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Moral Case Lacking in Anti-War Cry
By Cathy Young | December 6, 2004
IN THE POST-ELECTION DEBATE ABOUT "MORAL VALUES" AND THE VOTE, BUSH OPPONENTS HAVE OFTEN CITED THE WAR IN IRAQ AS ONE OF THEIR OWN MORAL ISSUES. CERTAINLY, CRITICS OF THE WAR HAVE SOME STRONG POINTS. ALTHOUGH IT CANNOT BE PROVED THAT THE UNITED STATES KNOWINGLY WENT TO WAR UNDER FALSE PRETENSES, THERE IS LITTLE DOUBT THAT, AT THE VERY LEAST, WISHFUL THINKING WAS INVOLVED WHEN THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION RELIED ON SHODDY INTELLIGENCE TO MAKE ITS CASE FOR THE NEED TO DISARM SADDAM HUSSEIN.
It is even more self-evident, and conceded even by many strong supporters of the invasion, that the war was poorly planned and disastrously mismanaged. The strongest remaining justification for the invasion is that it overthrew a regime guilty of horrific brutality toward its own people - but this war is killing a lot of the people it's supposed to be liberating.
And yet, with all that said, while there are many honorable and intelligent people who oppose the war, I still think that the antiwar chorus in general does not have morality on its side - if only because so much of its argument is based on false premises.
A typical letter to the editor in Time magazine says that "invading a country and causing thousands of deaths and incalculable misery to innocent people is a sin." True enough; but this statement ignores the context of the prewar situation in Iraq. It is estimated - not by the US government but by the United Nations and by international human rights groups - that Saddam's regime butchered some 300,000 people in Iraq over 28 years. Many more dissenters were imprisoned, tortured, and subjected to barbaric punishments such as having their ears or hands chopped off.
What's more, according to UN estimates, by 1996 half a million Iraqi children had died as a result of US-led sanctions - the same sanctions that many war critics now assert were sufficient to contain the Hussein regime. Of course, as we now know, much of the fault lay with the Saddam regime's looting of the oil-for-food program, just as many American "hawks" charged before the war. (These claims were routinely dismissed by left-wing groups such as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, which claimed in a 2001 article that there couldn't be any misappropriation of funds because the program was administered by the UN and the UN had denied any wrongdoing. None of this is to minimize the impact of the war. A much-publicized article in the British medical journal Lancet reported that about 100,000 Iraqi civilians died as a result of the invasion - though, to be more precise, their estimates ranged from about 8,000 to nearly 200,000. Other groups put the death toll at 16,000 or 37,000. Whatever the real number may be, no decent person can write it off as "collateral damage." (All these figures include deaths at the hands of the insurgents.) Yet the fact remains that the alternative to this war was a murderous regime.
Prewar assertions that American soldiers in Iraq would be greeted as liberators are now roundly ridiculed. And yet by most reliable accounts - not just from the American media but from Iraqis themselves, and from other sources such as an article in the Russian daily Izvestia by a Russian woman who lived in Iraq during the invasion - that was indeed how they were met at first.
The United States has squandered much of that goodwill by failing to stop crime, ensure public safety, and help provide basic services - or to prevent abuses by our military. This negligence was unpardonable. But efforts to improve life in Iraq were stymied by an insurgency that terrorized and murdered Iraqis, and deliberately sabotaged the country's rebuilding by targeting aid workers.
The response, from at least some antiwar quarters, has been shameful. Michael Moore infamously compared the insurgents to the Minutemen of the American Revolution. Writing on the AlterNet website, veteran leftist activist and author Tom Hayden advises the antiwar movement on the best strategy to force a quick US withdrawal from Iraq and to prevent the transfer of power to a pro-Western Iraqi government. Hayden talks about "ending this bloodbath," oblivious to the fact that his plan would surely result in the mother of all bloodbaths.
Only time will tell if, in the end, most Iraqis will be better off or worse off due to the US-led invasion. But the reality is that we are in Iraq right now - and there is nothing "moral" about wanting to get out and leave the Iraqis to deal with the consequences.