Why I Oppose An Iraq War

SNS Member Russ Daggatt, founder of Highland Capital (and past CEO of Teledesic and ICO) wrote this introduction to his words, now five years old, on the folly of the Neocons’ Iraq Attack. We put this Special Letter on our site for over a month – as though someone who mattered was listening (the President doesn’t read newspapers). The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight went right on with their fake war, and we are now all paying for it in spades: in federal deficits, a dizzying dollar decline, in a loss of international regard and respect which translates directly into lost business. As Russ points out, this has been the worst foreign policy disaster in history, brought to you by the worst president in history.

Here are Russ’ latest thoughts, on this five year anniversary of the attack:


Wednesday will mark the five-year anniversary of the Worst Foreign Policy Disaster in US History. The world has changed a lot since March 19, 2003. Among other things, in March of 2003, roughly 70 percent of the American people supported going to war in Iraq and about the same number approved of George W. Bush’s job performance. (Now similar numbers view the war as a mistake and disapprove of Bush’s job performance.)

[Also sometime this week or next, coincidentally, we will probably cross another milestone: 4000 US dead in Iraq.]

The Congressional vote to authorize the war took place five months earlier, in October of 2002 (timed before the mid-term elections to force the hands of timid Democrats). Given strong public support for the war and for Bush, the conventional wisdom at that time was that for a Democrat to defy the odds and take the White House the following year he (or she) would have to demonstrate “toughness” on matters of national security, starting with support (or at least lack of opposition) to an Iraq war. That explains the votes to authorize war on the part of Senators Clinton, Kerry and Edwards, among others.

In the Senate, only 22 Democrats (and one Republican – Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island) voted against the war authorization; 77 Senators supported the joint resolution. In the House, the vote was 296 to 133 (with 6 Republicans and one Independent joining 126 Democrats in opposition).

Support for the war among the national media was almost unanimous. Of course, the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal endorsed the war. Even the New York Times (in an editorial entitled “Disarming Iraq”) joined the party:

The only way short of war to get Saddam Hussein to reverse course at this late hour is to make clear that the Security Council is united in its determination to disarm him and is now ready to call in the cavalry to get the job done. America and Britain are prepared to take that step. The time has come for the others to quit pretending that inspections alone are the solution. . . .

The Security Council doesn’t need to sit through more months of inconclusive reports. It needs full and immediate Iraqi disarmament. It needs to say so, backed by the threat of military force.

So it is understandable that a lot of people would like us to believe now that we were all victims of “bad intelligence” and could not have possibly foreseen the disaster that has followed from that fateful decision to go to war.

But it is simply not true that this was all unforeseeable. In October of 2002, Illinois State Senator Barack Obama said in a speech:

[Saddam is] a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.

But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.

I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

The month before, former Navy secretary under Reagan and now US Senator from Virginia, James Webb, wrote in a Washington Post editorial (“Heading for Trouble”):

The issue before us is not simply whether the United States should end the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years. Those who are pushing for a unilateral war in Iraq know full well that there is no exit strategy if we invade and stay. …

These concerns, and others like them, are the reasons that many with long experience in U.S. national security issues remain unconvinced by the arguments for a unilateral invasion of Iraq. Unilateral wars designed to bring about regime change and a long-term occupation should be undertaken only when a nation’s existence is clearly at stake.

At around this same time, I was trying to sort out all the information and mis-information about Iraq and the imminent war. (As a reminder of those times, almost half the American people thought that Saddam was personally involved in planning the 9-11 attacks.) Eventually, I wrote up my conclusions in an email titled “Why I Oppose An Iraq War” that I sent out to a few friends, including Mark. Within minutes of hitting the ‘Send” button, I got a phone call from Mark insisting that I let him send it out as a Special Letter, which he did on March 18, 2003. Given that I had no access to any of the “intelligence” being cited by the Bush administration or others, with my only sources being mainstream media reports accessed through the Web, I thought there was a very high likelihood that my own puny attempt at analysis would eventually prove embarrassing. As it turns out, I was embarrassed only by the extent of my own gullibility notwithstanding my conclusion that the “facts” as we knew them at the time militated against war. The piece has subsequently proven useful (at least to me) as a time capsule summarizing what an average person with reasonable diligence could have known about administration claims before the war.

I won’t try to summarize the piece. Suffice to say, much of the case for war that was later claimed to be “bad intelligence” was known to be false at the time.


Reprinted from SNS Special Letter:
Last Comments Against The Iraq Attack
by Russ Daggatt (03/18/2003)

It’s apparent that a U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq is imminent. I have every expectation that, from a purely military standpoint, it will be a quick and impressive success. As a result, it will almost certainly be very popular in the U.S. Much of the opposition and uncertainty in the U.S. will disappear with that military success. Nonetheless, I oppose this Iraq war because it is unwise and wrong.

The reasons given for war by the Bush administration are, I believe, flawed. The fact that the reasons given have been constantly shifting also draws into question their sincerity.

And there are practical, financial and moral reasons to oppose this war.

Despite President Bush’s rhetoric about war being his “last choice” and that the “choice of going to war is Saddam’s,” the fact is that the U.S. is choosing to go to war. There is no immediate provocation. It is part of this Administration’s new doctrine of “pre-emptive war” which states, essentially, that we can start a war whenever we feel threatened (it’s not clear if this doctrine allows other countries, similarly, to start wars when they feel threatened). But use of the term “preemption” is misleading in this case, as there is no indication that any kind of attack by Saddam on anyone, let alone the U.S., is imminent. Saddam’s military is irrelevant and doesn’t pose a threat to any other country, let alone the U.S.. If you believe Saddam constitutes a more abstract or long-term threat, you might call war in this case “preventative.” But if there is no imminent threat to the U.S., then the U.S. bears a heavy burden of proof that war is necessary and justified. It’s really not up to France or any other country (or opponents of war) to make the case that war is not necessary or justified.

Has President Bush met that burden? I don’t think so.

The Alleged Iraq-al Qaeda Connection

First, let’s dispose of the argument with the greatest emotional force: That an Iraq war is part of The War On Terrorism in response to the atrocities of September 11th. Ever since that horrible day, the Bush Administration has attempted to make a connection between Saddam and the events of Sept. 11 or at least between Iraq and al Qaeda. That effort has been successful. Surveys have consistently shown that nearly half of the American people believe that Saddam played a direct role in the September 11th attack. A January 2003 Knight-Ridder poll showed that 50% of the American people believe that one or more of the Sept. 11 hijackers was Iraqi. A New York Times/CBS survey released on March 11 found that 45% of Americans think that Saddam was “personally involved” in the Sept. 11 attacks. Depending on how the questions are phrased, roughly 2/3rds of the American people believe that there is some kind of connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. That is neither surprising nor indicative of ignorance on the part of the American people. People are entitled to believe what their President tells them. As recently as his news conference on March 6th, President Bush claimed that Saddam, “has trained and financed al Qaeda-type organizations before, al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.” This is simply not true. There is no evidence that Saddam has “trained and financed” al Qaeda. Nor is there persuasive evidence of any other connection between Iraq and al Qaeda, let alone the events of Sept. 11. By asserting such a connection, and attempting to exploit people’s fear and anger over Sept. 11 (in the same news conference Bush invoked Sept. 11 eight times), Bush undermines the credibility of his leadership and draws into question his other arguments for war.

