Politics & Policy

Student Primer

Truths and falsehoods about Operation Iraqi Freedom.

1) “The war against Iraq is illegal.” FALSE. In 1991, Saddam Hussein accepted United Nations Resolution #687. This was a ceasefire agreement, not a surrender treaty. It allowed him to remain in power on the condition that Iraq provide full and accurate disclosure of all long-range missiles and weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) — so that U.N. inspectors could verify Iraq’s disarmament. Even those nations who currently oppose military action admit that Saddam hasn’t lived up to the terms of the cease fire; 17 United Nations resolutions have followed #687, the last being #1441, demanding that Saddam come into compliance. He still hasn’t.

#ad#2) “Saddam is now complying with weapons inspections.” FALSE. The massing of American troops at the Iraqi border has resulted in Saddam’s recent public destruction of several dozen illegal missiles — which he previously claimed not to possess — but he has never lived up to the terms of Resolution #687. Weapons inspectors are verifiers, not detectives; it’s not their job to locate hidden weapons. It is the responsibility of the Iraqi government to bring forward and destroy the weapons under the inspectors’ watch. This is what happened when South Africa disarmed in 1993. It’s what happened when the Ukraine disarmed after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

3) “The war against Iraq is being fought for the sake of oil companies.” FALSE. Even the writer Susan Sontag, an unwavering critic of the war against Iraq, recently called the No-Blood-for-Oil argument “stupid.” Oil prices, and oil company profits, are determined by market economics. If lots of oil floods the worldwide market, the price of oil goes down; if oil becomes scarce, the price goes up. Either way, oil companies adjust. Oil companies benefit most from stable relationships with stable governments; what they don’t like is instability — which is precisely what war creates.

4) “North Korea poses a greater threat to the U.S. than Iraq.” FALSE FOR NOW. North Korea currently possesses one or two nuclear weapons. By the summer, it may have six or eight. It also has a vast conventional army and a leader, Kim Jong Il, at least as erratic as Saddam. Given its nuclear capacity and the range of its most advanced missiles, it’s an immediate threat to South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia; furthermore, North Korea is now developing missiles capable of reaching Hawaii or even the West Coast of the United States. If Kim behaved in a predictable manner, North Korea would be a threat to no one. The fact that he doesn’t makes the situation on the Korean Peninsula nightmarish. But it’s also an object lesson: Here is what happens when you allow a madman — such as Kim or Saddam — to develop WMDs. Confronting him afterwards becomes much scarier.

5) “Saddam has no direct connection with al Qaeda, the terrorist group that attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001.” PROBABLY TRUE. Though Saddam has, in the past, sent millions of dollars to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers — whose attacks have killed not only Israelis but also American citizens — to date there’s no credible evidence he sponsored, or knew in advance of, the 9/11 attacks. Indeed, Saddam’s brand of secular Islam is rejected by the religious zealots who comprise Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda group. This is no comfort however. Though Osama and Saddam detest one another, they’re nevertheless united by their hatred of the United States — and the possibility that Saddam might pass along WMDs to Osama cannot be dismissed. Consider: Iraq and Iran actually used WMDs on one another during their war from 1980-1988, which ended in a stalemate with over a million dead. They were mortal enemies, yet during the Gulf War in 1991, Iran allowed Saddam to stash fighter planes on its soil to keep them from being destroyed by American forces. History teaches, time and again, you don’t have to like your allies; mutual interests will suffice. Which leads to . . .

6) “The United States has supported Saddam in the past.” TRUE. During the Iran-Iraq war, the Reagan administration viewed Saddam’s militaristic regime in Iraq as the lesser of two evils compared with Ayatollah Khomeini’s fundamentalist regime in Iran. (It’s crucial to recall that Iran had held dozens of American citizens hostage from 11/79-1/81 and supported terrorism against the West worldwide.) So America supplied Saddam with advanced technology and weapons to use against Iran — including, according to several reports, anthrax. This is, to be sure, a shameful episode, but it’s not unique. America supported the mujahedeen in Afghanistan (including a young fighter named Osama bin Laden) in their war against the Soviet Union from 1979-1992. In World War II, the U.S. sided with the genocidal murderer Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union against the genocidal murderer Adolf Hitler of Germany. Another tragic lesson of history is that aligning yourself with the lesser of two evils often creates your next enemy. But dirty hands don’t argue for inaction; indeed, they sometimes argue for trying to clean up the mess you made.

7) “The war on terrorism is really a war against Muslims.” FALSE. In 1991, the U.S. liberated the Muslim population of Kuwait after their nation was invaded and conquered by the Iraqi army. In 1996, the U.S., acting in defiance of the United Nations, bombed Serbia — a predominantly Christian country — in order to end the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims. The U.S. does not make foreign-policy decisions based on religion, period. It is nevertheless the case that the terrorists who’ve killed Americans at home and abroad over the last five years have without exception been Muslims. In seeking to end the threat of terrorism, America will have to focus on Muslims — despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Islamic people worldwide mean America no harm whatsoever.

8) “The war on terrorism is a racist war.” FALSE. And too idiotic to dignify with an explanation.

9) “War with Iraq will cause more terrorism.” UNKNOWABLE. The terrorists who attacked America on 9/11 were motivated by a noxious brew of religious fanaticism, cultural hatred, and economic envy. Nothing the U.S. can do, short of becoming an Islamic nation and terminating all alliances with non-Islamic nations, will satisfy the grievances of such people. The terrorists themselves surely cannot hate America more. If the war with Iraq goes well, with minimal civilian casualties, the Iraqi people will likely cheer American soldiers as their liberators. But this outcome isn’t certain . . . and the effect on the terrorists, even in this best-case scenario, is unpredictable. What is certain is that if the war with Iraq goes badly, if it entails thousands of Iraqi civilian casualties, the terrorists will use the resulting images to recruit more volunteers. But of course doing nothing may have the same result; it may encourage terrorists to even bolder strikes. Then, too, terrorists require bases of operations; it’s possible that other Islamic regimes may learn from what happens to Saddam and crack down on terrorist operations within their borders. Again, however, this is speculation. Too many variables are involved. No one in the Bush administration, and certainly no one the antiwar movement, knows for sure what will happen.

10) Conclusion. Nothing you’ve just read proves that war with Iraq is either morally justified or strategically wise. Those are difficult questions; they require investigating arguments on both sides and weighing them, in an informed way, in light of your own conscience. In other words, they require more effort than reading an article on a bulletin board. But it shames the education you are currently acquiring if you are formulating your answers based on rally slogans. Your teachers have agendas. Make up your own minds.

Mark Goldblatt teaches at Fashion Institute of Technology of the State University of New York.

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