March 04, 2003
I have a friend who opposes war with Iraq on pragmatic grounds. It will not be effective. It will not achieve the stated goals of disarmament, increased security, lessening terrorism, regime change, and Pax Americana throughout the Middle East. He tells me that his bottom line is the course of action that results in the least suffering. And ours is not that course of action.
A long time ago, I read a famous short story. How do I know it's famous? It was in a collection with O'Henry's and Maupassant's best. But the story that really got to me was this one: A bomber pilot (I do not know which World War, and I don't know what nationality he was) approaches a small French (I'm pretty sure; I imagined the gray stone buildings, church spires, and neat streets) town. His assignment is to drop his payload on the town. It's a beautiful, sunny, blue-sky day. The pilot feels godlike, powerful, and magnanimous. He feels a surge of rightness, righteousness, as he drops his bombs, not on the town, but on the fields outside its walls. The awe he feels at his own mercy and generosity, the way he has spared so many just with one decisions, these comfort him for years. When he is much older, he decides to visit the town. He decides to see the lives he has spared and the people he selected for his munificence. The town is very sparsely populated, almost everyone is old and defeated-looking. Where are all the young people, he asks, the families? "In the war," an old man tells him, "a plane came to bomb our village. We had expected this. But the plane did not bomb the village; it bombed our fields. We had sent all the children to hide in the fields."
This is why I cannot agree with my friend's pragmatic criterion for a just war. We are human, not gods. We can never know, never evaluate the path of least suffering. We can never say that, well, if we'd gone in and taken Hitler out when he was just getting started, there would have been millions spared. We do not know what would have taken his place. Each small decision in every life or in the history of nations creates a new universe, and then again and again, to form an incalulable whole; it is never an either-or or if-not-for-this-one-thing-then proposition. We cannot know if decimating Baghdad spares suffering in the long run at the expense of lives now. But we do not need to make that calculation. That is not a math we, as humans, are ever allowed to know. It is, simply, evil, to weigh lives or tens of lives or hundreds of thousands of lives against some posited greater good.
I am against this war. I am against it in the strongest terms, absolutely. I am against it because it is so morally reprehensible, so opportunistic, so shortsighted, and so falsely justified. I am against it because it stands the principles of the United States, of democracy, of international law, of international alliances, and the concepts of self-defense and peace on their heads. The rhetoric is a perversion of the very ideals it lays claim to. And one need only look at what is happening NOW, not posit or calculate all possible outcomes, to see this.
Because of the United States' thirst for war, the world is in crisis. There is massive anxiety, world markets are volitile, alliances are fracturing, leaders are forced to choose between the wills of their populations and the political bonanza of getting on board (thus falling on their own political futures' swords for the Bush administration), the United States is seem as imperialistic and bullying, its reputation is tarnished, its citizens are in danger abroad and at home. Because of the United States' thirst for war, the Muslim world sees cause for jihad, sees a thinly veiled holy war, the North Koreans see what happens to nations branded "axis of evil" and have decided to be preemtive themselves (whether or not, as they claim, they believe we are about to attack them, they've chose not to go quietly, with at least nominal cooperation, like the Iraqis, but to flout and provoke, to say: we are not your whipping boy), the Iranians may well be funding terrorists in northern Iraq, the Turkish military is hungering to bring the Kurds to their knees. Because of the United States' thirst for war, its own citizenry is divided between a desire to trust its leaders and believe they are not being lied to, a desire to be patriotic and supportive in the wake of 9/11, a desire not to penalize the soldiers as they were in Vietnam, and a desire for peace, peace of mind and security, and some attention to our domestic and economic woes. Simply as a result of engineering, jockeying for an ersatz legitimacy for war, ugly precendents have been set, ugly actions have been taken, ugly prejudices have been inflamed. We have promised goodies to those who fall in line, and threatened economic and political consequences to those who balk. We have questioned allies' loyalty and commitment to world peace and international law. We have revived French-bashing, and incited anti-Semitism. We have, in an underreported memo leaked to London's the Guardian, instructed the NSA to spy on Security Council members in hopes of exploiting their private fissures and doubts. We have, merely by promising major aid (to offset massive expense and economic hits, proven by the last Gulf War), and then, by democratic vote, having that phantom wealth disappear, caused the economy of Turkey to take a major hit. We have rejoiced at that hit, calculating that the precipitous fall of the Turkish stock market (which we rightly anticipated following the no-vote in their parliament) might well be the lever that would ensure a subsequent yes-vote to our basing our northern operations in Turkey. Already, large multinationals have calculated opportunity and placed their bets on war. And these interests are not tangential to policy, not merely second-level opportunists; they, in fact, in a global economy and in the currrent administration, in large part are driving policy, are engineering this nominally high-minded war.