In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, Czech intelligence officials reported an April 2001 meeting in Prague between the leader of the Sept. 11 murderers, Mohammed Atta, and an Iraqi intelligence agent. President Bush, and other senior administration officials, quickly seized on that meeting to allege an Iraq–al Qaeda link. Later, after further investigation, Czech officials confessed that they had been mistaken – no such meeting had taken place. Nonetheless, top U.S. officials continued to cite that meeting as evidence of an Iraq-al Qaeda tie (Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld claimed that the evidence was “bulletproof”). Last year, Czech President Vaclav Havel personally told White House officials that Czech intelligence had been mistaken, that there was no evidence of the April 2001 meeting or any other meeting in Prague between Atta and an Iraqi agent. After exhaustive investigation, the FBI and CIA came to the same conclusion. (In an April 2002 speech, FBI Director Robert Mueller said, “We ran down literally hundreds of thousands of leads and checked every record we could get our hands on.” The conclusion: Atta was never in Prague on the day of the alleged meeting and there was no evidence that he ever met with Iraqi intelligence officials.) Nonetheless, senior members of the Bush administration continued to repeat the claim. Only recently, with the focus shifting from “regime change” to Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, have administration officials stopped citing the Prague meeting, and it was not part of the case against Saddam made by Secretary of State Powell to the United Nations on Feb. 5th. But the repeated administration claims have never been retracted and the misimpression they created lingers (as is apparent from poll numbers) and that misimpression continues to be reinforced in the public mind by continuing administration claims of an Iraq-al Qaeda link.

The new administration claim is that Iraq “aids and protects” al Qaeda members. In his State of the Union address in late January, President Bush said: “Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody, reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists including members of al Qaeda. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own.” Secretary Powell told the United Nations there was, “a sinister nexus between Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network”.

This “aids and protects” argument rests heavily on reports that a single Jordanian member of al Qaeda, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, sought and received medical treatment in Baghdad after being injured in the fighting in Afghanistan. Al-Zarqawi has been associated with the assassination last October of Laurence Foley, an American diplomatic officer in Jordan. There is not any evidence, nor is it claimed, that Zarqawi received anything other than medical treatment in Iraq. By contrast, how many injured al Qaeda members do you think got medical treatment in Afghanistan or across the border in Pakistan? U.S. officials acknowledge that al-Zarqawi had support from a member of the Qatari Royal family, Abdul Karim al-Thani, who hosted him in Qatar. However, administration officials do not claim that, as with Iraq, these facts show that the Qatari court is connected to al Qaeda – particularly since the United States depends on Qatar to provide staging support for the U.S. Central Command. (And while President Bush hailed the arrest earlier this month of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, the New York Times reported that Qatar harbored him in 1996 and tipped him off when the FBI was closing in on him early that year. Had our friends in Qatar not helped Mohammed elude capture then, the events of Sept. 11 probably would never have happened.)

The administration also claims that al Qaeda members have found refuge in northern Iraq. These allegations relate to a group called Ansar al-Islam which has taken over a small area near the Iranian border. This part of Iraq, however, is in Kurdish hands and outside the direct control of the Iraqi Government. This is in the “no-fly” zone enforced by the U.S., which makes any kind of aerial surveillance or attack on Ansar al-Islam by Saddam pretty well impossible. (It also raises the question, if the U.S. is aware of terrorist training camps in northern Iraq, in an area where the U.S. controls the air space, why haven’t we simply taken them out? “Regime change” in Baghdad isn’t necessary to accomplish that.) Not only is this territory not controlled by Saddam, in fact, the leaders of Ansar al-Islam say they seek to overthrow Saddam and his government. In an interview with ABC News, the man considered the leader of Ansar al-Islam, Majamuddin Fraraj Ahmad (who is also known as Mullah Krekar) denied all allegations that he is in any way linked to Iraq. “They are our enemy,” he said, adding that his group opposes Saddam because, unlike Osama bin Laden, Saddam is “not a good Muslim”. Krekar lives openly in Oslo, Norway – far from Iraq – where he sought asylum after he says Saddam tried to kill him. “[Saddam Hussein’s secret police] tried to poison me … in June of 1990.” Krekar was detained in Holland last year on drug-related charges after he was expelled from Iran, but was recently released and sent to Norway, where he has not been arrested. He has been interviewed by Norwegian intelligence officials, but is not in custody. (Evidence of a Norway-Al Qaeda connection?)

The amazing thing about all of this is how difficult is has been for the Bush administration to find even the slimmest pretext of an Iraq-al Qaeda link. Of the hundreds of alleged al Qaeda members rounded up in the past year and a half around the world, to my knowledge not a single leading al Qaeda operative has been an Iraqi. Virtually all have come from countries that the U.S. considers allies. Most are Saudi (as were 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers) or Egyptian. Some Pakistani and Yemeni. A few from Afghanistan, UAE and Lebanon. Even citizens of the U.S. and Great Britain have been accused of al Qaeda links. But no Iraqis, as far as I know. Am I the only one who finds this remarkable? The only group of Arabs not represented in al Qaeda, it seems, are Iraqis. But what country are we proposing to attack (based, at least in part, on an alleged al Qaeda connection)? Given the resources that this administration has devoted to finding any kind of Iraqi link to al Qaeda, the absence of any credible evidence is pretty definitive. (It might just be that Saddam has jailed or killed any Iraqis with radical Islamist leanings.) It would be easier to make the case that Jeb Bush is actively “training and financing” al Qaeda. After all, various funds going to the Sept. 11 murderers flowed through Florida and the hijackers received their flight training in Florida. Imagine the consequences if any of the Sept. 11 hijackers had actually been Iraqi or had received flight training in Iraq?

The simple fact is that al Qaeda was formed for the purpose of overthrowing the secular Arab governments like Saddam’s regime in Iraq. And Saddam is among the Arab leaders most hostile to radical Islam (or anything else that might provide opposition to his ruthless rule). It is hard to imagine two less likely allies. Saddam has given money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, which is certainly a form of support for terrorism. But so has the Saudi Royal family. And like the Saudi Royal family, Saddam has done this as a form of propaganda, to bolster his image as a defender of the Arab people in their fight against Israel. Both Saddam and the Saudis have done this to help increase their appeal relative to hostile Islamists like Bin Laden. But there is no logical reason to assume that Saddam would want to assist any organization not under his direct control, let alone one, like al Qaeda, that is openly opposed to his rule. Nor is there any evidence that he has done so.

