War coming

 A talk given at Long Branch Plantation, Clarke County, Virginia, on February 9, 2003…

It’s been almost exactly a year since I was here talking about the subject of terrorism. The title of my talk last year was “Terrorism — Some Unconventional Perspectives.”

This year I’m going to talk about a closely related subject, but one that is of much more immediate concern: the coming American war against Iraq.

Today, I have no choice but to speculate about the future, and that’s always very dangerous territory when one is discussing a region of the world as volatile and unstable as the Middle East. I’m not absolutely certain exactly how events will unfold over the next few weeks and months, but I can offer some scenarios that I think are probable, and they are not happy ones. I start with the conviction that our present administration has mishandled its whole approach to terrorism since the conclusion of its successful military victory in Afghanistan. I think many of the policies that we have adopted and actions we have taken have contributed directly to making the threat of terrorism even greater than it was a year ago. I think that our management of the so-called “war’ on terrorism has been unbalanced and poorly focused, resulting in confusion of our national objectives, weakening of our moral authority and consternation among our traditional allies.

The crowning example of poor crisis management is our Iraq policy today, and I will have a lot more to say about that in a minute.

First, let me review very quickly some of the points that I made a year ago, to establish a basis for my view that the United States has continued to misdiagnose many of the problems posed by the terrorist threat, and so has continued often to prescribe the wrong treatment for them. Then we’ll look ahead and consider how these questions are most likely to play out in the future, in my opinion…

I felt a year ago, as I continue to feel today, that the single greatest problem presently facing the United States — and the factor which poses the greatest risk to our future happiness and prosperity — is the enormous, and growing, gap between our economic and military strength and those of all other countries and groups of countries with which we can expect to stand in partnership or in competition — from the NATO Alliance all the way to the Al-Qa’ida Terrorist Network — and the understandable resentment, anger, misunderstanding and frustration that that gap engenders among both friends and antagonists of the United States everywhere. The gap is widening every day, and our failures as a nation to build bridges of understanding and sympathetic mutual support with other people on a wide range of issues (not just terrorism, by any means), continues to confound our friends, create new adversaries and critics, and frustrate our own ambitions to lead the world. (At the world summit conference on what to do about critical threats to our environment held in Johannesburg, South Africa, last year, thousands upon thousands of people wore T-shirts emblazoned with the question: “What are we going to do about the United States?” It wasn’t a joke, and it wasn’t meant as a complaint, either. It was a cry of dismay and desperation.)

Last year, we discussed at some length the nature of terrorism as a relatively new phenomenon in the modern world, and I expressed the belief that we need to develop new attitudes and new skills with which to combat the unique attributes and capabilities of our terrorist enemies. They are cunning and ruthless, and they are patient. They are not easily destroyed by bombs or deterred by bombast. Closely related to this point is my conviction that spectacularly brilliant and devastating displays of American military power, in the long run, only aggravate the feelings of futility, impotence, humiliation and despair that are the basic inspiration of terrorism. We need better ideas, not more efficient instruments of death.

We also need to improve our sensitivity to how others see us, so that our leadership can become more effective at galvanizing the support of allies in the struggle against terrorism — not just the cooperation of other governments and their military and intelligence services, but the sympathy and trust of common people all over the world. Because if the events of 9/11 demonstrated anything, it was that Americans do share many dangers with others, that we can not deal with those problems alone, and that earning the trust and support and cooperation of others in dealing with lethal threats to our country and to our way of life does, indeed, matter very much.

Last year I made an appeal that we treat the devastating atrocities of September Eleventh as a challenge to all civilized society, and that we recognize and celebrate the heroism of the victims of those tragedies not just as a triumph of American patriotism, but as living proof of the power and resilience of the human spirit on a universal scale. Remembering that citizens of eighty different countries died that day, I hoped that we would capitalize on the extraordinary outpouring of sympathy and support from all over the world as an opportunity to inspire the entire United Nations membership to build together a new international system to manage this terrible new threat. It was a great misfortune when that opportunity was lost. I was again reminded of that point just three days ago, when I was lucky to attend a meeting in Princeton chaired by a wonderful woman named Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and most recently the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. She described desperately poor areas of Asia and Africa and Latin America where literally hundreds of millions of people live today perpetually at the edge of death by starvation and disease, but where she has observed the growth of an intangible spirit of community solidarity and interdependence that is often literally the only thing keeping people alive. President Robinson used a word to describe this phenomenon. It’s a Gaelic word which she says has no English equivalent. It is still common in the more remote and traditional villages of Ireland. The word is “meahal”, which she said connotes a mystical spirit of connection to one’s neighbor. It was “meahal” that might have inspired America in the days after 9-11 to forge a new international spirit of cooperation in the community of nations with which to confront and defeat the sinister new threats that we all face. We almost caught it, but unfortunately we let that magical moment pass, and lost a priceless opportunity to recapture the moral leadership that this country once commanded. Already we are back to exulting in our own power, often, unfortunately, in the coarse vernacular language of our Wild West tradition.

