Sunday, March 25, 2007

I told you so.

(What follows is an essay I wrote on the eve of the invasion of Iraq. Sad to say, much of what I predicted has come to pass.)

It’s War.
By Mitchel J. Schapira

War is Hell. America is poised at the brink of waging a huge war. There are over a quarter million troops in what almost certainly will be the Iraqi theater of operations. Though we are assured that the military will take every care to avoid civilian casualties, it is inconceivable that this war, if it comes, will not kill thousands of innocent civilians. It is reasonable to think that 100,000 Iraqi civilians will perish, and given the demographics of Iraq half can be expected to be under the age of 16 years old.

The war aims being what they are, the war will surely involve urban warfare. That means that Americans must be prepared to take casualties. It is no figure of speech to say that the decision to wage war is a life and death decision, and on a large scale, too.

Having said all that, I am not a pacifist. War is hell, to be sure, but it is not something which I oppose in all circumstances. The horrors of war, being almost incomprehensible, impose upon us a duty to seek peace whenever we can. I believe in a loving God Who calls upon us to love all of His children. This is my perspective as a citizen of the world.

But I am not just a citizen of the world. I am an American. My loyalty to America, my love of country, and if I may say it without sounding sappy, my patriotism inform all of my decisions. The problem is that it is hard to say what is in America’s interests.

When brave Americans sign up for military service, they say in effect that they are willing to lay down their lives for our country. Such love cannot be abused. We must be sure of our purposes and our prospects for success, if we are to ask these valiant men and women to risk, and in some cases, to sacrifice their lives.

One need not catalogue the horrors of war to make the case against it. But it should be observed that it is not just loss of life and limb that we wish to avoid. The costs of this war will be stupendous and estimates that factor in the reconstruction reach $200 Billion. That’s real money but my bet is that the $2x10 to the 11th is a gross underestimate. So in addition to the direct human costs, we must figure in the suffering that this money could have alleviated at home and elsewhere.

Fifty million people around the world are going to die from AIDS in a matter of days or months or at the most a few years unless they are treated immediately with the life-saving drugs that are now available. $200,000,000,000 buys a lot of medicine, or to put it more concretely, a lot of lives.

War. What Is It Good For? Let’s examine the purposes of this war. First, the war is sold to us as a necessary component of the war on terror. This is an easy sell on the American people because the events of 9/11 have left us angry and scared. But fundamentally, the argument, as presented, is fallacious.

Notwithstanding the fact that a shockingly high 40% of Americans think otherwise, there were no Iraqis among the 9/11 terrorists, and there is no evidence linking Saddam and Osama Bin Ladin. Indeed, Saddam’s secular (though totalitarian) state is anathema to Bin Ladin.

Like so many aspects of this situation, the reality is more complex than the sound bites used to promote policy. It is undoubtedly true that Saddam Hussein gives money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. And Saddam’s closest ally in the Arab world is Syria, state sponsor of terrorist organizations such as Hizbollah and Hamas. So, though the arguments offered against Saddam relating to September 11th are false, the links between Saddam and terrorism are real.

Let us assume there is a link between Saddam and terror besides the Israel connection. One question that needs to be answered is, “Will the war make us safer?” Intelligence services are widely reported to have warned that the war will make terrorist attacks more likely, increasing our risk rather than our safety.

Is it the task of America to fight terrorism wherever and however it rears its ugly head? This goes to the big question of what is to be America’s role in the world. Should America be the policeman of the world? I don’t have much trouble answering that one in the negative. But America does have a special relationship to Israel, and support for Palestinian suicide/murder bombers is not just terrorism in the abstract. Rather, it is an act of war against our strategic ally. On balance, I am prepared to say that Saddam must go, and the sooner the better.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t answer the question of whether or not America should go to war against Iraq. It is only logical to go from Saddam-must-go to we-must-invade if that is the only way or at least the best way to depose Saddam.

Before we address that question, we must take note of the other justifications for the war. Saddam has been said to have a nuclear weapons program. The U.N. inspectors say otherwise. We can only say that the current regime of inspectors is keeping the Iraqi nuclear program at bay, and there is no reason to think that Saddam will threaten us anytime soon with nuclear weapons. Even the White House has dropped this line of argument.

