Eye on the Empire
by Alan Bock

August 20, 2002

Choosing Up Sides

We're still not seeing anything close to a full debate, let alone any signal that anybody in a position to make it stick will demand a formal congressional declaration of war before the United States attacks Iraq. But a few skeptics and even opponents of a unilateral attack are beginning to come out of the woodwork. It will be fascinating to see if they have any serious impact.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is visiting President Bush at his ranch in Texas this week, and it is likely to be something of a war council. But the two might have to spend at least a little bit of time discussing how to sell the war to the American people – and to an increasingly large slice of the American elites. Perhaps Mr. Rumsfeld might even have to write an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal, to counter the piece the Journal ran last Friday by former National Security Adviser (in the Bush I administration) Brent Scowcroft.

All this comes amid an increasing chorus from respectable and in some cases unusual quarters questioning whether the United States should go to war with Iraq unilaterally and whether that decision should be made by President Bush and/or the executive branch. To wit:


Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser under President Gerald Ford and the first President Bush, wrote in Thursday's Wall Street Journal, "It is beyond dispute that Saddam Hussein is a menace." However, "there is scant evidence to tie Saddam to terrorist organizations and even less to the Sept. 11 attacks."

Attacking Iraq "would not be a cakewalk. On the contrary, it undoubtedly would be very expensive – with serious consequences for the U.S. and global economy – and could as well be bloody. In fact, Saddam would be likely to conclude he had nothing left to lose, leading him to unleash whatever weapons of mass destruction he possesses.

"Israel would have to expect to be the first casualty, as in 1991 when Saddam sought to bring Israel into the Gulf conflict. This time, using weapons of mass destruction, he might succeed, provoking Israel to respond, perhaps with nuclear weapons, unleashing an Armageddon in the Middle East."


Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the allied forces in the 1991 Gulf War, urged preparation on MSNBC's "Hardball" on Friday. "I think we have to have a coalition firmly in place," he said. "We have to have that kind of support. We have to have better intelligence than we have right now ... I don't know if they [the U.S. military] have the port facilities ... to really conduct a ground campaign. ...The worst case scenario is that, if they [the Iraqis] put up a fight, we have to go in the cities and fight."

Besides the fact that he was charming as a briefer – perhaps a dubious distinction when one is engaged in explaining why one's government is raining death and destruction on other people – I always liked Norman Schwarzkopf because he was a competent choral conductor. Now it appears he is one of the U.S. military men willing to speak out on the wisdom of starting a war against Iraq in the face of very little of the kind of provocation that is ordinarily required for a country to initiate a war. The suspicion or hope is that he represents a growing number of military people more reluctant to criticize a policy that is almost entirely driven by civilians who have little experience or understanding of what war means to those we ask to fight it.


Lawrence Eagleburger, secretary of state under the first President Bush, joined the chorus. "Unless he [Saddam] has his hand on a trigger that is for a weapon of mass destruction and our intelligence is clear, I don't know why we have to do it now when all of our allies are opposed to it," he said, as reported by ABC News on Friday. "There are any number of other terrorist targets that deserve our attention. We ought to be taking some time to think through whether they are at least as urgent a target as Iraq."

Lawrence Eagleburger may not be the most sterling avatar of peace and non-intervention one might hope for; indeed, it's possible that he has business deals pending or active that might be upset by a war in the Middle East. But I'll take my allies where I can find them when war and peace are at stake. And I don't necessarily hold business interests against anybody; trade and commerce are almost always less harmful than diplomacy and warfare, even when they mean arguably undeserved riches for some influential people.

Henry Kissinger, secretary of state to Presidents Nixon and Ford, was more hawkish, but still cautious. He said on "Meet the Press" Sunday that President Bush had made an "intellectual case" for attacking Iraq, but, "He has not yet created the political framework, but that will have to be the next step." One can usually depend on Henry the K to end up on the side of the power structure, and he is doing so once again. But even he seems to understand that if there is to be a war this country isn't yet ready, and it would behoove those in charge to do a lot more thinking and preparing before taking that fateful step.


The New York Times reported on Thursday that "a crisis may be looming with Turkey, [Bush] administration officials said. Turkish officials have warned that they are preparing to go to war to prevent the Iraqi Kurds from declaring a kind of mini-Kurdish state within Iraq.... The Turkish government fears that such a state with control over key oil resources around Kirkuk might incite Turkey's repressed Kurdish population to rebel."

So a U.S. war against Iraq might quickly spawn a war by Turkey against Iraq's long-suffering Kurdish minority. Anybody who knew even a little bit about the long history of this people without a state of their own – who seem to have come to some kind of accommodation with Saddam Hussein's regime – and especially the long-festering Kurdish-Turkish hostility, might have predicted this complication. Whether it will make any kind of impression on the war-whoopers in the administration is another question.


Because this war wouldn't be a "cakewalk," those with doubts about the pending Iraq attack should continue to insist that the U.S. Congress must exercise its constitutional prerogative of deciding whether or not to "declare war." Hearings on a possible Iraq war in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 31 and Aug. 1 only scratched the surface. No new hearings are scheduled there or in the House Committee on International Relations. The American people need to know the justification, the allies that can be counted on to assist, the potential cost, the potential numbers of troops involved, the definition of success and the exit strategy. President Bush should not act alone. Congress represents the American people, whose sons and daughters in the military – and perhaps cities in America – could become war casualties in what Gen. Scowcroft warns could be "an Armageddon."

One of the chief reasons to oppose an invasion, however, is that there is simply no legitimate casus belli to legitimize an American attack. Saddam Hussein is no doubt a nasty customer. He may well be developing weapons of mass destruction and he may well already have some. But this administration has shied away even from any credible demand to renew UN weapons inspections.

If the U.S. demanded such inspections seriously there might be a more legitimate case if Saddam refused, or if inspection teams were met with intransigence. But administration officials have pooh-poohed the idea of inspections that might give them some diplomatic cover. They seem to have made up their minds, and believe in their imperial arrogance that they don't really need any cover beyond the expressed will of the leaders of the United States.


The strongest reason to oppose a unilateral declaration of war, it seems to me, is that there is at this point no way to argue that it is anything resembling a defensive war. All during the Cold War, although numerous arguments were made in favor of a pre-emptive strikes, the U.S. avoided such strikes against a Soviet Union that posed a much more dangerous threat to the United States than the pipsqueak Iraqi state does. Going to war to effect a "regime change," even if such a change might well be beneficial for many, was simply not the kind of thing a freedom-loving United States was supposed to do.

But that notion that a civilized country needs a justification beyond imperial pique to do something so serious as going to war seems to have little currency these days.

The evidence that Saddam Hussein is currently harboring terrorists planning to attack the United States is scant to non-existent. No problem. He hasn't invaded any neighbors lately, and most of his neighbors don't want a war. No problem. He may have weapons of mass destruction but he hasn't used them or even rattled them. No problem. The evidence that he had anything at all to do with the 9/11 attacks consists of a single meeting in Prague between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi diplomat, whose existence is in dispute and the contents of which (if it happened) nobody claims to know about. No problem. He's a nasty guy and that's enough.

It shouldn't be enough. War is too serious to be undertaken because a nasty guy seems, in retrospect, to have gotten the better of your daddy.

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