I envy friends who supported the war. Television news makes them happy. They dig landings at sea. Their days arent filled with anger and doubt about the war or its ramifications. They dont think about what $300 billion could do at home. If they think about Iraq at all, theyre proud of the easy military victory and unconcerned about anything else. We whipped Germany, we whipped Japan, and we, in some way, whipped Russia. Commies, Nazis, and now Muslim fundamentalists. The only question is winning.
friends. For some it is their country right or wrong. Others, my country has always been right and always will. For a friend who served in Vietnam and who understands the issues and Uncle Sams motives as well as I do its cut the debate after the war starts, because the soldiers dont need the confusion of public dissent.
It makes no difference to them that President Bush was disingenuous when he tied Saddam Hussein to Osama Bin Laden. Or that there may be no weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD). Or even that the position papers that laid out the basis for the war on Iraq were written by Paul Wolfowitz and others beginning in 1992 nine years before the Twin Towers came down and just four short years after we stopped supporting Saddam (and supplying those WMDs). It just makes no difference you stick with the home team. Neo-conservative thinkers understand the home team mentality. They know winning takes guts and determination chest thumping anger and a little trash talk. Woody Hayes, Vince Lombardy, Bobby Knight, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfield, and Bush. Colin Powell was a tad soft but he came around. Youre number 1 or youre a loser.
We are not hated and targeted because we are a democracy or because we have free speech, we are hated because were in everyones face and change purse. And the less powerful a country is in the face of this overwhelming superiority, the more it will distrust and fear us. Fear and hate are two sides of the same coin.
I happen to believe its immoral for those of us who did not fight in Vietnam, who sat it out or wrote or demonstrated, or just couldnt be bothered, to ever have the right to support sending 200,000 kids into another war of choice. But friends, who support the war, dont mind that the neo-conservative think-tankers, politicians, supporters and decision makers who set this war in motion also sat out Vietnam. George Bush, Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Richard Pearle, Paul Wolfowitz, John Ashcroft, Trent Lott, Newt Gingrich, William Kristol, amongst many other neocons, chickenhawks, and their fellow-travelers all sat it out. And all have had a hand in sending 200,000 parents children into a deadly situation that they did not have the courage to face.
This bothers me, but doesnt seem to bother my friends. They either dont know or dont care. If this war was necessary and just, then the military history or non-history of those who set it in motion wouldnt matter. Theyd be heroes, making up for their lack of military courage with the courage to think big with the courage and intelligence to set this nation on a course of benign global dominance for peace and democracy. But my friends give no thought to global dominance, only that the country went to war, and that wars are fought to be won no matter the reasons. No matter how unnecessary.
It also bothers me that conscripted soldiers, on both sides, die for nothing. It bothers me that civilians many civilians die; that among them are seven Iraqi women and children dying in the confusion of a checkpoint. And for that Im called a bleeding heart. Well, I am a bleeding heart. Liberals and progressives are, for the most part, bleeding hearts. We care about people we dont know. And my war-supporting friends know that people who worry about the other side do not win the Super Bowl. You give no quarter and take no prisoners. The National Security Strategy knows its audience when it says, While we recognize that our best defense is a good offense
To me its a bit thin to pass as foreign policy, but my friends (although they would not read the document or even know of its existence) understand the sentiment and agree completely. If your enemy has weapons you go for the drive-by shooting, not the hopeful conversation.
My need to see every document and every opinion leaves me nowhere near as certain as does their unquestioned faith in their country, its leaders, and the media that reports the government line and supports its decisions. They grew up with a faith that holds them in good stead during times that leave me angry and agitated. True believers have it made.
The question now, circulating among other groups of friends, is whether the liberal and progressive movement or each dissenting individual should now
reassess their opposition to the war in light of present circumstances. The military portion succeeded relatively quickly; Kurds, and some Shiites, at least, seems happy that Saddam is gone; most of the shooting has stopped; were talking to North Korea; and peace is being discussed in Palestine and Israel. Do we need to stop our whining and get on board? The extension of the question might be; if this is not the point where we all sing Hail to the Chief, about the war on Iraq, is there any point and what might that be?
A life form needs variety to flourish. There must be a give and take o f ideas and we need to provide the best possible dissenting ideas. Our strong voices are needed to bring some balance back to the public dialogue. The future of a free republic, with free speech, really does depend on it.
My brother, who is against the war (and a strong supporter of Israel) wanted to know what if Bush is right? It seems to be the same question. But right about what? That Saddam is a bad guy? No doubt. That he has significant WMDs? Much doubt. That he has strong ties to Bin Laden? No evidence. That we can whip his butt in three weeks? Easy. That we will be celebrated as liberators? Thats yet to be seen. That the new government we install will be pro U.S.? Thats certainly our intention, but its not a long-term certainty. That we will control Iraqi oil and secure military bases for future conflicts or simple intimidation? Thats also our intention, but its unlikely without an actual occupation something the U.S. population will have little patience for. That an open election will not produce a fundamentalist Muslim nation? Remember that our support of Bin Laden set the stage for a fundamentalist Afghanistan, and other famous troubles, so we are familiar with unintended consequences.
We will attempt to craft a simple democracy, but are not likely to get one of the Liberal Western ilk (rule of law, separation of powers, protection of the basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion and property). And once we leave, well really find out what we set in motion.
