The War in Context

   Alternative Perspectives on the "War on Terrorism" and the Middle East Conflict
Cakewalk or oblivion
Editorial, The War in Context, August 30, 2002

On September 11, even before George Bush had addressed the nation, Dick Cheney's buddies were already laying out the course of this administration's foreign policy, as they believed it should unfold over the following months and years.

William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, speaking on the Lehrer Newshour and sounding distinctly like a presidential spokesman, declared:

We're now at war. We're at war with terrorism, with the terrorist group that launched this incredibly bloody and destructive attack on Americans, with the states that harbor that terrorist group. We need to find out who did it, track them down, kill them and remove the government of those states. []
If it does turn out that Saddam Hussein, as seems increasingly the case, has links to Osama bin Laden we're not just dealing with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban in Afghanistan, but we're basically looking at finishing the job we began in 1990 with Saddam Hussein.

The drumbeat to take out Saddam has been thumping away for several years. Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, along with their freewheeling cohorts, Richard Perle, James Woolsey and William Kristol (together with most other members of the Defense Policy Board and the supporters of the Project for the New American Century) have been calling for another war against Iraq since 1998 or even earlier.

Before September 11, the Iraq hawks weren't sure they could win the argument for war. After September 11 they became convinced that there was no longer any need for debate. In the intervening year they have done nothing more than pay lip service to the demands that a case needs to be made for going to war. James Woolsey tried out his slogan, "Give war a chance," while the preferred pretext for war swung back and forth between the need to remove a state sponsor of terrorism, to the threat posed by Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. In the absence of strong evidence that Saddam actually has any links to Al Qaeda, the war party line fell by default back to the nuclear threat.

While the rationale for a war against Iraq might seem poorly defined, the weakness in the arguments of the proponents of war should not be confused with a lack of resolve. On the contrary, the resolve to go to war is so strong that it has supplanted all need for discussion. Those who remain unconvinced are dismissed as wimps and the frequent response to war critics has been to brand them as "appeasers" and patronize them by asserting that the war will be easy.

Kenneth Adelman, Defense Policy Board member and personal friend of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, has repeatedly declared that the coming war will be a "cakewalk." Richard Perle, Defense Policy Board Chairman, expresses no less confidence as he promises that Iraq will serve as the bridgehead for democracy across the Middle East. Curiously, the need for a war is so urgent because Iraq poses such an enormous threat, while at the same time the risks posed by going to war are so few because the Iraqi military is so weak.

Meanwhile, laudable efforts are being made both inside and outside the United States to stop this war before it begins. While the goal is worthy, it implies that we are confronting an administration that is open to persuasion. All the evidence so far suggests, however, that for George Bush and his supporters, the only thing that losing an argument compels is a change in tactics.

The hawks want their war and chances are they'll have it.

In the process, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Perle will most likely make the small sacrifice of losing a few nights of sleep. Neither they, nor their families or friends risk shedding any blood. But since even before the first battle has begun, these suited warriors have been so bold as to claim a swift victory, perhaps they can tell us in advance what honor would compel them to do if the war and its aftermath bears little resemblance to their predictions.

Tell us Mr Cheney, what would you say is an acceptable price for this war? Less than 10,000 casualties on either side? An economic recession of less than 12 months? The use of non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction by Iraq, the United States or Israel? Would it be acceptable for Israel or the U.S. to also use nuclear weapons?

Tell us what your idea of the "acceptable" price is and then we'll be able to agree if and when that price has been exceeded.

If the cost turns out to be even higher than the one that you were willing to accept, we already know there's little chance that either you or any of your associates will ever stand before an international criminal court. Even so, perhaps you can promise the American people that at the very least you'll all quietly go into political exile and desist from any further pretense that you are acting in the interests of either this nation or the world at large.

©2002 Paul Woodward