Politics & Policy

No Apologies

The U.S. has to make the clearest case available.

PARIS — Anyone with some knowledge of the science of war would know that its military aspect constitutes a small part of a more complex whole.

The military may win or lose battles. But when it comes to war, politicians, not generals, determine victory or defeat.

In the Second World War the German army won more battles than their British, Russian, and American adversaries. German generals such as von Papen and Von Rundstedt achieved battleground victories that would have made Cyrus or Alexander proud. But Germany lost the war, nonetheless. The reason was that its leaders ignored one fact: War is an instrument of politics, not the other way round, a fact spelled out by Aristotle over 2,000 years ago.

No other human activity requires the deployment of so much moral energy, political ingenuity, and intellectual prowess as war.

Kavus Voshmgir, the 10th-century Persian theoretician of war, wrote about the triple rule of armed conflict.

The first phase consists of material, moral, and political preparation. One should move into the second phase only after winning the first. The second phase consists of the actual fighting, which is the least important of the three. Finally, there is the post-fighting phase in which you either translate your military victory into political gains or, if you have been defeated, try to minimize your losses.

Now let us apply the triple rule to the projected a war against Saddam Hussein.

There is no doubt that the U.S. is prepared for the second phase. Its superiority in terms of weapons systems, training, and maneuverability is beyond doubt. Morale is also high on the American side, if only because the GIs know that, in technical terms at least, they have the upper hand.

When it comes to political preparation, however, the American performance is lacking.

To start with there is still confusion about the precise objectives of the looming conflict. It would be much easier to sell this war by stating its objective to be the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. No one, not even the linguist Noam Chomsky or the neo-fascist French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, two of Saddam’s most ardent fans, would be able to defend his policy of repression, war, and genocide in public. The same international public that warmed up to the goal of removing Slobodan Milosevic from power would be open to arguments in favor of toppling Saddam.

Abundant evidence about atrocities committed by the Saddamite regime in Baghdad over the past 30 years. The University of Louvain, in Belgium, has completed an exhaustive research project into Saddam’s use of chemical weapons between 1985 and 1988. The report by the Dutch politician Max van der Stoel about the destruction of whole communities in southeast Iraq is already a classic in the history of atrocities that a regime could commit against its own people. Various human-rights groups, including Amnesty International, have lists of tens of thousands of Iraqis who have disappeared in Saddam’s prisons and hard labor camps during the past three decades.

The Bush administration, however, has highlighted “the disarming of Iraq” as the objective. This is a harder sell. Who is going to find the weapons that Saddam might be hiding in thousands of cleverly camouflaged sites?

Even if such weapons were to be found, it would still be hard to convince the public, including most Americans, that Saddam might, one day, use those weapons against the U.S. or any other country.

Divisions within the Bush administration further complicate matters. Some members of the administration, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, seem apologetic when discussing the issue. Others, notably Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, appear unduly provocative.

The result is that, in some cases, it is the U.S. that is presented as the guilty party. To listen to Chomsky or Jean-Marie Le Pen one might think that it is George W. Bush that has to be toppled not Saddam Hussein.

The fact that Iraq, under Saddam, is legally still at war with the United Nations is totally forgotten. People talk of “the American war against Iraq” and lament “the carpet bombing of women and children” even though fighting has not even begun. Chomsky is already projecting ” the millions of Iraqis” who are going to die just as he had projected the millions of Afghans who were supposed to perish last year and didn’t. Georg Haider, the Austrian neo-fascist leader, speaks of “America’s war against civilization” as if Saddam Hussein were a modern day Solon.

The U.S. has failed to show the world that the choice in Iraq is between Saddam Hussein and a new regime that would represent the peoples of Iraq.

Some, who do not know the details of this issue, the choice is between the status quo that, though lamentable, is preferable to the prospect of chaos in Iraq. They would rather let Saddam continue killing Iraqis in relatively small numbers for many years to come than take the risk of large numbers of Iraqis dying in a few days of war.

The U.S. has also been sending confusing signals on the diplomatic front. During the past couple of weeks we have talked to leaders from a dozen or so countries with a direct interest in the conflict. They all say they are not sure what it is that the Americans are really after. Talks between the U.S. and the interested countries has largely focused on concessions, including cash rewards, that Washington is prepared to offer in exchange for support in a possible war against Saddam Hussein. China, Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Jordan are among these countries.

The same confusion could be seen among the Iraqi opposition groups.

“People think we are in cahoots with the Americans,” a senior Iraqi opposition figure told us the other day. ” But the truth is that the Americans tell us nothing or tell us contradictory things. I have been trying to reach a senior Washington aide over the telephone for the past 10 days without success.”

As the fighting phase looms closer, the need to make a clear case for this war becomes more urgent.

That case must be made around the urgent need to rescue the peoples of Iraq from a regime that is also a threat to the region. World public opinion made no objection when the Tanzanian army marched in to topple Idi Amin in Uganda. Nor did anyone shed tears when the Vietnamese army marched in to get rid of the Khmer Rouge gangsters in Cambodia. When the Americans invaded Grenada to flush out the Castrist gangsters, the world had a sigh of relief. And when the U.S. Navy blockaded Haiti to kick out Raoul Cedras and his band of military thieves, there was gratitude. The British won plaudits when they kicked out Sanke Foda and his cutthroat associates that had seized power in Sierra Leone. Nor do we know of many people who regretted the overthrow of Milosevic and Radovan Karadicz.

Using force to get rid of obnoxious regimes is nothing new, and requires no apologies.

Amir Taheri is author of The Cauldron: The Middle East behind the headlines. Taheri is reachable through www.benadorassociates.com.


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