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Onward Christian Soldiers: The March to War
Published on Thursday, October 10, 2002 by
Onward Christian Soldiers: The March to War
by John Buell

After meeting Vladimir Putin last year, President Bush assured the American people that he had looked into the Russian leader’s eyes and established that “he was a good man.” Whether Putin, who now expresses reservations about invading Iraq, retains that status is uncertain. It is clear that this President has extraordinary confidence in his ability as an opthamologist of the soul. Discerning obvious good and evil in the world, he moves singlemindedly with little tolerance for dissent. When political leaders of the left are motivated by such confident, singular visions, media portray them as mindless apostles of political correctness, demagogues, and utopians. When such a style emanates from the right, it becomes moral courage and political conviction. I believe that neither left nor right is well served by this mindset, but its dangers become all the more apparent as we approach war.

Though this Administration periodically invokes self defense, much of its rhetoric—and the evident contradictions in its case—belie this rationale. The case against Iraq rides on the Administration’s obsessive quest for “regime change.” Every state in that vital region must not only respect borders but deploy itself in such a way that it can never become a threat to US cultural, economic, or military interests.

The Guardian commented late last summer that” First the pretext was Iraq's non-existent links with… September 11. Then it was the anthrax attacks in the US, which turned out to be a domestic problem. Then it was the long-running dispute over Iraq's drastically depleted chemical and biological weapons capacity and its resistance to the return of UN weapons inspectors. But now that Saddam has begun to signal a climbdown on inspectors (apparently going a good deal further in private messages passed to the US administration via Jordan's King Abdullah), they seem to be something of a side issue after all. As John Bolton, the US undersecretary for arms control, blurted out, the "regime change" policy "will not be altered, whether inspectors go in or not".”

Responding to such criticisms, the Administration now seeks to resurrect the al-Qaida connection, but, as the Washington Post comments, even US intelligence officials discount such reports. The Administration’s further contention, that an al-Qaida official sought medical treatment in Iraq would, even if true, hardly constitute a role in sustaining terrorism even remotely equal to the part played by many prominent Saudis.

Iraq’s Arab neighbors fear a US attack on Iraq more than an Iraqi attack on them. One Israeli military analyst even comments: “there is no such thing as a long-range Iraqi missile with an effective biological warhead. No one has found an Iraqi biological warhead. The chances of Iraq having succeeded in developing operative warheads without tests are zero.” In any case, Saddam Hussein, a ruthless, secular tyrant interested in preserving his own power, is unlikely either to unleash biolgocal weapons or pass them to suicidal terrorists. As Middle Eastern expert Stephen Zunes points out, if Osama had such weapons, Saddam might be his first target.

Attacking Iran offers few certain benefits and poses open-ended risks. Even the bombing of the weak and despised Taliban network yielded much less than many now suggest. The New York Times reported in June that: “Classified investigations of the Qaeda threat now under way at the FBI and CIA have concluded that the war in Afghanistan failed to diminish the threat to the United States … Instead, the war might have complicated counterterrorism efforts by dispersing potential attackers across a wider geographic area.”

An attack on a far stronger Iraq both licenses and might catalyze war between Pakistan and India, Saddam’s use of his remaining arsenal against US forces or Israel, a possible Israeli nuclear strike, and dangerous responses by other Arab nations facing new domestic unrest in the wake of an intensified US presence in the Gulf. Terrorism on US soil, as even the CIA acknowledges, become more likely if the US threatens Saddam’s survival.

Defenders of pre-emptive strike against Iraq are right about one thing. Simply opposing this war is not enough. But there are better preventive strategies than war. In the seventies and eighties, grass roots mobilizations—often collaborating across borders-- encouraged democracy in formerly totalitarian societies, limited the testing and development of nuclear weaponry, enabled mutual security pacts, and forced more generous international economic policies. Contrary to views now widely held, activism both in the developed West and in many “Third World” states did inhibit the spread of nuclear weapons to many nations once expected to gain them.

It is time to enforce UN Resolution 687—in full. That resolution requires establishment throughout the Middle East of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, which would eliminate not only Iraqi weapons but also nuclear and chemical stores likely held by Israel, Syria, and Egypt. Yet for these hopes to bear fruit, this Administration must be forced to acknowledge that it is not the sole source of and means toward a just world order.

John Buell is a columnist for the Bangor Daily News.


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