As the United States prepares to launch its second war of the new millennium, it may be useful to note that pacifism is, like anarchy and libertarianism, a meaningless and foolish ideology. A world without war would be a world without human beings; organized mass killing is an inherent reality, the ultimate fall-back position, for those who can't or won't negotiate for what they want with those who have it. Peace is great, but no one will ever give it a chance.
While war involves wholesale slaughter and pointless destruction, sometimes war can be good. More precisely, war can be justified under certain circumstances.
Self-defense, for instance. When your country is invaded, you have every right to kill the aggressor's soldiers and, if things go favorably, to destroy the territory of the attacking nation-state after you drive them back across the border.
Another acceptable war aim is the liberation of oppressed peoples. It's immoral for the world to stand by and watch as a government, whether by action or inaction, presides over the systematic imposition of misery on its citizens. However, liberation is a tricky endeavor. Often the people the invaders want to save view them as just that-invaders bent on domination and exploitation. Example: While I consider George W. Bush to be a dangerous man who seized power extraconstitutionally, I wouldn't trust an invading army whose purported goal was to “liberate” the United States from his illegitimate rule. Because whether to retain or get rid of the Bush junta is the affair of Americans and not foreigners, I would fight to defend America's border (see self-defense, above).
Even wars of transparent aggression are sold to the public as acts of self-defense and selfless liberation. As Nazi Germany prepared to invade Czechoslovakia in 1936, Hitler claimed that ethnic Germans living in the Sudetenland were being abused by Czech authorities. In 1939, German officials dragged political prisoners to a German-Polish frontier checkpoint, dressed them in Polish army uniforms, and shot them to death. They distributed film of the bodies as “evidence” of a Polish invasion that had to be “repelled.”
War is a manifestation of that most primitive of animal instincts: greed. Someone has something-land, food, minerals, oil, a deep-water port-that someone else wants. Often the side that wants can only achieve its ends by killing the side that has.
Of all the wars we have fought, we Americans are most morally confident of our role in World War II. Three despotic empires responsible for the murder of nearly 100 million people were overthrown, their violent ideologies were bankrupted and a billion souls were liberated from oppression. Though the U.S. had a nebulous claim to self-defense in the Pacific-Japan had bombed Hawaii, a far-flung outpost that American Marines had themselves seized by force a half-century before-there was no imminent danger of an already overextended German empire extending its western front across the Atlantic.
Furthermore, interest in ending the Holocaust or feeding starving European children did not motivate America's decision to fight. As memos and other documents authored by Franklin Roosevelt in the National Archives prove, American leaders sought to create a power vacuum to open European markets to American goods. Germany had something-Europe-that we wanted. Liberation, and ending genocide, were happy by-products of that effort.
Were we right to fight World War II? Maybe. Were the results, on balance, positive? Absolutely.
Attacking Iraq, just in case
After a year spent floating a variety of bizarre pretexts for invading the Republic of Iraq-including Saddam Hussein's alleged role in an assassination attempt on Bush's father-George W. Bush has settled on those time-honored classics: liberation and self-defense. In truth, Saddam has something-oil and a nice spot for U.S. military bases-that Bush wants. But that's not how he puts it.
“Should Saddam Hussein seal his fate by refusing to disarm, by ignoring the opinion of the world, you will be fighting not to conquer anybody, but to liberate people,” Bush told U.S. troops earlier this year. “No matter what their oppressors may say, the people of Iraq have no love for tyranny. Like all human beings, they desire and they deserve to live in liberty and to live in dignity.” After first-world nations allowed Rwanda to disintegrate into chaos and genocide, Bill Clinton used similar rhetoric to justify military action in Somalia, Haiti and Yugoslavia.
Bush's twist on the self-defense excuse takes post-9/11 nationalist paranoia to dazzling new heights. Banking on lingering desires to prevent future Sept. 11s no matter what, Bush asks Americans and allied leaders to subscribe to an unprecedented Bush Doctrine under which we can attack anyone, anywhere, any time we feel threatened.
“Deterrence, the promise of massive retaliation against nations, means nothing, against shadowy, terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend,” Bush said in June. “Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorists' allies. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge. And our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives.”
Saddam Hussein may have weapons of mass destruction, Bush argues. He may be planning to use them against the U.S. or its allies.
Alternatively, he may give or sell them to terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda (never mind that radical Islamist groups despise Iraq as a corrupt, liberal, secular state). Thus the only way to positively preclude that possibility-remember, it is only a possibility-is to invade Iraq, overthrow Saddam Hussein and turn the country upside down in search of those (possible) weapons so that they can (possibly) be destroyed.