We talked last year about the serious constraints that I feel President Bush has imposed on himself and on all the rest of us by broadly defining almost any type of violence against established order as terrorism, and thereby judging too many instances of conflict as a showdown between absolute good and absolute evil. His insistence on declaring anyone who is not 100 per cent on our side to be an enemy of freedom and civilization itself robs national policy of the flexibility and resilience that we need to meet the wide variety of problems we have to face in this complicated world. I’m going to mention a few examples of how this narrowing of options, this rigidly judgmental view of the world, has reduced the prospects for developing a much-needed new international institutional system for dealing with threats to peace and stability in today’s world. Before I do that, however, let me interject a new but closely related point that I have not mentioned before.

One very troubling manifestation of our arrogant certainty that we have been empowered to stand in judgment over others is the Bush administration’s recently announced decision to authorize the assassination of selected individuals suspected (but certainly not convicted) of being “enemies” of the United States. This policy decision must be confronted and assaulted by Americans of all political persuasions as a fundamental violation of everything this country stands for. Quite apart from the fact that it is ethically and legally repugnant, the tactic has been demonstrated again and again to be both futile and counter-productive. Israel’s employment of deliberate selective assassination of Palestinians (not just suspected terrorists, but also respectable potential leaders of their community) for more than half a century has done nothing but prolong and increase the terrorist threat under which all Israeli citizens live today. And I think it is quite evident that the murder of Christian missionary hospital workers in Yemen recently was in direct retaliation for the assassination of a suspected Arab terrorist in northern Yemen by the United States a few weeks earlier. Assassination does not work. It only compounds the problem and invites an endless cycle of murder and retaliation and more murder. And it corrupts the entire value system that we as Americans are trying so desperately to defend. This seemingly small (and virtually overlooked) new policy adopted (on questionable legal grounds) by this administration reflects their larger and deeper misconceptions of how the United States should conduct itself as a world leader — such as the larger companion doctrine of preemptive military intervention, even in places like Iraq, where no imminent threat to the security of the United States can be clearly defined. Moral clarity is not always quite as clear as some would have us believe. I have had some personal experiences in my professional career in the CIA that would illustrate that point very well.

The crux of our problem today lies in Iraq, as I’ve said. I’m going to lay out for you exactly why I think we have misdiagnosed the problem, and why I think the cure that we have in mind is the wrong prescription. At the start, I want to make the observation that the biggest mistake our policy-makers have made is to approach the problem of Iraq as they would conduct a computer war game somewhere in the bowels of the Pentagon. The only relevant questions seem to be “How much time will it take to destroy Saddam’s forces and disarm Iraq? How many men and machines will be needed to accomplish that objective? How many American casualties are we willing to sustain? How can we best minimize collateral damage — that is, civilian deaths? Feed those data into the computer and play the game. Then go do the job. Far too little thought appears to have been given to the unpredictable contingencies that are absolutely certain to occur during the military campaign, but even more certainly during the long and extremely difficult period after the initial invasion is over, when we will be stabilizing the country, sorting out the existing bureaucracy, judging and punishing those guilty of implementing Saddam’s bloody tyranny over the past thirty years, dividing and apportioning influence and power among Iraq’s fragmented and fractious ethnic communities, allocating the benefits of the country’s huge petroleum resources, guiding the new government toward peaceful relations with contentious regional neighbors like Israel, Iran, Turkey and Russia, and, finally, designing and then imposing a new system of governance that will fulfill our promises to the Iraqi people that our military occupation will usher in a golden era of peaceful and prosperous democracy. And those responsible today for rushing us into war seem totally oblivious to the effects that throwing a hand grenade into the highly inflammable Middle East today will have on the much larger al-Qa’ida terrorist movement that thrives and grows in at least five continents and in dozens of different countries. On top of all this, we know that the war will endanger and disrupt the lives of perhaps hundreds of thousands of American service personnel for several years, and probably cost all of us more than one hundred billion dollars in an already weak economy.