Saddam’s Threat To The U.S.

This leads to the second reason given for attacking Iraq: that Saddam poses a direct threat to the U.S. In his March 6th news conference, President Bush said, “Iraq is a part of the war on terror. Iraq is a country that has got terrorist ties. It’s a country with wealth. It’s a country that trains terrorists, a country that could arm terrorists.” (By my count, Bush linked Saddam to terror or terrorists at least 15 times in his news conference.) It’s hard to say much more on this subject than I already have above. There is no evidence that Saddam is supporting terrorists who directly threaten the U.S., nor is there any reason to believe he intends to do so. (In the ’80s, at a time when the U.S. supported him, Saddam did harbor some prominent Palestinian terrorists whom he later expelled. In this respect he is not much different from any other Arab government.) To simply assert that Saddam “could” at some point in the future decide to support someone who threatens the U.S. is a pretty slim pretext to undertake a major, unprovoked war. The same could be said, however implausibly, of anyone the U.S. doesn’t like and intends to overthrow – they “could” support someone who threatens us at some point in the future. And the more committed we are to the overthrow of that person, the more plausible our claim would be (there is a nice self-fulfilling logic to that argument).

The only thing that gives force to the argument that Saddam “could” or “might” support terrorists who threaten the U.S. is his alleged possession, or attempt to possess, weapons of mass destruction (WMD). As Bush stated in his news conference: “But Sept. 11 should say to the American people that we’re now a battlefield, that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist organization could be deployed here at home. And so therefore I think the threat is real. And so do a lot of other people in my government. And since I believe the threat is real and since my most important job is to protect the security of the American people, that’s precisely what we’ll do.” In other words, it could be argued that the mere existence of WMDs in the hands of someone like Saddam constitutes a threat to the U.S. Even if there is no evidence that Saddam supports terrorists who threaten the U.S., the mere possibility that he “could” deliver WMDs to terrorists is a risk great enough to constitute a serious threat to the U.S.

While that argument is plausible, it could just as well cut the other way. If there is no evidence that Saddam supports or intends to support terrorists who threaten the U.S., then threatening Saddam with war might actually bring into existence the very risk we fear. That is exactly what CIA Director George Tenet said in an October 7, 2002, letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee: “Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW (chemical and biological weapons) against the United States,” the CIA Director said. “Should Saddam conclude that a U.S.-led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions.” Similarly, in a declassified transcript of October 2, 2002 testimony before that committee, a “senior intelligence witness” (presumably Tenet) was asked what Saddam would do if he did not feel threatened. “My judgment would be that the probability of him initiating an attack… in the foreseeable future, given the conditions we understand now, the likelihood I think would be low,” the witness said. In response to a U.S. attack, the likelihood that Saddam would respond with chemical or biological weapons was “pretty high.” That sounds like a pretty good argument for not attacking Saddam.

Saddam’s interest is first and foremost survival. He apparently recognizes that use of WMDs would greatly reduce his own life expectancy. Why would he increase the threat to his own existence by giving such weapons to terrorists he doesn’t control (and, in the case of al Qaeda, who seek his destruction)? Saddam is not a radical Islamist. He has no ideological or theological reason to assist terrorists. He is shrewd enough to know that it is distinctly not in his interest to attack the U.S. or support someone else who might. That is, unless he concluded that it is his last hope for survival. Or, if all hope is gone, that he might be revered as an Arab “martyr”. It’s worth noting that Saddam did not use chemical or biological weapons against the U.S., Israel or anyone else during the Gulf War or since. That just reinforces the conclusion that, even in the extreme circumstances of war, he considers the use of such weapons against the U.S. or its allies to be counterproductive to his own survival.

In his State of the Union address, Bush cited Iraq’s use of “poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens” as a reason to topple Saddam. As recently as his March 16th press conference, Bush referred specifically to the atrocity that occurred in the small Kurdish city of Halabja in 1988, toward the end of the Iran-Iraq war, where 5000 Kurdish civilians were gassed. However, the facts surrounding the use of chemical weapons in Halabja are in dispute, according to a January 31, 2003, opinion piece in the New York Times by Stephen C. Pelletiere, the CIA’s senior political analyst on Iraq during the 1980s. In the article, Pelletiere said the only thing known for certain was that “Kurds were bombarded with poison gas that day at Halabja. We cannot say with any certainty that Iraqi chemical weapons killed the Kurds.” Pelletiere said the gassing occurred during a battle between Iraqis and Iranians. “Iraq used chemical weapons to try to kill Iranians who had seized the town … The Kurdish civilians who died had the misfortune to be caught up in that exchange. But they were not Iraq’s main target.” The former CIA official revealed that immediately after the battle the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency investigated and produced a classified report that said it was Iranian gas that killed the Kurds. “The condition of the dead Kurds’ bodies however, indicated they had been killed with a blood agent — that is, a cyanide-based gas — which Iran was known to use. The Iraqis, who are thought to have used mustard gas in the battle, are not known to have possessed blood agents at the time.”

The disputed circumstances of Halabja are cited not as any kind of defense of Saddam. (Halabja was not the only use of chemical weapons by Iraq and Iran during that war.) Rather, if goes to the question of whether it is likely that Saddam would use WMDs against the U.S., or give them to someone else who might. And it is a reminder to question selective moral outrage offered up to support going to war. What U.S. officials rarely acknowledge is that Saddam’s use of chemical weapons dates back to a period when Saddam was seen in Washington as a valued ally. Among the people instrumental in tilting U.S. policy toward Baghdad during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war was Donald Rumsfeld, whose December 1983 meeting with Saddam as a special presidential envoy paved the way for normalization of U.S.-Iraqi relations. U.S. officials saw Iraq as a bulwark against militant Shiite extremism in Iran. Declassified documents show that Rumsfeld traveled to Baghdad at a time when Iraq was using chemical weapons on an “almost daily” basis in defiance of international conventions. There is no evidence of any use of chemical weapons by Saddam since the time of that war. If we were able to justify support for Saddam then, why should the events of that war 15 years ago be used to justify an unprovoked war now? Turkey is alleged by international human rights organizations to have tortured and killed Kurds in recent years. Yet we are now offering them billions of dollars in aid (and, in an ironic twist, a measure of control over Iragi Kurds) to support our war against Saddam. Will their alleged atrocities against the Kurds similarly be cited as cause for a “pre-emptive” war a decade or two from now? Moral outrage shouldn’t be a function of geopolitical convenience.

Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction

Saddam’s alleged possession of, or attempts to acquire, WMDs has become the primary argument in recent weeks for launching a war in Iraqi. From what I can tell, there are two parts to that argument: The first part of the argument is that the unique nature of such weapons makes their possession by Saddam a risk to the U.S. regardless of any objective evidence (or the lack of such evidence) that Saddam would use them against the U.S. or give them to someone who might. I’ve addressed that point above. The second part of the argument is that Saddam’s possession, or attempts to acquire, WMDs violates various United Nations resolutions and that we have to disarm him to uphold the authority of the U.N.. Before addressing the second part of that argument, it’s worth looking at what constitutes WMDs and at the evidence that Saddam possess them.

As the term has been used in the lead up to war in Iraq, WMD refers to chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. From all that I have read, only nuclear weapons can really be considered weapons of mass destruction. Chemical and biological weapons are prohibited by international convention, they are heinous and can be used to terrorize people. But it is difficult to disperse them in a manner that makes them very lethal. When people are trying to scare you, they will say things like “one drop of nerve gas can kill a thousand people.” That is like saying the sperm of one man can impregnate millions of women in a single day. It assumes an effective delivery system. For example, in the mid 1990s there were a series of attacks by a Japanese cult on crowded Tokyo subway stations using Sarin, a nerve agent that is 500 times more toxic than cyanide gas. Given perfect conditions for an attack (enclosed spaces, no wind, concentrated victims) less than 10% of the intended victims there were injured, most of the injured were better in a few hours and less than one percent of the injured (12 people) died. (The same Japanese cult responsible for the Sarin attacks sprayed botulinum toxin over Tokyo several times in 1990, and conducted similar activities with anthrax spores in 1993, but without any known effects.) Conventional explosives would have been much more lethal. Similarly, in the case of the 2001 anthrax attacks in the U.S. (which used a particularly rare and deadly “weaponized” version of the toxin — almost certainly obtained from a U.S. government lab), of the 22 people diagnosed with anthrax, 11 developed the serious inhalation form of the disease, which resulted in five deaths. These attacks were tragic and scary but they were not particularly lethal. A single gun could have killed more people. And for destructive force they don’t compare with the horrible Oklahoma City truck bombing, which killed 168 people including 19 children, undertaken by white American rednecks using conventional ammonium nitrate fertilizer.

To quote Gert Harigel of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: “The term “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD), used to encompass nuclear (NW), biological (BW), and chemical weapons (CW), is misleading, politically dangerous, and cannot be justified on grounds of military efficiency. … Chemical weapons have shown to be largely ineffective in warfare, biological weapons have never been deployed on any significant scale. …Stockpiling of biological weapons is not possible over a long time scale [footnotes omitted]. Only nuclear weapons are completely indiscriminate by their explosive power, heat radiation and radioactivity, and only they should therefore be called a weapon of mass destruction.” The subject is complex and difficult to summarize in a couple of paragraphs. But generally speaking, chemical and biological weapons can’t be dispersed when it’s freezing, they don’t last long when it’s hot, and wind spreads them too thin too fast to do much harm. A chemical weapons attack that kills a lot of people is hard to achieve even with military grade agents and equipment. For example, in World War I (the major instance of chemical weapons use in warfare), an average of one ton of chemical agent was used for each soldier killed by those weapons. Biological weapons are even harder to use effectively. The more you learn about this stuff the less serious the threat seems. Chemical and biological weapons are better at scaring people than they are at killing people (which is why they haven’t been used much). And when it comes to scaring people with chemical and biological weapons, the U.S. government has been doing a great job. (Duct tape, anyone?)

Does Saddam still possess chemical or biological weapons? Weapons inspections to date have been inconclusive. Since Saddam possessed them in the past, in the absence of evidence that he has destroyed them, I would assume that he still has them. Saddam also denied he had chemical and biological weapons in the early 1990s, after the Gulf War, until U.N. inspectors turned up conclusive evidence refuting those claims. His willingness to endure a decade of sanctions suggests there is something there worth hiding. Does that make the case for the U.S. starting a war? Not necessarily. Chemical and biological weapons are nasty things, but so are Napalm, cluster bombs and all other weapons. War is Hell. In war really horrible things happen to combatants and non-combatants alike, using all manner of weapons. Which is why the real crime is starting a war, not possessing a particular kind of weapon.

In addition to the shifting rationales offered by the Bush administration for going to war, there is reason to doubt whether disarming Saddam is really Bush’s central concern. For example, on March 2nd the Washington Post ran a piece outlining U.S. war plans, based on a briefing by Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the chief of U.S. military operations in the Middle East, as well as congressional testimony and briefings by other defense officials. The article stated: “The pace of Special Operations forces will also be stepped up. Their main focus will be denying Iraqi forces access to certain chemical and biological weapons sites that cannot be bombed for fear of setting up toxic plumes, according to people familiar with their missions and training.” To quote Slate’s Mickey Kaus (a strong Bush supporter): “Hmmm. If we really know where these chemical and biological weapons are, shouldn’t we send an e-mail to Hans Blix? Or was [editor of Newsweek International and a Washington Post columnist] Fareed Zakaria right when he said, on [ABC TV’s] This Week a month and a half ago: ‘I think the fear that the Administration has, the reason it is not sharing intelligence, is that the inspectors will find something. Let me read to you something Rumsfeld said to The Washington Post. “If the inspectors have found something, the argument might then be that inspections were working and, therefore, we should give them more time.” This is the view of the inspectors, that they are not getting American intelligence because there are people in the Pentagon who fear that giving them intelligence will make them find things.’ ”

What about nuclear weapons (which are undeniably weapons of mass destruction)? When Bush started his campaign for “regime change” in Iraq, the one argument that really had me straddling the fence was that Saddam might be mere months away from developing nuclear weapons. Even given a fairly high degree of uncertainty, that prospect had to be taken seriously. The possibility of nuclear weapons ending up in the hands of Islamic extremists would be much less in secular Iraq than in nuclear-armed Pakistan or in Islamist Iran (which appears to be further along the path of developing nuclear weapons). But the geopolitical consequences of Saddam having nukes would be distinctly undesirable. This is where U.N. weapons inspections serve a real purpose: Does Saddam have a nuclear weapons program? If so, how close is he to developing such weapons, and could that effort be derailed through the U.N.?

The U.N. weapons inspections to date have uncovered no evidence that Saddam restarted his nuclear weapons program after it was dismantled by the U.N. in the wake of the Gulf War. Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in his report to the U.N. Security Council on March 7th said, “There is no indication of resumed nuclear activities.” The IAEA also refuted specific U.S. allegations.

In his state of the union speech, President Bush said, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.” Bush made the same claims in his speech to the U.N. on Sept. 12, 2002, and Powell repeated and elaborated on those allegations in his speech to the U.N. on Feb. 5, 2003.

