UNTIL ALL ACHIEVE WELL-BEING

Welcome to the Sunday, October 06, 2002 issue of this Peace&Justice action email! 

This email addresses the issue of war with Iraq.  It departs from the standard form of giving a brief description, action, and fuller background.  In this case, things are changing so fast that one of my intended actions was just made obsolete as I was writing it.  Yet the topic is of such scope that remaining silent seems terribly amiss.  So instead I will sketch out the terrain from a sense of the “well-being of all” and suggest a possible action at the end that has its sights on (a) the formative debate in the US Senate, and (b) the approaching decision-time for US allies regarding their position on the UN – US relations.

 

Whose Well-being?

Firstly, whose well-being is at stake?  One can distinguish at least the following groups:

a.       The forgotten ordinary Iraqi, who has suffered for over 10 years, many who have died or suffer terribly from lack of drugs, adequate food, etc. (the issue of sanctions is below).  If Saddam is toppled, whether by war or internally, AND the replacement is better, then their life will improve.

b.      The nearby enemies of Saddam Hussein, who suffer the more as Saddam rebuilds his weapons.

c.       The potential Iraqis who may be bombed if there is a war.

d.      The potential US citizens who may be killed if the script “Saddam rebuilds weapons of mass destruction and uses them or gives them to terrorists” is correct.

e.       The potential citizens of many Islamic and non-Islamic countries if the script “war with Saddam will ignite the fermenting unrest” is correct and war occurs.

 

[Pushing the well-being of “all” to its limits, the list would also include Saddam Hussein.  Not sentimentality, this says the first step, even for his own sake, is to stop his destructive, repugnant ways which has seemingly irreparably charred any sense of humanity in him.  As noted below, “trust” is not the next step for a thoroughly entrenched manipulator;  rather, clear, tightly controlled steps are].

 

The list is not exhaustive, nor is it intended as a prelude for some utilitarian cost-benefit analysis.  It is primarily meant as a broadening of the dominant script which is focused mainly on the threat to American lives.   I try to envision having a child dwelling in each group.  With limitations, it nonetheless does evoke an appropriate first response of “How do we save them all?” and could never dismiss a group.

 

Whose Script? and the Pros/Cons

Secondly, I will list the most compelling insights that arise from the dominant script and its alternatives.  The dominant script (White House and British Prime Minister Tony Blair) briefly says: 

Hussein cannot be trusted, has rebuffed UN resolutions, is rebuilding his military and attempting to rebuild his weapons of mass destruction (WMD), he has previously used them on his nearby enemies and his own people; he has harbored non-al Qaida terrorists, and there is a recent al Qaida link.  Therefore should inspections fail, the threat is so grave that the Saddam Hussein regime must be changed now while it is weaker.  To fail to do so is to allow him to follow an inevitable trajectory and risk a future attack on the US using WMD either by Hussein or al Qaida.  (details: Bush's Resolution to Congress; Blair Outlines Iraqi Evidence)

 

Points of Agreement (entire first sentence):

1.      Hussein absolutely cannot be trusted;  he is as ruthless as they come, repulsively so..

2.      He has rebuffed the UN & is rebuilding;

3.      He has previously used WMD;

4.      He has harbored terrorists;

5.      There is at least one substantiated report of a high-ranking al Qaida leader in Baghdad.

 

From these points I feel that a very strong, clear, tightly controlled call for the return of UN Inspections is in order, and I agree with the US that the old UN mandate may continue to be too problematic.  I tend to side with France’s two-stage resolution.  Regardless, this is the only scenario that might “save all my children”, unlikely as it might be.

 

OVERALL CONCERN:  Events are moving much faster than facts warrant or than is prudent

The trajectory of the above dominant script cannot be fully discounted.  However improbable it makes me fear for my child in America.  But the dominant script lacks balance in that it never raises up the equal fear of the possible consequences OF acting.  That is, Mr. Bush said American intelligence now believe that tens of thousands of potential terrorists have been trained by Al Qaeda and "are now spread throughout the world like ticking time bombs — set to go off without warning."  What better way to set them off than a war with Iraq?  Below are the most prominent points for wanting a fuller debate.