Momentous decisions like starting a shooting war (a real war, where men and women and children actually die — not a computer game) should demand of our leadership an infinitely complex cost-benefit analysis. Definition of the issues as simply “Winning the war” and then “Winning the peace”, cannot be evaluated in isolation from the human and material costs, and not in isolation from everything else going on in the world at the same time.

Today it seems very possible that the United States may attack Iraq even without the approval of the UN Security Council, which would mean without the enthusiastic approval and assistance of a broad international coalition, and with the reluctant acquiescence of several regional governments that are being bribed or coerced to lend minimal support. It seems clear that even if a majority of the Security Council approves the use of force by a US-led coalition, it will do so with disquiet and with much less than total enthusiasm — a situation that will certainly deprive our government of the moral authority that most Americans feel is an essential requirement.

I guess it’s obvious that I am one of those who very strongly oppose going to war against Iraq without a clear and unambiguous mandate from the United Nations Security Council, and I want to explain exactly why I feel that way. I’ll lay out my reasoning as clearly as I can, and then ask you to challenge my conclusions.

I’m sure we all agree that Iraq is in possession of significant stores of chemical and biological weapons, and that Saddam has both the capability and the intent to continue to produce that kind of weapons of mass destruction unless he is eliminated or deterred from acting on those intentions. He has practiced deception to hide many of his weapons, and has lied and cheated to confound the UN inspections process at every opportunity for twelve years. He is, without any doubt whatsoever, in flagrant material breech of UN Security Council Resolution 1441, passed exactly three months ago. None of those facts is in doubt. But let’s not swallow a camel only to choke on a gnat by basing our judgment solely on that obviously important but not necessarily final and overriding legal technicality. Are we looking for a way to manage a potential future threat by peaceful means, if possible? Or are we just looking for a technical justification for a massive military assault on another country? Is this a patient search for a statesmanlike solution to a dangerous world crisis, or is it just an impatient search for an excuse to start showing how efficiently America can employ its new lethal instruments of violence and death?

George Bush and his team have offered many reasons why Iraq must be disarmed immediately and Saddam Hussein removed from power. Every one of these justifications has been given prominence at one time or another, but seldom has more than one been cited consistently and in combination with any other, which has resulted in what most of the world considers an incoherent explanation of America’s ultimate purpose. Is it self defense in the face of an imminent threat to American security? Is it to punish Iraq for some still vague and ill-defined role in support of world terrorism? Is it regime change — the first step toward the overthrow of all three parts of the Axis of Evil? Could it be intended secretly as a way of intimidating the Muslim World as a whole, to discourage the further rise of Islamic radicalism? Is it an act of public service to the world to prevent the proliferation of all weapons of mass destruction? Is it to gain control of Middle East oil? Is it just a way to show American voters that this administration is led by men who are brave and decisive and patriotic? Is it motivated primarily by a stubborn desire to settle an old injury to the Bush family’s pride? Or maybe the war against Iraq has been contrived by a few key persons with a hidden agenda to advance Israel’s strategic plans? Is it the first step toward a complete makeover of the whole Middle East, and the creation of a completely new set of reliable allies committed to low oil prices, peace with Israel and Jeffersonian democracy?

I can’t possibly take the time to list all of the explanations offered by the Bush administration or by experts who claim to know exactly what is behind this seemingly inexplicable rush to start killing people in Iraq. Nor will I attempt to discuss in any depth why I think every one of those notions has in it an important grain of truth, but why every one is also significantly flawed. Instead, I’ll mention just a few of the most obvious and the most serious justifications being presented by proponents of war, and try to say just enough about each to give you something about which to challenge me later if you think I’m wrong.

1. Reason Number One: Iraq poses an imminent threat to its neighbors and to the United States, justifying immediate pre-emptive attack under the doctrine of self-defense. Answer: Iraq’s once-formidable military machine is a fraction the size that it was during the Iraq-Iran War in the 1980’s, or when Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990. Its conventional forces are positioned hundreds of miles from any neighbor, and Iraq has no reason to attack any of its neighbors anyway. It has no capability at present to produce nuclear weapons and no long-range missile system by which to deliver them. Very importantly, Iraq has no place to test either a nuclear bomb or a long-range missile without immediate detection. We can therefore scratch “self defense” against conventional or nuclear war as a just cause to launch an immediate preemptive war ourselves to save the American people from imminent danger. Rubbish!

