September 24, 2002 (revised, May 27, 2004: Well, it turns out I was right, and more, in a related paper, I'm suggesting that our national policy should shift to leaving Iraq before our losses mount exponentially.)
WHY I THINK ATTACKING IRAQ IS A BAAAAD IDEA
1. It's not a pre-emptive strike–that's an euphemism, a nice way to put what is really naked aggression. The claim is that they're going to attack us or someone pretty soon, as soon as they get their armamentarium established. The appeal of the "hawks" is to that point in history before Hitler attacked, perhaps that moment when Neville Chamberlin "appeased" Hitler a few years before Hitler ended up attacking Poland anyway. But there are many differences, not least the general objection of both our erstwhile "allies" and the whole of the Muslim world. Also, there have been a number of legal and philosophical objections to the underlying policy that presumes this right . (Good article: Lemann, N. "The war on what?" The New Yorker, Sept. 16, 2002, pages 36-44).
2. Attack is only the beginning. The assumption that we will be able to unseat Saddam militarily is questionable, unless we actually seek to occupy the country. Since the goal is far from getting Saddam out of Kuwait; and more than simply destroying the bulk of his fighting force, there is a real likelihood that both the Iraqi people and the Muslim world at large will see this as an attack on their very nationhood. Our claims to only seeking to oust Saddam will be obscured by their propaganda–certainly, that's not how they're going to report our motivation to their people.
3. A sustained attack may be enormously costly not only in munitions, trucks, but lives, and not just soldiers, but innumerable civilians–very possibly with a loss of life that would be greater than if Saddam would have attacked with those alleged weapons of mass destruction. That's another loaded term.
4. Mass destruction involves also the capacity for delivery–long or short range. The main target would likely be Israel, in order to generate a general uprising and alliance with the anti-Israeli portion of the Muslim world–not a small fraction, either, and certainly one that is capable of being aroused by propaganda with many allusions to the Crusades. Incidentally, some knowledge of the way the West initiated a savage and unprovoked attack and distored its propaganda a thousand years ago may be helpful to keep in mind, because in fact the Islamic world very much remembers this episode.
5. There is a good chance that such an attack would serve as an excellent pretext for many and varied actions on the part of associated countries to support warlike anti-American efforts that could be seen as supporting their own regimes, suppressing democratic dissent, etc. In times of war, the other side can also use this as a pretext for suppressing not only dissent, but fundamental human rights.
6. War leads to polarization. You're either with us or against us. If you disagree with the Government's action, then you're undercutting the support for "Our Boys Over There" and are therefore deemed "unpatriotic." Does this sound like what happened on the Home Front during the Vietnam War? This attack could be even worse, much worse.
7. The impact of such an action on the home front could be devastating to national unity: When many in the highest reaches of government, not least the ex-chief of staff of the military, have cautioned against this action, imagine how the rest of the country must feel. It's not a matter of "left" versus "right" any more– or at least not in the form of economic or social liberalism or conservativism. There is no communism as a theme here. It's just a matter of examining the wisdom, ethics, and practicality of a specific goal.
8. There are trends in the present Administration that have already stretched the interpretation of Civil Liberties in the service of anti-terrorism. It is most likely that such threats to the basic liberties of Americans will be further threatened under the pretext of the demands for loyalty in wartime.
9. The antagonism of other governments may lead to a passive-aggressive loosening of the partnership against terrorism, leading to a laxity that allows if not fosters terrorist cells and plans.
10. The motivation of the National Government–this present administration–is already in doubt in light of Bush being perceived as a "tool" of the business interests, personified in Vice President Cheney. The backwash of the corporate scandals include also the past energy manipulations of both president and vice-president. The claims that the war is being pursued by the administration to (1) divert attention to the recent tax relief that benefitted primarily the rich; (2) support big business–especially armaments and some energy and other industries–and the historical precedent of governmental officials and politicians then getting jobs with the industries following their term of office–the worst of the "military-industrial complex" that President Eisenhower warned against in the early1950s; (3) redeem the perceived "failure" of George Bush Sr. to have "finished the job" in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and perhaps subconsciously triumph over his father in a sublimated Oedipal acting-out.
Two other articles I've seen in recent newsmagazines or on the email suggest other perceived motivations: (1) To obtain a favorable access to Iraq's oil; and (2) to generally promote and protect "American business interests" abroad. (However, paradoxically, I think this contemplated attack might go against those very interests in that terrorism, kidnaping, and the like might escalate.)
None of these motivations may be accurate. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the other "hawks" may be motivated only by the purest ideals. However, the problem is that the country will be riddled by doubts, that such perceptions exist, and no amount of propaganda will undo this perception.
