As antiwar sentiments are beginning to overtake
the mainstream, we ironically risk seeing the antiwar voices moderating their
positions to the point of not being antiwar at all.
The Iraq war was a "colossal error" in John Kerry's words, and it
is indeed refreshing to hear mainstream voices echo this viewpoint.
There are no weapons of mass destruction. Saddam's nuclear program, as pitiful
as it has always been, was much stronger ten years ago than at the beginning
of Gulf War II. The "uranium-enrichment" aluminum tubes were a hoax, the yellowcake from Niger was
a forged fantasy, and the chemical stockpiles amount to zilch.
There were no significant ties between Saddam and al-Qaeda, or evidence of
such ties, as even Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has now admitted. The CIA reportedly has found
no credible evidence that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – one of the most often cited
ties between Saddam and al-Qaeda – had significant connections to either of
them, much less to both of them in a conspiratorial relationship.
Antiwar Americans rejoice to see these justifications for the Iraq invasion
crumble into dust.
Too many of them, however, are neglecting other, perhaps more urgent, issues
at the moment: How do we pull out of Iraq as quickly as possible, and how do
we stop the next illegitimate war?
Indeed, the more mainstream spokesmen and women of the antiwar half of Americans
are in some ways helping the cause for war more than the now-discredited hawks
could do so on their own.
The pro-war Americans won back in March 2003, when the shock and awe began.
But their cause has been discredited. Many antiwar Americans, on the other hand,
have more-or-less embraced the Kerry line on all of this: We shouldn't have
waged this "colossal error," but now we have to stay and finish the
job; what's more, we need stronger sanctions on Iran; we need to stop coddling
the Saudis the way the president has; these countries have real connections
to the terrorists, unlike Iraq, against which we should never have gone to war,
but where we must win the peace, now that we're there.
These antiwar arguments for war all started before Gulf War II. Many people
were focusing on the WMD, doubting Saddam had any of importance – and pointing
out that other countries had more developed weapons programs, so why weren't
we going after them? They argued that Saddam had no demonstrably significant
ties to al-Qaeda – but Iran did, so why weren't we attacking them? They asserted
that Saddam was not a threat to the United States, and even CIA Director George
Tenet was saying as much – so why were we being so nice to North Korea? They
protested that Saddam's authoritarian regime was secular and not as theocratic
or oppressive as some of his neighbors' governments – so why not seek regime
For any supposed reason to attack Iraq, there was a better reason to attack
These arguments might have had their virtues back before the invasion, because
they showed the inconsistency in the hawks' reasoning, but the hawks always
had the opportunity to respond that, yes, we should intervene elsewhere as well,
just not yet or not in the same way. Unfortunately, we're still hearing the
same arguments now: Why did we go to war in Iraq, when Iran always had a more
fundamentalist Islamic regime, more ties to al-Qaeda and other international
terrorists, and more progress on developing weapons of mass destruction? Antiwar
people continue saying this even as many hawks have begun seriously contemplating
an attack on Iran!
Considering that many antiwar Americans think we should stay in Iraq until
we bring peace and democracy to it – something that is nearly impossible, and
virtually unprecedented in American foreign policy – one might gather that if
the hawks win the next battle of ideas and fool the country into another war,
the antiwar mainstream will support staying, in spite of escalating violence
and any revelations about the war's justifications being faulty, on the sole
basis that once our troops are somewhere, they must stay there until they can
fix what they've broken.
This is not a new line of argument. Many hawks were saying this before Gulf
War II, conceding that, yes, our government helped Saddam's rise to power and
assisted him in his worst crimes in the 1980s – all the more reason we were
obligated to go in and fix what we have broken.
If even antiwar Americans accept this reasoning and continue to make superficial
arguments against intervention, not only will it be easier to maintain our troops
wherever they happen to be told to invade and occupy, it will also be easier
to wage future wars.
Saddam didn't have WMD or ties to al-Qaeda. Iran might. So why did so many
of us focus on these arguments against war with Iraq that were implicitly arguments
for war with Iran, or any number of other places?
At the end of the day, an invasion of Iran or "cracking down" on
the Saudis is not what will make America more secure. Neither will tightening
sanctions on Iran, which Senator Kerry seems to advocate. Remember that the
cruel sanctions on Iraq, which killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people,
was one of Osama's major stated motivations to fly hijacked airplanes into the
World Trade Center. Kerry accuses Bush of doing "more of the same,"
but is he suggesting something radically different? He seems to suggest more
of the same in Iraq – more troops, more funding, more allies. He seems to suggest
more of the same in the greater Middle East – more of the very same policies
that led to 9/11.
It is just and right to go after al-Qaeda, but the ultimate path to security
is one of peace, not redirecting war and aggression in ways that are certain
to cause more innocent deaths and stir up more animosity against us. At a minimum,
the United States needs to pull out of Iraq and reduce its interventions in
the Middle East. More ideally, America should return to its noninterventionist
foreign policy that kept it mostly at peace for more than a century.
Antiwar Americans should focus on principled arguments against non-defensive
"preemptive" intervention and for withdrawal, instead of making arguments
that can be easily used to justify future unjust wars and current catastrophic
occupations. If we don't, our own attempts to advocate peace might help ensure
that we'll never extricate ourselves from Iraq, and we'll be at perpetual war
with the Middle East.