Sensible commentary on Iraq

01.19.03

Finally, some sensible commentary about the anti-war protestors over on the Link’s website. This by reader Adam Barken:

Being against the war means being for the maintenance of the status quo. Which means being for the the Hussein regime to remain in power. Which means more brutality, more torture, more stealing of public money for private palaces, etc.

Or did I miss it when these same protesters from last weekend rallied to decry the Hussein regime? Did I miss some big march in the last decade where they protested Husseins’ actions since the Gulf War? It couldn’t be that the only care any of you have for the Iraqis is in direct proportion (and opposition) to what the US thinks and does, could it? You couldn’t possibly be so reactionary, could you?

Unless somebody shows me the anti-war plan to oust the Hussein regime, I will remain convinced that the protests are objectively (if unintentionally) pro-Saddam — pro-torture, pro-enslavement, pro-genocide. Because anything that keeps him in power assures the Iraqi people that what they will get is more torture, more slavery, more mass slaughter.

And I am well aware of the possibility of high casualties in the event of invasion, but I offset this with the knowledge of how many Iraqi, both inside and out, are praying for just such an intervention to save their country.

What do you anti-war folks use to offset the knowledge that you’re arguing in effect for the ongoing subjugation of the Iraqi people?

What he said.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jaws 01.20.03 at 4:04 AM

did you hear about the anti-war protest riot over in SF? They destroyed the INS building….

some peaceful demonstration

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2 Iopha 01.20.03 at 2:04 PM

Destroyed the INS building? The SF Gate article says, and I quote, “smash(ed) a glass door”. Let’s be careful here.

ANd In response to this letter concerning the support of anti-war activists for Saddam’s regime: I guess it is safe then to assume, since both of you are so concerned about human rights, that you opposed US military intervention in Chile, Nicaragua, Indonesia, Argentina, El Salvador (to name but a few) which propped up brutal dictators to serve economic interests?

Regardless of whether one believes war against Iraq is a proper course of action, let’s not delude ourselves into believing we are going in because of humanitarian concerns. Iraq is the second-largest producer of oil in the middle east. Having a pro-US client government would serve to stabilize the region and further weaken OPEC– assuming an invasion does not actually serve to destabilize the entire region by focusing Muslim anti-US sentiment.

What I am trying to say here is that US opposition to Saddam has nothing to do with the brutality of the regime and it is extremely disingenuous to argue anti-war activists are in the wrong because they are in effect ‘supporting’ such brutality.

In any event, the U.S.-led embargo has caused more misery and suffering in Iraq than Hussein. As far as dictators go, he’s not in league in terms of sheer brutality with someone like, say, Pinochet– who we pointedly *did not* have a problem with. Hussein was an ally right up until the invasion of Kuweit, too.

The threat of US unilateral action is very real in regards international law. It would sound the death knell of the UN, for one, and proclaim NATO as the true guardian of the world order. For hawkish types, this is ideal, I suppose. The U.S. is willing to negociate with North Korea and should do the same with Iraq. They will not, and the difference is strategic interest, *not* humanitarian concerns.

If you argue the latter is true, be prepared to accept the moral responsibility of unseating dozens of other corrupt regimes the US has quietly supported during (and after) the cold war.

iopha

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3 hazak 01.20.03 at 6:22 PM

wow, was this article really taken from the Link?

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4 Ikram Saeed 01.20.03 at 6:59 PM

Yah, I’m with Iopha here.

(I notice Sari that you did not post the response to this article, which was also pretty good, but going the other way.)

Over at
http://www.dear-Raed.blogspot.com
you can get the perspective of an Iraqi blogger. He points out that, in his view, one of the best Iraqi opposition parties is the Iraqi Workers Party. How much you wanna bet that a US occupied Iraq will not have much room for them, regardless of how popular they are.

Let’s not pretend that the war in Iraq is going to be waged for the benefit of Iraqis. That may or may not be a corollary, but it’s not the purpose.

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5 James 01.20.03 at 7:31 PM

Iopha says that the embargo has caused more suffering in Iraq than has Hussein. But others have pointed to the massive difference in suffering between most of Iraq and the Kurdish-administered zone — also embargoed — to suggest that the suffering flows directly from how the governors have chosen to administer their money, not from a lack of resources.

Iopha doesn’t address this, and isn’t very convincing as a result.

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6 Anonymous 01.21.03 at 12:36 AM

I was not trying in any way, shape or form to offer some trite and contrived apologetics for Hussein. James, you are quite correct in pointing out that the continuing oppression of several minority groups in Iraq is cause for concern– given long-standing Kurdish opposition to the régime, it is unsuprising that what few scarce ressources are trickling through despite the embargo are not going to them. If I believed that the U.S. was really interested in supporting a fledgling Iraqi democracy, I would support an invasion, too. As it stands I cannot. The fact is the U.S. is perfectly fine with a dictator in power in Iraq, as long as he toes U.S. lines.

