[NOTE: I support the "Listen
for Peace" proposal.]
The Bush administration wants to invade Iraq, they want it quickly, and they
donít care that much what anyone else thinks. Since so many people, including
many very distinguished people, have already offered their opinion, I will
restrict myself to a few questions which I donít see discussed quite as much.
The United States suffered a terrible tragedy on September 11, 2001; the
desire to smash the Iraqi state is an outgrowth of the anger felt in response.
What the U. S. is failing to realize is that there are a lot of tragedies in the
world, some of them considerably more serious than the September 11 events or
the rather nebulous threat of an Iraqi attack on the U. S. Because we are the
most powerful country in the world, our tragedy has gotten all the attention.
The rest of the world has become resentful of this, and the initial outgrowth of
world sympathy for the U. S. after the September 11 events is now almost
completely gone. This is what the country, fundamentally, has to come to terms
Do we have justification for attacking Iraq?
The case for a unilateral attack Iraq on the basis of Iraqi foreign policy is
quite flimsy. While Iraq has done a lot of bad things, these bad things do not
constitute any sort of credible threat specifically to the U. S. or provide a
basis for unilateral war. Iraq has done very little thatís threatening to the
U. S. since the Gulf War, and was evidently not involved in the September 11
attacks. They have violated the peace treaty, but this in itself would not seem
to be cause for war; the United States made thousands of treaties with the
native peoples and broke every one of them. This is probably an affront to the
United Nations, but that is something the U. N. needs to address.
The fact that Saddam Hussein is a bloody tyrant and possesses weapons of mass
destruction also does not add up as a credible rationale for war. The world is
filled with bloody tyrants with powerful weapons. Are we now going to war with
all of the bloody tyrants of the world? Are Iran and North Korea next? What
about Zimbabwe, Chinaís oppression of Tibet, and Russia in Chechnya? Are we
also going to launch preemptive attacks on them?
International law suggests that one should not go to war merely
because a nation is doing bad things, but only if these "bad things"
threaten your vital interests. It is not merely Iraqís foreign policy but
their domestic policy which provokes widespread revulsion. It is this
revulsion which explains why there is no more outrage at the U. S.
"pre-emptive" attack on Iraq; the relative lack of outrage is due not
to the strength of the U. S. case, but the almost complete isolation of Iraq.
"Aggressive war" is one of the things for which the Nazis were
prosecuted for at the Nuremberg trials. "Aggressive war" is attacking
a country merely because you donít like them ó before they attack or
threaten you. It is technically a war crime. If the unilateral and pre-emptive
invasion of Iraq is not an aggressive war, it comes dangerously close.
All right, letís suppose that the U. S. invades Iraq and that in a week, itís
all over. Now what?
This is actually the same dilemma which faced the U. S. in the Gulf War:
whether to topple the Iraqi regime or to content ourselves with chasing them out
of Kuwait and dealing devastating blows to their military. The decision was made
not to occupy Iraq, because there was awareness that this would mean a U. S.
presence in Iraq for a very long time, possibly 10 or 20 years. This prompts a
whole series of practical questions. Would U. S. troops be welcomed as
liberators, and provide a benevolent presence for a grateful population, or
would they become targets, enemies, oppressors, a continual goad to renewed
attempts at terrorism? What are the diplomatic consequences of a unilateral
long-term occupation of Iraq for our relationship with those countries whose
advice we spurned when going in?
Do we have an exit strategy from Iraq? I donít think so. But until this is
done, we cannot even guess what the true costs of invading Iraq are.
The Need For Allies
Attacking Iraq is not a straightforward case of good versus evil. Iraq is
pretty evil, but the U. S. is not universally admired, either. This is pretty
much invisible to other Americans, but it is quite visible to other Arab
countries. They see over a half century of American opposition to Palestinian
aspirations. As former President Carter says, "Our apparent policy is to
support almost every Israeli action in the occupied territories and to condemn
and isolate the Palestinians as blanket targets of our war on terrorism, while
Israeli settlements expand and Palestinian enclaves shrink." What are Arab
countries supposed to think when the U. S. announces its intention to seize
unilaterally the Middle Eastern country with the second-largest oil reserves in
the world? They are more afraid of the U. S. than they are of Iraq.
The tremendous flurry of international support and sympathy for the United
States in the aftermath of the bloody and brutal September 11 attacks is gone:
it is history, even before having commemorated the first anniversary. Everyone
sees the persistent U. S. rejection of international cooperation. Again, former President Carter puts it well: "We have thrown down counterproductive
gauntlets to the rest of the world, disavowing U.S. commitments to laboriously
negotiated international accords. Peremptory rejections of nuclear arms
agreements, the biological weapons convention, environmental protection,
anti-torture proposals, and punishment of war criminals have sometimes been
combined with economic threats against those who might disagree with us."
