War in Iraq: No Simple Answers

Debates Continue to Rage on Whether an Attack Is Justified

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LONDON, FEB. 22, 2003 (Zenit.org).- British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in an address last Saturday to a Labor Party meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, affirmed he still hoped for a peaceful disarmament by Iraq. But he warned that showing weakness would weaken the United Nations' authority "and the conflict when it comes will be more bloody."



The world is faced, explained Blair, with a threat "from countries which are unstable, usually repressive dictatorships which use what wealth they have to protect or enhance their power through chemical, biological or nuclear weapons capability which can cause destruction on a massive scale."

"At every stage, we should seek to avoid war," stated the British leader. "But if the threat cannot be removed peacefully, please let us not fall for the delusion that it can be safely ignored. If we do not confront these twin menaces of rogue states with weapons of mass destruction, and terrorism, they will not disappear. They will just feed and grow on our weakness."

Blair acknowledged that a war will mean some innocent people will die in the conflict. But he insisted that the consequences of letting Saddam Hussein stay in power will lead to an even greater death toll due to the regime's willful neglect of the economic welfare of the population as it builds its military sector. Moreover, Iraq imprisons, tortures and executes large numbers of its political opponents. "This is a regime that contravenes every single principle or value anyone of our politics believes in," stated Blair.

"Ridding the world of Saddam would be an act of humanity," Blair told the Labor Party members. "It is leaving him there that is in truth inhumane."

For his part, U.S. President George W. Bush, in a Feb. 18 press conference, denounced Saddam "a risk to peace." The Iraqi leader has gassed his own people, has links to terrorists and possesses weapons of mass destruction -- and repeatedly defied the United Nations, Bush said.

"War is my last choice," affirmed the American president. Yet, "the risk of doing nothing is even a worst option as far as I'm concerned. I owe it to the American people to secure this country. I will do so."

A main criticism of the United States has been its unilateralism in dealing with Iraq. On this issue Bush stated his willingness to work through the United Nations, saying that the best way to deal with the threat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction is through international organizations. But he also warned that the United Nations has to show that it can enforce its own resolutions and that it has the capacity to be effective.

The human cost of not intervening

Pro-intervention commentators argue that allowing Saddam to stay in power will only condemn the Iraqi population to further suffering. Others, however, argue that war would be worse.

Andrew MacLeod, an international lawyer and former negotiator for the International Committee of the Red Cross, noted that Human Rights Watch has denounced the systematic eradication by Saddam of the Marsh Arabs, whose population has dropped from 250,000 to just 40,000 in the last 15 years. And this is on top of an estimated 100,000 Kurds who have suffered the same fate, MacLeod wrote Feb. 3 in the Australian newspaper the Age. To these grim numbers must be added other countless victims of the regime's repression, he said.

After last weekend's peace marches, Amir Taheri, writing on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal of Feb. 18, observed that the anti-war lobby had also protested against intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo. Giving diplomacy another chance on those occasions led to the massacre of 250,000 Bosnians and up to 10,000 Kosovars.

Allowing more time for U.N. inspections will not achieve anything, argued Taheri, given that Saddam would simply continue to hide his weapons and avoid cooperating. A Journal article on Feb. 11 by Khidir Hamza, a former director of Iraq's nuclear-weapons program, also pointed out the difficulty of finding Iraq's secret weapons. The weapons inspectors will not find anything Saddam does not want them to find, said Hamza.

Washington Post columnist Michael Kelly on Feb. 19 went so far as to argue that it would be immoral not to take military action against Saddam. Kelly insisted on the obligation to rescue the civilian population from "one of the cruelest and bloodiest tyrannies on earth."

Allowing nations such as Iraq, which he contends is linked to "state-sanctioned terrorism," to continue on their way only invites another Sept. 11, Kelly said. Moreover, he argued, if the United Nations allows Iraq to continue defying the law, the world will lose any hope of collective security. In this context, he said, continued opposition to a war "is to march for the furtherance of evil instead of the vanquishing of evil."

Anti-war hawks

Opposition to a war has been equally intense. On the question of whether a war is needed to remove a serious threat to security, a commentary by Peter Riddle in the London Times on Feb. 20 observed that many military experts question the wisdom of such action. Doubters in the United Kingdom include Field Marshal Lord Bramall, former chief of the Defense Staff; Lord Hurd, a former Foreign Secretary; and Sir Michael Quinlan, a former Permanent Secretary with the Ministry of Defense.

These, and other former generals, are in no way pacifists and they all consider Saddam to be dangerous. But, noted Riddel: "What unites these skeptics is the fear that military action against Saddam may aggravate, rather than alleviate, problems in the region, while encouraging terrorism."

And on the terrorism issue, Doug Bandow, senior fellow at the U.S.-based Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, in a Jan. 29 article published by National Review Online, noted that all attempts to prove a link between Baghdad and Sept. 11 have failed. Moreover, a war "will divert attention and resources from the ongoing battle against terrorism," he contended.

As to the humanitarian issue, the Christian Science Monitor on Feb. 7 reported on a U.N. study regarding the effects of a war. The report, titled "Likely Humanitarian Scenarios," spoke of some 3 million people whose nutritional status "will be dire." And planners calculated that 3.6 million people will need emergency shelter. A conflict would also provoke a refugee crisis, with some 900,000 Iraqis fleeing to neighboring countries, and another 2 million likely to become internal refugees.

On Feb. 14 the Washington Post reported that the United Nations does not have enough money to finance aid to Iraqi civilians in the case of a war. Louise Frechette, deputy U.N. secretary-general, has warned that the humanitarian agencies would have to raise $90 million in the coming weeks.

In an opinion article Feb. 12 in the London Telegraph, Ian McEwan noted that there are valid arguments both for and against the war. Removing Saddam and restoring Iraq to its people would be a positive move, he said. But the unstable nature of the Mideast and the lack of clarity about U.S. post-invasion plans is worrying, he observed.

As for the no-war advocates, McEwan thinks that they have failed to answer the argument that an invasion "now will save more suffering and more lives than doing nothing." He added: "The peace movement does not have a monopoly of the humanitarian arguments." On the other hand, the hawks are also guilty of evasions, including the question of civilian casualties in a war, McEwan wrote. As tensions over Iraq mount, simple answers are proving hard to come by.