Saddam, we are told, possesses chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. I believe it. We are told that Saddam is ruthless, and the inference is that he would threaten us with these weapons. On this, I am much more skeptical. Saddam may be ruthless, but he is not crazy. The costs of attacking America with chemical or biological weapons are just too high. Again, the inspectors impose a significant deterrent.

Of course, we are told that Saddam has “gassed his own people.” Put aside the fact that the Kurds are not Saddam’s own people any more than are the Chasidim of Boro Park. What is especially irksome about this justification for war is that it was the United States that supplied targeting information for Saddam’s gas attack on Kurdistan. So if the argument is that Saddam is evil and therefore we should attack him, what does that say about his collaborators? Are they not evil, too? Shall they lead us into this war? Their names by the way are Rumsfield, Wolfowitz, Perle, and Powell.

And then there is the problem of the United Nations which illustrates the complexity of this debate. One could argue that the United Nations serves American interests in many ways, not least of which is by reducing the scourge of war. Should we wage war against Iraq to establish the principle that the previous U.N. resolutions calling for Iraqi disarmament under threat of severe consequences must be obeyed? Or does proceeding to war without Security Council approval marginalize and thereby weaken the U.N.?

And what if it does? After all, we are talking about a Security Council which includes Syria, a state sponsor of terrorism. The United Nations does much which is good, some which is bad and a lot which is irrelevant. The posturing of Security Council members doesn’t impress me one way or the other, especially when one considers that France has a veto. France, it must be recalled, sold Iraq nuclear reactors, apparently under the impression that Iraq faced an impending shortage of fossil fuel. According to Bill Safire, France sold Iraq five tons of rocket fuel in violation of the U.N. Sanctions as recently as last April. So whether the war is good or bad for the U.N. is, simply put, not a worthy consideration here.

Don’t Worry; Be Happy The war will pit the American military against a regime that was to some degree disarmed 10 years ago, has little popular support, and has no realistic chance of military success. The American military might is awesome and overwhelming. Not to diminish the value of the lives that will be lost, it is reasonable to hope that within a short while, less than a month, the military objectives will be achieved, though not without costs.

Then what? The suggestion has been made that Americans will be welcomed as liberators, and that democracy will blossom in the desert, from whence it will spread throughout the Arab lands. Don’t believe it.

America has imposed a regime of sanctions on Iraq for a decade now, such that the 40% of Iraqis who are under the age of 14 cannot remember a time when clean drinking water, medicine and food were not limited by the sanctions. “UNICEF confirms that five to six thousand Iraqi children are dying unnecessarily every month due to the impact of sanctions, and that figure is probably modest,” Denis Halliday told a Congressional hearing in October 1998. Halliday, who had just resigned his post as U.N. Assistant Secretary General and head of the U.N. humanitarian mission in Iraq, spoke of the “tragic incompatibility of sanctions with the U.N. Charter and the convention on Human Rights.”

Though the Saddam regime could have traded oil for food and medicine, or taken other affirmative steps to avoid sanctions, it is too much to expect that the average Iraqi sees Saddam’s government as the responsible party for his or her deprivation. It is much more reasonable to think that after an initial show of gratitude, the Iraqi’s will chafe at the presence of Americans in their country, and feel the sting of the war which was brought to them by the United States. In six weeks, whatever goodwill there was, will be gone.

What will Iraq look like then? Here’s a worst case scenario provided by Mike Turner, a retired colonel and former policy planner for the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the Mideast and east Africa.
Now we've firmly committed ourselves to war with Iraq, and what is our political objective? To get Saddam. The uniformed Joint Staff in the Pentagon strongly opposed this plan early on. It requires an attack with a force half that of Desert Storm against an entrenched urban enemy renowned for its ruthlessness in defending its own survival. The uniformed Joint Staff was overridden, yet in so many horrifying ways this operation resembles Somalia, not Desert Storm, only with nerve gas and biological weapons. And without Turkey as a base to launch a northern assault, a dual-pronged attack will be all but impossible.

