Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
January 11, 1999
A brutal exercise of power
Perhaps the most accurate assessment of why the U.S. bombed Iraq in December was not the cynical one - that President Bill Clinton figured he could stave off impeachment by waging war. The more accurate view is likely that which says the U.S. decided its use of UN weapons inspectors was futile. Rather than simply withdraw the UN inspectors - which would be an admission of failure - it created a crisis which it then used to justify another blitzkrieg upon its hapless "enemy."
Certainly, there was even less moral justification for the U.S. bombing Iraq this time than there was in 1991. And there was no justification then - that war on Iraq was repeatedly denounced by Pope John Paul and other Church leaders as immoral. But at least in 1991, Iraq had been an aggressor with its invasion and occupation of Kuwait. In 1998, Iraq represented an imminent threat to no nation other than itself.
We may assume the U.S. was right that Iraq possesses chemical and biological weapons. And now that the U.S. has relentlessly bombed Iraq for several days - by some estimates dropping more bombs than during the entire Gulf War - is the world a safer place?
Certainly not. There is no reason to believe that the bombs destroyed all of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons or that it weakened Saddam Hussein's resolve to use them if he is pushed far enough into a corner. If anything, the bombing might well have tempted him to use those weapons in retaliation. Nor even at this date can we be sure that that risk has passed.
Nor was there any reason to believe that bombing might weaken Hussein's hold on power. The most likely way to remove Hussein from power would be for a major land invasion of Iraq, a move the U.S. is unlikely to seriously entertain because of the massive loss of life it would entail.
In short, the world is stuck with Hussein for the time being. The only moral and sensible course of action is to continue pressure on him not to produce or use weapons of mass destruction.
For all the frustration in the weapons inspection process, it is not at all clear that it was a failure. The vast majority of the inspectors' requests were met by Iraq. And when the inspectors were recalled from Iraq the day before the bombs fell, Hussein declined the chance to hold them hostage.
Could it be that he was happy to see them go and that they were significantly curtailing his military designs? The U.S. public may cheer bombs and boo negotiations. But the way of negotiations and inspections may well have been a more effective barrier to Iraqi military expansion than the thousands of bombs rained on that country.
Unfortunately, the world is also stuck with the U.S. as its sole major power. Eight years ago, there were hopes that the end of the Cold War would bring a "peace dividend" and the spread of democracy. Those hopes can now be seen as naive. The idealists who formed the United Nations and wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are not the ones calling the shots today; far too often it is arms dealers and imperialists.
The U.S. was once a bright light of democracy, freedom and justice. But today it is rotten at the core. It is a nation bitterly divided at every level from its violence-wracked inner cities to the bitterly partisan wrangling among its politicians. As self-appointed global police officer, it brings not peace, order and democracy, but war, repression and economic exploitation.
There is no clarity about how to control Hussein's brutality. We only know that bombing takes us further away from lasting peace. But Hussein is a bit player in world politics.
There is even less clarity about how to bring U.S. power under the control of law and morality. No matter which party and which president are in power, we see the same bully tactics. It will take a lot more than changing political leaders in the U.S. to see that country again exercise its power in a way the rest of the world can trust.
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