Despite a few holdouts, this week Congress will probably give President George W. Bush the final go-ahead he's sought -- but says he doesn't really need -- to go to war against Saddam Hussein. 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.
Watching passersby examine the Coolidge Corner anti-war table the other day, I was struck by the many nods and verbal agreements and requests for leaflets. At least in Brookline, there's less war support than Bush would like. And national opinion polls show that most Americans would rather see Bush work with the United Nations than rush in alone, cowboy style. Still, the mainstream media debate has more to do with how and when -- not whether -- we should attack.
No doubt the president shrugged off those who railed against him when he visited Boston last Friday, and thousands more on Sunday throughout the US, and others in cities worldwide who responded to a call originally issued by Brookline PeaceWorks.
Sure, 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 even add a bit more backbone to wary decision makers.
Even non-pacifists have good reason to try to block this war.
Despite Bush's claims, there's little credible proof the brutal 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 deaths -- the bulk of the war ended before winter weather killed hundreds of thousands. But the prospect of children killed by US weapons is still 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 chaos.
That's unlikely, but 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?
I suppose some are cheered by this prospect. Not me, though. 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.
This column is a local variation of We Should Also Worry About a Quick-and-Easy War.
Note: this version may differ from the published version.More on war and terrorism
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Page updated September 30, 2007