Thursday, November 04, 2004


What are we doing in and to Iraq?

I agree with almost everything in this article (except for one paragraph, which I'll comment on later). What right do we have to kill Iraqi civilians? What right did we have to invade their country? They hadn't done anything to us. Even given our animus against Saddam Hussein, every reason the Bush administration has trotted out to justify the invasion has been exposed as a lie. The fact that Bush was reelected, considering the horrible mess in Iraq, is shocking.
The War on Iraq Has Made Moral Cowards of Us All

By Scott Ritter
The Guardian U.K.

Monday 01 November 2004

More than 100,000 Iraqis have died - and where is our shame and rage?

The full scale of the human cost already paid for the war on Iraq is only now becoming clear. Last week's estimate by investigators, using credible methodology, that more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians - most of them women and children - have died since the US-led invasion is a profound moral indictment of our countries. The US and British governments quickly moved to cast doubt on the Lancet medical journal findings, citing other studies. These mainly media-based reports put the number of Iraqi civilian deaths at about 15,000 - although the basis for such an endorsement is unclear, since neither the US nor the UK admits to collecting data on Iraqi civilian casualties.

Reading accounts of the US-led invasion, one is struck by the constant, almost casual, reference to civilian deaths. Soldiers and marines speak of destroying hundreds, if not thousands, of vehicles that turned out to be crammed with civilians. US marines acknowledged in the aftermath of the early, bloody battle for Nassiriya that their artillery and air power had pounded civilian areas in a blind effort to suppress insurgents thought to be holed up in the city. The infamous "shock and awe" bombing of Baghdad produced hundreds of deaths, as did the 3rd Infantry Division's "Thunder Run", an armored thrust in Baghdad that slaughtered everyone in its path.

It is true that, with only a few exceptions, civilians who died as a result of ground combat were not deliberately targeted, but were caught up in the machinery of modern warfare. But when the same claim is made about civilians killed in aerial attacks (the Lancet study estimates that most of civilian deaths were the result of air attacks), the comparison quickly falls apart. Helicopter engagements apart, most aerial bombardment is deliberate and pre-planned. US and British military officials like to brag about the accuracy of the "precision" munitions used in these strikes, claiming this makes the kind of modern warfare practiced by the coalition in Iraq the most humanitarian in history.

Of course, the US and Britain have a history of turning a blind eye to Iraqi suffering when it suits their political purposes. During the 1990s, hundreds of thousands are estimated by the UN to have died as a result of sanctions. Throughout that time, the US and the UK maintained the fiction that this was the fault of Saddam Hussein, who refused to give up his WMD. We now know that Saddam had disarmed and those deaths were the responsibility of the US and Britain, which refused to lift sanctions.
This is where I disagree with Mr. Ritter. I maintain that the blame for those deaths falls squarely on Saddam Hussein. Yes, we do know now that he had disarmed - but not back then. If he truly cared about his people, he should have cooperated completely with the UN and its inspectors. Indeed, he should have stepped down. I know he never would have done it, but he was never even called upon to do it by those calling for an end to the sanctions. Lessening the sanctions would have rewarded him for his instransigence. Considering the problems the oil-for-food program has been accused of, it is not entirely clear that even ending sanctions would have made any difference to the Iraqis, since the money Saddam did gain from selling his oil under the program's auspices did not go for food or medicine in large amounts.

Ritter undercuts the power of his argument, I think, by bringing in such issues. It is sufficient to argue that, given that the US had no justification to invade, these civilian deaths are almost a crime of war. The indifference of the American people to the suffering being caused in our name is collusion in a war crime. That Bush knew his justifications for his invasion were bogus, and that there were choruses of voices before the invasion pointing this out, makes what has happened even harder to excuse.

A historical note: It may fairly be pointed out that the Allied invasion of France in 1944, preceded and accompanied by large-scale bombings of German military targets in occupied France, caused large numbers of civilian deaths. By the argument presented above, what right did the Allies have to kill innocent French civilians? I grant the appearance of a parallel but deny that it really is one. Germany was responsible for the war consuming Europe in the 1940s. Germany really had threatened its neighbors, and indeed the world. The moral necessity of bringing down Hitler cannot be denied. It may be utilitarian to point out that invading France - with the concomitant civilian deaths - was truly a lesser evil than letting Hitler stay in power. For one thing, the Soviet Union was not going to stop its relentless march westward, and if the Allies had not themselves fought toward Germany, Stalin could have ended up with control of far more of Germany than he even did obtain.

In any case, there is a difference between a war fought to liberate countries occupied by a dangerous tyrant and one fought to remove a tyrant who has not threatened anyone else. The time to take out Saddam, if that were necessary, was after the first Gulf War in 1991. Back then, Saddam really was a threat outside his own country, having occupied Kuwait. The first president Bush decided not to continue past liberating Kuwait to bring down Saddam. He was widely derided for this decision at the time and since, and it may have cost him his job in 1992. But looking back, it appears now to have been the soul of wisdom.

America has tremendous power. With that comes tremendous responsibility. Especially when we use that power in ways that may cause harm in other countries. We have to be absolutely certain that we are right and that there is no other way. In the case of the invasion of Iraq, neither is true. Shakespeare wrote, "It is excellent to have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant." George W. Bush is the new tyrant of Iraq.
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