Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Heating a Tepid Dissent
The Case Against War on Iraq

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, August 20, 2002 --  

The sickening chorus of powerful yes men speaking in favor of war on Iraq was finally broken this week when former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft came out against an attack.1 Since then, he has been joined by his colleague from the first Bush administration, former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger.2

But as refreshing as it is to have any voice of dissent, it is troubling to hear the tepid nature of their opposition. Both men agree with the basic premise that it would be a good idea to attack Iraq if only Dubya could make his case to the people and keep the war from splitting the much-touted anti-terrorist coalition.

In this view, they are just as wrong as the presidential sycophants who have spoken before. Going to war against Iraq serves no real purpose to the United States. Saddam's programs to develop "weapons of mass destruction" have been referenced so often that they have taken on a mythical life of their own. He may well have active nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs, but they pose no threat to Americans. His nuclear program was effectively curtailed 20 years ago when Israeli jets destroyed his Osiraq nuclear reactor. Today, nobody can find any evidence that he is anywhere close to deploying a working nuclear weapon. The evidence that does exist points to chemical and biological programs.

But repeatedly saying "chemical and biological" in the same breath with the word "nuclear" doesn't make the weapon types equivalent. No way. Nuclear and biological weapons have scarcely been used in military conflicts in the past 100 years, not just because of their terrible nature, but because they're just not that effective. Witness the anthrax mailings. Only a handful of Americans lost their lives. Compare this with the tens of thousands killed by the first atomic attack on Japan. Comparatively, chemical and biological weapons are a meaningless distraction.

If Saddam uses such weapons it will most certainly be against his own people or his neighbors, not Americans. His much-derided missile program may threaten Tel Aviv, but should hardly put fear in New Yorkers' hearts. And even if he smuggles a weapon into the United States as a terrorist operation, he would risk unbelievable retaliation if any evidence linked him to the act -- witness all the anti-Saddam talk that stemmed from a shared coffee between a Czech-based Iraqi diplomat and Mohammed Atta. Saddam is certainly a despot, but he is no suicidal zealot.

Since he is a secular Arab leader, and not a jihad-waging fundamentalist, why on earth is he a target of an anti-terrorist war? The alternative leadership could be much worse. The United States succeeded in toppling the secular rulers of Afghanistan during Soviet times, only to bring the Taliban to power to host al-Qaeda. Had the U.S. Government left communist Afghanistan alone, it might be a repressive but secular and pro-American state like the former Soviet republics to its north. An anti-Iraqi war would empower not just the separatist Kurd rebels in the north, but also the Iranian-backed fundamentalist Shiites in the south.

But isn't it morally right to liberate the Iraqi people? Couldn't a democratic Iraq help make the Middle East a better place? Perhaps, but this result is far from certain, and the goal is simply not enough to justify a war on Iraq. The same logic could be used equally well to justify an attack on repressive Saudi Arabia, theocratic Iran, totalitarian Syria, or about any other Middle Eastern state. The cost in lives and money is just too high. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed in the last war. The financial cost of the operation then was bankrolled by Japan, which paid the U.S. 17 billion of today's dollars.3,4 If a new war comes to Iraq, the price tag will be far higher, and it will be American taxpayers, not he Japanese, who will fund it. For the life of me, I can't imagine what those taxpayers will be getting for their money.


1. Wall Street Journal, Don't Attack Saddam, August 15, 2002

2. Fox News Sunday, Eagleburger Interview, August 18, 2002

3. The Guardian, Japan Revisits the Gulf War, September 20, 2001: $13 million in 1991.

4. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Price Index Annual Percent Changes From 1913 to Present, August 16, 2002: 134.6 = January 1991, 180.1 = July 2002. ($13 million x [180.1/134.6] = $17 million)

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