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March 14, 2003


A Centrist Opposition to the War Against Iraq

By Howard Williams (howardx@pacbell.net)

An American invasion of Iraq could be the worst foreign policy catastrophe of our country's history. Getting mired in a Middle Eastern conflict along with a murky and deadly aftermath could conceivably dwarf the tragedy of Vietnam and might even do to us what the Afghan War did to the Soviet Union - that is, exacerbate internal problems and set off an irreversible societal free fall that would irreparably damage our nation. In consideration of these factors, those who oppose an invasion of Iraq are serving America's interests far more than opportunistic politicians making the neo-Orwellian claim that our homeland's security requires that we invade a small, distant nation that has never attacked or even threatened us.

Up until now opposition to the upcoming war against Iraq has come from the Left and has been based on Leftist arguments, such as the pacifist principle of never fighting a war or the socialist assertion that the war is just a veil for gaining oil resources. For the most part, moderate Democrats and other Centrists questioning the war have done only that: they have questioned the war's tactics and strategy. Few of them have questioned the war itself. Moderates have urged that we seek a UN resolution, the support of our allies, or both before attacking Iraq.

But Centrists have not unconditionally opposed the war. It is very urgent to do so for two major and interrelated reasons: (1), an offensive war against Iraq will detract from our necessary struggle against Al Qaeda and (2), such a war will damage our national interests in many ways - some of them completely unforeseeable. And of course, Centrists - like all Americans - should oppose such a war on the principles and lessons offered by our nation's heritage.

A Centrist opposition to the invasion of Iraq will not only broaden the base of the growing movement against that upcoming war; it will broaden the anti-war argument. Leftist opposition to the upcoming invasion is based on the brutality of war or the presumptuous notion of pre-emption. However, if we are to seriously appeal to the majority of Americans, anti-war activists need to recognize the argument that there is a link between containing - but not invading - Iraq and finishing off Al Qaeda.

Bringing the focus back on Al Qaeda can awaken the vast majority of Americans who support the war against the 9/11 terrorists and make them realize that war against Al Qaeda is not a have-our-cake-and-eat-it-too situation. We're either fighting Bin Laden or we're fighting Saddam.

The United States is at war with the Al Qaeda terrorist group. Despite the recent arrests in Pakistan, this enemy continues to be well financed, well organized, motivated, and very dangerous, as proven by the killings of U.S. servicemen in Kuwait, the nightclub bombing in once-idyllic Bali, the murders of American medical workers in Yemen, and the fatal attacks in the Philippines and Kenya. Unlike Saddam, Al Qaeda is more than a possible threat in one region; it is a proven menace to Americans and other innocent people around the planet. Any diversion from our defensive war against Bin Laden is unjustified in the present situation. As Lincoln said, "One war at a time."

Unfortunately, the Bush Administration's emphasis on Saddam has resulted in one war at a time being directed against Iraq, which has never attacked us, while relying on our Pakistani and Afghan allies to finish off Al Qaeda. After helping our Afghan allies overthrow the Taliban in 2001, the Bush Administration now wants to fight Bin Laden with one hand tied behind the Persian Gulf. It'll be great if we still defeat Al Qaeda under such circumstances, but why take such chances? Why does the administration give priority to Saddam over Bin Laden? Why is Bush more interested in starting a war against Iraq than delivering the coup de grāce to those who murdered Americans on September 11,2001?

The administration has failed to capture or kill Bin Laden, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Mullah Omar and has relied heavily on Pakistani police and Afghan warriors to capture Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives. After the usual lip service about aid for the war-wracked Afghan people, this administration has come up short with the Marshall Plan that is needed to rescue our desperately impoverished yet strategic ally. In addition, the administration has given little credit to our Afghan allies for their indispensable help in routing the Taliban and forcing Bin Laden into hiding. Small wonder that U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan face increasing discontent from people who were our natural supporters just a few months ago.

Even before their police captured Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, Pakistan had given major support to our war against Al Qaeda. Yet Bush's response has been to bully and bribe Islamabad to getting its U.N. Security Council vote for his war against Iraq. This constant cajoling has only compromised the Pakistani government and contributed to electoral victories for extremist parties in two of Pakistan's four provinces. In order to get one Security Council vote to attack Iraq, Bush is willing to sacrifice a loyal ally and its vital contributions to the war against our real enemy. While U.S. troops in Afghanistan remain in harm's way. Bush shows far more desire for invading Iraq than for crushing Al Qaeda.

