My dis-ease does not arise from a favorable view of Iraq. I am not unaware of the criminal behavior of Saddam Hussein. It comes, rather, from my great love for America and the ideals that I associate with this nation. So I have to state that none of the arguments being put forth today to hype this war are compelling.
Those arguments, as rehearsed daily in our newspapers, TV talk shows, magazines and radio are as follows:
1. Iraq harbors terrorists. But so do Palestine, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. It is also a fact that Germany, Great Britain and the United States have been home to terrorists groups.
2. Saddam has murdered his own people. While murdering one's own citizens is tragic, it is not unknown in history. Pakistan, our ally against the Taliban, has done so to its Hindu citizens. Russia has done it in Chechnya, China has done it in Tiananmen Square, Germany has done it against the Jews, and in the United States, this tactic has been used against Native and African-Americans.
3. Saddam has chemical and biological weapons and is seeking a nuclear capability. But many nations of the world, including the United States, have chemical and biological weapons. Russia, Great Britain, Pakistan, India, France, and China all have atomic weapons and North Korea is said to be near that breakthrough, while Iran has missiles on the assembly line.
4. Saddam is evil. But so are or were Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Idi Amin in Uganda, Ceaucescu in Romania, Milosovic in Yugloslavia and Pinochet in Chile.
What is the real source of this visceral hatred of Iraq that has created this eagerness for war? I wish I had a clear answer. But all I can do is speculate. Ask yourselves, 'could any one of these possibilities be factors in that combustible mix that is fueling our nation's passion to go to war?' Dismiss them all if you wish, but allow them to be raised.
Are we motivated by the frustration of our unfinished and apparently unwon war against terrorism? This nation was attacked brutally on September 11th. Despite a massive military effort to defang the terrorists, more than a year has passed and not even Afghanistan can be said to be secure or stable. Neither Osama bin Laden nor the former head of the Taliban Government has been captured or confirmed as dead. Most of the hunted Al Qaeda operatives, central to the devastation of September 11, simply disappeared into the mountains of Afghanistan. They continue to engage in hit-and-run guerrilla attacks, in which a building is blown up here and a bus there.
Is it possible, that compared to these secretive and elusive terrorists, Iraq represents a visible enemy that we could crush militarily? Would that ease our haunting sense that the terrorists do not fight in a way that we understand? A successful conventional war might repair the damage our psyches have sustained at the hands of the terrorists.
Are there political reasons for this war talk? This has been suggested by foreign leaders and recently by Vermont's Senator James Jeffords, a registered Independent. It is a fearful possibility. Yet there are some political realities that cannot be denied. The economy is in a shambles. The stock market is at a five-year low. Fortunes and retirement accounts across America have been lost. It really doesn't matter what caused this economic depression, since the party in power inevitably gets blamed for it.
A powerful motive exists for shifting the political debate from domestic maladies to a foreign threat. People rally around the commander-in-chief in a time of peril. The payoff is the control of both houses of Congress. No political party is above trying to set the debate for its own political gain. Of course that will be angrily denied--and impugning the patriotism of those who pose this issue is the classic defense.
Does the defeat of Iraq serve America's interests by making Middle Eastern oil available to our oil-thirsty Western world? Iraq has huge oil reserves. If Saddam were defeated, a friendly government in Baghdad that owed its allegiance to our military might, would surely be cooperative. Never again would America be held hostage to Middle Eastern oil. Democracy, once installed in Iraq, so this argument goes, might then have a ripple effect all over that region. Is there at least a germ of truth in this possibility?
I raise these questions as one who is grateful for America. But by America, I mean the dreams that are embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the ideals found in the Constitution and even the hopes expressed in the Gettysburg address. These are the things that have made America a beacon of hope to oppressed people everywhere. Yet these are also the very things that I see being tarnished when our nation's leaders speak of preemptive strikes. These ideals are ruined by the suggestion that it is our right, in violation of international law, to remove from power any government we do not approve. They are ripped asunder by our willingness to use our enormous military might to impose our will on a nation that does not pose a clear threat to our national existence.
I believe that American power carries with it a responsibility hold before the world a vision of liberty and justice available to all. How will we respond when other nations, following our example, do to those they fear what we are now claiming the right to do to one that we fear? By ignoring inconvenient world opinion in order to rush into war, are we not in danger of becoming a nation more loathed than respected in the court of world opinion?
Human beings have always had deep tribal needs. To preserve our particular tribe or nation, human beings have throughout history done dreadful things to one another. That is what feeds the current hatred in such places as Ireland and Northern Ireland, Pakistan and India, Israel and the Middle East. If power is used to impose our nation's will on another with little regard for their humanity, the seeds of an enduring bitterness will be sown, and the people of that nation will find a way to strike back someday, even if it comes generations or even centuries later.
A free nation, no matter how powerful, cannot defend itself against those who are willing to die in order to inflict pain on their enemies. We may conquer the world with our power, only to discover that we have become vulnerable to decades of terrorist acts that will suck the life out of the freedom that made America possible. If we do not find some unity in our humanity, then tribal wars will finally destroy civilization itself.
The very dream that America personifies compels me to cry out against this relentless war frenzy. I want to shout No! No! No! to the path that we now seem to be walking. My great fear is that nobody is listening.