Preemption is a radical departure from the history of a nation that thinks of itself as fighting only to defend itself and its closest allies. Although the U.S. technically reserved the right to launch a first nuclear strike during the Cold War, in practice both diplomats and military planners relied on a principle of Mutual Assured Destruction under which neither the U.S. nor the Soviet Union would be motivated to attack first. Lyndon Johnson's claims, later proven untrue, that North Vietnam had shelled American ships convinced Congress to support the Tonkin Gulf Resolution that began the Vietnam War in earnest. LBJ marketed Vietnam as a blend of vengeance, self-defense and ideological proxy warfare. It all boiled down to standing up for America's friends and America's way of life.
A country that declares its right to launch preemptive strikes becomes a danger to its neighbors. The current North Korean crisis began as a direct result of the Bush Doctrine. Leader Kim Jong Il is so scared that he's next on Bush's “regime change” checklist that he reactivated his country's nuke program as a bargaining chip, says Donald Gregg, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea and Seoul station chief for the CIA. “I think their military is frightened by us.”
If we have the right to take over other countries to prevent them from attacking first, it logically follows-from their point of view-that they have the same right to attack us. Our enemies fear us more, hate us more and are more likely to hit us first. Other nations acquire more weapons to defend themselves from us. Meanwhile, the allies who know us best, as we're seeing in the cases of France and Germany, begin to question our motives.
Bush's fraudulent causae belli
There's good reason for the international community, if there is such a thing, to distrust Bush administration claims that its looming war with Iraq is an act of self-defense. “We know [Saddam Hussein has] got ties with Al Qaeda,” Bush claimed in November. A few days later, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw-a staunch ally-called Bush a liar. “What I'm asked is if I've seen any evidence of that. And the answer is: I haven't.”
There is no link between the Iraqi government and Al Qaeda or any other Islamist group. They're ideological, cultural and political polar opposites. Nonetheless, Bush repeated this laughable, undocumented allegation in his 2003 State of the Union address. “Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans, this time armed by Saddam Hussein,” Bush asked. “It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.”
“Imagine” it? Fantasy will have to do, since it won't happen.
No one seriously believes that Iraq intends to attack the United States or anyone else. Partitioned into a de facto Kurdish homeland and two unilaterally-imposed “no fly” zones, its economy wrecked by a decade of trade sanctions and its infrastructure degraded by weekly bombing sorties so routine they don't rate a mention on CNN, the Iraqi government can't afford more misadventures like its conflicts with Iran and Kuwait. Past performance may not guarantee future returns, but 12 years of Iraq offering no more resistance than half-hearted anti-aircraft fire ought to count for something.
Polls show that the public support for blasting Iraqis into smithereens shoots up from lackluster to massive-only if and when Bush can cough up proof that Hussein has nukes, bacterial nasties or poison gases and plans to use them on us. Administration heavies have implied that they have the goods on Saddam. So where is the evidence? “The burden of proof is on [Iraq], if they want to create confidence that they do not have any weapons of mass destruction left,” says U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix. “The burden of proof is not on us to run around in every house in Iraq to search for it.” But no one, as Blix knows, can prove a negative.
Can anyone doubt that, if proof existed, it would have been released months ago? What conceivable reason could there be for withholding the “smoking gun” from a public that wants only that to support a war? There is no such evidence.
Even if Saddam Hussein had nukes, he wouldn't be able to use them-at least not against the United States. That's because Iraq doesn't possess any means of accurately delivering weapons to distant targets. Iraq's SCUD C missiles are only considered reliable to a maximum range of 300 miles; its Al Hussein rocket might make it 400 miles. The only way Hussein can nuke New York is by FedEx.
That leaves American allies, specifically Israel and Saudi Arabia, as the only possible victims of future attacks. Whether or not we have a duty to defend Israel, we have already provided it with upgraded Patriot anti-rocket missile systems, and it has already demonstrated its willingness to strike preemptively by bombing an Iraqi nuclear power plant in 1981. Given the Saudis' role in financing Islamist Wahhabism throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, shouldn't young Americans let the Saudis die for their own corrupt monarchy?
Bush War 1.0: Afghanistan
It isn't necessary to wallow in conjecture when considering the likely outcome of a U.S. war on Iraq. Our invasion of Afghanistan provides us with a uniformly dismal record of lies, broken promises, ineptitude and ill intent that augurs poorly for the coming Iraqi incursion.
Bush's official reasons for bombing and imposing regime change on Afghanistan closely parallel those he's now using for Iraq. A dangerous man, terrorist Osama bin Laden, had to be neutralized. The regime that harbored him, the Taliban, threatened its neighbors. As a bonus, it would be replaced with a liberal, Western-style democracy.
