Sunday, February 09, 2003

Well, this is it.
This is why I started this blog, and the reason why its address is Below you can read the latest On the Fence column from The McGill Daily, McGill University's dailiest paper. I welcome your responses here and emailed to me. Huzzah.

Once More Unto the Breach?
- Originally published February 6, 2003.

“War, huh. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.”
- Edwin Starr

With all due respect to the groovalicious Mr. Starr, the lyrics to his 1970 Number 1 hit “War” are not exactly correct. War is good for many, many things.

War is good for the military-industrial complex; subjugating people; infringing on civil rights; and distracting the world while you quietly get rid of that pesky [insert nationality/ethnicity of choice] population. Equally, it is good for research into medical techniques for burn victims; liberating Nazi concentration camps; and increasing ratings for 24-hour news channels. It is also good for AIDS-ridden Africa, to which Bush pledged $15 billion last week while trying to temper his otherwise jingoistic State of the Union address.

Let me slowly remove my tongue from my cheek and say this: war is bad, and I wish that the world I lived in would stop using violence in an attempt to solve its problems. That said, it would be easy to oppose all war if the only alternative was peace. Alas, it is rarely so.

Most opposition to war with Iraq that I have encountered is predicated on a desire not to kill innocent Iraqis (coupled with a reluctance to send our citizens out to die in a faraway land). It is also predicated on a healthy skepticism towards the United States’ official reasons for war, which seem to change with the seasons. Doves are not members of the Saddam Hussein Fan Club, and most would be very happy to see Saddam deposed. They just don’t feel that it is up to us to do this. If someone is going to overthrow the dictator, they’d rather it be rebel Iraqis risking their lives.

Let’s switch gears: How many Iraqis died in the Gulf War?

In the immediate aftermath of the war, it was estimated that 100,000 Iraqi troops died and 300,000 were wounded. Most independent research done since has shown that these figures are quite a bit higher than the true count. The official US figure is something like 22,000 casualties. The Hussein regime reports that 2,300 Iraqi civilians died as a result of the Allied air campaign — but they don’t count unwilling soldiers as civilians. So, let’s say that somewhere between 22,000 and 200,000 Iraqis were killed in Gulf War: Episode I.

Meanwhile, sanctions imposed after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait have been responsible for about 1.2 million deaths. UNICEF says that an estimated 5,000 Iraqi children die every month because of the sanctions.

Sanctions – the peaceful, diplomatic alternative to war – have killed more Iraqis than the Gulf War did. The only real, tangible difference is that it is easier for us to turn a blind eye or blame Saddam (just like it is easy for us to ignore the over 9,000 Africans who die every day of AIDS).

Okay, so war is bad, and sanctions are bad. Then why not just leave Saddam alone? Well, because he has made attempt after attempt to procure nuclear weaponry. Plus, Saddam has this nasty habit of using chemical weapons on populations (particularly Iraqi Kurds) he doesn’t like. He also likes to engage in political debate by murdering all those who oppose him. Leaving him unchecked and with a free hand doesn’t seem like the nicest thing to do to Iraqis either.

If Saddam is Richard III, clinging to power through tyranny, that does not mean we have to view Bush as the right and honourable Richmond. (In Shakespearean terms, I am fascinated by the media myth that George Jr. has evolved from Prince Hal to Henry V; one day he’s snorting cocaine with Falstaff, the next he’s once-more-unto-the-breaching and engaging in wars for Empire. But, I digress.)

Many of those on the Left have nothing but contempt for Bush and his fellow Jingos. I concur. I think Bush is an environmentally-unfriendly, fundamentalist Enron lackey. The problem is in thinking that my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Radical Islamic fundamentalism is dangerous to the world (including, perhaps especially, the Muslim world). An unchecked Saddam Hussein is dangerous to the world. Ditto for an unchecked imperial United States.

Critics, myself included, denounced the war in Afghanistan. We scoffed at the idea that the US would pay any attention to the country after it was done routing out Al Qaeda.

But I have to give credit where credit is due. In 2002, 2 million refugees returned to Afghanistan, and 250,000 internally displaced Afghanis returned home. Sure, it didn’t do anything to stop terrorism, and Osama is still at large, but Afghanistan is a safer, freer country than it was under the Taliban in the view of millions of returnees.

We should be saying no to an American Jihad against Iraq. If there is to be a war, I would rather have some other countries on board, checking the US’s tendency to throw away the parts of the Geneva Convention that Rumsfeld disagrees with. I disagree with those who feel that any intervention in Iraq’s internal affairs would be paternalistic or imperialistic; in my view, the greatest crime against humanity in the 1990s was the world’s inaction in Rwanda.

So: war is bad, the status quo is bad, and Saddam doesn’t seem to be reforming or stepping down of his own accord. If the alternative to war was peace, I’d be out there on the streets. As it is, I hesitate to do so, because I’m not sure it’s what the Iraqis really want.

On the Fence appears Thursdays. Email

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