Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Why I Don't Support War Against Iraq

It is very probable that in couple of hours my opinion on the upcoming war against Iraq is going to have strictly academic importance. And this is exactly the reason why I decided to share some of my thoughts on the subjects.

First of all, don't get me wrong. I'm not some kind of bleeding-heart pacifist nor do I keep posters of Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden on the bedroom wall. Nor do I consider George W. Bush as the only person responsible for this mess; actually, I'm pretty much convinced that Al Gore could have handled things much worse.

Also note that I don't support war. Which is in my humble opinion a tad different that being opposed to war. If I would have to align myself with pro-war or anti-war camps in this global debate, I would have probably preferred to remain fence-sitter or join anti-war camp with great deal of reservations.

Reasons why I don't oppose the war against Iraq could be found in the validity of arguments used by pro-war camp. Saddam Hussein is a dictator, man who had practically ruined his country, started two incredibly destructive wars of aggression, had no qualms about committing genocide, oecocide or even using weapons of mass destruction against his own people. The soon he leaves the political stage in Iraq, the better. His removal for the scene is necessary pre-condition for Iraq to start looking like a decent place to live and prosper.

Unfortunately, it is not that clear that the military action, at least in the form predicted, is the best method to achieve that aim. All those who oppose the war also have very sound arguments. The campaign is going to be marked with unimaginable levels of destruction and bloodbath not seen since the darkest days of Vietnam War. Even after Saddam is deposed and something resembling democratic government of Iraq takes place, many Iraqis and the Arab world in general is going to be bitter about it. The people in that area still hadn't gotten over Crusades, and to expect them to take positive view of another Western invasion (and possible destruction of Baghdad) is exercise in over-optimism.

Those who oppose the war, however, got one thing very wrong. For them this war is nothing different from the old-fashioned imperialist conquest – USA wants to take hold of Iraqi oil deposits and thus secure its dominant economic position in the world and fill the coffers of scruples oil executives who had helped George W. Bush's election (or "coup d'etat" ).

But I doubt that the oil is the prime motive for war. If Americans really wanted oil, they could have got it through less direct, less costly, less dangerous and less complicated ways. If USA was led by truly Machiavelian leaders who would sacrifice every principle of decency for the sake of oil, there wouldn't be any war – Saddam would remain in power unmolested in exchange for overt or covert co-operation with American government. Military invasion would jeopardise the oil deposits, making them inaccessible for years to come and thus jeopardising the whole profitability of the war.

The real motive of the war could be seen in the way it was prepared. And the motive could be best described by two words. September 11th.

Basically, those who had perpetrated 2001 attacks have succeeded in reaching their main objective – proving the world that not even such global superpower as USA is invulnerable or omnipotent. Perception of American omnipotence was the foundation not only of Pax Americana, but also the most important tool for American political, cultural and economic domination over all other nations of the world. With this perception gone, this domination is under question, and the first cracks in American hegemony have already been noticed in quarrel over Iraq. Another, not less important, consequence of September 11th was the collective feeling of insecurity and uncertainty that had struck American nation. This feeling reflected not only among the ordinary people but also in the highest ranks of American government, thus influencing long-term policies.

In short, American government feels the need to restore the perception of American omnipotence, and the only way is to do it is to launch war which would be directed not only against the individual rogue state, but indirectly against the "international community" as a whole. War against Iraq is such war – for various complicated reasons, hardly any country other than USA wants it, and this is the reason why US government insists on it. The purpose of the war is to show that USA can do whatever it likes, without any qualms about the international law, humanitarian concerns or even the interests of their closest allies. Attempts to resist the war or broker some face-saving diplomatic solution only served to make USA even less willing to compromise and more resolute in taking the most extreme position possible.

So, it is easy to explain why American preparations for war included probably the most disastrous effort in the history of American diplomacy. It also explains why the military preparations were way below the standards for the operation of such complexities and risks. USA is going into this campaign with hardly any allies, with force that might prove numerically not fit for an ambitious task of invasion and successful occupation of the entire country, without much serious preparation for political future of post-Saddam Iraq or securing support of friendly Iraqis.

The purpose of war is going to be reflected in the strategy for the campaign. The aim is not to have quick, easy victorious campaign. The aim is to make long-lasting impression, and "splendid little wars" comparable to cakewalk in Afghanistan or even 1991 Gulf War simply won't make such impression. USA must show not only its might, but willingness to show this might with extreme prejudice and without any concern not only for the lives of innocent civilians but for the lives of their own soldiers too. So, instead of prolonged bombing campaign which should grind down and exhaust the enemy or effective pincer movements, American offensive is going to resemble WW1-style frontal assault with the exact details all but publicly announced. Since Americans possess overwhelming superiority over Iraqis in training and equipment this might not be as insane as would be in occasions when two sides are more evenly matched. But history teaches us that war is always a risk and that underestimating the enemy and overestimating its own forces is the most common cause of military setback.

Of course, the strictly military outcome of the war could hardly be in doubt. But the tiny details, especially those that would create public impression of the war, are crucial. If some of tiny, almost invisible setback occur, in the long run American victory, regardless whether it takes place after a day, week, month or year, might prove to be Pyrrhic. Unfortunately, the price is not going to be paid by Americans or Iraqis alone, it is going to be paid by the whole world.

Finally, I must admit that my thoughts about upcoming events are at least partly based on my own experiences of war. The war that I witnessed first hand was in many ways different from the one we are going to see in the near future, but some of the lessons can apply to all conflicts. Let's just hope that those lessons were learned and that I'm wrong in my assumptions.


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