Even granting that Iraq threatens our vital national interests, we would need to
proceed with caution, or we will find ourselves at odds not just with Iraq but
with the rest of the world as well.
Isnít it obvious that the most explosive of all Middle Eastern conflicts is
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Isnít it the Middle East conflict which is
largely driving the presence of terrorism? Donít we need to first deal with
(or at least have a plan for dealing with) the Israeli-Palestinian question? How
is everyone, besides the Israelis, going to react to our unilateral occupation
of Iraq? Realistically, a unilateral attack on Iraq will make a lot of people
very angry with the U. S., and give a fresh legitimacy to those who counsel that
continued acts of terrorism are the only thing that will bring the United States
to its senses. This continually reinforced resentment is bound to result in
further anti-American action at some time or other.
Thereís a lot of oil in the Middle East, about 2/3 of the worldís
reserves. Iraq is second only to Saudi Arabia in the entire world in oil
We need to ask: suppose there were no oil in all of these disputes? Would we
be so very concerned about weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of
Iraq? Would we be concerned if there was even actual mass destruction?
Both India and Pakistan recently acquired nuclear weapons. We didnít
preemptively attack them. In recent decades there has been actual massive deaths
in Rwanda (about 800,000) and in Cambodia (about a million). The world, and the
United States, stood by and wrung its hands in response. Indeed, when Vietnam
finally intervened to topple the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, they were generally
This war is about oil. Our own actions have demonstrated that it could not be
about either the threat or the fact of mass destruction. The question
then arises, whether it is worth shedding any more blood to sustain our wasteful
lifestyle. Since I believe it is wrong for the country to be so wasteful in the
first place, I certainly do not believe that it is worth shedding any blood over
From a moral point of view, should we invade Iraq, or not?
The country is in a state of shock. Neither the country nor its leadership
has really come to terms with September 11. Itís been a bad year, which even
the quick victory in Afghanistan does not really temper. The economy is in
shambles and everyone is nervous. The message seems to be this: blood has to
flow, and itís not going to be our blood, at least for the most part. Even
though no one is claiming that Iraq is abetting the September 11 terrorists,
invading Iraq is really about September 11. Bush is just "lashing out"
at the nearest convenient target.
The entire moral focus is on how we feel. We should instead remember
how others feel, and what is going on in the world outside of the narrow
boundaries of the U. S. political scene. Terrorism and political instability are
just symptoms of a larger problem. There is a Middle East conflict which has
been simmering for over fifty years, which has never been resolved, and which
now appears to be decisively worsening. The earthís environment is
disintegrating just at the moment when the divisions between the rich and the
poor are the greatest and are actually increasing.
Our real enemy is not terrorists who plot to kill us. It is our own
historical, political, and environmental attitudes. I grieve for the people
killed in the September 11 tragedy. But the main difference between this tragedy
and other tragedies around the world ó many of them much more serious in terms
of human life than September 11 ó is that the events of September 11 affected us,
and we are the most powerful country in the world. It is our tragedy, and
since we are so powerful, everyone elseís tragedy can just wait. That
is why September 11 has been moved to the center of the stage, and the worldís
perception of this obvious egoism is why the tremendous sympathy for the United
States which flowed out in the first weeks following September 11 has completely
evaporated. We need to understand that, however much September 11 hurt us, that
there are other people in the world who are also suffering, and we need to pay
some attention to their needs as well.
Our cause is this war is not just. We are going to war to protect our oil
supply and to protect a consumptive lifestyle. That is what has the rest
of the world, and many Americans as well, worried. It is a cause which I will
not support. It is a cause, in fact, which I must oppose, with every peaceful
means at my disposal. Stating the truth is the necessary starting point.
September 21, 2002
UPDATE February 5, 2011: reading this over eight
years later, the first surprising thing is that there were no weapons of
mass destruction at all. This was evidently completely
manufactured by the Bush administration. The second surprise is
that there is so little realization of the criminal nature of the Bush
administration by the American people. Bush was a war
criminal. I do not favor the death penalty in this or any other
case, but I just point out that after the Nuremberg trials the
victorious allies (which included the United States) executed Germans
for doing exactly and precisely what Bush has done.
There has to be an
accounting for all this; either a war crimes trial or some other
reasonable way of giving assurance that this will not happen
again. We didn't have war crimes trials after Vietnam, although
they were sorely needed. It would have been divisive, I suppose,
just as a trial for Bush would be divisive.