Bush promised that U.S. forces would stay in Afghanistan as long as it took and spend as much money as necessary to rebuild the country and establish law and order under a strong central government.
Like LBJ's phony Tonkin Gulf incident, however, Bush's excuses for going after the Taliban turned out to be untrue. Weeks after the world's richest country began bombing its poorest on Oct. 6, 2001, the Bushies were retroactively justifying a strategy (bombing rather than invading over land) that ensured bin Laden's escape to Pakistani Kashmir-we're coming! next week! next month!-by claiming that capturing the head of Al Qaeda “dead or alive” hadn't really been a main objective after all. “I just don't know whether we'll be successful [in capturing bin Laden],” said Donald Rumsfeld on Oct. 25.
Though the Taliban hosted Al Qaeda training camps, Pakistan-an American ally-had many more. Sept. 11 had been carried out by Saudis and Egyptians, some of whom happened to have trained in Afghanistan; attacking the Taliban to get even with or neutralize anti-American Islamists was like bombing Yale to get Bush. It was a distraction, a sideshow. It was bullshit.
What America did with its first Bush-era colony should cause pause to those inclined to believe its promises to do well by a post-Saddam Iraq. Experts estimated that a true Marshall Plan for Afghanistan-occupation forces to enforce law and order, creating a real government, construction of basic infrastructure-would have required at least 250,000 permanently-stationed American troops and $25 billion spent over five years. Afghan President (more accurately, Mayor of Kabul) Hamid Karzai puts the cost at $45 billion over 10 years.
Instead of a U.S.-led attempt to rebuild, Afghanistan got 5 percent of a Marshall Plan and a country allowed to disintegrate into the 1995-style warlordism that caused Afghans to turn to the Taliban in the first place.
“The U.S. is still giving Afghanistan roughly $300 million per year,” says a disappointed former National Security Council member Robert Orr. “That is nothing close to what the U.S. did for Europe during the Marshall Plan.” No roads have been paved, no wells have been dug, no electricity has been rigged. The total U.S. force in Afghanistan is 8,000, all stationed in Karzai's Kabul city-state. Even in Kabul, The New York Times reports, the U.S. hasn't built a single house. Karzai can't pay his own staff.
For progressive proponents of the White House's wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, cynical economic motives for war are a minor issue. Getting rid of oppressive regimes is, by itself, a positive step; whatever comes next, they assume, is bound to be an improvement.
Indeed, the Taliban may have been the world's worst government. Their treatment of women and ethnic minorities, especially Hazarans, was genocidal. Their contempt for art and culture led them to systematically destroy their war-torn nation's cultural heritage, culminating with the dynamiting of the two giant Buddhas at Bamiyan in early 2001. Their medieval, extrajudicial system of Sharia Islamic law made public stonings and amputations the nation's only must-see entertainment.
The United States has pulled off a triumph of entropy in Afghanistan. Incredibly, we have replaced the world's worst regime with one that, from the standpoint of Afghan citizens, is even worse.
The Taliban, who came to power as anti-rapist vigilantes, did provide one major boon to Afghanistan: they restored law and order to the 95 percent of the country under their control. It was possible to travel the nation's roads unmolested by checkpoints manned by violent armed thugs. People went out after dark. Rapists, robbers and murderers were brutally punished.
As I witnessed in the Takhar and Kunduz provinces in November and December of 2001, the collapse of the Taliban created a power vacuum that was immediately, and remains to this day, filled by the same regional warlord-financed militias that terrorized Afghans before 1996. Around Mazar-e-Sharif, for example, the Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Rostum's forces have set up roadblocks where anyone who passes is robbed, raped or killed at the whim of AK-47-toting teenagers. Individual “commanders” have further subdivided the area into minute districts so that it's impossible to get around without paying them off.
There are no cops. Men walk up to each other in the streets, shoot each other and walk away. Nothing happens. The streets empty after 5 p.m.; gunshots and the screams of victims fill the nights. Post-Taliban Afghanistan is Mad Max come to life.
A few girls attend newly opened schools. Music is sold in bazaars. But what good does it do to teach a woman how to read if she can be raped and killed with impunity? Who cares about music when you risk your life by going outdoors? Law and order is the basis of civilization; without it little else matters. Under the Northern Alliance, Sharia law lives on-the “new” Afghan judiciary retains all of the mullahs who spent the Taliban period chopping off arms and stoning adulterers. Women still wear the burqa, not because it's the law but because they're scared of being raped. The Northern Alliance is the Taliban minus security.