2. Reason Number Two: Iraq possesses stores of biological and chemical weapons capable of killing masses of people. Saddam’s record proves that he has no compunctions about using such weapons against anyone. He has managed to retain these lethal resources by elaborate deceit and deception over a period of many years. Because of his evil character and his malevolent intentions, he must be disarmed and rendered militarily impotent. Answer: Iraq could conceivably attack a near-by enemy with biological or chemical weapons delivered by short-range missiles, by conventional artillery, or by aerial bombs. That’s probably not exactly true at this time, but it is conceivable, and therefore worth worrying about. However, any of those means of delivery would leave no doubt about where the attack came from, leading to inevitable massive retaliation by the world community, just as happened in 1990. If it were Israel that was attacked, the response against Iraq might well be nuclear. You can call Saddam a ruthless tyrant, but there is no rational cause to base our national strategy on the calculation that he is a reckless suicidal maniac. It might also be argued that Iraq could deliver biological or chemical agents clandestinely by commercial shipping container, in a suitcase, by car across a land border, or even by international mail. No return address. Doing this presents some very complex technical problems which Iraq has probably not yet mastered, but let’s concede again that this threat is at least theoretically feasible sometime in the future. However, biological and chemical weapons can be produced in a small mobile van, or so Colin Powell testified before the United Nations last week. Literally hundreds of countries or independent terrorist organizations could, and many probably are, producing such agents — in government laboratories, in remote mountain caves, in veterinary clinics or even in private kitchens in Hoboken, New Jersey or perhaps in dozens of other places all over the world. This is not rocket science. It can be argued that Saddam might donate these materials to terrorists, but then so could at least half a dozen other countries do the same. Large-scale conventional warfare is not the instrument with which to oppose that kind of shadowy threat. Faulty diagnosis, inappropriate remedy. How many times can we deal with similar threats in the future if we don’t take the trouble to build multilateral institutional systems for dealing with these problems on a global scale? Our president is playing the role of a self-appointed policeman, not that of a universally respected world leader.

3. Reason Number Three: It’s common these days for administration spokespersons or apologists to explain that, if permitted to defy the United Nations and the United States now, Iraq will eventually acquire usable weapons of mass destruction and will be in a position to threaten its neighbors and the world community at will. In possession of a nuclear bomb, it is said, Saddam will be able to deter even the United States from taking action to curb his ambitions to become another little tin-horn copy of Adolf Hitler. The proof of this danger is right before our eyes, we are told: the great and powerful American tiger is being rendered toothless by that loathsome little creep in Pyongyang with the poofy hairstyle and the peculiar name — Kim Jong Il. Answer: Ah, yes, North Korea. We are announcing publicly that we are indeed flummoxed by that pesky little rascal. It poses a totally different threat than the one posed by Saddam Hussein, we are advised. This evil character is already dangerous, which Saddam is not. We can attack and defeat Iraq; North Korea might put up a serious fight. The problem is simply that Kim has been taking very careful note of everything that George W. Bush has been saying about him, and scrutinizing the president’s body language when he does so. These observations seem to have convinced the Korean, no expert on the nuances of Texan language and cowboy postures, that his name is writ large on George W. Bush’s hit list, and when he sees preparations for the elimination of Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong What’s-His-Name figures he’s going to be the next victim. Perhaps that “Axis of Evil” quip, which seemed to have such a cute ring to it at the time, really was a bit too sophomoric, after all. Will whacking Saddam contribute to cooling down the Korean crisis? Will it convey any comprehensible signals to other oriental observers? Will it establish any constructive legal precedents? You take your choice. I know what I think.

