War Lessons

This page written circa 31 March, 2003.

On an NPR vox pop a woman in LA summarised: "I worry that this war is being fought for Bush's interests, instead of my interests". There are global arguments for invading Iraq---the opression of ordinary Iraqi citizens, military buildup contrary to 1441, for instance---and the UN ought eventually have had to approve action. One notes also that the US may come out ahead in oily dollars and military experience, private, selfish motivations. Nevertheless, much of the world does not accept or approve of "Bush's War" on Iraq, and Americans cannot understand why.

The interesting thing for me is the patent stupidity of the avowed motive of the Bush Administration, namely to make Americans safer by pre-emptive attack on Terrorism. I am not surprised that the populace believes this, they will believe anything. I am a little surprised congress believes it.

I wrote in my previous soapbox that:
"These Khanists actually believe that security for Americans would be best achieved by taking control of the world rather than through assuming a more balanced, less offensive stance." It is nice to hear this same line from a far more learned man than I: Noam Chomsky. I reproduce the text of his NY Times article at the bottom of this page. Some of it is left of accurate. I see it reflecting instinct borne of the Prime Directive. If my friend Dan wants to mount an argument against the proposition that "There is no reason to doubt the near-universal judgement the war in Iraq will only increase the threat of terrorism" I will be happy to give him a Soapbox all to himself. (An idea not without precedent.)

The other striking news of this month is that a close friend is amicably separating from his spouse after 13 years. Again love and war are juxtaposed. He wrote a long email recently, I think it is the sole example of non-reactive traffic that I have recieved from him in at least a year. The claim is that he needed to do something with an article that was rejected from the newspaper because someone bastard academic had done a better job sooner, much as Chomsky might have been summarising my views on the credibility of Bush's motives. I imagine it is more a case of getting the mind back on the rails after the demise of a relationship that had become something of a struggle, and had got in the way of communication with friends. I've seen that before, I've been there myself, too.
(Editorial PS: This comment was NOT intended to reflect upon my anyone in particular; if negative, I am reflecting on relationships in general. I have always disliked the fact that mating-type relationships strain or starve friendships, and they do so more when they are not themselves working well. This, and the void their collapse leaves, combine to give a recoil effect that catapults your friend back into your world.)

So what can we learn from this Bushwar?
1. People will believe anything. You yourself may believe something ridiculous.
2. Patriot II missiles actually seem to work, but then they ought to for US$3b.
3. Patriotism works better than religion or opium, but is more dangerous (compare Marx & Bush).
4. People who do think mostly do so at the end of a struggle, rather than in the middle.

Noam Chomsky recently wrote:
If anything is obvious from the history of warfare, it's that very little can be predicted.
In Iraq, the most awesome military force in human history has attacked a much weaker country, an enormous disparity of force.
It will be some time before even preliminary assessments of the consequences can be made. Every effort must be dedicated to minimising the harm, and to providing the Iraqi people with the huge resources required for them to rebuild their society, post- Saddam - in their own way - not as dictated by foreign rulers.
There is no reason to doubt the near-universal judgement the war in Iraq will only increase the threat of terrorism and the development and use of weapons of mass destruction, for revenge or deterrence.

In Iraq, the Bush Administration is pursuing an "imperial ambition" that is, rightly, frightening the world and turning the United States into an international pariah. The avowed intent of current US policy is to assert a military power that is supreme in the world and beyond challenge. US preventative wars may be fought at will; preventative, not pre-emptive. Whatever the justifications for pre-emptive war might sometimes be, they do not hold for the very different category of preventative war; the use of force to eliminate a contrived threat.

That policy opens the way to protracted struggle between the United States and its enemies, some of them created by violence and aggression and not just in the Middle East. In that regard, the US attack on Iraq is an answer to Osama bin Laden's prayers.
For the world the stakes of the war and its aftermath almost couldn't be higher. To select just one of many possibilities, destabilisation in Pakistan could lead to a turnover of "loose nukes" to the global network of terrorist groups, which may well be invigorated by the invasion and military occupation of Iraq. Other possibilities, no less grim, are easy to conjure up.

Yet the outlook for more benign outcomes isn't hopeless, starting with the world's support for the victims of war and murderous sanctions in Iraq.
A promising sign is that opposition to the invasion has been entirely without precedent. By contrast, 41 years ago this month, when the Kennedy administration announced that US pilots were bombing and strafing in Vietnam, protest was almost nonexistent. It did not reach any meaningful level for several years.
Today there is large-scale, anti-war protest all over the world. The peace movement acted forcefully even before the new Iraq war started.
That reflects a steady increase over these years in unwillingness to tolerate aggression and atrocities, one of many such changes worldwide. The activist movements of the past 40 years have had a civilising effect.
By now, the only way for the United States to attack a much weaker enemy is to construct a huge propaganda offensive depicting it as the ultimate evil, or even as a threat to our very survival. That was Washington's scenario for Iraq.
Nevertheless, peace activists are in a far better position now to stop the next turn to violence, and that is a matter of extraordinary significance.
A large part of the opposition to Bush's war is based on recognition that Iraq is only a special case of the "imperial ambition" declared forcefully in last September's National Security Strategy.

For perspective on our current situation, it may be useful to attend to very recent history. Last October the nature of threats to peace was dramatically underscored at the summit meeting in Havana on the 40th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, attended by key participants from Cuba, Russia and the US.
The fact we survived the crisis was a miracle. We learned that the world was saved from nuclear devastation by one Russian submarine captain, Vasily Arkhipov, who countermanded an order to fire nuclear missiles when Russian submarines were attacked by US destroyers near Kennedy's "quarantine" line. Had Arkhipov agreed, the nuclear launch would have almost certainly set off an interchange that could "destroy the Northern hemisphere", as Eisenhower had warned.
The dreadful revelation is particularly timely because of the circumstances. The roots of the missile crisis lay in international terrorism aimed at "regime change", two top-of-mind concepts today.
US terrorist attacks against Cuba began shortly after Castro took power, and were sharply escalated by Kennedy, right up to the missile crisis and beyond.

The new discoveries demonstrate with brilliant clarity the terrible and unanticipated risks of attacks on a "much weaker enemy" aimed at "regime change", risks that could doom us all.
The US is forging new and dangerous paths over near-unanimous world opposition.
There are two ways for Washington to respond to the threats that are, in part, engendered by its actions and startling proclamations.
One way is to try to alleviate the threats by paying some attention to legitimate grievances, and by agreeing to become a civilised member of a world community, with some respect for world order and its institutions.
The other way is to construct even more awesome engines of destruction and domination, so any perceived challenge, however remote, can be crushed, provoking new and greater challenges.

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