The claim that Saddam sought uranium from an African country, specifically Niger, was shown by the IAEA, in its March 7th report to the Security Council, to be based on forged documents. As reported in the Washington Post on March 8th, the faked evidence consisted of a series of letters between Iraqi agents and officials in the central African nation of Niger. The documents had been given to the U.N. inspectors by Britain and reviewed extensively by U.S. intelligence. The forgers had made relatively crude errors that eventually gave them away. The IAEA did not blame either Britain or the United States for the forgery, saying the documents “were shared with us in good faith”. “We fell for it,” said one U.S. official who reviewed the documents. Needless to say, the discovery of the forgery was a further setback to U.S. and British credibility in their efforts to convince reluctant U.N. Security Council members of the urgency of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. It also suggests that some skepticism is in order when the U.S. government says that it has intelligence that it can’t share with the press or public.

The IAEA also refuted the Bush administration’s other major piece of alleged evidence. Iraq had tried for two years to purchase 81mm aluminum tubes by the tens of thousands from China and at least one other country. Certain types of high-strength aluminum tubes can be used to build centrifuges, which enrich uranium for nuclear weapons and commercial power plants. ElBaradei’s report all but ruled out the use of the tubes sought by Saddam as part of a nuclear program. The investigators unearthed extensive records that backed up Iraq’s explanation. The documents, which included blueprints, invoices and notes from meetings, detailed a 14-year struggle by Iraq to make 81mm conventional rockets that would perform well and resist corrosion. Successive failures led Iraqi officials to revise their standards and request increasingly higher and more expensive metals. Further work by the IAEA’s team of centrifuge experts — two Americans, two Britons and a French citizen — reinforced the IAEA’s conclusion that the tubes were ill suited for centrifuges.

The IAEA had concluded by early January that the tubes sought by Iraq were “not directly suitable” for centrifuges, but rather appeared intended for use as conventional artillery rockets, as Iraq had claimed. Nonetheless, the Bush administration stuck to its original position (while acknowledging disagreement among U.S. officials who had reviewed the evidence). The Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington-based research organization that specializes in nuclear issues, reported on March 7th that Powell’s staff had been briefed about the IAEA conclusions before Powell’s address to the Security Council in February. “Despite being presented with the falseness of this claim, the administration persists in making misleading arguments about the significance of the tubes,” said the institute’s president, David Albright.

There seems to be a pattern of administration officials repeating allegations and citing evidence they know to be false (or have strong reason to doubt) to support their case for going to war. That might work in appeals to average Americans, who are busy with all the demands of work and family and can’t independently verify administration claims. But it’s counterproductive when dealing with other members of the Security Council who have access to their own intelligence and U.N. inspections results. The IAEA doesn’t have a perfect track record, and it could be missing things. But with the U.S. spending over $100 billion a year in spy operations, is this the best evidence we have of an Iraqi nuclear program? No wonder the Bush administration is having difficulty rallying the international community to its cause.

The IAEA inspection team conducted a total of 218 nuclear inspections at 141 sites, including 21 that had not been inspected before. Their vehicle-borne radiation survey team covered 2,000 kilometers and over 75 facilities, including military garrisons and camps, weapons factories, truck parks and manufacturing facilities and residential areas. ElBaradei’s report concluded: “One, there is no indication of resumed nuclear activities in those buildings that were identified through the use of satellite imagery as being reconstructed or newly erected since 1998, nor any indication of nuclear-related prohibited activities at any inspected sites. Second, there is no indication that Iraq has attempted to import uranium since 1990. Three, there is no indication that Iraq has attempted to import aluminum tubes for use in centrifuge enrichment. … After three months of intrusive inspection, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indications of the revival of a nuclear weapon program in Iraq.”

The bottom line is that, with respect to claims that Saddam is attempting to acquire nuclear weapons, U.N. inspections are working and the conclusions to date should be encouraging to anyone who isn’t looking for an excuse to go to war. A major, unprovoked war shouldn’t be undertaken merely out of impatience with the time entailed in a process that is actually dispelling the need for war. If there are still questions to be resolved, then inspections continue, with specific tasks and deadlines. Saddam’s cooperation with those inspections has been reluctant, incomplete and compelled by the threat of force. But no evidence to date suggests there is any kind of advanced nuclear program in Iraq that demands a rush to war. If the U.S. officials know of evidence that contradicts that conclusion, they should give it to U.N. weapons inspectors and prove their case.

Upholding The Authority and Credibility of the U.N.

In his speech to the United Nations on Sept. 12, 2002, President Bush stated: ”All the world now faces a test, and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment. Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant? The United States helped found the United Nations. We want the United Nations to be effective, and respectful, and successful. We want the resolutions of the world’s most important multilateral body to be enforced.” Similarly, Secretary of State Powell, in his speech to the U.N. on Feb. 5th said, “Resolution 1441 gave Iraq one last chance, one last chance to come into compliance or to face serious consequences. … Iraq has now placed itself in danger of the serious consequences called for in U.N. Resolution 1441. And this body places itself in danger of irrelevance if it allows Iraq to continue to defy its will without responding effectively and immediately.” The same argument has been made by various administration officials in even stronger language in recent days: We have to go to war in Iraq to uphold the authority and credibility of the United Nations.

To anyone who has been following the whole lead up to war, this argument seems obviously disingenuous. Bush has been disdainful of the United Nations from the outset (as he has been of multilateralism in general). In his March 6th press conference Bush reiterated his intention to go to war even in the face of Security Council defeat of an authorizing resolution: “As a matter of fact, it’s hard to say the United States is defiant about the United Nations … when it comes to our security, if we need to act, we will act. And we really don’t need United Nations approval to do so. I want to work — I want the United Nations to be effective. It’s important for it to be a robust, capable body. … [W]hen it comes to our security, we really don’t need anybody’s permission.” It’s hard to make the case that we are going to war to uphold the U.N. when we made it clear from the outset that we will go to war even if the U.N. Security Council votes against authorizing it. It looks more like we want the authority of the U.N. behind us, but if we don’t get it we will go to war anyway.

Apart from its general approach to the U.N., the Bush administration has also mischaracterized Resolution 1441, suggesting that it authorizes war if Iraq fails to comply with its demands. Resolution 1441 suggests just the opposite, although it contains a certain degree of diplomatic ambiguity — which is why it was able to get the unanimous approval of the 15 members of the Security Council. The U.S. and French delegations negotiated for seven weeks to hammer out a mutually acceptable version of the resolution. The compromise largely papered over their differences, delaying rather than settling them. Resolution 1441 provides that if Iraq submits false information in its declaration or obstructs the U.N. weapons inspections in any way this “shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq’s obligations.” The sentence goes on to say, however, that such a breach “will be reported to the Council for assessment in accordance with paragraphs 11 and 12 below.” Paragraph 12 declares that the Security Council will convene to hear the U.N. inspector’s report, “in order to consider the situation and the need for full compliance with all of the relevant Council resolutions in order to secure international peace and security.” The resolution then “recalls, in that context, that the council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of the continued violation of its obligations.”