About our high-minded rhetoric. If we are so concerned about states that fund or harbor terrorists, what about Iran, Pakistan, the Philippines. If we are so concerned about domestic security, what about the inefficacy of our new behemoth bureaucracy and its scaremongering without real guidance or funding for emergency resources? If we are so concerned about peace in the Middle East, about democracy, what about the repressive autocracies with which we are allied, from whose bases we will mount our war; what about Israel's state-sponsored terrorism in which one of the largest military machines in the world, funded and equipped by the United States, annihilates and pulverizes entire communities of poorly armed, disorganized, and appallingly poor Palestinians in a tragically childish, ceaseless, self-perpetuating tit-for-tat? If we are so concerned about atrocities and human rights abuses, where were we in Angola (now a new ally, due for perks and goodies), in Rwanda, in Zaire, in Cambodia when Pol Pot was executing anyone with a high-school education (a corollary of our actions in Vietnam, as were so many atrocities), when Franco, and Pinochet, and Marcos, and Qadaffi, and Idi Amin, and Heile Salassi, and Miloscovic, and Ceaucescu were raping their countries and terrorizing their people? We supported many of these men, covertly, by open policy, or by inaction. We were so concerned with the "evil empire" and the "eastern bloc" that we colored the map red and supported any repressive, selfish zealot who at least wasn't Communist, while letting half the world's people suffer. And to war advocates who cede the above, but say that getting rid of Saddam is a step in the right direction, that the past is past but now we're stepping up to the plate, I offer a different, less morally defensible analysis of why Iraq and why now.
As to conservative commentators and pundits, as to administration apologists and mouthpieces, as to kowtowing Congressmen and fat-cat civilian hawks, I say now is the time to stop lying. The half-truths, immediately spun and rewritten history, outright lies and misrepresentations, jingoistic ignorance and hatred wrapped in the flag being foisted on the American people and the world right now is shameful. Shame on Congress for writing Bush a blank check for war without any of the debate, the hard questions that we've left it to our international allies to ask...and pay the price for asking. Congress rolled over on its responsibility, its grave and crucial role as the body that declares war. Shame on Congress for passing the Patriot Act so quickly, and for so misnaming a repeal of civil rights patriotic. Shame on the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee for proudly declaring that he considered removing his father's Croix de Guerre from his office wall to punish lily-livered France, and shame on John McCain for calling France an overpainted dowager who's lost her looks but still hopes to dine out on them. Shame on Condaleeza Rice for saying that Iraq has had "12 years" to disarm as if this administration hasn't pursued a new, aggressive policy just since November on the issue and as if there weren't dozens of similarly disregrded, toothless UN resolutions on the books that the US has no interest in pursuing, including one 35 years old requiring Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories. Shame on Bush for withdrawing from the Kyoto treaty and pooh-poohing global warming, and pursuing a destabilizing missile defense shield against international outcry, and then casting aspersions on the international will toward peace. Shame on Donald Rumsfeld for saying, in a patronizing, avuncular, long-suffering way, that of course we have no interest in Iraqi oil; that the oil belongs to the Iraqi people. Shame on George Will for eching this in a screed belittling "the protesters' favorite slogan" "No Blood for Oil." Shame on him for showing an obviously photoshopped image of a deranged-looking Martin Sheen at the front of a march with a "No Blood for Oil" sign prominently over his left shoulder. Shame on him for pompously schooling his audience that this war will cost us much more than we could possibly gain and that of course America will pay for oil post-war as it does now, by the barrel. Shame on him for being either an idiot or a bullshit artist. And shame on NBC for giving him five minutes of prime air time to lie to their viewers. Yes, ordinary Americans will foot the bill for this war for generations to come, not only economically, but in the trade and political policy promises we're hogtying our future to in our attempt to build a coalition. And yes, ordinary Americans will pay just as much, if not more for oil in future. But American-controlled multinationals, the military-industrial complex, and the few plutocrats now in office and their special word-to-the-wise cronies will make billions on infrastructure contracts, war materials, contracts for every stage of the oil exploration, pumping, refining, and transporting process, and insider stock speculation on these outcomes, which makes their vested interest in war, and their power to ensure that we wage it, absolutely a factor, and absolutely deserving of the cry "No Blood for Oil!"