4. Reason Number Four: Iraq has failed to comply fully with seventeen United Nations Resolutions over the past dozen years, and that kind of arrogant disregard for international law and order cannot be allowed to go unpunished. The “relevance” of the United Nations is at stake. To uphold the credibility of the institution that was created to preserve peace, we are prepared to go to war, with or without a mandate to do so from the United Nations itself. (Hello?) Answer: There’s a small problem with that rationale. There happens to be a much longer list, going back much further in history, of United Nations resolutions that have been totally ignored by Israel without so much as a murmur of dissent from Washington. In a world where all Arabs, and a billion other Muslims around the globe, are studying every move made and every word spoken by the president of the United States, looking for any glimmer of hope that America will support a fair and equitable solution to that agonizing problem, this flagrant double standard is infuriating. I was reminded of this just recently, when I found in my own records the original texts of letters written by Richard Nixon to King Faisal of Saudi Arabia in 1973 and 1974 in which the American president repeatedly committed himself in the clearest possible language to support the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 242 “in all its parts”. This resolution, originally passed in June 1967, called for Israel’s withdrawal from the territories that it had occupied in the course of the 1967 war, followed by recognition and acceptance of Israel by all the Arab states. The Arabs leaders all have copies of those letters, and they also have copies of the recently-released minutes of a meeting held at the State Department on the afternoon of October 23rd, 1973, in the middle of the Yom Kippur War. The terms of Resolution 242 had just been reaffirmed by the Security Council. Henry Kissinger assured his senior staff at this meeting, however, that this action by the Security Council would not create any inconvenience or interfere with his plans for management of the existing crisis. He joked with them about the futility of anyone trying to implement Resolution 242 because some of its terms were so conveniently imprecise. He said of the resolution that (quote) “while it calls for immediate implementation, this is impossible even with good will, since no one knows what 242 means.” Then Kissinger continued: “That is like what Palmerston said about the Schleswig-Holstein question — that only three people ever understood it, and one was dead, the other was in an insane asylum, and he was the third, and he had forgotten.” The top-secret minutes of that meeting then indicate in parentheses (“Laughter”). The letters written to King Faisal by President Nixon, by the way, solemnly conveying his personal promise as well as the official commitment of the United States Government to support the full implementation of Resolution 242, were delivered to the dignified and trusting old Saudi King in the weeks immediately following those supremely cynical and sneering remarks made by his Nobel Peace Prize winning Secretary of State, the Honorable Henry Kissinger. So much for the honor and integrity of the United States of America, and for the sanctity of its obligations to uphold resolutions of the United Nations Security Council — in this case, a critically important resolution that the United States had helped to draft, and which it had urgently sponsored.

5. Reason Number Five: Many foreign policy experts today, especially those concerned with the extremely sensitive question of international arms control and disarmament, are baffled and distressed at the Bush administration’s claim that it is would be making a major contribution to world peace by invading Iraq and taking Saddam Hussein’s illegal weapons away from him. These experts believe that in fact the results of a war, particularly if the war is started without a clear and strong mandate from the United Nations, will result in a major setback to ongoing efforts by the world community to solve the much larger and more challenging problem of ending further proliferation of weapons of mass destruction on the global level. That will be especially true if, as seems very likely, the United States impatiently and dismissively elbows the United Nations out of the way and proceeds to start a war on its own authority and in pursuit of its own set of objectives — in other words, before many members of the world community have been persuaded that the UN inspections teams presently in Iraq have been given sufficient time to carry out their responsibilities under Resolution 1441.

What responsible experts believe is needed to deal with this very serious problem is the creation of an improved and reinvigorated international system, managed under United Nations authority, for imposing effective sanctions on violators of existing and future non-proliferation agreements, and then for monitoring and verifying compliance with those agreements on a long-term basis by a unified international community. In other words, the control of weapons of mass destruction everywhere in the world, and not just in Iraq alone, will depend ultimately on the development of an efficient working system of weapons inspections identical in purpose and function to the admittedly imperfect system that Hans Blix and Mohammad Baradei are trying to manage today in Iraq. Unfortunately, however, going back many years, but particularly during the three months since Resolution 1441 was passed unanimously by the Security Council this past November, all the public statements on the subject of weapons inspection and verification in Iraq made by U.S. officials have been sneeringly derogatory and dismissive. Inspections will never work, we hear from American officials and politicians. They’re a waste of time. Only limp-wristed “liberals” and over-educated “internationalists” are naive enough to hope that an inspections system can ever be developed that will work effectively. These verbal attacks on UNSCOM and UNMOVIC pointedly fail to note the fact that in the years since the end of the first Gulf War, UN inspectors have discovered and destroyed much larger quantities of illegal Iraqi military materiel than the U.S. Air Force was able to destroy during the conflict itself. The numbers are actually very impressive. Admittedly far from perfect, the UN weapons inspection regime has historically worked remarkably well. Modern technology is steadily enhancing its capabilities. What the system needs is strong moral and political support from the international community, especially the United States — and a little patience. If we cannot perfect such a system for use in comparable situations in other parts of the world in future years, what are we going to do about the dangerous proliferation problem? Without the United Nations taking charge of this vital function, will the United States alone have to endanger the lives of its servicemen and spend huge amounts of its citizens’ money on a military intervention every time some rinky-dink dictator somewhere is suspected of cooking up a batch of anthrax soup? What are we thinking of when we thoughtlessly and shortsightedly dismiss and denigrate a multilateral cooperative effort by our international neighbors and partners to make our world a safer and more law-abiding community?

