I try not to be the kind of person who will say “I told you so” when I did, in fact, tell you so. At least, I try not to do so condescendingly. But not long ago, a colleague of mine stopped by my office and not only did I want to say “I told you so,” I wanted to punch him in the face. This is someone I genuinely like.
The issue inciting my aggressive impulse was, of course, the Iraq War. Before the war began, this colleague sent around an email to his friends asking for their opinions on the impending Iraq invasion. Nearly all who responded supported Bush’s plan. In fact, I was the only one who wrote more than two words against the war. Immediately, I was vilified by this group—most of whom I had never met, our only connection being my colleague. One man, in response to my email, suggested that all protesters be shot as traitors.
Some five years later, I saw my colleague and all of my rage—about how fucked up this country has become, how wise people in high positions were ignored, how patriotic people were accused of treason and worse, how many, many lives have been lost, how many more have been wounded—all of my rage was suddenly (and unfairly, I’ll admit) directed at him. He became Everyman in one instant. And I’m pissed as hell at Everyman for being a dupe.
I don’t have a history degree. I’m not a policy wonk. I haven’t studied the Middle East. I’ve just read a little here and there, paid attention to the news, dug around for information when I wasn’t sure what the truth was. It didn’t take a lot of effort to know a little about the implications of a war in Iraq.
I’m still angry at my colleague. It’s a shame, but I can’t get over it.
Here’s some of what I wrote in February 2003:
I do feel a need to define the debate a bit more along philosophical lines. If this were “simply” (I use the word lightly) a moral issue, it would mean that you are right and I am wrong, or vice versa. It’s not that simple. I do not want Saddam Hussein in power. I believe he is a dangerous man who has done great harm to his own people. That is a moral stance that everyone can agree upon. A very clear case of right versus wrong. However, where we differ is in the resolution to the moral issue, which I believe is more rightly defined as a philosophical difference. (Philosophy being the investigation of ideas, none of which is necessarily more moral than the other.)
So in addressing the “how” part of dealing with Iraq, I have significant concerns about the Bush Administration’s approach. I’ll pare them down:
1. I’m not convinced we are prepared to deal with the aftermath of war with Iraq. If we are truly concerned about the Iraqi people, we will be saddled with years of aid to this country…food, water, medical supplies (the country is already devastated by sanctions imposed by our influence on the Security Council — yes, we’ve even withheld materials that need to be used to provide clean water, materials that pose no threat to us). Most importantly, we have a long history of “rescuing” troubled countries only to abandon them once they’ve served our purpose.
2. I still fail to see how Saddam Hussein poses a threat to our democracy. Even his most lethal weapon cannot reach our shores. If we’re talking about the countries surrounding Iraq, yes, they could be in danger. But have they asked us for help?
3. Back to the aftermath: we will see a country deeply divided, much like Yugoslavia, whose people will continue to war among themselves. I hardly find that a solution to ensuring democracy. You’ve got Shiites, Sunies, and Kurds who hate each other.
4. While Saddam has continued to disregard the agreements made after the Gulf War, and countless resolutions thereafter, he has not attacked anyone. Is it really that awful for us to just keep putting the pressure on him? Think how many lives are saved just by keeping the inspectors around…no US troops need to die, no Iraqis.
5. If we are hell-bent on getting rid of Saddam (something I don’t, incidentally, oppose), aren’t there other options, such as charging him with crimes against humanity (a la Milosovich) or simply yanking him out of power (a la Noriega)?
6. I’m deeply concerned about our attitude toward our allies. Whether you “like” the French or not (and most people don’t), they are part of the Security Council. You don’t have to like them. The Security Council is akin to our own system of checks and balances, at the international level. Imagine if our justice department just went off on its own (gee, that’s not so far from reality anymore) and made up its own rules and we didn’t have the checks and balances we have today. We would be living in a very scary world. Well, we’re headed down that path right now. We are partners in a global community. The minute we assume we are better than everyone else is when we see our credibility, self-respect, and love of justice go out the window.
7. The whole notion of striking first is antithetical to the foundation of this country. One of the reasons I love being an American is that we try to do the right thing; we are the voice of reason. First strikes belong to totalitarian regimes that don’t have those pesky checks and balances.
8. We’ve got a whole lot more important stuff on our plate right now…like North Korea (while the Bush administration doesn’t think a whole lot about North Korea launching missiles — I think they called it “annoying” — I’m sure Japan does) that verifiably does have nukes, or Bin Laden who has already done more damage than any recognized nation. Not to mention, our own problems at home.
I’m sure there are other issues here to be explored, but these are the ones that come up most readily.