The United States was in fact complicit in the attacks by Saddam against the Kurds– who do you think supplied him with the chemical know-how in the first place? We stood idly by when Saddam was an ally and watched him gas the Kurds with helicopters bought from the US.

Let me be perfectly clear here: I am not a supporter of this regime. All I want is some intellectual consistency from those on the right who argue that opposition to the coming war is tantamount to supporting Hussein’s regime. This is a facile and fallacious dichotomy, and has been used by President Bush several times in the last year to silence his critics. The overwhelming silence of conservatives in face of the Patriot Act, is, to me, simply stunning. Aren’t conservatives *libertarians*? We could and should be allies on several issues. Iraq perhaps is not one of them– but my point of contention here is that the US is *not* acting out of humanitarian ideals but rather of mercenary strategic interest. The proper course of action involves removing Saddam from power somehow. Preferably in a way which would not involve the harming of hundreds of thousands of civilians, which is not what is happening right now.

Cheers,

Iopha

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7 Peter 01.21.03 at 12:44 AM

Ikram, I tried http://dear-raed.blogspot.com
and got a “not found” page.

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8 Peter 01.21.03 at 1:12 AM

iopha wrote:

The fact is the
U.S. is perfectly fine with a dictator in power in Iraq, as
long as he toes U.S. lines.

I hear the coalition is split about what kind of government to install in Iraq. Blair and Powell would like a pro-western dictator, while Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Rice (the hawks) want a democratic government.

Aren’t conservatives *libertarians*? We could
and should be allies on several issues.

Conservatives are definitely not libertarians, at least not in the US. There is a Libertarian party in the US that has a completely different agenda than the Republicans. For instance, the Libertarians have no problem with abortion and support the legalization of most drugs. They are also decidely isolationist in terms of national defense and support cutting the defense budget by two-thirds.

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9 Anonymous 01.21.03 at 2:30 AM

The problem of ensuring political stability after the ousting of Saddam Hussein in Iraq is a serious one. It would involve long-term military occupation of the country, since Hussein has been very effective in liquidating his potential political opponents. After losing the first Gulf war, over 150,000 soldiers deserted their posts (in the Kurdish north and Shiite south), leading Saddam to intensify repression in these affected areas. The Republican Guard, however, stationned in the urban centers of the country, is fiercely loyal to Hussein. This loyalty is maintained by a clan/tribal elite system. The point is that the division in opinion over what to do in a post-Saddam Iraq does not negate the fact that a stable pro-US dictatorship would be preferred over an unstable democracy by all parties involved. Ideally, no doubt, the hawks in the administration would like a fragile democracy dependant on US military support. If this is not possible or feasible, a dictatorship may do, though they are prone to acting in unpredictable ways at times.

The Iraqi administration, in anticipation of an invasion, have decentralized certain key aspects of their government; Saddam has delegated power to his son and successor (Qusai Hussein) and to the commander of the Republican Guard, Kamal Moustapha. An occupation of Baghdad and capture or death of Saddam will not necessarily mean immediate liberation of Iraq. Much of the army– particularly in urban centers– will remain loyal to the regime (ie. either Qusai or Kamal) and may engage in bitter guerilla street-warfare with any troops sent. Outright capitulation, as in Afghanistan, is seen by most analysts as unlikely. There is no ‘Northern Alliance’ in Iraq.

A bloodless coup d’état is, once again, unlikely. This would require support of at least 3 or 4 divisions of the army, and the clan system of the Republican Guard practically ensures civil war. If there was any kind of organized opposition to Hussein, then this would be the sensible solution. But there isn’t. Creating one would, once again, require long-term military occupation of the country. A price the U.S. is probably willing to pay given the oil reserves the country has.

The hawks would like a liberal-democratic regime in place in Iraq and have vested their hopes in the Iraqi National Congress. I don’t know if this will work. It all depends on how certain elements in Iraqi society perceive the strikes against their country if the US decides to attack– will it bolster Saddam’s attempt to preserve his party for his son and supporters, or the tenuous groupings of pro-Western pro-business INCers? We’ll see. I am afraid that this will be quite a nasty affair.

iopha (going to study now)

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10 Peter 01.21.03 at 3:50 AM

The
Republican Guard, however, stationned in the urban
centers of the country, is fiercely loyal to Hussein.