Shame on Ari Fleischer for being an apologist and a forked-tongue mouthpiece. Shame on him for saying on the one hand that Iraq's refusal to destroy the missiles indicates intransigience, but on the other that their acquiescence is merely a game. Shame on him for rewriting history by claiming Iraq was hiding these missiles, saying they never had them. These missiles are not the missing "weapons of mass destruction," but conventional weapons that Iraq itemized. What they disputed was that the missiles exceeded the flight limit imposed by the UN; they did so on the grounds that the missiles were test-fired without the payload and guidance system that would weigh them down and limit their range. That is reality, recent history, rewritten for us as it happens.
Shame on "moderate" columnists like Thomas Friedman and Anna Quindlen for pandering to their audiences and hedging their bets. Friedman likes the idea of Pax Americana but regretfully doubts we can pull it off. Quindlan earnestly hopes for a smoking gun, a reason for a just war, a reason to believe America is not a bully. Both need to stop being so evenhanded and disingenously hopeful for the administration's truthfulness and motivations. Both can see clearly that we're grievously in the wrong, and they need to say so, strongly and clearly and proudly. Shame on the American news media for stirring music and red, white, and blue graphics with logos and slogans like "Showdown With Saddam" and "America Uber Alles" or whatever the hell. Shame on pundits who calmly predict the post-war political landscape and patiently explain the diplomatic wrangling that will result in our prevailing on the UN resolution, both as if war is a fair accompli. Shame on the media for forcing anti-war commentators and pundits and world leaders and policy analysts, over and over, and *every single time*, to have to reiterate that they are not pro-Saddam, that they, too, understand he is evil, evil, evil and lying and despotic and threatening. Why do those in favor for peace constantly have to preemptively defend themselves from being seen as Saddam apologists or unpatriotic while those who are pro-war are never required to give equal time to their belief in peace or international law or democracy, but in fact abrogate those principles to their shrill cries for vengeance? Shame on the media for not more closely scrutinizing and questioning administration rhetoric, and timing of recent events. Why has nobody raised the question that our recent shift in *stated* objective (for it was always our objective; we were being lied to) to regime change and remaking the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East might well have been a ploy to show that war was inevitible and thus force the Iraqis to halt destruction of the missiles (why should they participate in their own de-fanging if the attack is imminent) so that we could the cry to the Security Council "Foul! Material breach! We must attack!" Why has no one in the news media questioned the fortuitous timing of the recent Al Qaeda bigwig arrest, coming as it does right when the administration is getting so much heat for focusing on Iraq rather than terrorism. Apparently the lead came on Fenruary 13th. Couldn't it be that the Pakistanis have had a very good idea where quite a few "evildoers" might be found, but have only recently getten major heat from the US to be proactive, for the administration's agenda's credibility?