It is a classic diplomatic compromise. The U.S. got its threat that Iraq “will face serious consequences,” for noncompliance. But, for the French, the enforcement will not be automatic. The matter must first be taken up by the Security Council, which will “consider” not just “the situation” but also “the need for full compliance.” Full compliance, in other words, is not necessarily required. It will be considered “in order to secure international peace and security.” This provision doesn’t mandate action. Instead it would have the Security Council take up the question: Which will more likely promote “peace and security”—going to war or continuing the inspections?

The U.S. co-drafted Resolution 1441, scrutinizing every word over a period of weeks. Having used that language to secure unanimous approval of the resolution, and repeatedly citing it as giving Saddam “one last chance,” the Bush administration cannot in good faith ignore its requirement that the Security Council determine what further steps should be taken. If the U.S. now chooses to go to war without Security Council authorization, it cannot claim to be upholding the authority or credibility of the U.N.. Rather, as most people acknowledge, it would do great harm to the U.N. as an institution that maintains peace and through which military action must go to secure legitimacy. On March 10th, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated the obvious, saying of unilateral U.S. action, “the legitimacy and support for any such action would be seriously impaired.” He continued, “If the U.S and others were to go outside the Council and take military action it would not be in conformity with the (U.N.) charter.” (Not surprisingly, supporters of a U.S. war in Iraq contest the claim that it would violate the U.N. Charter and there are credible arguments on both sides of the issue.)

The Bush administration’s approach to the U.N. is consistent with its approach to multilateralism generally. The current diplomatic schism with allies like France and Germany is a result, to a considerable degree, of mounting resentment over the Bush administration’s unilateral rejection of treaties, conventions and other initiatives of importance to Europeans and others. The most prominent example is the Bush administration’s rejection of the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty almost immediately upon taking office. Resentment was caused not merely by the act of rejection but by the manner in which it was done — with no specific proposals to address specific concerns and no willingness to negotiate solutions to U.S. objections. Given that over 100 countries negotiated for nearly a decade to produce the treaty, and much of its content resulted from earlier U.S. demands and proposals, the Bush administration’s rejection of the process in its entirety struck many as arrogant and a manifestation of a new U.S. unilateralism. It’s not surprisingly that other countries that labored in good faith for years to produce the treaty had hard feelings. U.S. rejection of the International Criminal Court followed the same pattern, and the Bush administration has gone on to reject or stall international agreements on torture, land mines and women’s rights, among other issues.

The Bush administration’s rejection of multilateralism extends to arms control, as well. In his March 6th press conference, Bush repeatedly referred to chemical and biological weapons as “weapons of terror.” And yet the U.S. has the second largest stockpile of such weapons (after Russia) and has rejected international efforts to bring them under stricter control. Just as it did with the Kyoto Treaty, the Bush administration summarily rejected efforts to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) Protocol. The lack of enforcement mechanisms in the 1972 BWC has made compliance with its provisions largely voluntary. As a result, its 143 signatories spent nearly seven years working on the 210-page Protocol, which was intended to create a way to inspect sites suspected of developing biological weapons without interfering with legitimate industries and facilities. Then, in July 2001, with the BWC Protocol nearly ready to sign, President Bush rejected the Protocol as well as any subsequent efforts to negotiate its completion. Among its Western allies, including Japan, Canada and the European powers, and every country in Latin America, the U.S. stood alone in its rejection of the draft Protocol. The U.S. took a stance more extreme than those taken by Cuba, China, Libya, Pakistan, and Iran, all of which voiced their objections to the text but never formally rejected it. Just as with the Kyoto Treaty, the Bush administration offered no alternative. Without participation by the U.S., home to an estimated 40 percent of the world’s pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, the draft Protocol is essentially dead.

The pattern continues with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). To enter into force, the CTBT must be ratified by the 44 countries that in 1996 possessed nuclear research or power reactors. At present, 41 of these 44 countries have signed the Treaty, but only 31 have ratified it. Non-signatories include India, North Korea, and Pakistan. The U.S., which led the effort to conclude a CTBT and was the first to sign the Treaty, is, along with China, among those that have signed but not ratified. In 1999 the Republican-led U.S. Senate voted not to ratify the treaty. Bush has stated his opposition to the CTBT, and the U.S. Government’s nuclear weapons laboratories have begun preparations to test a new generation of arms. The U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, which was unveiled by the Bush administration in 2002, would have the U.S. ready to return to underground nuclear tests within 12 months. The Bush administration also withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (which didn’t help Russian President Putin build a domestic constituency behind his pro-U.S. policies).

And the world is supposed to believe we are about to launch a major, unprovoked war in the name of disarmament?

Supporting Democracy In The Middle East

The latest of the reasons put forth by the Bush administration for going to war in Iraq is that it would lead to a flowering of freedom and democracy in the Middle East. On Feb. 26th, in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, Bush said: “A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region.” Other top administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, have made similar remarks in recent months, and the argument has been pushed hardest by a group of officials and advisors who have been the leading proponents of going to war with Iraq. Prominent among them are Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, and Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board. Wolfowitz has said that Iraq could be “the first Arab democracy” and that even modest democratic progress in Iraq would “cast a very large shadow, starting with Syria and Iran but across the whole Arab world.”

It would be easy, and tiresome, to respond to this argument with a diatribe about the hypocrisy of the Bush administration when it comes to support of tyrants in the Middle East who oppress their people, murder and torture their opponents, and support radical Islamic terrorists. Getting rid of even one murderous thug is a good thing, all else being equal, and Saddam is as bad as they get. The question is whether a U.S.-led war in an unstable part of the world where there are very strong anti-U.S. feelings will give rise to more stable and liberal institutions. It’s possible. But it’s also possible it could inflame anti-U.S. sentiment, destabilize U.S. allies in the region and result in more terrorism against the U.S.. It’s a terrible gamble, and there isn’t much other than wishful thinking backing the pro-democracy domino theory.

The last time we helped overthrow the government of Iraq was in 1963, when the U.S. helped bring about a coup that brought to power the anti-communist Baath party – which remains in power to this day with Saddam as its leader. We can’t always foresee the consequences of our actions. And if we can’t manage to muster a majority in the U.N. Security Council, a forum we helped create and work within for over fifty years, what makes us think we can divine and direct the internal politics of Iraq and the Middle East? Our track record meddling in Iraq over the past 20 years hasn’t been great.

If we’re going to war to spread freedom and democracy to Iraq and the Middle East, isn’t that “nation building”? Then-Governor Bush, in the second of the 2000 presidential debates, declared himself against such an approach to foreign policy: “I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation building.” When asked whether that meant civilians should perform that job, he replied, “Maybe I’m missing something here. I mean we’re going to have some kind of a nation-building corps from America? Absolutely not.” Maybe I’m missing something here.

