London to call for the end of the motor car. In Kosovo the scenes from the border justified our actions to us at a time when the action seemed most pointless and brutal. Right now, there are no pictures from Baghdad of the summary executions and the beheadings; Rageh Omar has not been taken to see those. Yet. But if we could see inside those buildings and speak to some of the families of victims, the calculation might change.
David Aaronovitch, "The Guardian," April 1
As a way to encourage democratization, an extended American occupation of Iraq would be just policy. Would a long-term occupation also be wise policy? That is the more difficult question. Since democratization will be more lengthy and difficult in Iraq than in postwar Japan, America will have to marshal its will and resources for a stressful and challenging enterprise. If the Iraqi returnees turn out to be poor democratizers, or if America finds it difficult to exercise great and lasting influence without quite seeming to do so, the chances of an Arab nationalist reaction or internal American divisions are high. Certainly, one reasonable response to this scenario is refusal to engage in a long-term occupation at all.
Yet the argument for a venture in democratic imperialism is also strong. In the long term, it may be our best insurance against the deadly and ever-spreading combination of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Particularly in the early stages, such a venture should concentrate on building up a modernizing and liberal class through education. An end-run around traditional structures will be more successful than direct assault. Someday, however, the time for a limited assault will come. Shifting administrative strategies are a feature of successful democratic imperialism. Only circumstances can dictate the balance between relatively indirect rule and reformist transformation.
Above all, should America undertake an extended occupation of Iraq, the dichotomy between realist caution and reformist liberalism will have to be transcended. Authentic democracy develops slowly. The trick is to encourage electoral experiments on the local level while still keeping hold of national power. Gradualism is not a betrayal of democratic principle. On the contrary, it is an insight bequeathed to us by the founders of liberalism itself.
Stanley Kurtz, "Policy Review," April 6
I understand why some dislike the idea, and fear the ramifications of, America as a liberator. But I do not understand why they do not see that anything is better than life with your face under the boot. And that any rescue of a people under the boot (be they Afghan, Kuwaiti or Iraqi) is something to be desired. Even if the rescue is less than perfectly realised. Even if the rescuer is a great, overmuscled, bossy, selfish oaf. Or would you, for yourself, choose the boot?
Michael Kelly, "New Republic," Feb. 26 (died April 2003 covering war in Iraq)
[April 7, 2003]
INDEX - AUTHOR