We Should Also
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Despite a few determined holdouts, Congress will soon give President
George W. Bush the final go-ahead he's sought -- but says he doesn't really
need -- to go to war against Iraq. If war opponents' worst fears prove
valid, we're all in for a rough time.
But here's the scary part: if those qualms prove overblown, things may
turn out even worse.
National opinion polls show that most Americans would rather see Bush
work with the United Nations than rush in alone, cowboy style. Washington
has been flooded with phone calls and faxes opposed to Bush's war plans.
Protests abound from Boston to San Francisco to lots of places in between.
Still, the mainstream media debate has more to do with how and when --
not whether -- we should attack.
Bush may not care what most people think -- not anti-war activists who
never liked him anyway, not political opponents whose motives he distrusts,
certainly not citizens of other countries whose objections at the United
Nations he's determined to either reshape or ignore. But visible protest
complicates his efforts, and may add a bit more backbone to wary decision
Even non-pacifists who think Saddam Hussein is every bit as evil as the
president says have good reason to try to block this war. Despite Bush's
claims, there's little credible proof Saddam has significant ties to Al
Qaeda, little evidence he's preparing to attack the US or that he has
functional weapons of mass destruction, and little legal support for a
preemptive attack. War may kill thousands of Iraqi civilians and spread
to Israel and other countries in the region. It will radicalize and unite
yet more Arabs and Muslims, spawning another generation of anti-US terrorists.
And it will do all this not to combat a real threat, but to ensure US
control over Middle East oil and, more ominously, US supremacy anywhere
the oil-tied, corporate-approved president chooses to assert it.
In the not-yet-ended Afghanistan war, authorities do their best to hide
the number and images of civilian deaths and injuries. Anti-war activists
apparently over-predicted the number of dead -- the bulk of the war ended
before winter weather killed hundreds of thousands. But the prospect of
children killed by US weapons is still for some a powerful brake on war
fever (unlike the reality of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children killed
more quietly by a decade of US sanctions).
So warning of the thousands, and conceivably millions, to be killed by
an American attack and the predictable response makes sense. That's not
a price we should force others to pay.
Then again, it might not turn out that way. If the technology works as
advertised, if military intelligence proves better than in the past, if
the weather cooperates, if a host of other factors unexpectedly fall into
place, then the war might eliminate Saddam and his loyalists without killing
other Iraqis, endangering American troops, or sending the region into
That's unlikely, of course. Technological performance never matches rosy
fantasies. More bombs may be smart these days, but they still seem to
go wrong at least as often as some smart people.
Yet all the war talk has me wondering. What if someday the United States
does become able to wage a clean technological war, with everything working
coldly and efficiently? No muss, no fuss, just press a button and the
regime of our choice changes, instantly. The military wouldn't even need
to keep the press from the battlefield any more, because there'd be no
civilian body parts to worry anxious TV viewers.
I suppose some are cheered by this prospect. And, of course, preventing
civilian death is a good thing.
But there'd be a downside to all this fantasy fulfillment. If the government
can wage war without mess, war would more often become the first resort
rather than the last. Taking advantage of the average citizen's justified
disgust with evildoers everywhere while reassuring us that no innocents
will be harmed, Bush or some successor would be able to threaten, even
more than today, any regime resistant to unilateral US demands.
At that point, we'll see even bigger gas-guzzlers, even more cheap goods
produced by exploited workers, even quicker use of force to advance global
corporate interests. The only tyrants left will be the ones who do our
bidding, just like the politicians now echoing Bush's war cries.
That's not the sound of Freedom ringing. It's the sound of Empire, growing.
on War and Terrorism