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War is a Lousy Way to Win an Election
24 September 2002
The Bush administration intends to launch a slaughter against Iraq. But it has made no serious case for the need to rush to kill scores of thousands and bog our military down in a multiyear occupation. In the absence of such a case, it seems inescapable that the war hysteria has been manufactured just now in order to affect our coming elections. The likely result of the ploy will be to stoke the fires of Islamic extremism and make Americans less safe.
Yes, Saddam Hussein is a very bad man. He was when he was the ally of the Reagan and previous Bush administrations and a cornerstone of their regional strategy. He was when he invaded Kuwait and became our enemy. And there is no doubt that he has worked to acquire the most terrible weapons. But we have known all this for decades. There is nothing new here.
Neither in President Bush's speech to the United Nations nor in any other recent pronouncement has the administration even tried to provide credible evidence that Saddam is suddenly close to somehow threatening us. There are constant assertions but no facts. The editors of Jane's Intelligence Digest and Jane's World Armies, authoritative independent analysts, argue that there is no evidence that Iraq is near to having nuclear weapons or the ability to deliver its crude chemical or biological weapons anywhere close to our shores.
Administration officials imply that Saddam might give weapons of mass destruction to Al-Qaida to use against us. But Saddam and Osama bin Laden - who tried to organize a pan-Islamic jihad to drive Iraq out of Kuwait in 1990 - are enemies. If the administration's logic held any water, we should be in the midst of war preparations against Pakistan. It has a demonstrated nuclear capability, helped create the Taliban and forge Bin Laden's alliance with it, and supported both forces right up to 9/11. Elements of Pakistan's military apparently continue to support them. If stopping a possible transfer of nuclear materials to Al-Qaida is grounds for a hasty war, why attack Iraq and leave Pakistan alone?
Most important, Saddam has capitulated to unconditional U.N. inspections that will reveal what weapons of mass destruction Iraq has, or is making, and allow for their destruction. The administration did not even try to make an argument why that step was insufficient - it simply declared it so, and continued full speed ahead toward war.
With no evidence of any threat from Iraq that did not exist in January 2001 or January 2002, why the mad rush to war at this particular time? The inescapable conclusion is that it is the coming elections. War hysteria led by a Republican president is almost certain to lead to Republican gains in Congress.
With the economy ailing, the war in Afghanistan bogging down and the administration trying to dodge growing indications of security failures related to 9/11, a war build-up is a perfect political answer. It diverts attention from inconvenient issues and puts Democrats in a lose-lose situation. If they dare to stand up and say the emperor has no clothes, they will be attacked as unpatriotic. If they bend to the hysteria and try to out-warmonger the warmongers (as some have clearly chosen to do), they will be perceived as a pallid imitation of the real thing.
This war-hysteria-as-electoral-strategy is callous beyond comprehension. It will cost many thousands of lives, both of our troops and innumerable Iraqi civilians and conscripts. It will require a massive U.S. occupation for years to come. And most important, it will make Americans less, not more, safe.
This is perhaps the ugliest piece. Americans are traumatized by the attack carried out a year ago, and we are rightfully battling to ensure that such villainies do not occur in the future. The administration has consciously chosen to play on people's real fears of Al-Qaida in order to create the election-season war hysteria. It implies we will somehow be safer from Al-Qaida if we depose Saddam.
But a war that that is a transparent and crass political ploy will only strengthen Al-Qaida's stature in the region and draw more fighters and money to its cause. It may even be the delayed fulfillment of Bin Laden's dream that his 9/11 attack would provoke an indiscriminate U.S. response that would, in turn, forge a vast pan-Islamic front against us.
It is time that people of good faith stand together to say that the idea of rushing to war in order to sway an election is simply not acceptable in this country. It is time for those entrusted with moral and political leadership to act with courage. Thus far there have been few voices - beyond those of former military officials from the Reagan and previous Bush administrations - who have had the forthrightness to stand up to this insanity. It is time to stand up and be counted.