On the same day that Bush gave his AEI speech, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the in-house analytical arm, released a classified report entitled, “Iraq, the Middle East and Change: No Dominoes.” As the LA Times reported, “The report … says that daunting economic and social problems are likely to undermine basic stability in the region for years, let alone prospects for democratic reform. Even if some version of democracy took root — an event the report casts as unlikely — anti-American sentiment is so pervasive that elections in the short term could lead to the rise of Islamic-controlled governments hostile to the United States. … Some officials said the classified document reflects views that are widely held in the State Department and CIA but that those holding such views have been muzzled in an administration eager to downplay the costs and risks of war. One intelligence official said the CIA has not been asked to produce its own analysis on the domino question.” It is always cause for concern when decision makers, in government or business, create an environment that is hostile to facts and analyses that are in conflict with the boss’s views. It helps wishful thinking become policy.

A March 2003 poll undertaken in several Middle Eastern countries found between 90 and 95% of the people in those countries opposed to a U.S. attack on Iraq. (The numbers are between 85 and 90% in France and Germany, which should make the diplomacy of their governments a beacon of democracy.). Similar numbers said that a U.S. war would result in less democracy and freedom in the region and more terrorism. In other words, the Bush administration believes that launching a war opposed by the overwhelming majority of the people in the region would encourage democracy. That’s an interesting theory of democracy in practice. Not only do the people in the region overwhelmingly oppose an Iraq war, but they also overwhelmingly believe the outcome for the region would be the opposite of the scenario portrayed by the Bush administration.

None of this is proof of any particular outcome. But it does suggest that a measure of humility might be in order before trying to transform a volatile and hostile region of the world. Bush might take to heart his statement in the October 11, 2000, presidential debate: “… if we’re an arrogant nation, [the people of the world] will view us that way, but if we’re a humble nation, they’ll respect us.”

Reasons To Oppose An Iraq War

So far, I’ve been looking at the arguments put forth by the Bush administration in support of going to war in Iraq. Many of the arguments against going to war are just the flip side of the Bush case: It would destabilize the region and result in more terrorism against the U.S.. It would undermine the U.N. as an institution for maintaining peace and legitimizing the use of force. Those have been addressed above. But there are also other reasons for opposing this war.

The Cost Of An Iraq War

As an old economics major and unrepentant fiscal conservative, when faced with a major government undertaking, I tend to start by asking what it will cost. There are a lot of things a lot of people would like if they didn’t cost anything. The Bush administration would like us to think war in Iraq is one of them.

Throughout this build-up to war, the Bush administration has refused to offer any official estimates — even a broad range of estimates — of the cost of going to war in Iraq. Nor has the administration made any provision in its fiscal 2003 or 2004 budgets for an Iraq war or its aftermath — even though roughly 250,000 troops and their supplies and equipment are already in the region. By excluding any cost of an Iraq war from its budget estimates, the Bush administration not only helps its case for going to war, it also helps advance its tax-cutting agenda. But given all the planning entailed in a war of this magnitude, and the extent of deployment already undertaken, it is simply not credible to assert that cost estimates are too vague or uncertain at this time to be meaningful or useful. Rather, the Bush administration doesn’t want cost to enter into the deliberations over whether we should go to war. And, of course, once a war starts, patriotism and support of our troops will squelch any consideration of cost.

Whenever an administration official has slipped and stated a cost figure, he has been shot down. On September 16, 2002, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Lawrence Lindsey, Bush’s top economic advisor at the time, stated that an Iraq war would cost between $100 and $200 billion. This assumed a quick victory and no major post-war complications, and it didn’t include indirect costs like the economic effects of an increase in oil prices. From everything I’ve read, Lindsey’s range is pretty much right on the mark — not particularly optimistic or pessimistic. That’s not surprising, as presumably he was involved in or had access to all the internal cost estimates of the Bush administration. The White House quickly dismissed Lindsey’s estimate and, not too much later, dismissed him.

Given the administration’s refusal to provide any estimate of the cost of an Iraq war, we are entitled to use whatever figures are available, and Lindsey’s figures seem reasonable. As a strident White House partisan, he certainly didn’t have any reason to inflate the figures. From what I have read, the upper end of the range is probably most realistic. In the first Gulf War, the issue of cost wasn’t a major factor, as adroit diplomacy led to our allies reimbursing the U.S. for most of the cost. This time around, the failure of diplomacy has actually added to the costs, as we seek to bribe countries for military or diplomatic support. In the first Gulf War, the cost was around $76 billion in current dollars. But that war didn’t entail marching on Baghdad, overthrowing the country and then having to maintain order and rule the country in the aftermath. It also didn’t involve major costs for food, shelter and medical care for the Iraqi people, all of which will be required when we take control of Iraq. Kuwait is a tiny country and the Iraqi troops beat such a hasty retreat we had trouble keeping up with them. In Iraq, we’re going to where they live, so to speak. Occupying and ruling Iraq is a much different challenge than chasing Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. If Gulf War I cost $76 billion, $200 billion for Gulf War II is probably on the low side.

So a central question in the debate over this war should be: Are the benefits to the U.S. of a war in Iraq worth $200 billion? This is the question the Bush administration has been trying (successfully) to prevent people from asking. Different people might have all sorts of different priorities for that money. For example, the states are facing a cumulative budget deficit of around $50 billion this year, and teachers are being fired and school years shortened as a result. All manner of other programs are being cut at the federal and state levels, which is a major factor inhibiting economic recovery. But let’s put aside all other priorities and limit the debate to whether an Iraq war is the best way to spend money in order to increase our national security. As noted above, there is a strong case to be made that a war in Iraq will actually increase terrorism against the U.S.

But how else might the money be spent? This year’s entire budget for the Homeland Security Department (which consolidates 22 federal agencies and 190,000 employees) is only $33 billion dollars. Shortly after 9/11, Bush promised $3.5 billion for “first responders” — fire, police and emergency medical personnel — who will be the first to arrive at the site of terrorist attacks. But that money still has not been appropriated and many local officials say their communities are dangerously unprepared (the call up of National Guard for the impending Iraq war has further depleted the personnel of many police and fire departments). A three-year research project commissioned by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington foundation, and undertaken at Harvard University, issued a report on March 12th. It estimated the cost of protecting the world’s supply of nuclear material from terrorists at $50 billion. The report said that only about 37 percent of the potentially vulnerable nuclear material in the former Soviet Union is being protected by initial security upgrades, and only 17 percent is protected under long-term security plans. Last year, the leaders of the world’s largest economies pledged $20 billion over 10 years toward that effort, leaving it still vastly underfunded. These are only a couple of examples — the list of alternative spending priorities is almost inexhaustible and highly subjective.