Perhaps we can pull this off, but here's a far worse scenario that's at least as likely. Within hours of our attack, Saddam launches Scuds on Israel. Israel's right-wing government launches a full-scale attack on Iraq, creating a holy war nightmare. Saddam, threatened with his own survival, uses chemical and biological weapons and human shields just as he has in the past. He torches his own oil fields, thousands of his own people are killed. Photos of American soldiers amid landscapes of Iraqi civilian bodies blanket the world press which aligns unanimously against the US. The US is condemned by NATO and the UN.

The war ends within a few weeks, but the crisis deepens. The US is left to administer a political vacuum in Iraq. Iran is emboldened to help the Shiites in the south. Disease breaks out, food and water are contaminated and the cost of the war skyrockets. The US economy is dealt a body blow, but the administration can find no credible way out. Britain's Prime Minister Blair is voted out of office.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda, seeing an opportunity due to a shift in US focus, attacks a major US target. North Korea, emboldened by the distraction, ignores diplomatic efforts to restrain its development of nuclear weapons and begins to export weapons-grade plutonium to terrorists.

These are not remote possibilities, but in my view reasonable, possibly even likely outcomes.
Horrible as that scenario is, it doesn’t project what will happen to the Kurds in the northern part of Iraq. Past experience doesn’t supply the answer to that question, but it strongly suggests that whatever it will be, it will not be good.

There is another cost to consider as well. How does one measure the cost of setting a dangerous precedent? In this case the precedent is pre-emptive invasion. If the case for going to war were a stronger one, I might be persuaded to bear this cost as well as the others. After all, I did publicly defend Israel’s pre-emptive strike at the Iraqi nuclear bomb factory. (But let’s not forget that the U.S. condemned it.)

In the current situation, the arguments against war are fortified by the fact that this war can not be unequivocally viewed as a just, proportionate, response to an imminent threat, which left the U.S. with no alternative but to strike pre-emptively. Is this the case to establish the precedent of pre-emptive war? As the old lawyer’s saw has it, ‘Bad cases make bad law.’

We are told that we should trust our government and that there is much information that if only we knew it, we would support the President. There are many lessons to take from the Viet Nam war, but surely the most important one is that blind trust goes beyond the duties of citizenship. Indeed, it crosses over the line into abdication of responsibility. The manner in which the debate has been conducted in this country convinces me more than ever that it is our duty to form our own opinions and express them if they are based upon careful thought and investigation. And though the opinions of other countries count for only so much, they are not to be ignored entirely.

I can’t escape the conclusion that though the goals of ousting Saddam, and de-fanging Iraq are laudable, the risks of military invasion are not worth taking at this time. The costs in terms of life and treasure are too great. It’s a long-shot gamble at best and the stakes are too high.

I have seen nothing in the record of the current administration that warrants confidence in their ability to pull off the difficult balancing act required. One need only look at the damage that has been done to American prestige, to the NATO alliance, and, on the domestic side, to the economy and the budget. The conclusion that can’t be dismissed out of hand is that the President just doesn’t know what he is doing.

What to do? What to do? As I said, Saddam must go. I arrive at this conclusion on the strength of one argument, namely that he supports terrorism against Israel.

Israel is a strategic ally, and therefore, American interests strongly align with Israel’s in this matter. Furthermore, by removing Iraq’s leader, America can say to Israel, “okay, your security is improved; now you must take steps toward peace with the Palestinians.” America can also say to the Palestinians, “okay, your supporter is gone. Make peace now, or it will only get worse.” Since it is axiomatic that resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict is in America’s interests, Saddam’s demise is welcome by America directly, as well as indirectly for its benefit to Israel.

Two Problems. We have two problems to deal with. The first is the Iraqi situation. The second is the blundering president and the mess he has gotten us into.

The first problem is actually much easier to deal with than it seems at first blush. As I have said, inspections seem to be working to some extent. That is to say, inspectors have prevented Saddam from getting a nuclear development program under way, and have inhibited him from arming missiles with chemical and biological WMDs. All this is good, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. What we need, is to destroy the weapons of mass destruction that he is presumed to have.

