WAR!... WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?
Final Thoughts as War with Iraq Looms
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
So, as I type this, the United States- along with Britain, perhaps Australia and a few other countries among the so-called "Coalition of the Willing"- now stands on the brink of war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The stage has been set, the gauntlet (in the form of President Bush's having- this past evening- given Saddam, his sons and his other close supporters 48 hours to leave and not let the gate hit him too hard as it swings back on the way out) has been laid down and we now all anxiously wait for the inevitable: the breaking news that the battle has- indeed- been joined, followed soon thereafter by the appearance of President Bush- I would assume in the more formal setting of being seated in the TV Oval Office (as opposed to his stand-up East Room appearance of last night)- to tell us all when and why. It has already (and it's only Tuesday!) been a rather momentous week!!
I lay much of my own criticism of what has led to this week (which has, of course, not yet ended- neither the week itself nor, or so I am sure, its very momentousness- as I type this) at the doorstep of the French Republic... and not just its Government but also its People (for, admittedly as chastened by last month's 'vox Populi'er Laura Stormont, I well recognize that France is a Democracy and that the French People have the same right to influence their Government [and expect their Government to do their collective bidding] as the American People, of which I am a part, do-- therefore, I have to believe [and, in fact, have seen no credible evidence to the contrary] that President Chirac speaks for the vast majority of his countrymen [as well he should!])... those of you among the French People reading this (especially those of you reading this who oppose this impending war) have every right to speak out on the issue of war with Iraq, if you so choose... this very web site, as noted in its Mission Statement, is dedicated to the concept of Free Speech that is intrinsic to Democracy and far be it for me to tell a person living in freedom- as the French do- that he or she cannot exercise the same innate human rights I claim for myself as a free American. I have not at all forgotten that the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World who had to witness much of the terrible destruction of September 11th in her peripheral vision as she stood in New York Harbor that awful day was a Frenchwoman; I trust that any Frenchmen among my readers will not have forgotten this as well once the fighting soon to commence ceases and our two countries will then have to work- together with the rest of the international community- on issues resulting from the rather sudden appearance of a post-Saddam Iraq.
However, I say to the People of France, your President opposed any resolution in the United Nations Security Council (I presume with the support of a majority of your fellow countrymen, where not you- the reader- yourself) that promised any action of significant consequence as a result of non-compliance by Saddam's regime with previous relevant Security Council resolutions, especially Resolution 1441. Might I remind you that your country- like mine, one of the five Permanent Members of the Security Council- joined in the unanimous approval of Resolution 1441 by the Council this past November-- a resolution that promised grave consequences upon a "material breach" of said resolution? That resolution required a complete accounting of the history and present condition of Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction and any ancillary program in support of same by 8 December: even by the admission of UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, that accounting was rather incomplete! In effect, the current stance of France is "we have so recently said that, if you don't comply, terrible consequences will follow-- but we will now not at all support such terrible consequences"-- does this make any sense?-- what possible conclusion could Saddam Hussein draw regarding international resolve from such a position??-- certainly not one that would make him at all quake in his boots, even at the fact that 250,000 American and British military are on his doorstep!
Now I will be the first to criticize my own country's President for his faults- as well as those of his Administration- in this, or any other, matter: if you should happen to peruse my Commentaries and responses to various and sundry 'vox Populi' on this site, you will see that I'm not at all afraid to criticize my Federal Government on such things as, say, Homeland Security, for example. I am also not at all happy that my President is not going to be coming back to Congress to ask for a formal Declaration of War- as required by Article I, section 8, clause 11 of my Nation's Constitution- before taking military action, for reasons I have already well opined elsewhere and will not again outline here; since I am using this portion of this Commentary to address the French People in particular, I would assume that no Frenchman would be all that much interested in the arcane vagaries of American Constitutionalism in any event: I will only here quickly note that my suggestions to the President which will wrap up this piece should be read in light of my disappointment with the White House on this score.
You in France have likely been made well aware of the "French-bashing" that has been going on- ofttimes subtly, sometimes less so- in the course of the diplomatic disagreement on the issue of war with Iraq between my country and yours (it has even filtered down to the "lowest common denominator" here in the States where some fast food restaurants and diners have even stopped calling the typical American lunchtime side dish French Fries on their menus and have, instead, substituted the term "Freedom Fries"-- as if that actually accomplishes anything!!!) : I am quite certain that such "French-bashing" on this side of the Atlantic more than slightly contributed to the inflexibility of the French Government in this dispute between our two countries and I have been as appalled by it as you yourselves- as citizens of the country being so "bashed"- surely must be. It serves no useful purpose (as President Chirac's own comments on the issue in question make clear) and it is not right to so personally criticize a Free People regarding the exercise of their rights as a Free People (including their right to have their democratically-elected Government respond to their own Political Will!)