Did we lower the threat of terrorism? One would have to think hard about an anti-war position if the war had diminished terrorism, but we may, in fact, now be under a greater threat. The State Department recently issued a worldwide warning urging Americans to remain vigilant to the possibility of kidnappings, suicide bombings and attacks with conventional, chemical or biological weapons.
Or did we really send 200,000 kids into war, creating thousands of deaths and casualties just to rid the world of one man? Our old friend (until 1988) Saddam is gone, but it's certainly not clear that were any safer. One could argue that had we done the same to Hitler, the history of the 20th century would be very different. But at the time Hitler was a very obvious, aggressive threat and Hussein was none at all. He was weakened and virtually impotent, as our quick victory has proven. Things are still very much in flux in Iraq. The medium and long-term results are nowhere in sight. Changing ones position based on an early and potentially serious misreading of the results seems to me extremely premature.
And finally, did we have any legal or moral right to attack a nation that was not threatening us? And for me, no matter the short-term outcome, it should be understood that we never had the legal or moral right to wage this war in the first place. It flies in the
face of the United Nations Charter, Article 2, sections 3 and 4, calling for peaceful resolution of issues, and Chapter VII; Actions with Respect to Threats to the Peace
and is a clear violation of the Nuremberg principles and the position of the United States as to the culpability of Germany after WWII; i.e. that the crime was the initiation of the war, not the loss of it. And, in this case, we are the initiator.
We are not hated and targeted because we are a democracy or because we have free speech, we are hated because were in everyones face and change purse. And the less powerful a country is in the face of this overwhelming superiority, the more it will distrust and fear us. Fear and hate are two sides of the same coin. The nations closer to us in culture, power and economics will distrust our motives and dislike our arrogance but wont need to fear and hate us. France, China, and Russia will learn to accommodate our belligerence and arrogance, but the nations or peoples under our thumb will seethe and look for an opening to knock us down a peg or two. We just keep giving them more reasons.
In the long run, the United States will be forced, like all Imperial nations before it, to back away. The cost of unilateralism is too great the benefits too few. We will, like all Imperial powers before us, become over-extended. The American public will become bored, or convinced that the dollar cost isnt worth it.
Im not a pacifist. I believe that total pacifism is unrealistic. Even if we could remain pacifist in the face of an attack on ourselves, we should be moved by an attack on an innocent third party: Bosnia, Rwanda, the Holocaust, etc., and no one remains a pacifist in the face of danger to their children. Its interesting to note that Jimmy Carter was informed by Reinhold Niebuhrs theology of crisis that called on people, in response to Nazism, to unite to resist evil by force, if necessary.
If then, we agree there are times military action is called for, how do we decide when? And should we consider the results of the action before we decide if the action was justified? If the military action in Bosnia had turned out worse, would we have been wrong to assist militarily? In retrospect, should we have intervened in Rwanda? Should we intervene because we can? Must we intervene because we have the power? When we are threatened or worried about being threatened? Or worried that someone else will be threatened? Does the world need a superpower that has a declared position of preemptive aggression at the drop of some perceived, potential threat at some unspecified future time?
If we have decided that the situation did not merit a
military attack then the results should have no impact on our position.
If we think the action was called for, but oppose it because the results are potentially dangerous, chaotic, or just too unpredictable and the action proves a success, then we should have no trouble spinning 180, admitting our weak-kneed position was, well, weak-kneed and setting off with the flag-waving masses. I do not believe that was the case here. This was a winnable war of choice by a group of chickenhawks with a ten-year grudge, a need to make a point, and a thirst for oil.
So, as comfortable as it could be, I cant join the believers. Too many lies. Too many questions.
I do believe, whether they know it or not, and no matter how hard they try to silence the opposition (and they try mightily), the Right needs us to survive. And, as strange as it seems right now, we need them. There seem to be two ways that a nation can collapse internally. In the chaos and anarchy of Rwanda or the constricting stagnation of Eastern Europe. For a nation to survive, to grow and flourish, there needs to be a controlled churn of policy and ideas. And the Republican Party and its supporters seem to have precious little internal contention. It has moved, again, far to the right, and save for a few voices, the old Republican moderates have been silenced or marginalized. A life form needs variety to flourish. There must be a give and take of ideas and we need to provide the best possible dissenting ideas. Our strong voices are needed to bring some balance back to the public dialogue. The future of a free republic, with free speech, really does depend on it.
Variety is the strength of a democracy and the fear of conflicting opinions is the weakness of isms on both the far left and the far right. It is a fatal weakness. It is the reason that a ruling radical Islam
will change, as we see in Iran, or die of its own accord. But it is very difficult, for a shortsighted, historically challenged administration of four or eight years to see beyond the event horizon of its own life.
In the long run, the United States will be forced, like all Imperial nations before it, to back away. The cost of unilateralism is too great the benefits too few. We will, like all Imperial powers before us, become over-extended. The American public will become bored, or convinced that the dollar cost isnt worth it, or a new administration will decide it for us, and we will turn and head for home. Imperial ambitions need staying power, and America does not have a long attention span. So when we pull out or are sent back, well tote up the reds and blacks and forever argue over who initiated and who lost Americas costly and short-lived Empire. Perhaps well learn from it.
Chuck Stern, an artist and photographer who lives in Florence, worked in his young adult years in the office of Congressman John Conyers Jr. of Detroit and for former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young. Stern and his wife started the Artisan Gallery in Northampton, which she continues to operate.