 

(It should be noted that like the dominant script’s 2nd and 3rd sentences, most of the following points are probabilities).

 

1.      Why now?  I am deeply uneasy about the timing, partly suspicious of either manipulation by the dominant script or a too-rigid single-mindedness by its leaders.  Hussein’s rebuilding has been gradual (and thus of chief concern to my child in Group (b), plus it also further drains funds away from my child in Group (a)).  Thus for sure I don’t want this continued, although over all these years that has not been motivation to act.  So why this sudden need to act? 

a.       Blair’s most cogent analysis of Iraqi evidence lacks anything startlingly new that says “Look at that – we must act immediately!”   The best argument is simply that a growing accumulation of hunches is producing a growing need to act.  That may be valid, but the language used is black and white.  As such it distorts reality and lessens the ability to make the best choices.

b.      Saddam Hussein wants to live.  As Thomas Friedman says, he is homicidal not suicidal (New York Times article), a clear distinction from the al Qaida terrorists that has been blurred.  Saddam knows an attack on the US would mean lethal retaliation.  Friedman is much more concerned with the al Qaida terrorists where martyrdom is a benefit.  Any war will drain incredible resources from the task of  properly addressing the al Qaida terrorism.

c.       What political undercurrents may be at work?  Many American commentators are troubled by the juxtaposition of this call to possible war and the following events: the dismal results from the Osama / terrorist hunt (a war with Iraq makes a good deflection);  an American faltering economy (talk of war makes a good distraction);  and the upcoming Congressional race (even George Sr. waited until after the elections when he was president.  Again the question: what new evidence was so earthshaking that it couldn’t wait a few more weeks?).  No one is suggesting that these are prime reasons for shifting focus onto Iraq, only that one cannot easily discount they can play an influence, subtle or otherwise.  Again to the extent that they do, they distort reality and thus making the best choices.

2.      The questionable Saddam – al Qaida link.  As argued by Daniel Benjamin (on the National Security Council in the 1990’s) in the NYT, Saddam and Iraq, by being so secular, are named as future targets of al Qaida, though not to be destroyed but rather taken-over and reformed.  The point is that no strong link between the two has been established and probably with good reason.  That doesn’t mean that al Qaida might never get WMD from Hussein via infiltration or mutual dirty deals; it does mean I am wary of anyone putting much weight on that threat, though for my child in America, I won’t completely discount it.   

3.      The repercussions of war are potentially more damaging than the intended solution.

a.       Attacking Iraq without provocation could ignite anti-American sentiment around the world, disrupting efforts to weaken terrorist networks. Any attack would also further destabilize a Middle East already inflamed by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

b.      A War Would Kill Thousands of People.  An assault on Baghdad would result in far more American casualties than the war in Afghanistan. And the toll on Iraqis would be far higher. Preliminary Pentagon estimates say that an invasion of Iraq could lead to the deaths of 10,000 innocent civilians.

c.       Invading Iraq Would Be Difficult and Costly.

i.         Invading Iraq will not be nearly as easy as removing the Taliban from power. Although Hussein’s army has been weakened, Iraq’s forces remain large enough to put up a formidable defense (around 450,000, some of dubious loyalty).  They will be far more determined to defend Baghdad than they were to defend Kuwait City.

ii.       Hussein and his 80,000 elite, loyal troops will likely place themselves in Baghdad among ordinary people, the equivalent of trying to fight in a denser Los Angeles.  Apart from the casualties, consider the images that would be flashed around the Islamic world.  This in itself is reason to give serious pause.

iii.      Surprisingly, according to Nicholas Kristov, don’t count on Iraqis to suddenly join the campaign to oust Hussein if it is seen as tinged with US-serving motives (Stones of Baghdad)

iv.     It is estimated that any full-scale invasion will cost up to 60 -100 billion dollars.