At the same time, however, it is perfectly acceptable for the citizen of one Free Nation to criticize the policies of another Free Nation: therefore, just as it is perfectly acceptable for a free Frenchman to criticize the policies of the American Government, it is- likewise- perfectly acceptable for a free American to criticize the policies of the French Government. I will avail myself of just such a right- without (so I hope!) any "bashing" on my part- when I here close my "open letter" (if you will) to the French People by merely noting the following: the French Foreign Minister recently noted, before the UN Security Council, that Saddam should be given more time because the presence of a largely American military force in the Persian Gulf was forcing him to more and more (though, as I have already noted, incompletely) comply with relevant Security Council resolutions... yet I don't notice any French assets among those forces and, as one of those whose Federal taxes are well paying for the military assets that are in the region, I find the use of that argument by a representative of the French Republic rather disingenuous where it is also not altogether insensitive to those of my countrymen who are actually in harm's way!
Having said all this, I can well understand the fears and concerns of those elsewhere in the world of American power, especially in the context of perceived American unilateralism; yet, at the same time, I am at least one American who has a basic faith (whatever the lack thereof might be among any foreigners- or, for that matter, my fellow countrymen- who may be reading these words) in the innate ability of my country's People to well exercise the privileges and immunities of their citizenship, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States (along with- or so many Americans, I am sure, forget- the Constitutions of their respective States of this Union), in such a fashion as to rein in the bitterest excesses of their government. If I did not have such a faith, there would likely not be a website such as 'The Green Papers' and I would certainly not be associated with it, for why would I so waste my time collecting and disseminating sometimes rather arcane political data such as National Convention Delegate Selection Procedures if I didn't believe that at least a handful of those among my fellow Americans- whether I agree with them on a particular issue or no- might, as a result of my efforts, so much the better exercise what the author Marchette Chute- in the very title of what is arguably the seminal work on the subject- called The First Liberty: that is, the right to vote for representatives and other elective officers of their own choosing?
The President of the United States is not a dictator (though I can, even as I type this, hear the cynical among those reading this intoning- if only under their collective breath- "yet"). There were, for example, the many lessons that came out of the Vietnam Conflict of my youth and America's searing experience- on the streets here at home as well as out in the jungles and rice paddies so far away from that home- as a result of that now-long ago war in IndoChina; some of these lessons are conflicting, where not also controversial, and those of us old enough to have remembered that era can always argue long into the wee hours about these: this is not the place, nor the time (considering that on which the United States is about to embark), to have that argument...
however, one of the salient lessons of the Vietnam experience on both sides of the vast Pacific is that the American People are- as ever, and as in other fields of Politics and Governance- in ultimate charge of their country's military affairs. Tactical nuclear weapons were never used in Vietnam, Hanoi and Haiphong were not completely obliterated in the way (or- truth be told, given the advanced weapons technology over the intervening two decades or so- in a much worse manner!) that Hiroshima and Nagasaki once were, American troops were- in time- brought home without ultimate victory in an arena in which victory would have been rather hard to achieve because it was so difficult to, by consensus, define... all because the American People were the ultimate restraint on whatever policy positions the Johnson and Nixon Administrations, respectively, might have taken. I am not here ignoring- or even necessarily condoning- the terrible cost to the Vietnamese- in lives, livelihood or quality of life- during the course of American involvement in IndoChina... but it could have been so much worse had the American People not, in fact, been the American People I have come, in my now nearly five decades as one of their number, to know so well! The spirit that guides the present anti-war movement in this country, while their viewpoint is- at least at present- in the minority, is a legacy handed down from that very era: it is also a legacy to the small 'd' democratic values and small 'r' republican ideals that are inherent in the American People.
I, of course, cannot do much of anything to assuage whatever fears and concerns those in Europe, Canada, Latin America, the Islamic World, Russia- or anywhere else on the face of the globe, for that matter- might have about what my Nation is about to do, along with its reasons for doing so. All I can do is merely note the following: the United States of America is not as powerful- economically, militarily and politically- as it once was some 50 years ago; yet, at the same time, it has to be acknowledged that the United States did have- as a limiting factor back then- a counterweight (however unattractive such counterweight might have been) in the form of the Soviet Union, a counterweight that is no longer in place in the present age of America as the world's sole superpower... so, again, I understand these fears and concerns: all I can say is that, when Americans feel these same fears and concerns, a significant number of same (as was demonstrated in the late 1960s into the early 1970s) will do whatever needs to be done to act as an internal counterweight and, should this become necessary, the supermajority that- or so I have already argued on this site- any American President needs in order to prosecute a war will simply disappear!