From the U.S. perspective, Afghanistan remains as much of a threat as before. Newsweek reports that Al Qaeda's old training camps are back in operation. After a successful Taliban campaign to wipe out the heroin trade, Afghanistan is once again the world's leading cultivator of opium poppies used by European junkies.
Occupation on a shoestring
Invading a sovereign state to impose “regime change” is a bad idea. If people don't like their government, whether or not to launch a revolution should be their decision. But given that you are going in, the least you can do is to do the job right.
Ultimately, the U.S. doesn't have the political culture or national demeanor of great empire-builders like the British. Rather than install military and civilian governors to manage our newly-conquered lands, we hire tin-pot puppet dictators. Rather than dispatch colonists to spread American civilization to the unwashed hordes, we stick a few thousand troops in a walled cantonment near the capital. We don't pave roads, build houses, feed people or create jobs. We don't buy good will.
We do vaccinate children. They go outside, where they step on Soviet mines or pick up brightly-colored canisters from American cluster bombs. At least their minced flesh is disease-free.
Like all half-assed endeavors, occupation on the cheap is the worst possible strategy. You piss off the locals without disarming them. You radicalize moderates. You get blamed for everything that goes wrong, without having enough of a budget to make anything better. That's exactly what happened in Afghanistan. Most people are hungrier, and angrier, than before. They know that, rather than bring democracy to Afghanistan, we imposed an impotent puppet government. Their rage-the rage of a fearsome people whose national pastime is the blood feud-is focused on us. Memo to future invaders: Go in, and stay in, with overwhelming force for the foreseeable future, or don't go in at all.
After Saddam, the deluge
Needless to say-but for those of us who oppose this war, it is oddly necessary to say-Saddam Hussein is a brutal dictator. He suppresses Iraq's Shiite majority, lines the pockets of his cronies with stolen oil revenues and fills his jails with Kurds and other political opponents. Iraqis should get rid of him.
Yet the world is full of horrible despots, and Bush doesn't talk about changing their regimes. Pakistan's Musharraf tortured the democratically-elected president he deposed in a coup d'état. Turkmenistan's Niyazov, a megalomaniacal tyrant who built a gilt 120-feet-high statue of himself in central Ashkhabat as his citizens struggle to make ends meet on an average salary of $20 a month, likes to “disappear” people he finds disagreeable. Both men are Bush's dear allies in America's “war on terror.”
This isn't a war; it's a labor-management dispute. Saddam Hussein, himself a close ally of the first President Bush, gassed countless Kurds without any objection from the State Department-until he invaded Kuwait without asking permission. Just as George W. Bush never mentioned the plight of Afghan women before September 2001, he never gave a damn about oppressed Iraqis until their torment became a convenient talking point for war. The bottom line is that Saddam has something Bush wants-Iraq-and Bush is willing to kill him to get it.
We should be careful, though. Blowing up Saddam or putting him out to pasture on the French Riviera will likely replace Iraq's execrable Ba'ath Party with something even worse.
Saddam Hussein's Iraq is, from the standpoint of women's rights, one of the most liberal Arab states in the Middle East. They hold high-ranking jobs in government and private industry and dress like Westerners. Profoundly tied into Iraq's sense of national identity is the idea, supported by socialist wealth-distribution programs and massive subsidies, that the nation's oil wealth must be enjoyed by ordinary people rather than exploited for the sole benefit of foreign corporations. These are good things. Would a Bush-backed Shiite-Kurdish puppet coalition apply similar policies? Women living in Kurdish-ruled Iraq-where, incidentally, remnants of Al Qaeda do operate-exist in a world closer to Kabul than Baghdad. And most of U.S.-backed Iraqi opposition espouse right-wing views on religion and social mores.
The 2001 U.S. invasion reduced Afghanistan to anarchic civil war. Iraq is even more fragile. Kurds will demand an independent state. Iran already funds its fellow Shiites within Iraq. Instability will spread to neighboring countries whose governments are doing their best to create fairer societies. Turkey's restless Kurdish minority will undoubtedly agitate to join their brothers across the border in Iraq. Radical Islamist groups operating within Kurdistan would try to seize power. A Turkish civil war would create shock waves through the Balkans, Israel and Palestine. Given this scenario, American military governors would likely turn to another Iraqi strongman, a grim copy of Saddam Hussein, to hold the country together. Democracy? Not bloody likely.
War can be good, but there's no good reason to go to war in Iraq. The reasons we're being given are false, the real reasons are stupid and there's no chance we Americans will spend the time and money to repair everything we've broken after we're all done. How ironic: thousands killed, billions spent, and we'll probably never see a drop of all that oil.