Somebody needs to stop this war. It is wrong. What is happening now in the world as even a consequence of our agitating for this war is wrong. We will all pay for the vengeance, greed, and powerlust of a few men and corporations. We will pay emotionally, or with our lives, or karmically, or in our school systems and social programs or with our jobs. We will pay with America's broken promise of democracy, its broken tradition of nonaggression, its sullied principles. Foreign leaders will pay with their broken political futures and the mistrust of their citizens. Citizens of many countries will pay as the world economy reacts, as hatreds mount, and as anxiety infests.
And we will pay in domestic security. We are begging future terrorist attacks. Donald Rumsfeld calmly explained that any collateral damage (those would be people, Mr. Rumsfeld, human lives) incurred by our bombs would be Saddam's fault, his war crimes, his crimes against humanity. Because he made us do it, he pushed us to it, it was our only option. This is not true, it is a lie. This is an optional war. As Bill Moyers said in his recent "journal," it is a failure of imagination, of moral courage, and of diplomacy. As such, the war crimes are ours. The childish, sibling whine of "He made me do it, Mom!" is being put forth by adults with immense power. The abusive parent or spouse's lament "Now look what you've gone and made me do" has become foreign policy. And, in the same Orwellian slippage that allows Wolfowitz to straight-facedly call this war "a peace initiative," we plan to cry, not only "look what he made us do!" but "Look what he did!" If and, god forbid, when, there are further terrorist attacks on American soil or against American or its allies embassies or facilities abroad, the blame will lie squarely on the Bush administration. They are courting terror. They are, in fact, counting on terror, to stoke bloodlust and vengeance, to further muddy the waters of cause and effect, to further broaden the "enemy" and legitimate their military plans and their domestic social agenda, including Patriot II, tax cuts, drilling for Alaskan oil, cutting back social welfare programs, and, in short, raping the American economy for their cronies' (controllers, really) coffers while destroying the environment, the economy, and the tenuous world stability. What the North Koreans are doing right now can be laid at this administration's bellicosity; labeling them part of an "axis of evil;" breaking diplomatic ties, and setting a precedent of preemptive aggression.
This war is wrong not only because it cannot achieve its stated goals and because bombing the hell out of a people in the name of their freedom, without demonstable and immediate threat, is ugly precedent and morally bankrupt, but because it is an artifically created crisis, a crisis that is already having profound negative effects on millions of people, on the global economy, on the world's existing tensions and fault-lines, on national and racial and religious divisions, and on the gestalt, the energy, the, if you will, karma, or the world. This crisis is manufactured, artificial. The threat is overstated and the response to it so disproportionate that it engenders more heinous consequences than the ill it purports to cure. All the ills of the world are laid at one villain's feet: terrorism, global instability, human rights abuses, nefarious plots and weaponry and game-playing. Building up a fading, delusional dictator to the epitome of evil, focusing so much of the world's resources in human energy and anxiety on one man, feeds a terrible beast. As retribution, we will annihilate many people who have only the misfortune to have suffered alrady by being born in Iraq. And this includes the soldiers, who will become the "enemy," whom we will hate and depersonalize and count as righteous casualties. Most of these soldiers are boys or young men who have no choice; there is compulsory military service and I imagine all able-bodied young men will be told to take up arms on pain of death.
This war is wrong on the most basic, naiive terms. What could possibly be right about massive destruction, at massive cost-- monetary, material, diplomatic, secxurity, economic, emotional, karmic-- that will kill and pollute and create chaos and untold echoes and repercussions for generations to come? What could be right about this if it weren't undertaken solely to save the world from imminent, greater destruction. And it is not. The United States is about to embark on its most shameful adventure. One that will destroy the meaning of our Constitution and the priciples of our republic; and one that some of the people themselves support only from a dull patriotism, a manipulated fearfulness, an appeal to that most core racism--the "other," or a terrible, unthinking acceptance of outright lies. I have to believe that a majority of Americans, whether the vocal minority like myself, or the "silent majority" of the vaguely apprehensive, the "Gee, I dunno, this seems a bit...," the "I sure hope they know what they're doing"s---have a true will for peace. I hope that even those who, the polls tell us, favor military action "with international support" now understand that we manipulated an actual internatioal coalition for disarmament into a rubberstamping of regime change; that the objective for which we received support was never our objective. This is why, at the peace march, I thought the signs that urged "Inspections Work; War Doesn't" were misguided; yes, inspections work, but only if the objective is really disarmament. "Inspections work" is no argument against war from the administration's point of view, because disamament is only a thin pretext for a war they badly want, have badly wanted for a long time and now see an opening for.