As long as America threatens unilateral military invasion, Saddam Hussein will do anything and everything to keep his weapons of mass destruction. This is especially true because Saddam reasonably believes that even if he were to destroy his weapons of mass destruction, America will invade and impose regime change. It is easy for Saddam to see that there is no percentage in him destroying his WMDs as long as America threatens unilateral action to depose him. Therefore, the United States must foreswear unilateral action, if there is to be any chance of success in disarming Iraq.

In order to destroy the WMD’s we need a new regime of inspectors. The inspectors should be empowered not merely to report to the UN, but also to destroy weapons and components wherever they are found. By ‘empowered’ I mean to say, given legal authority and military capability. The legal authority would come from the Security Counsel, or the General Assembly of the United Nations. The military capability should wear the uniforms of the UN troops. There must be a true coalition of the willing involving the vast majority of nations willing to back up the Inspectors with invasion if Saddam fails to cooperate in any way. This back up force has to be a significant multi-national force, mobilized and able to strike on very short notice.

What would trigger the multinational force? The plan I propose would necessarily involve a much more active inspector corps. They would be given provisional authority to order military strikes from a joint command. The implied bargain is this, “cooperate and live; fail to cooperate and you face the combined forces of the world’s free nations, which means certain death for you.”

Of course, we have said that Saddam must go, and that regime change is devoutly to be wished for. We should be willing to settle for Saddam dying peacefully of old age, if he is restrained from doing evil for the rest of his life.

I think that there is much that can be done to promote regime change from within Iraq. This goes beyond my expertise, but it seems obvious that America has supported the overthrow of tyrants before, and our intelligence services are capable of doing it again. It seems that we have made enough mistakes in the past that, were we disposed to learn from mistakes, we could be very wise, indeed. I might mention here that I am not a conscientious objector to Israel’s policy of targeted assassinations.

The specifics of how we could bring about regime change are difficult to discuss. I would observe that the inspectors would impose limitations on Saddam’s ability to resist popular uprising, and could also hamper his capacity for making mischief abroad.

If through the implementation of these measures Saddam is harmless until his time on earth comes to an end, I would count the policy as a great success. Of course, harmless means more than not employing WMDs. It also means not having the means by which to threaten peace. Therefore, the inspector regime should include specifically the ability to trace money and insure access of the Iraqi people to information. Transferring money to terrorists, or their families, is supporting terrorism, and that would be contrary to the commitments which Iraq would have to make. An attack on Radio Free Iraq, would be interpreted at an aggressive act, incompatible with a disarmed Iraq.

A special consideration is the role of sanctions on Iraq. It should be sufficient to observe that 10 years of sanctions have weakened Saddam no more than 40 years of sanctions have weakened Castro. Indeed, sanctions seem to have strengthened the anti-American component of support for these dictators. Elsewhere herein, I have suggested that they have made any post-invasion scenario greatly more problematic. Therefore, I would reverse the sanctions. In their place I would impose a program of directly aiding groups within Iraq which are not friendly to Saddam.

First and foremost among these is the Kurds. Since the Kurds live in Iraq’s northern no fly zone, it should not be an impossible task to give aid directly to them.

The Shi’ites in the South should be naturally allied with the Saudis against the Baathists. Saudi Arabia should be persuaded to find a way to support their brethren to obtain democracy in a way that doesn’t threaten the House of Saud directly. I say directly because in the historical time scale, all democracies threaten all monarchies. Nevertheless, Saudi support for Iraqi Shi’ites is sufficient if it keeps Saddam hunkered down in Baghdad, and creates an environment in which the seeds of democracy can be sown.

The other problem we have is that our President is a knucklehead and he has gotten us into a horrible mess. The solution to his incompetence is to vote against him in the next election, as most people did in the last. The solution to the horrible mess that he has gotten us into is to be guided by the words of the Good Book: “Pride goeth before a fall.” We must admit our mistakes, and not allow our nation to shed blood, lose treasure, and diminish our security to save face.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

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