Here at home, military sociologist Charles Moskos of Northwestern University observes that calling up reserves for the war against Iraq has compromised security on the home front as many reservists are police, paramedics, firefighters, and other emergency personnel. Moskos states that calling up the reserves depletes the country "of precisely the people we will need" here in case of another attack by Al Qaeda on U.S. soil.

After a few minor initial successes, Bush has failed to plug the financial pipelines to Al Qaeda, and the necessary actions to do so would be contrary to his core belief in "market fundamentalism." Not coincidentally, such actions would also alienate his corporate donors, who gain from the same unrestricted "free market" practices (offshore tax havens, hedge funds, etc.) utilized by terrorist multi-nationals.

In spite of the fact that millions of the dollars we spend on Saudi and Kuwaiti oil go to Al Qaeda, George Bush still has no plan to declare energy independence from King Fahd. Even worse, his tax proposal offering a 100% deduction for the purchase of gas-guzzling SUVs may as well have been written in Riyadh. In the face of overwhelming proof, he obstinately refuses to recognize that Saudi Arabia and other petro-states are not quite "with us" as he tries vainly to proclaim a tenuous connection between secularist Saddam Hussein and the fundamentalist Bin Laden. And in an amazing act of unprecedented upper-class solidarity obliterating national and religious barriers, a few days after 9/11 the Bush administration allowed all members of Bin Laden's family here in the U.S. to fly out of the country for their safety while American citizens remained stranded in airports and Arab Americans of humbler means faced bigotry and official harassment.

The administration has made much noise about its claim that the war against "terror" will be a long one. Is that inevitable - or is that a tactic to advance a political agenda by consolidating power in the name of security? It is one thing to say that it might be a long war. But for any Commander in Chief to insist that it will be a long war borders on defeatism. If there is no end in sight, there is no victory in sight.

The Bush Administration is simply not up to the job of fighting Al Qaeda. To put it bluntly: right war, wrong president. And now we face a situation where we will have a wrong war.

Lincoln's "One war at a time" remark was in response to Cabinet members who were eager to attack Britain for its major logistical and financial support of the Confederacy. But Lincoln recognized that defensive wars are won not by attacking those who haven't attacked you; they are won by defeating those who are trying to destroy you. If we follow this administration's logic, we have far more cause to attack Saudi Arabia than Iraq.

Furthermore, since the time of George Washington, American policy concerning foreign war has been to respond to the necessary and the proven and to avoid the speculative. Invading Iraq on speculation while diverting resources from our fight against Al Qaeda will turn 200 years of mostly successful foreign policy on its head. More and more Americans understand this vital difference. We only need to see what's happening in our streets to realize this. After 9/11 protestors often marched against the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan. Yet none of those protests were as large as even the smaller marches against the planned invasion of Iraq. Furthermore, the anti-Iraq war rallies have grown from the tens of thousands to the hundreds of thousands. Indeed the magnitude of these marches rival those of the great protests of 1967 through 1971.

These increasing numbers - especially when compared with the much smaller turnouts protesting the war in Afghanistan - show that more Americans know the difference between the two wars: the necessary and defensive one against Al Qaeda and the obsessive and offensive one against Iraq. America - and George W. Bush - enjoyed an unprecedented national unity in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. Bush has squandered it on this administration's still inexplicable obsession with Iraq even while Al Qaeda regroups and North Korea openly threatens American soil. Similarly the ever-increasing numbers of people overseas protesting Bush's Iraq policy reflects his squandering of the unmatched foreign sympathy we enjoyed after the Al Qaeda attacks. Last month in London perhaps 2 million people protested the Iraqi invasion plans not far from where the Queen's Band had played "The Star Spangled Banner" after 9/11.

As harmful to our war against Al Qaeda as the invasion of Iraq would be, overall damage to our nation could be far worse. Gulf War I gave us Timothy McVeigh and the D.C. area snipers. Our veterans came back poisoned with Gulf War syndrome while we made the Middle East safe for ungrateful Kuwaiti and Saudi oil tycoons to supply Bin Laden and Hamas with cash and suicide bombers. It is important to remember that none of these aftershocks were suspected, let alone predicted even by that war's most vociferous opponents.

