Should a murderer go free just because the LAPD contains racist thugs? The O.J. dilemma applies to Saddam Hussein as well. The case against him is weakened when made by clear wackos like Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and Cheney. But there is a case. And on the other side, if ever I‘m in the dock, heaven help me from having defenders like former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and others from the anti-war brigade.
One of the problems with being anti-war in this country is that you find yourself in such very mixed — and often mixed-up — company. It might not make you pro-war, but it can certainly incline you toward being anti-anti-war.
All too often, being anti-war is a contortion, not a position. To begin with is the question of which war you are against. Since Vietnam, the anti-warriors often advance an ad hoc catalog of mutually opposed positions orbiting one central tenet: The U.S. is always wrong.
This absolutism is wrong in principle, and it’s also bad politics. After all, it‘s hardly likely to attract the majority support of Americans, who, as we’ve seen since 911, are more likely to wave the flag than a peace sign. It does help the purists to isolate their enemies, since any quibbling makes you a retrospective supporter of the Vietnam War.
Different groups will give different reasons for opposing The War. The Quakers are genuinely anti-war — which is a perfectly respectable position, if not much use when confronted with warmongers like Adolf Hitler, Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. At least pacifists tend to be consistent.
Other anti-warriors are quite prepared to praise famous warmongers — as long as they are not American. Mercifully, few were prepared to risk tarring and feathering by suggesting that al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were doing the Lord‘s work, although some came dangerously close with odious comparisons and excuses for 911. Many anti-warriors seem to think that supporting recidivist warmongers like Slobodan Milosevic or Saddam Hussein was perfectly consonant with being “anti-war.” For them, war is what the U.S. does, not its opponents.
When it comes to concern for the effect of intervention on the locals, doublethink can really go into overdrive. Most Kosovars clearly welcomed intervention, and Afghans in general gave every appearance of being happy to be liberated when the imperialist forces of aggression rode in. But your average anti-warrior does not really want the victims enfranchised. It is the principle of intervention that is wrong. The practical effects on ordinary people are really irrelevant.
Anti-war absolutists have two fallback positions: that the victims are no saints themselves, or that the intervention will only make things worse and so the natives should be left to fight it out for themselves. It’s a long way from the Abraham Lincoln Brigade going to fight in the Spanish Civil War.
Often the same people who made excuses for Milosevic, by declaring that Bosnian Muslims had committed war crimes and Serbs had suffered from them, then tried to ignore Slobodan Milosevic‘s crimes or even go as far as Ramsey Clark to embrace and defend the mass murderer. They do have a point, even if it is far from conclusive. Victims are not always heroes. However, while we can assume statistically that the 2,802 casualties from last September 11 included a number of embezzlers of the poor, beaters of spouses and abusers of infants, there is no way that condones the crime.
If you can’t impugn the victims, the next recourse is to attack the motivation of the would-be rescuers. This is easy. Most nations, like most people, operate on a sliding scale of altruism and self-interest. So if the U.S. does good things from bad motives — what? — we should oppose it? Luckily for Europeans, they did not refuse tainted U.S. help in getting rid of Hitler.
So then we come to the current war we are all supposed to be against. I see a case for international action against Saddam Hussein, even if it‘s certainly not the one the administration is making. The Axis of Evil spiel is the product of the Hub of Hypocrisy in the White House. It is clearly in breach of international law for one country, even with God on its side, to overthrow the regime of another.
At the beginning of September, someone in the administration finally convinced the White House that unilateral overthrow of Saddam Hussein was indeed illegal, set a bad precedent and was supported only by Ariel Sharon — hardly a paragon of international lawfulness. Sometime in the last week or so, someone helped Bush see that by focusing on Iraq’s defiance of U.N. resolutions, particularly about inspections, he could provide a multilateral Kevlar fig leaf for a regime change.
In his speech to the U.N. last week, no matter how hypocritically, and no matter how unconvincing his last-minute conversion to multilateralism, George Bush laid out what many delegates concluded was a strong case for action to force the Iraqi regime into compliance with the host of U.N. resolutions. Admittedly, some of the stuff about the connections to terrorism was far-fetched, but this was more of the O.J. approach, tantamount to trying to frame a guilty man.
Of course, the administration‘s earlier threats and its past practice morally and politically weaken the case it makes legally. For example, by threatening to veto any resolution offering condemnation, let alone consequences, for Sharon’s behavior, such as his refusal to admit U.N. inspectors to Jenin, it lost points both morally and politically. Its previous bluster about its intention to go alone to Baghdad also clearly shows that the maintenance of international order was not always its highest priority.
However, the charge sheet is still substantial. A U.N. commission found Iraq to be the aggressor against Iran in one of the bloodiest wars since 1945. No sooner had it finished than Iraq invaded Kuwait and annexed it, thereby flouting one of the basic provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, which was set up precisely to stop that sort of thing.
After months of sanctions and being asked to leave, Iraq was thrown out of Kuwait by a U.N.-mandated coalition, and, faced with continuing hostilities that would have overthrown his regime, Saddam Hussein cried “Uncle,” and agreed to all the terms imposed by the U.N. Security Council — including inspections to verify disarmament. Iraq has repeatedly tried to conceal weapons programs that were in direct violation of its own international treaty commitments.
Domestically, since Saddam Hussein shot his way into power, he has killed far more Iraqis than Sharon has killed Palestinians. It is a sad truth that in those days before Kosovo and Rwanda, it was accepted that nobody could do anything about his using chemical and biological warfare against his own citizens, not to mention the more conventional bestiality of deportation, torture and mass murder.
It is also a sad fact that since Iraq was fighting against Iran, most of the West and the Soviets were prepared to overlook his domestic atrocities, and to cover up his use of poison gas against the Iranians — although that did not stop the president this week from shamelessly citing the behavior of Iraq as erstwhile ally to condemn Iraq the present enemy.
There is an old and worrying saying, “Let justice be done, though the sky fall in.” I‘m far from convinced that George Bush has thought enough about how to stop that from happening. Nor do I see Sharon or Bush as particularly qualified as agents of justice. Even so, if Saddam Hussein says that the U.N. inspectors can come in “over my dead body,” there will be no cause to shed tears if he gets what he asks for.
The United Nations is a deeply flawed institution — susceptible to misuse and abuse by the great powers. But many governments around the world are grateful that the U.S. is going through due procedure rather than leading a lynch mob to get Saddam Hussein.
It would be good if the war could be avoided. However, those who genuinely want to stop it should at least have been calling for Saddam Hussein to admit the U.N.’s inspectors, immediately and unconditionally. And they should also be asking for him to stand down. Indeed, they should ask for an international tribunal to try him. They could even ask the Security Council to empower the new International Criminal Court, opposed so bitterly by the Bush administration, to try him.