Progressive Pragmatism: Securing World Insecurity

Attacking Iraq the first time was wrong; attacking it this time is stupid.

While there is a wide divergence of opinion about how the country is functioning these days, there does seem to be a universal feeling of insecurity among Americans. Considering current events, we have good reason to feel insecure. We are in an economic tailspin brought on by corporate scandal and recession. Unemployment is on the rise again. Natural disasters have plagued the Midwest with flood damage and forest fires while much of the east coast is dead from drought.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, ferocious fish that can walk on land are destroying the ecosystem in my home state of Maryland. Life in America is starting to seem like a poorly written episode of “The Outer Limits.”

Of course, all of these insecurities are simply a backdrop to the thing that we really fear: that terrorists will strike again and that we won’t be ready. Less than a year after the horrible events of September 11, 2001, our airports are no safer then they were before, al-Qaeda has neither been contained nor destroyed but has more than likely spread, our intelligence agencies have been revealed to be inhabited by greedy children who were never taught to share, and John Ashcroft’s Justice Department has used the continuing threat to national security as carte blanche to arbitrarily do away with the last 30 years’ worth of civil protections.

In times like these, I wouldn’t wish the responsibilities of the presidency on anyone, least of all George W. Bush, who must be quite preoccupied with searching through his drawers for old Harken paperwork.

Nevertheless, Mr. Bush is (arguably) our president, and as such he has taken hold of his responsibilities and created a plan to make America feel safe and secure again as we move into the November election season. He is going to bomb the shit out of Iraq.

The deference that Junior is showing to his father in making this decision would be almost sweet if it weren’t for the bitterness it inspires. While George the Elder’s attack on Iraq may not have been done for the most moral of reasons (mmmcheap oil …), he at least knew how to maneuver through the minefield of international diplomacy required to organize such a fiasco and make it acceptable to the world community. Bush Junior lacks both in political cunning and in timing.

George the Elder was able to use Iraq’s invasion of its neighbor Kuwait as an excuse to send in the troops. His cries that we were keeping the world safe for democracy rang a little hollow, considering that Kuwait is not and has never been a democratic state.

Nevertheless, the invasion of Kuwait gave the US the ability to act in a defensive capacity, heroically sticking up for the little guy. If George Junior sends troops storming into Iraq, Saddam Hussein will be able to claim that he is the little guy, garnering well wishes if not military support from the other powers in the region.

George Junior is suggesting a pre-emptive strike against Iraq. The question that this poses is what exactly he thinks we are pre-empting. For the past 10 years, Iraq has been rendered crippled by UN sanctions and US military interference. Saddam has become infamous for his soft-shoe routine with UN weapons inspectors, trying to keep up illusions that Iraq is both open to the world and at the same time harboring new weapons of mass destruction.

Both of these illusions prove false when held up to scrutiny. Iraq is hardly open to the world. It is imperative that UN inspections begin again and with an even greater degree of organization than before. But the likelihood is that Iraq is also not as far along in its development of weapons as Bush administration officials would like us to believe.

Saddam most certainly wants them, but all the evidence seems to indicate that he has few, if any of the ingredients necessary to construct them. At best estimate, UNSCOM officials believe he may have some ingredients for chemical weapons (though none yet assembled), a few left-over Scud missiles, and a guy in a tree with a slingshot.

That hardly makes Iraq as much of a threat to world security as — oh, let’s pick a country at random — Israel, for instance, which has proven time and time again its willingness to use its potent weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations (killing 15 innocents and injuring a hundred more in its most recent attack).

Finding a reason to go to war is not the only step from his daddy’s process that George Junior has failed to mimic. George the Elder organized a broad coalition of support from the international community. His backers included not just our Western allies, but also Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia.

George Junior has thumbed his nose at the international community, repeatedly rebuking those who say that a UN resolution would be necessary for any military action against Iraq to be taken. He has also lost the support of Middle Eastern powers, like Saudi Arabia and Jordan and even Kuwait, all of whom are skeptical, if not critical of Junior’s planned invasion. Only Tony Blair, our faithful British lap dog, seems willing to follow the United States into an unprovoked and unwarranted attack.

Finally, George Junior appears to have not assessed the cost of a full-scale invasion of Iraq, particularly one aimed at “regime change” as the administration has so innocuously put it. Suppose that the administration is right and Saddam does have very powerful chemical and biological weapons, or even a nuclear device.

Right now, UN containment would be the only thing preventing him from using those weapons. If we were to launch a full-scale invasion, Saddam would no longer have any reason to keep his arsenal hidden. Millions could die.

Even if Iraq does not have the kind of weaponry Junior thinks it has, Saddam’s army is not likely to come running into our arms in surrender the way they did 10 years ago. And other nations in the region have shown signs of possibly getting involved in the conflict on the side of Iraq. If that happens, the number of deaths incurred on both sides could be astronomical.

But even if we put all of the potential casualties of such a war aside and assume that the invasion goes smoothly and we gain control of Iraq, what are we going to do with it? Iraq has not had even a hint of democracy in the last hundred years. Saddam, as brutal and dictatorial as he is, has been the only source of unity and stability in the country for more than 20 years.

In his absence, the country would likely become divided, creating a potentially infinite number of factions who could have control over the phantom weapons in Saddam’s cache. Other nations in the region may also try to lay claim to the newly conquered territory.

Some of these nations, like our old friends the Saudis, have evident ties to al-Qaeda. If there are deadly weapons in the region, these nations will surely find them. Imagine a nuclear-armed Saudi Arabia, Syria, or Iran.

None of this is to say that Saddam Hussein is benign. Saddam is a ruthless, cold-blooded killer who has murdered his own people for sport on countless occasions. He has a will to terrorize and if he were to be given funding and support by a major state — like, for instance, the funding and support he received all through the 80s from the United States — he could very well become the most dangerous man in the world.

Saddam needs to be contained, and in good time, hopefully deposed by the will of his own people. Weapons inspectors need to return to Iraq and the UN’s efforts to keep Saddam in check must be re-evaluated and then re-enforced.

But George Junior would prefer the quick high of what would probably be a popular military endeavor to the cool logic and patient diplomacy necessary to actually do some good in the region. He would prefer the security of votes and polling numbers to the security of Americans and the world.

Right after September 11, Mr. Bush repeatedly said that it may take years, even decades, for America to overcome terror. Apparently, Mr. Bush’s personal patience does not match his public rhetoric. All signs coming out of Washington seem to indicate that we will be invading Iraq, whether it’s the right thing to do or not.

I almost never agreed with the things that George the Elder did while in office. In fact, I find some of the things he did to be downright despicable. But I could at least count on him for a certain amount of political savviness and restraint.

For those reasons alone, I had a certain amount of respect for George Senior. But that savviness and restraint seems to have been lost on the younger generation. George Junior has proven repeatedly that he is willing to push ahead on a scheme even when all conventional wisdom and common sense is against him.

Article © 2002 by Jonathan Ratican