I have to say that I take strong exception to assurances that we hear every day from the advocates of war that an American military occupation of Iraq will lead quickly to the liberalization of other totalitarian regimes in the region like Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt. In fact, I believe that the transparent attempt on the part of Washington today to give preemptive war a democratic face, and thus to justify it to the American people and to the rest of the world as a moral crusade, is shamelessly cynical and insincere. The obstacles that stand in the way of a smooth transition to anything like a working democracy in any of those countries are simply enormous. Democracy rises from the will of the people governed. It works only in societies that have well-established institutions that support an equitable social contract between government and people. It cannot be successfully imposed from above on a totally inexperienced populace by an alien invader through force of arms, especially when the recipient society has a very long tradition of domestic violence and lacks any semblance of homogeneity. Anyone who says that such an expectation is realistic is being intellectually dishonest with himself, or deliberately deceitful with the rest of us. There is no way that this can be accomplished while Iraq, of all places, is under authoritarian occupation by an American army. Furthermore, even if the Iraqi people should welcome American soldiers with open arms in the streets of Baghdad on the day the fighting ends and the hated Saddam is dead, (which is quite likely) the Arab World as a whole will be made implacably hostile by the humiliating reality that blue-eyed Christian boys from North America have taken full control over an entire Arab and Muslim country in the very midst of them all. That we might promise to sprinkle magic American “democracy dust” in everyone’s eyes all over the region will do absolutely nothing to diminish the anger and resentment that the Arab peoples will feel at this outrageous imperialist intervention. Human nature does not take kindly to intrusion by aliens. Every Arab youth anywhere who nurses a grievance against Israel, against America, or against his own government (are there any Arab youths today who don’t have genuine grievances of that kind?) will feel deeply shamed and humiliated by an American takeover of Iraq. His reaction will most certainly not be to start diligent study of Thomas Jefferson’s political philosophy. Can we possibly expect any Arab passively to accept tutelage (especially while under military occupation) from an American high commissioner on how to reorder the fundamental structure of his traditional society? And remember a few more hard facts: At least sixty per cent of Iraq ‘s population consists of Shia Muslims. Add to that number the expected return to Iraq of hundreds of thousands of Shia refugees now living in Iran, anxious to repossess their property stolen by Saddam’s Sunni Muslim loyalists. An honest national election would almost certainly mean capture of political power by this bitterly vengeful community, strongly hostile by long tradition to the Sunnis who have dominated and persecuted them mercilessly for centuries. Remember also that Osama bin Ladin’s first and most provocative appeal to his Sunni Muslim followers around the whole world was a call for the expulsion of alien infidel soldiers from the sacred heartland of his faith, especially the areas of Arabia encompassing the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. And where is the comparable sacred heartland of Shia Islam? The cities of Najaf and Kerbala, right in the dead center of Iraq. The relatively few American servicemen in Arabia are tucked away unobtrusively on air force bases well removed from the population centers, where they literally have no visibility and no daily contact with the people of the country. And still their presence is a major source of irritation and resentment. The American forces in Iraq, on the other hand, will be an army of occupation by any definition. They will try to convince people that they are there as liberators, but don’t count on many people believing that for very long. They will be mixing it up directly with the people of Iraq, because it will be their business to maintain internal stability and to prevent violence from breaking out between the many different ethnic factions. Within a very short time, the American military presence will become a major irritant. If we encourage a democratic form of government, that suggests freedom of expression for all the people. It also means open political competition. I would therefore bet my bottom dollar that whatever political interest group fails to achieve control of the country through the electoral process will immediately begin to use the presence of large numbers of American occupation forces in the country as a rallying cry of opposition. Remember that to Arabs throughout the Middle East, who see television images every day of what they perceive to be brutal Israeli tactics against their cousins in Palestine, the concept of an American military presence in Iraq will seem very comparable. Do we want our children and grandchildren cast in the same role as the Israeli occupiers of Bethlehem?