The sequel to Gulf War I could be far worse, as sequels usually are. It may even be appropriate to stand Marx on his head and say that in the history of Gulf Wars tragedy will follow farce - though in doing so, let us remember that even what we call the "farce" of Gulf War I was still tragic. Let us never forget that this is war that we are talking about.

Nor can we accept at face value the conventional wisdom that a second Gulf War will be as easy or as "cheap" - if you count the costs listed above as cheap - as the first war was. General Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. field commander in Gulf War I, has publicly stated that this upcoming war will not be easy. This time Iraqi soldiers - and civilians - will be fighting for Iraq instead of Saddam's megalomaniac imperialism. Like all defenders they will fight harder the closer they get to their hometowns.

The diplomatic costs of this Gulf War have already exceeded those of the first one. Though much has been made of the alienation from our traditional allies in Europe, we should already beware the response from our "moderate" Middle Eastern "allies." While Donald Rumsfeld was busy castigating Germany and France, the New York Times reported that the Saudi Arabian princes are near a consensus to demand that the U.S. withdraw all American troops from their country after Saddam is ousted. It doesn't take a Ph.D. in punditry to imagine the next scenario. With no more US troops there, Saudi Arabia will feel even less pressure to comply with U.S. requests for assistance in the war against Al Qaeda, especially on the all-important financial front.

Then there's the Turks. When we consider the financial and diplomatic costs of Turkey's "alliance," Bush himself should be relieved that the Parliament in Ankara rebuffed the U.S. troop transit plan. If Turkish troops enter northern Iraq, American soldiers will find themselves in the no-win situation of playing referees (i.e., targets) between Kurdish independence fighters and the Turks. And American taxpayers will pay the Turks billions to buy such a dangerous crisis. Yet our troops still remain off Turkey's shores, waiting for Ankara to okay what we are told is a second front but will more likely be a second war - and a second betrayal of our Kurdish allies.

Even before a shot has been fired, the financial costs of a second Gulf War are soaring and not just in the quantity of dollars expended by the federal government. Along with tax cuts, Gulf War II and other military expenditures will allow little funding for America's needs at home. The financial burdens of a war against Iraq will exacerbate the sky-high record deficits inflicted on the next generation of Americans. Estimates of Gulf War II expenses continue to soar even before the war has begun. Cost estimates approach $100 billion, making it our third most expensive war, after World War II and Vietnam.

Not only will we impose the ultimate price of war on many of our soldiers, we will even cop out and stick their surviving buddies with the financial tab. Long after they have come home, Gulf War II vets will be paying taxes for the war in which they saw their buddies die or get maimed. World War II vets got the GI Bill; Gulf War II GIs will get the bill for the deficit.

On Wall Street the stock market under an unabashedly pro-corporate administration has responded more to dismal economic reality than to George Bush's cheerleading. The bears are certainly not hibernating this winter. The Dow, NASDAQ, and other markets continue to fall as probability of war has replaced rumor of war. Like its predecessor, Gulf War II may herald a record recession.

What will be some other consequences of an invasion of Iraq? Remembering that the worst fallout of Gulf War I - the Oklahoma City bombing, the D.C. area murders, the financing of Al Qaeda and similar groups - was never predicted by that war's most pessimistic critics, no one can predict what specific horrors our nation will suffer as a result of this war. We can only predict that horrors will come and that like those of Gulf War I, they will probably be so shocking and unprecedented that we will have no preparation for them. And this time we may not be able to recover from them. In Iraq itself, our occupation may even be bloodier than the invasion. As in Lebanon in 1983, the hard part may be staying after we wear out our welcome and our troops become the targets of suicide bombers and other terrorists.

These consequences - more battlefield deaths than Gulf War I and Afghanistan combined, diplomatic difficulties with Europe and the Middle East, economic instability sparking our worst recession since the Depression - are the ones we can reasonably foretell. While not inevitable, they are quite plausible. But what about this war's analogies to the Timothy McVeighs, the D.C. snipers, the founding and funding of Al Qaedas? Even in the anger of the protests against Gulf War I, no one dared imagine, let alone predict, these horrendous nightmares that still stalk us. What new horrors will Gulf War II add to the ones inflicted on America by Gulf War I?

Let us hope that Marx is right and that the younger Bush's unnecessary war will indeed be more farce than tragedy. Trusting in Lincoln more than Marx, Americans should recall that great president's admonition that we should fear for our country when we remember that God is just.