Even if the only reason for opposing an Iraq war was its economic cost, that would do it for me. And I would be satisfied if the money went for no other purpose than to reduce the exploding federal budget deficit. But if the money had to be spent, we could come up with a lot of ways to spend $200 billion that would be of more benefit to U.S. national security than a war in Iraq. (It might even go toward ending our dependence on Middle Eastern oil.)

The Morality Of The War

If discussing the policy arguments surrounding this war risks upsetting people, discussing the morality of war risks even more intense passions.

There is an elaborate body of Christian theology on “Just War Theory,” dating back to Saint Thomas Aquinas in the 13th Century and his, “Summa Theologicae.” His list of limitations and justifications of force are still the guiding tenets of Just War Theory. I can’t say I have deeply immersed myself in Just War Theory as part of my personal consideration of the issues surrounding war in Iraq. But others have. And almost every major Christian sect has come out decisively against such a war.

Pope John Paul II went so far as to send a papal envoy to the White House on March 5th to try to dissuade President Bush from taking the U.S. to war in Iraq. In addition to the Roman Catholic Church, most Protestant churches are opposing the war. There has probably never been a U.S. president who has directly involved Christian leaders in more policy deliberations than George W. Bush. And yet, on the issue of war, probably the greatest moral challenge any president could face, he has refused to meet with any anti-war religious leaders other than the Papal envoy — not even the representative of his own church.

As the New York Times put in on March 10th, “George W. Bush is turning out to be one of the most openly religious presidents in American history. He prays daily. He delivers speeches and national radio broadcasts that sound like sermons. He oversees a White House full of Bible study groups. Most important, he favors lowering the barriers between church and state by giving government money to religious charities. But in recent weeks, the leaders of the many mainline American churches opposed to a war with Iraq — including the president’s own church, the United Methodist — have grown frustrated that they have not been able to see Mr. Bush to express their anxieties. The group represents nearly every faith and denomination, including Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists and mainstream evangelicals.” … “There’s never been such unity among the churches in the country, even during Vietnam,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, the editor of the evangelical magazine Sojourners and the leader of a delegation of United States religious leaders that last month met for nearly an hour in London with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, Mr. Bush’s closest ally and an observant Christian.

Religious faith is a deeply personal matter, but Bush has made his faith very public to his considerable political benefit. But in this instance, when organized Christian faith has been most inconvenient, Bush has publicly ignored it.

As noted above in the context of support of brutal dictators, hypocrisy by itself is not an argument against the war. But there is a heavy burden of justification on anyone who would propose to launch a major, unprovoked war. Bush tends to view the world in moral absolutes: good vs. evil, with us or against us, the axis of evil, wanted dead or alive, etc. Saddam is evil. But war, too, is inherently evil. An Iraq war will kill innocent Iraqi civilians as well as U.S. and Iraqi troops. As a moral matter, an Iraq war is not black or white — it is one big ugly gray fog. I’m not sure Bush is prepared for that kind of moral ambiguity and the choices it entails. His public case for going to war refuses to acknowledge the moral costs just as it does the economic costs. By trying to hide those costs, and by exaggerating the case for going to war and distorting the underlying facts, Bush appears to lack sincerity or serious moral purpose. Recent poll numbers indicate that most of the American people who support going to war in Iraq without U.N. backing also believe that Saddam was “personally involved” with the 9/11 attacks. That is not much of a moral or political foundation for an undertaking of this moral gravity.

None of this is intended to deny that there is a case for going to war. I am not one of those people who believe this is about oil or any other hidden purpose. The most adamant advocates of war — Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, and others around them — have been speaking and writing about these issues for the past decade. To an extent, their case is a more subtle, geopolitical version of the one being offered up to the American people. While I don’t think they actually believe there is an Iraq-al Qaeda connection, or that Saddam is likely to aid Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, they do view Saddam as a murderous tyrant who is a source of instability in the region and a hindrance to resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The possibility that Saddam is developing a WMD capability is a serious concern, but not sufficient by itself to compel a major unprovoked war, let alone a major schism in the trans-Atlantic alliance. (North Korea and Pakistan represent much bigger proliferation threats.) Cheney acknowledged in his March 16th appearance on Meet The Press that they thought Saddam would not survive the aftermath of the first Gulf War — they thought that he would be killed or overthrown. But his continuing survival, as well as his defiance of the U.S. and the U.N., is a source of constant irritation and a reminder of their unfinished business.

More importantly, I think, they also believe that global order and stability in the 21st Century can best be guaranteed by the U.S.serving as the single dominant superpower with complete and overwhelming military superiority. This is part of their stated doctrine of pre-emptive war — that no other county should be allowed to approach the U.S. in military capability. That is why the U.S. is spending more on its military than all the other countries of the world combined. In the absence of the Cold War stalemate of the second half of the 20th Century, the new source of global stability will be U.S. geopolitical and military dominance. None of this is speculation — this is the administration’s stated doctrine. An Iraq war not only gets rid of Saddam, it also gives the U.S. an opportunity to display its military superiority in a way that the war in Afghanistan did not. The U.S. military is vastly more powerful than it was at the time of Gulf War I, and the world will see that in Gulf War II. Saddam is an easy target for a long list of reasons — he is unquestionably evil and is already hated by the American people, he represents unfinished business from Gulf War I, and he remains defiant of the conditions imposed on him by the U.N. and the U.S. after the last war. His mere existence is a challenge to the New World Order (even if he is militarily irrelevant).

There are elements of this rationale with which most people would agree: Saddam is evil and the world would be better off without him. And: a powerful U.S. is potentially a source of stability in the world. But there is a very large element of arrogance in the way war in Iraq is being pursued. If the U.S. is an arrogant, aggressive power — untethered by international institutions and agreements and overly eager to flex its military muscle — most of the world will tend to view us as a source of instability. And groups like al Qaeda will gain uncounted new recruits, as terrorism comes to be seen as the only way to strike back at the sole superpower that can’t be constrained through traditional military or diplomatic means.

I also think there is a more purely political element to this war. Bush’s popularity and his credibility as a leader arose from the 9/11 attacks and the fear that they generated. The War On Terrorism has muted opposition to his policies and helped Bush achieve many elements of an extreme right agenda that would have never been possible otherwise. Maintaining that state of war is crucial to maintaining Bush’s power. His inability to find Osama bin Laden added an element of urgency to the need for a new face of the enemy. It’s hard to come up with a better villain than Saddam. I don’t think that this political motive is overt – but people tend to continue or repeat the behavior that is rewarded.

Not all the reasons given for going to war are without merit, and not all the reasons against going to war are decisive. But to my thinking, a world in which the U.S. is admired and respected is a much safer world than one in which the U.S. is hated and feared.

The burden of justification required to undertake a major, unprovoked war has not been met.