Immediately on taking over Iraq, we will need to set up a front man — someone like Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. Our man will need to establish his credibility as an Iraqi patriot, as an Arab nationalist, and, because he will be labeled universally as a stooge of the Americans, he will have to demonstrate that he maintains some independence from us. He’ll be required, in the meantime, to prove to his American sponsors and protectors that he is imbued with democratic idealism. All of that put together will mean, I predict, that he will very quickly declare his undying opposition to Israeli policies in Palestine, prompting nervous inquiries from pro-Israel members of the U.S. Congress. (“I thought you promised us a tame Arab this time!”). To demonstrate that he’s no stooge of Exxon-Mobil, and to broaden his international constituency, he will probably also welcome French, Russian and Chinese delegations looking for lucrative oil development contracts. (More grumbling from Congress — this time, no doubt, from representatives of Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.) Because it will take him time to establish his own grip on political power, our new front man will of course regretfully postpone promised elections for a few years. You can see a familiar pattern developing. The American troops, in the meantime, sick of life in a tent in the desert (not quite like the geisha houses of Tokyo or the beer halls of Munich) will be agitating to get home to wives and sweethearts. Tired of paying the huge bills to sustain an unhappy army of occupation in a faraway hostile desert, especially with an American economy diving into deficit and jobs still hard to find, the attention span of the American taxpayer will soon reach its limits — long before the job in Iraq is satisfactorily completed. Visiting Congressmen will be only too anxious to support all these very understandable complaints, and the job will seem less and less urgent as the 2004 presidential elections approach and the opinion polls turn negative.

I have mentioned previously the tendency of supporters of an Iraq war to consider that problem in isolation from other events and potential contingencies elsewhere in the world. Shall we talk for awhile about the unfinished tasks and expenditures, to say nothing of the dangers, still ahead of us in Afghanistan? And what if, in the middle of the first week of the war in Iraq, some radical fundamentalist shoots President Parvez Musharraf in Pakistan? Remember that only a few months ago the Muslim fundamentalist political parties in Pakistan shocked the world by doing much better in national elections than anyone imagined was possible — giving them control of the two large provinces of Pakistan that lie adjacent to Afghanistan, including the vast untamed frontier areas where the Taliban and al-Qa’ida survivors of last year’s war in Afghanistan are rapidly reassembling and gathering strength for a comeback. If their sympathizers should take over the central government in Pakistan — a development that would become more likely in the unstable environment created by an American invasion of Iraq — we would have to grapple with the nightmare of a hundred million radical Muslims in possession of nuclear bombs. We could expect that India would immediately launch a preemptive war of its own in that event, justifying its action in terms identical to the rationale of the Bush Doctrine. At that point, friends, the wheels really come off the American bandwagon all over the whole region. Thank goodness, you might say, that we have had the foresight to build large and expensive new airbases in three former Soviet Muslim republics of Central Asia, all ruled today by corrupt totalitarian holdovers from communist days. Without them as allies, how in the world will we manage to fight three major wars in that region all at once? (We can worry about installing democratic regimes in that area after George Bush has successfully done so in half a dozen Arab countries first.)

