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March 18, 2003

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Iraq and Saddam Hussein

Note: I wrote this a while ago, on February 28th, I just kept getting sidetracked by other stuff. (Sometimes the one-a-day format doesn't work out so well.) Anyway, Shields wrote a much longer, better-reasoned post about the subject, so if you want some in-depth reading go there. This was originally written, basically, as a stream of conciousness, and I'm going to keep it that way. Now, on with the show...

I've been holding off on making any comments about Iraq because I'm not entirely sure exactly where my thoughts lie. I haven't made much headway; maybe writing it down here will help. Times like this I wish I was a better writer...

For starters, there's a distinction that needs to be made: Non-democratic countries are not represented by the head of state. Iraq-the-population is vastly different from Iraq-the-government. We're accustomed to presidents and prime ministers representing their people to at least some degree, but that's not the case here. Saddam was "elected" in a landslide... because he was the only one on the ballot and because not fulfilling one's civic duty in Iraq is cause for a bullet to the brain pan.

So, where does that leave us? Well, the administration's current goal is to remove Saddam from power and destroy any large-scale weapons he has -- the usual name is the misnomer "weapons of mass-destruction" -- while doing as little damage as possible to the Iraqi population. The question then becomes: How do we do it?

Right now, Bush believes the only way to accomplish both parts of the goal is to invade Iraq. This would involve mostly American troops and equipment (along with whatever the British can send) operating from a handful of not-quite-as-hotile countries, along with a few "attaboys" from countries whose military budgets are dwarfed by the LAPD. There may be other ways to get rid of the weapons in question (see below) but seeing as how Saddam has said he'd rather die than live in exile, it seems like we may have to take him up on the offer if we plan on having a second democratic Islamic country to go with Turkey. (Aside: I can't remember if there are any more countries that mix democracy with Islam. Corrections welcome.)

First off, the inspections: Saddam's been very willing to cooperate of late -- or at least to appear to cooperate, given the last 12 years of history. Hans Blix can't make up his mind whether the government is being wonderfully helpful or hopelessly obstructionist... I think it might be related to the phases of the moon. Why is that, though? Because Saddam remembers the systematic dismantling of his army last time around, and because American and British planes have been blowing up his anti-aircraft installations for the last decade. Simply put, he knows that he's not in for "the mother of all battles" that would slowly erode U.S. morale -- it'll be more like the "mother of all ass-whuppings" if it comes to war.

But he also knows that American and British governments have to be re-elected. All he has to do is cooperate enough to convince people who always think that war is bad, regardless of the reasons, that he's OK. And in a couple years George Bush and Tony Blair may not be around to bother him any more. Not a bad strategy, really. Beats the possibility of a Tomahawk suppository.

Which puts us in a bind: Do we do this now and risk making enemies, or do it later and risk giving him time to become even more dangerous? I vote for option one, myself.

This guy is proven dangerous. In addition to the usual "death to the Jews" rhetoric that's so pervasive in the Middle East, this guy's created a brutal regime that kills its own people and has invaded his country's smaller neighbor (that is why we did this the last time, after all).

Now, Saddam is by no means alone. The al-Sauds in Saudi Arabia are at least as bad to their people as Saddam is to his, maybe more. So why aren't we going after them? Oil? Nah. If it was about oil we'd be propping Saddam up instead of trying to get rid of him -- we stand to lose a lot more money by going to war than we could hope to recover by controlling Iraq's (or anybody's) oilfields. The answer is that, even though their government is more brutal internally, Saudi Arabia isn't as big a threat to the outside world. The al-Sauds have made too much money off oil to risk pissing off the U.S. so they quitely let the clerics party like it's 799.

On a slightly more cynical level, I can also say that we want to make an example out of somebody. "Behave, or you're next." Saddam's already unpopular in the Middle East because he constatly flaunts everbody's authority. And they're still a little pissed about that whole invasion thing -- he might come after them next. So nobody will cry a river if he's taken out. And we might get a stable democracy out of the deal if we're lucky, as an example to the people of the region -- "you don't have to live like this."

The questions are: Are we doing this at the right time? and Should we be doing this at all?

Well, putting aside our own economic troubles, any delay only allows Saddam to become more powerful and more dangerous. He may not be best pals with Osama bin Laden (bin Laden doesn't like Iraq's secular government) but that doesn't mean Iraq isn't a breeding ground for terrorists. If you can't direct your displeasure with your life at the government, you start looking elsewhere. Israel and the U.S. are easy targets. Does this mean that terrorism would go away the minute we invade Iraq? No. Things would likely get worse before they get better because it would take time to rebuild Iraq. The short-term effect would be even more poor and angry people that al-Qaida loves to see. But even Afghanistan is marginally improved a year later, and Iraq won't be in nearly as sorry shape as Afghanistan was. The end result, then, would be a long-term win for us is we're willing to accept some short-term hardships. I can say I am, but I also know Pittsburgh isn't a target like D.C. or New York. People there may think differently.

Now for the other question: Should we do this at all? It's a tougher question than many people want to think: Yes, Saddam is dangerous, but we also know from experience that he has no qualms about putting military equipment next to hospitals, mosques and apartment buildings. Civilians, especially those in Baghdad, will pay dearly for that. And as I said way at the top of the page, I don't have a beef with Iraq-the-people. I don't want to kill them if it's not necessary. But as I wrote this, I came to the conclusion that now is the time (that was my only real question before, once I saw that Saddam wouldn't leave voluntarily). If we (and the Iraqis) are lucky, Saddam won't have time to get all his equipment moved into civilian areas. And I think that on the whole Iraq will benefit from this, even if civilian casualties are all but guaranteed.

My only concern is the rebuilding of Iraq. We got off to a good start in Afghanistan, but interest petered out. Infrastructure won't be as big of a problem due to the fact that the Taliban wasn't in power for 20 years in Iraq, but it will have the same ethnic-based problems. A lot of people like Sunni Muslims and the Kurds have been beaten on for a long time, and they're going to want paybacks. It won't be easy, but I think it's possible. We managed to do well with Germany after World War II, and I know Colin Powell and Condaleeza Rice know how to read history books. If Dubya's not too busy running up and down the halls of the White House yelling "I'm da man!" they should be able to steer him in the right direction. But nothing's ever a given.

In closing, I will just say that I do believe in giving peace a chance. But in this case, as has happened before, the only way to get that peace will be through lots of violence. It sucks, and some people have trouble wrapping their brains around it, but it's true. And in the coming weeks and months our military will almost certainly be putting that theory into practice.

Update: Found a radio clip linked in Shields's journal. There are three things to keep in mind before getting into a debate: (1) Are the facts on my side, (2) Am I completely outclassed, (3) Am I more than 10 years old. This girl (woman?) had none of the three. Well, maybe #3, since she was on the show. Friggin' hilarious.

 

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