In the past issues of SCR, several articles have appeared condemning the United States for the War on Iraq as being either brutal, dumb, or both. In my own editorial last month I criticized the Bush administration for possibly not knowing what they were getting into – not militarily but in respect to the probable Arab world backlash – and for not letting the UN inspection procedures take their course. Also, and this is what bothers me personally most, the way the United States has become the image of arrogant evil to much of the world. Now I would like to be more objective and look for a moment at the other side of the coin.
For starters, there are some very respected people in the world who support the preemptive action against the Saddam Hussein regime. On of them, a men with impeccable moral credentials, is Vaclav Havel, ex-president of the Chech Republic and indefatigable fighter for freedom during the Soviet occupation of his country. Following is an excerpt from an article by David Remnick that appeared in The New Yorker recently:
‘A year after Vaclav Havel came to power, there was a crisis in Iraq, and now, as he was leaving office, he was involved in another. Earlier in the month, he had spent hours with his aides at his country villa, discussing the problem, and that day, in the Wall Street Journal, there was a letter signed by Havel, along with seven other European leaders, which essentially agreed with the Bush Administration's position. I asked him why.
"I think it's not by chance that the idea of confronting evil may have found more support in those countries that have had a recent experience with totalitarian systems compared with other European countries that haven't had the same sort of recent experience," he said. "The Czech experience with Munich, with appeasement, with yielding to evil, with demanding more and more evidence that Hitler was truly evil; that may be one reason that we look at things differently than some others. But that doesn't mean automatically that a green light is to be given to preventive strikes. I always believed that every case has to be judged individually. The Euro-American world cannot simply declare preëmptive war on all the regimes that it doesn't like."
Havel coughed and took a sip of wine. I asked him why he thought a policy of containment could not work in Iraq more or less indefinitely. He put his glass down and said, "Civilization has changed. Today, any crazy, practically any crazy person can blow up half of New York. That was hardly possible fifteen or twenty years ago. That's not the only reason. On the whole, the world has changed. There once was a bipolar world, a balance of two great powers, who made agreements on weapons reductions, so that they were capable of destroying the world seven times instead of ten. Now we live in a multi-polar world. . . . Of course, the question is: When is the best time for action? Should it have happened a long time ago? That is a political issue, a diplomatic issue, a sociological issue. But, generally, it's a matter of the functioning of the world's immune system, whether the world can deal with such a case of extreme evil before it is too late."
On Sunday night, February 2nd, Czech radio and television broadcast Havel's farewell address. He took pains to thank his wife and his supporters. To all those who felt disappointed "or have simply found me hateful, I sincerely apologize and trust that you will forgive me." Havel flashed his country the peace sign and his work was done.’
A glance at the United Nations is also worthwhile when we object to the United States’ unilateral action. The UN is supposed to be an organization of democratic states who decide democratically on actions to prevent war, assist refugees, etc. However, of the approximately 200 member states, only a quarter can honestly be called democratic. They demand equal rights at the UN, but are not about to grant their own peoples these same rights. Hussein’s Iraq was one of them. This is not meant to condemn the UN as worthless, far from it. But reforms are obviously needed if it is ever to become an organization which lives up to its charter, which emphasizes human rights as well as peace.
The U.S. has also been criticized for having aided Hussein in its war with Iran and for being buddies with dictatorial regimes like Saudi Arabia. Just criticisms these. But shall the pot be allowed to call the kettle black? The French and German governments were those most opposed to military intervention in Iraq. And why not? Public opinion in their countries was almost unanimously opposed to the war, not to mention the lucrative business contracts both countries had with the Hussein regime.
Were not these the same ones who sat by wringing their hands during the Kosovo massacres and whose natures were too spiritual and peace-loving to even consider armed intervention in their own sacred Europe? They were. And finally they were very happy to let the United States do the dirty work for them. Is there oil in the Balkans? Is the United States setting up an empire there? No such luck for the sanctimonious. Now, after the dirty work has been done in Iraq, and if I read between the lines correctly, both countries are anxious to get their share of the pie – if there is one.
I recently received a letter from a German friend in which he intimates that the Twin Towers attack of September 11 was a U.S. government conspiracy. Evidence? Mysterious explosions before the towers collapsed constituting “intelligent destruction”; the aircrafts’ automatic pilots were controlled by the control tower and why weren’t the planes diverted from their murderous courses – and such nonsense. I’d heard these things before, but never from an educated, informed person. It makes me think that maybe the problem really is Bush and his cronies. They are such arrogant, simplistic, antipathetic Big Business buddies that whatever they do merely feeds anti-Americanism.
The reasons they gave for the necessity of the war on Iraq now seem shallow indeed: weapons of mass destruction - not found, though they may yet be found; Iraqi connections to al Qaeda. Unproven, but possible. Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime – undisputed. I ask myself whether Colin Powell would stand up in the Security Council and state that he has proof of Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction knowing that what he is saying isn't true, and that sooner or later he will be exposed as either a fool or a liar. It seems unlikely. More likely is that the U.S. intelligence agencies passed on incorrect information, some of it originating with Iraqi exile groups, which have their own political agenda. I had some connection with the U.S. intelligence community in my youth in the military, and I had the impression of a self-serving, inefficient bureaucracy. Now that it is many times larger these characteristics have probably increased exponentially.
One could easily say: Hussein had to go, it should have been accomplished by the UN, but it wasn’t, so the United States rightly took matters into its own hands and it seems to be working out well. The war was short, civilian casualties unfortunately occurred, but were kept to a reasonable minimum. Some would object that it wasn’t minimum enough and I would agree, but it was nowhere near peacenik predictions.
The crucial question now is, I think - what will be the aftereffects of the war? If Iraqis are really allowed to vote democratically, isn’t it prossible that an anti-western theocracy such as in Iran will emerge, turning out to be worse than Saddam Hussein? (Is Gallup in Iraq making calls?) Was John Le Carré right and one of the effects will be an inflaming of Muslim anti-Americanism and an increase in terrorism? Or, will there be positive effects, such as a resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict. Too much to hope for, but possible. Furthermore, what basis is there to assume that without the Iraq war terrorist groups such as al Qaeda would have be less active?
But the war took place and the question now is what will happen next, or, what should happen next. According to the British military historian Michael Howard, Bush's answer to the Twin Towers attack, declaring a war against terrorism, was "an understandable but irrevocable error". That war, he wrote in the January 2002 issue of Foreign Affairs, is equivalent to confering on the terrorists "a status and dignity that the don't deserve". It implies the commitment to seek an impossible victory against a shapeless enemy. It would be better, he maintains, to launch "a police operation conducted under the auspices of the United Nations ... against a criminal conspiracy whose members should be apprehended and brought before an International Court of Justice".
This seems to me to be sensible advice and I'd like to think that the Bush and Blair administrations are done with the war verbiage and practice and will now concentrate on defence and international anti-terrorist police tactics.
Am I defending Bush and the war on Iraq? Though it may seem so, the answer is no. I do believe, however, that there is another side to the question and it should be expressed in these pages after the previous criticism. Personally I walk the fence, tilting to one side, then the other, hoping to keep my balance and not fall on my face.