v.       Hussein himself, if he feels he will die, is likely to try to take as many with him as possible;

 

d.      Victory is Elusive.  Even if the US does overthrow Hussein, what next? As the experience in Afghanistan shows, throwing out a government is easier than putting a new one together.  My child in Iraq, if he survives the war, may find herself in chaos and then a fundamentalist Islamic alternative.

e.       History will likely repeat itself.  In 1983 Rumsfield posed with Saddam Hussein, at the time a convenient ally against Iran.  What unsavory alliances have, are and will be made this time, that in the future may come back to haunt us?  Are we failing to learn something here?

4.      Pre-emptive Policy:  The notion of pre-emptive action sets such troubling world precedents.  While India-Pakistan is the common example of possible consequences if people use the idea (and détente may hold them back though I don’t want to find out), I think it is on the smaller scale conflicts that pre-emptive licence would spiral things out of control.  Ethically, not all slopes are necessarily slippery, but this one is.

On October 7, President Bush will address such above voices.  Clearly he is feeling the pressure, and I believe justifiably so.  He will argue that Hussein is unpredictable ( I agree within the limits of 1(b)), and that the US will rebuild Iraq (for my children in Iraq that is good if done properly.  The example of Afghanistan, where things remain on the brink of collapse due to US refusal to secure more than a single city and where it had earlier made deals with warlords, is not reassuring).

 

ALTERNATIVES

These are only sketches and are best seen as mutually inclusive.   The point is that serious debate on alternatives has not been on the radar screen very much.

1.      The carrot and stick approach.  Jim Wallis of Sojourners has advocated this approach.  It involves creative use of sanctions (and their lifting) and other international strategies.  Not well fleshed out and susceptible to a master manipulator, it is nonetheless worth more effort to develop tight, closely controlled scenarios.

2.      Local Power Change:  One approach, based on the successful “non-violent” regime changes of the past 50 years, involves the local people taking power themselves, which only works at certain points.  Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVal argue that Iraq is well suited for this style of change (With Weapons of the Will).

3.      Marshal Plan in Afghanistan:  While US President Bush committed the US to such a plan (April 18), the inaction speaks volumes (Washington Post article), notwithstanding the difficulty of the task.  Yet long-term it is so suited both to help the Afghan people and to address the roots of terrorism by showing that the Western world can contribute in a way that respects the Islamic people.  If done properly, it eventually undercuts the images and spiteful portraits.  See Marshall Plan.  It can win over hearts.  So why so completely divert efforts from an action that could build true, legitimate inroads against terrorism? 

 

US Citizens:  The debate in the US is occurring right now and will end in a few days.  You can let your concerns be known.  Below is the contact lookup.  Personally I’d pay the $4-$5 and have it hand delivered, though it is hard to see how the die has not already been cast:  But the question of how much free-reign to give President Bush has not been fully resolved. 

LETTERS TO CONGRESS:  www.congress.org

You can also sign a petition stating your opposition to war until there is more hard evidence.

PETITION:  www.moveon.org/nowar/

Non-US citizens:  You can let your representative know your concerns.  Keep watching the news – if the US votes for unilateral action on condition that the UN inspections fail, and the UN refuses to sanction war, the US will be looking for support.

Canadian MP lookup:

     www.parl.gc.ca/information/about/people/house/PostalCode.asp?Source=SM

British MP Lookup:

   www.parliament.uk/directories/directories.cfm

Australia MP Lookup:

   www.aph.gov.au/house/members/index.htm

 

Misc. Reading:

Original UN Resolution

Washington Post: Pro/Con

Susan Sontag: Real Battles and Empty Metaphors

Francis Fukuyama: “U.S. vs. Them”


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Rod Downing
rdowning@istar.ca.

Surrey BC Canada
(604) 535-6550