Why war? The case hasn't been made

The Jerusalem Post

March 11, 2003

How to say again what has been said and said, and said again? We seem to be on an inexorable march toward a war whose logic few of us comprehend.

In Israel, polls show the population supporting an attack against Iraq, but leave open the question: Why?

Is it because of a perceived urgency to be rid of Saddam Hussein? Or is it that Israelis feel besieged right now, especially by an international anti-war movement which has turned sharply anti-Israel? This war's proponents have failed to make its case.

Seeing Secretary of State Colin Powell present his brief to the UN a few weeks ago reminded me uncomfortably of the Saturday-morning cartoons of my childhood, filled with bright, upright good guys, hunched baddies, and the recurring, exceedingly satisfying Kapow!! that would pop up on the screen when our hero successfully landed another wallop.

The hi-tech was fabulous, if somewhat puffy. Conversations were tapped with such precision that the fawning insecurity of a mere Iraqi soldier on the receiving end of his officer's breathless order "Hide the documents! And I mean now!" was almost palpable.

But Powell's somber repetition of the dialogue annealed to this snappy technological high drama an unfortunate, comedic edge. You almost wanted to go to the kitchen and bring popcorn back to the show, to see what the officer would demand next, and to what low level of degradation his soldier would sink.

WHAT IS missing from the American argument? The reluctant drag of gravity, for one. Sadness. Humility.

Washington's drums of war seem too attached to their own rhythmic beat. Missing is the sense that the men in charge Bush, Rumsfeld, Powell are aware of the body bags involved and will be able, when the time comes, to send convincing, soothing letters to parents in Nebraska and in Wyoming explaining why their children are being returned home lifeless, wrapped in plastic.

The American initiative, whether justified or not, seems entirely bereft of the tremulous feel of the inevitable that one hears, for instance, in president Franklin Delano Roosevelt's solemn decision to send American forces to the European war. On December 11, 1941, having exhausted every other option, FDR wrote Congress to ask for a declaration of war against Germany and Italy:
"The forces endeavoring to enslave the entire world now are moving toward this hemisphere," he said. "Never before has there been a greater challenge to life, liberty and civilization.

Delay invites great danger. Rapid and united effort by all of the peoples of the world who are determined to remain free will insure a world victory of the forces of justice and of righteousness over the forces of savagery and of barbarism."

This came after Pearl Harbor. In our current case, no serious argument has been made tying the attacks of September 11, 2001 to the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein. None. Not even at the speech at the UN.

If a legitimate argument is to be made that Saddam deserves to be overthrown for defying the UN, the least we can expect is a cogent explanation regarding the urgency and the timing.

Why, for instance, was he not pursued in 1998, when he publicly lied to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, humiliated him on the world stage, and kicked the arms inspectors out of Iraq? Why now?
An argument could be made that the 3,000 civilian deaths of September 11 have galvanized and changed the rules of world engagement. Let's say US President George W. Bush actually believes that it is no longer acceptable to tolerate the protection tyrannical governments tender to terrorist organizations.

This may be the case. If so, it is a case Israel has been arguing for years. But even in this context, an attack on Iraq is not fully comprehensible. In fact, it feels futile.
Why Iraq and not Iran? Why not Syria? Or North Korea? Why, for that matter, not Pakistan, which has actually already tested its nuclear weapons?
Saddam Hussein may indeed be in possession of extremely dangerous arms. If so, he has not seen fit to use them in a good 20 years, since his massacre of the Kurds.

In no way do I mean to diminish the barbarity of this act. But it was a case, after all, of a notorious despot using unforgivable weapons against his own helpless subjects.

Like Idi Amin in his day. Like Pol Pot. Like others who murdered, unforgivably, and still were left alone. We have seen this in innumerable countries, and the US has not acted.

If the US is, in fact, arguing for a grand change in policy, the argument has not yet been made.
Saddam's invasion of Kuwait involved brute force, but no unconventional weaponry. His subsequent lobbing of Scud missiles against Israel during the Gulf War proved ineffectual, not to say farcical.
The fact that France's monumentally ineffectual president, Jacques Chirac, has staked a position against this war, is not, in itself, a sufficient justification for attack.

And the cheapness of many French pronouncements, their sheer stupidity "no war is justified" does nothing to burnish the US's questionable, inadequate, and possibly dangerous position.

The writer is Israel correspondent of The Forward.