Regarding the Israel-Palestine situation, I have a few things to say, especially because I am a firm believer in the critical linkage that exists between that issue and American policy toward Iraq. I believe it will prove to have been a tragic error in judgment that the United States has decided to storm ahead with its unprovoked invasion of Iraq before taking steps to restore some level of American credibility as a peacemaker between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The emphasis placed by the Bush administration on justifying military action against Iraq on the grounds that Saddam Hussein has failed to implement past UN Security Council resolutions, as I have already mentioned, strikes Palestinians and many others around the world as total hypocrisy, depriving us of ever more authority and leverage in that tragic conflict. Because the perception exists that the U.S. applies a double standard with respect to the Palestinian situation, the whole structure of American credibility and justification for its actions in Iraq collapses before the eyes of spectators in the streets of a hundred cities in the Middle East and around the world. George Bush makes no secret of his warm admiration and respect for the brutish bully Ariel Sharon, while demanding that the Palestinians, as a necessary first step in the direction of their conversion to democracy, throw out their democratically elected president, whom Bush publicly denounces as corrupt and ineffectual, and with whom he refuses to meet. Arafat is not Nelson Mandela, and he is not universally admired even by Palestinians. But he is a democratically elected representative of his people. For an American president to pronounce him illegitimate and to call for his arbitrary removal from office is no way to start off when we are trying to persuade Palestinians to behave like model citizens of a democratic state. Here I’ll quote one of my favorite gurus, Tom Friedman, who wrote a few weeks ago from Cairo: (Quote) ” Why is George Bush so intensely disliked (in the Arab World)? The biggest factor remains the Bush team’s seeming indifference to making any serious effort to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict when so much killing is going on. The Administration’s refusal to apply any creative imagination to defusing this conflict, and even belittling it while calling Ariel Sharon a “man of peace” , has embittered the Arab public. This now clouds everything we do (in the region): Invading Iraq is cast as a war to protect Israel. Democratization is cast as a way to punish Arabs… I am convinced (Friedman continues) that much of the anger over U.S. policy is really a cry for help from people who know what they have to do — to democratize, to liberalize their economies — and who know that they will be lost for another 50 years if they don’t, but can’t do it because these ideas are promoted by a power, the United States, that they feel is indifferent to their deepest hurt.”

What the Arab peoples yearn for today are societies in which their valued traditions will be preserved, and in which the unique and precious qualities of their culture and social value system will flourish. What they want also are governments that are open and accountable to the people, where authority is administered honestly and fairly — where the rule of law is observed and respected. But the psychology of weakness, futility and impotence that pervades Arab society today must be changed if progress toward those goals is to be achieved. And the United States can contribute to that vitally important need, not by arrogant dictation or by repeated displays of awesome military superiority, but by standing resolutely for our own core principles of fairness and the defense of human dignity when we are dealing with their aspirations, and by reasserting America’s historic role of moral leadership in attacking this egregious case of unfairness and injustice.

So I strongly protest that President Bush and his advisers have not been honest with the American people. As I see it, no one in the administration has presented a fair and realistic picture of the whole package of risks and costs that will be involved in a war against Iraq. Most shameful of all, I believe, is the argument being used increasingly this week in favor of proceeding with the war because American “credibility” will suffer if we give up and come home without firing any shots in anger. No one, meanwhile, has even mentioned the damage that we would be doing to the effectiveness and credibility of the United Nations as a much-needed partner in future crises around the globe if we dismiss the UN now as irrelevant and ineffective. So much for my forlorn entreaty last year that the phenomenon of terrorism, a universal threat to all civilized nations, might inspire world leaders to create a new system for dealing cooperatively with this menace to all of us. The Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, of all people, has declared that the willingness of the United Nations to support the narrowly-defined national objectives of one superpower must not be accepted as the criterion by which the relevance of the whole United Nations organization is judged. He had it right.

Let me wind up by drawing again on some of the thoughts that were central to my discussion with you here last year. I still believe that the greatest burden we Americans are carrying into the 21st Century is the overwhelming preponderance of our own economic and military strength, and the psychological conflicts that this engenders in others and also in ourselves. It will not be our ability to assert our great physical power that will determine whether we win the war on terrorism to which we are already deeply committed, the war against Iraq that we are apparently soon to initiate, and other impending conflicts toward which I believe our present policies and attitudes are rapidly propelling us. Rather, our success and continued peace and prosperity will depend more on how gracefully we manage to carry that burden of dominance over the rest of the world, and how skillfully we discharge the responsibilities that this unique good fortune necessarily imposes on us. If we are to succeed, we will truly have to make a “U-turn” in our attitudes, right now, and we will have to start by somehow recapturing the role of moral leadership in the world that has been our greatest heritage as a people. America must lead the world by serving the world, not by bullying it.

I want to close now by reminding you of some powerful words once written by Dwight Eisenhower, one of America’s greatest soldiers, who led the world’s most powerful army against one of history’s cruelest and most evil despots. He was a man of war, but a man who knew the limits and dangers of power. He had the sensitivity and humility to be a man of peace, who spoke out from his heart against the dangers of arrogance and excessive national pride. (I don’t need to remind anyone here that Ike was an American first, but a proud and resolute standard-bearer for the Republican Party, as well). This is what President Eisenhower said almost exactly fifty years ago, in April 1953. His words should resonate today everywhere in this great country:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. … This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

Raymond H. Close

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2003/02/09/war-coming/

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