This is an artificial crisis at a time when we face real crises. We have a more difficult enemy, North Korea. We have a more diffuse enemy, which we label "Al Qaeda" and attempt to tie in a neat, hierarchical package, but might be better understood as situational actions by disenfranchised groups against percieved global hegemony. We have joblessness and deficit and cuts in programs and a souring national mood. We have fracturing alliances at a time when we need solidarity. Our multinationals expolit resources and vast populations and create crime, pollution, and corruption, sparking new manifestations of "al Qaeda." None of these crises is as easy to address, as "winnable," as worthy of breathless reportage, breaking headlines, patriotic and militaristic "in-depth" profiles, as manipulable, as expressible a in good-versus-evil Manichean duality, as glibly personifyable and easily reduced to an uber-villain, a Dr. Evil who must be spanked, and spanked hard, as is Iraq.
We were told it was about disarmament, about a clear and present, or perhaps future, threat to national security. We were told it was about cutting off aid to terrorists and destroying their haven. We were told it was about human rights abuses and liberation from a despot, regime change, self-rule for Iraqis and peace in the Middle East. The more cynical of us perhaps suspect a profit motive and a power motive, a strategic ploy for a lever of American will in the inhospitable Middle East. Perhaps we even suspect the administration of winding us up and pointing us in the direction of their favorite enmy, spinning all of the anxiety and post-9/11 fear and powerlessness and rage with no outlet at a convenient target. Perhaps we suspect that this target has the virtue of being ruled by a familiar villain, a favorite bogeyman for the Bushes, that it has the virtue of being a Muslim country at a time when, although we vehemently deny it, Muslims are easy to lump together and blame for 9/11, and that it has the added attraction of being a strategic linchpin for a power shift in our favor in the Middle East as well as, purely coincidentally sitting on the world's second largest oil reservoirs. Perhaps we suspect them of wanting a definable crisis that distracts from domestic woes, and can be framed and "won" within the frame they present. Perhaps we understand that all of the caution by Nobel Lureates, academics, writers, actors, world leaders, and a majority of the world's peoples will not stop an action to which the administration has already staked its honor and deployed its vast armies. Perhaps we even suspect that the Bush administration wants to take the military out for a spin, watch the newfangled gizmos shock-and-awe the world, deter evildoers everywhere, and leave no doubt as to who's the superpower who'll be calling the shots around these parts.
But I'm suggesting something further, something that Bill Moyers hinted at in the phrase "failure of imagination." I'm suggesting that what is truly terrifying is that blasting a second-rate dictator to kingdom come is the best answer this administration can come up with for the global complexies of the 21st Century. I'm suggesting that all of the factors, rationalizations, woes, ramifications, costs, and crises that I have enumerated now facing us add up to the Bush administration to "let's go get Saddam." I'm suggesting that our leadership is not only morally bankrupt, corrupt, and undemocratic, but woefully inadequate to address the real threats and the real problems and the real needs of the American people. And I'm suggesting that they are at least partially aware of this, and hope that a spectacular, meaningless "victory," complete with media cooperation and stirring look-and-feel graphics, music, and montages, will mask their fundamental inadequacy. And I'm suggesting that, tragically, it may do so, and that, tragically, we will pay and pay and pay for their hubris.
at 1:25 PM