In line with these thoughts and in respect to this end- although I am, rather obviously, not at all privy to what President Bush might say once he has given the ultimate order for our military forces, along with those of any allies that might come along with us, to engage those of Saddam Hussein's Iraq (indeed, I presume that much of what he might say has, indeed, already been written by the White House)- nevertheless, allow me to here engage in abject egotism, if only temporarily, and offer some free speechwriting advice to the President of the United States of America:
There are three basic areas of controversy inherent in the decision to go to war against Iraq from which the President should not flinch within whatever he might tell the American People in his next appearance before them on TV: first off, there is the issue of the fact that, in effect, the current President Bush is continuing the work of his father in the latter's prosecution of the 1991 Gulf War as this Nation's Commander-in-Chief. George W. Bush simply must address this, bluntly saying something to the effect of "I am aware that there are many of those among my fellow Americans who think I am largely taking this action to finish that which the previous President Bush- my father- had once engaged in a dozen years ago; nothing could be further from the truth...", etc. etc. (note: "my father"-- the President cannot here afford to be cute and say "my Daddy" in an exaggerated Texas accent: that might play well within some circles among his own supporters; but he is here addressing those who do not generally support him and, so I can assure him, so being cute would be insulting to these and actually hurt- rather than aid- his cause as well as his responsibility to, as best he can, unify the country as war gets underway!)
Second, he must also bluntly address the issue of the strongly perceived connection of "Big Oil" to his own Administration by saying something to the effect of "There are those who say that this action is being taken to better allow powerful economic interests in our own country, as well as elsewhere around the globe, to seize the oil assets that- in fact- belong to the Iraqi people for their own purposes and profit. This is, likewise, not true..." etc. etc. I would then further suggest that the President strongly endorse and accept the suggestion made by British Prime Minister Tony Blair before the House of Commons earlier today [Tuesday 18 March] that any and all profits generated by Iraqi oil in the immediate aftermath of the departure of Saddam Hussein's regime be placed in a trust fund to be overseen by the international community until a stable post-Saddam government has been organized and can then take over said oil-generated revenue in the name of those very same Iraqi people.
Finally, and as something of a follow-on to what I have written at the end of the previous paragraph, there is the issue of reconstruction of a post-Saddam Iraq: I don't expect (and, in fact, would strongly advise against) the President saying all that much, by way of detail, about what this might entail: when the time comes, I will likely be writing a Commentary for 'The Green Papers' on this very subject; likewise, I would expect that- when the time comes- the President will begin to more thoroughly address this particular issue. However, in whatever he might tell the American People come his order to go into battle- most likely in a matter of days- President Bush must make it clear that the United States is not going to just "cut and run" and, thus, leave it to others to reconstruct Iraq; if we successfully overthrow Saddam by force, we must also accept full responsibility for the aftermath of such overthrow... the President has to well, and most realistically, prepare this Nation- as well as the rest of the world- for the possible cost, in time as well as money, of such reconstruction-- and do so NOW! Furthermore, Mr. Bush has to make it clear that the United Nations- despite the diplomatic debacle leading up to the tumultuous events of this week (those which have already occurred, as well as those yet to come)- is, nevertheless, to be a "player" in this effort: that the U.S. will, indeed, not go it alone in post-Saddam Iraq nor, at the same time, seek to abandon Iraq far too quickly once the fighting has actually come to an end.
Above all, the President must say all the above I have so strongly suggested he say (assuming he does, in fact, say at least some of what I have herein suggested) with the proverbial "straight face": that is, he had better mean whatever it is he might say- once the battle has been joined- regarding these rather controversial issues surrounding his decision and the concomitant order that will have followed said decision! It may very well be true that those who are inclined to disbelieve whatever Mr. Bush might say in any event will ever think the President doth protest too much; however, and well mark my words, if George W. Bush attempts to at all gloss over these difficulties I have just outlined- or, worse yet, sweep them under the proverbial Oval Office rug- his failure to have well addressed these as the troops are first going in will- regardless of how well or how poorly the battle soon to come may, in fact, progress- someday come back to bite him... and, by extension, the rest of we Americans as well!