From what I’ve heard there are only eight to ten thousand soldiers in the Republican Guard that are willing to go to the mat for Saddam. Also, you say that there is no ‘Northern Alliance” in Iraq. I believe this is untrue. There is a Kurdish fighting force that has been supplied by the US. This force will certainly begin its offensive once the US attempts to dislodge Saddam.

Also, I saw on the ABC nightly news Peter Jennings trying to interview people in a Shi’ite section of Bahgdad. No person would even let Jennings approach them on camera let alone reveal their true feelings about Saddam’s regime. Where ever Jennings went, one of Saddam’s secret police showed up. Jennings did manage to get a statement off camera from a teacher who more or less paroted the party line. I think it is safe to say that the Shi’ites throughout the country will be more than willing to support any any US attempt to get rid of Hussein.

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11 Ikram Saeed 01.21.03 at 5:10 PM

Peter — sorry, that’s
http://www.Dear_raed.blogspot.com

or click here
(if “comments” allows for links). I’ve also got a link on my page.

I’m not as pessimistic as Iopha about the ability of the US to conquer Iraq. I ascribe superhuman (and sometimes paranormal — are they listening?) qualities to the US army. They conquer more small countries before breakfast than you can all day.

You say Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Rice (the hawks) want a democratic government.

Do they really? Would they be willing to see a socialist or Shia revolutionary or resolutely anti-Israel government democratically elected in Iraq? I don’t believe it for a minute. They want a democratic government that does what the US wants. Why invade a country if you can’t tell that country what to do?

It may be, and probably will be, that this pliant US-supported regime will be better for most Iraqis. But, as I said in my last comment, that ain’t the main point of invading.

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12 Ikram Saeed 01.21.03 at 5:13 PM

Peter — for some reason, the link in the previous comment does not work. You’ll have to cut and paste the URL.

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13 Anonymous 01.22.03 at 12:26 AM

Well, I don’t doubt the U.S. can conquer Iraq. Not for a second. The problem I outlined is that of ensuring a smooth régime change which would minimize civilian casualties and ‘collateral damage’ to Iraqi infrastructure. There is the very real possibility of Hussein engaging in a ‘scorched-earth’ policy (setting fire to oil fields, etc). There is also, naturally, the increased risk of ‘blowback’ from angered muslims.

I wonder why the logic of deterrence is not being applied to this situation. Iraq cannot use its biological/nuclear weapons without ensuring its complete annihilation. One may argue that Iraq *could* give these weapons to terrorists and therefore poses a threat. In which case deterrence is slightly mitigated by the slight possibility of Iraq ‘getting away with it’– though both chemical and nuclear weapons manufactured in Iraq would leave specific signature traces which would enable us to determine their source. ‘Security’, like ‘human rights’, seems to be a pretext. Maybe I’m wrong.

The only conclusion I can reach is this: the U.S. has made a cost/benefit policy analysis and determined that the benefits of invading Iraq and installing a friendly regime outweigh the costs of a military campaign, medium or long-term occupation of the country, negative international perception (if they proceed without UN approval) and possible terrorist blowback. This is basic political realism (ie, note the lack of ‘left-wing idealism’)and echoes strongly the Melian debate in Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian war, doesn’t it?

Now, continuing with this realist train of thought, what concrete policy should the government of my country– Canada– adopt? Should it commit troops to an invasion? Of course, given the state of our military, this would be purely symbolic. Given that, I’d prefer that Canada commit peacekeeping forces *after* the invasion and help maintain a (hopefully) democratic regime which would benefit the Iraqi people first and Haliburton second (or third or fourth).

I realize than an invasion at this point is probably inevitable. The Bush administration has been contemplating a war with Iraq since it came into power, so let’s not waste time dissecting the pretexts too much. Some Bush’s bellicose rhetoric has been rather frightening (the loaded language of ‘evil’, references to ‘God’ being on our side, etc) but hopefully this planned invasion rests on firmly rational/strategic territory (ie, Cheney). Being *opposed* to the war as it is proposed is not a simple dichotomized ‘with us or against us’ situation. There are alternative courses of action. I’ve proposed one for Canada, as a concerned layperson, because my own cost/benefit analysis differs from the Bush administration in significant ways (notably I believe an Iraqi civilian is ‘worth’ just as much as an American or Canadian civilian). I don’t think is an unreasonable or hysterically ‘anti-US’ position to take.

Some of the elements within the peace movement I disagree with, but coalition politics are like that. And I apologize for lumping conservatives in with the libertarians– with the latter’s talk of ‘small government’ and the sanctity of the free market, I assumed there was significant overlap in their respective positions. This is an interesting discussion, moreoever, and I have no wish to engage in vilification of opponents as is too often done by both sides.

Okay, I really should get back to school work. I came across this blog by pure accident.

Iopha

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