11. Indeed, the general distrust of authority, in light of scores of scandals among the police and other agencies, may even lead to the following scenario: The attack proceeds, the military arrives in Iraq and unearths evidence that Saddam has indeed been manufacturing weaponsofmassdestruction (one word). Rumor begins to circulate worldwide that the evidence was "planted." Another scenario: They don't discover significant evidence... what would be their motivation, considering the stakes, to indeed plant that evidence? Should we believe that only Clinton and Nixon would lie? That no other president lied? That George W. Bush would not lie because he is President?
12. The belief that this attack could be "sold" to the "American People" is still shallow, because even if it is sold, the people can be fickle when the war goes sour, and it will go sour with the reports of the first killings of US Servicemen. What will enable it to continue to be sold?
13. The question remains: What if we wait? Who would they attack? And if they did a massive attack, what is the likelihood it would be on Israel before it would be on the USA? And if they attacked Israel, what is the likelihood that Israel would in turn retaliate as a matter of not just national honor, but of ultimate survival, with nuclear weapons?
Another scenario: Terrorists accelerate and spread their attacks: It remains unclear who instigated this or that attack. Several groups claim credit, for multiple reasons–perhaps to attract funds from Muslim governments who may even be duplicitously offering lip-service allegiance to the USA. Part 2: We claim this is supported by Iraq, or that Saddam is instigating the attacks–but we can't prove it. Part 3. At what point would an effort to use any "massdestruction" weapons justify a nuclear attack on a city filled mainly with civilians? As it is, we have reason to expect that Saddam will be more than willing to embed his key armaments in the midst of population centers, suspecting that we would be reluctant to bomb mainly civilians. And should we do so, the likelihood of worldwide opprobrium is high.
14. What if we wait? Saddam could die. Be assassinated. We could pay the Mafia to assassinate him for a tiny fraction of the cost of a war. But, no, say that Saddam lives and goes on to successfully develop one, or five, or fifty nuclear warheads and some rockets. That this would be a powerful enough system to be inter-continental, to threaten the USA mainland, and not be visible or detectable by inspectors, becomes far-fetched.
But in the next scenario, he does this. And with a missel that gets through, bombs a major city, with a nuclear weapon. Well, retaliation is sure to follow, or is it? Probably.
15. We attack, we win, we overthrow the government. What then? What kind of government will move in, and how will that government's stability be insured? In the present climate of suicide bombing, what kind of neo-colonial investment of troops will be required, and after all is said and done, will the "preemption" of massdestruction be worth the long-term, ongoing process of low-grade destruction. "I hope it will" is not an acceptable answer here–it needs to be "I think it will," and that thought will need to be backed up with reasons and evidence.
16. I call your attention also to a wonderful book by the historian, Barbara Tuchman, who wrote "The March of Folly," published around 1985, a few years before her death. The book addresses the dynamics of episodes in which governments acted against their own best interests, and after an introduction of a number of other examples, three especially obvious examples were noted: The obstinacy of Renaissance Popes in provoking the breaking away of the Protestants; the obstinacy of George III in provoking the American Revolution; and the Vietnam War–with some focus especially on the groupthink of the in-group that resisted the criticisms of otherwise loyal and thoughtful associates.
17. Extending some of the hints in the earlier point, and emphasizing this: Such an attack is very likely to arouse a general spread of terrorist cells, suicide missions, and a cultural "jihad." The Middle East is already a tinder box. More, alas, in spite of the plausible reasons for a specific attack on a tyrant, it is severe denial on the part of the present Administration to think that it won't be perceived throughout the Islamic world as an attack on Islam in general, and there are many who are strongly motivated already to promote their version of militant Islam anyway, with America as the demonized "other." As a result, there well may be a spread of this onto other Islamic groups in the USA and elsewhere; on the Jews, who are presumed to be in league with Israel–even though a fair number of Jews world-wide don't support some of the policies of Israel.
18. Such an attack would be basically illegal in any international forum. Although this is arguable, it will be argued not on some superficial basis that those who object to Bush's actions are easily dismissed as having some simplistic motivation. At least back in the Vietnam era we had an international tension between two worldviews.
19. This is a bad time for our economy, and may make the stock market plummet even further. Some companies will gain, but others will falter. The deficit will rise precipitously. It will be a time for windfall profits at a time when such efforts to reap such profits are being viewed as profoundly unethical. Efforts to bring such matters to light will further undermine what remains of any belief in the integrity of business.
I'd be interested in any other reasons you'd like to add to this.
If you like it, copy it, send it to others, send it to your congressperson, and your national senator.