L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 323, June 12, 2005
"News From The Belly Of The Beast"
All the Wrong Answers
Special to TLE
Memorial Day, 2005 hasn't really been any different than Memorial Day, 2004. Too many people still consider it a day for picnics, summer fun, and super sales events; too few people remember why we set such a day aside in the first place. As American soldiers continue to fight and die overseas, it's more appropriate than ever that we all stop for a moment to consider their sacrifice as well as all that those who have gone before them have given.
At the same time, our respect for our military men and women is doubtless mitigated by doubts over the "war" in which they're currently engaged. Make no mistake: I support our military troops. I don't necessarily oppose war, and there are circumstances under which I'd quite enthusiastically support it. There are some very good reasons that a nation might find itself at war. There are also some very bad ones.
I understand that when there's a threat, a country must respond to neutralize that threat. When America was attacked on September 11, 2001 and a "war on terrorism" was declared shortly thereafter, I agreed with the declaration. Though retaliation was doubtless at the front of some minds, the bottom line was that we knew who had orchestrated that attack and we thought we knew where to find him. Taking Osama bin Laden into custody was far less a matter of revenge than it was a way of decreasing the risk of such attacks in the future.
Osama bin Laden was, Americans were told, holed up somewhere in Afghanistan. We demanded the Afghans turn him over; when they didn't, we went into their country to get him ourselves. In the process, we essentially overthrew a government that dearly needed overthrowing. Forget that it was earlier CIA activities that had trained bin Laden and provided for the Taliban to come to power in the first place. What was important now was catching and trying the man responsible for the horror that was 9/11! And if Afghanistan was actively hiding him, well then Afghanistan was essentially an accessory to the crime.
Somehow, over the intervening months and years, Iraq became a target of American wrath. The "war on terror" was extended beyond those we were told were responsible for previous attacks to those who were responsible for training those who might prove responsible for future attacks. Our government said that Iraq was a country that encouraged terrorism. In fact, officials told us Saddam Hussein had collected various "weapons of mass destruction" himself, and thus he was a threat, too.
Enter the American military, and exit Saddam Hussein. This is a good thing, right? Well, yes. But not really.
Saddam Hussein islet's be frank with each othernot a nice guy. He's done some very bad things to the Iraqi people, and even worse things to minority people who happened to have been unfortunate enough to live in Iraq. But lots of countries have bad leaders, and we don't invade them! Still, other countries with bad leaders aren't collecting "weapons of mass destruction," so...
But wait! UN inspectors never found WMDs in Iraq. It is, of course, entirely probable that the Iraqi government was playing a very clever shell game with inspectors, and that they inspected places where the weapons weren't. By the time they transported themselves to places where the weapons were, they'd been moved to already inspected venues, and once again inspectors found nothing. For week after week, the recipe was a simple one: mix thoroughly and repeat. Yet now that the American military can look wherever it likes in Iraq, the evidence of WMDs is still far less then we were originally led to believe. (Testimony before Congress offered some suggestions as to why such evidence wasn't readily found; other experts suggest that the real reason nothing was found was because there wasn't anything there in the first place.)
Some in the American public tend not to be particularly quiet when they think they've been lied to. And so the Bush administration has had to deal with more than a few accusations and questions thrown at it about the mysterious "we-know-he-had-them-but-we-can't-prove-a-thing" WMDs in Iraq. Mumblings about the relocation of WMDs out of the country aside (which might, in the end, provide some kind of rationale to invade somewhere else), we've never gotten a truly solid response to the media's version of "where's the beef?"
Instead, Americans were spoonfed stories of attrocities committed by Saddam Hussein, his military, and his henchmen. The word "genocide" was even dusted off and used in somber tones. The truth is that the previous Iraqi government did engage in some truly reprehensible behaviors. Kurds were gassed and otherwise murdered (even recent news reflects the discovery of still more Kurdish victims, mostly women and children in this case). Dissidents were shot en masse and buried in group graves.
If there were ever a reason to go into a foreign country and, through strength of arms, overthrow a leader, genocide would be it. Who among us would, after all, suggest that Hitler shouldn't have been stopped from killing so many Jews, or that Pol Pot shouldn't have been shot before he was able to summarily execute so many of his own countrymen? But even such a valid argument coming from the administration is hollow when Iraq is attacked, but Rwanda is not. After all, according to a news report from PBS, "...the Rwandan government launched a genocidal campaign against Tutsis living in Rwanda. According to reports, over 800,000 people were slaughtered over a period of 100 days." Where was the American military then?
We've also been informed that Saddam Hussein supported terrorism, financially and otherwise. That accusation actually happens to be demonstrably true. He very publicly, for example, offered money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers as well as to those families who suffered a loss in fighting in the Israeli-Palestinean conflict. But is that kind of thing enough to send troops to invade a soverign country and depose its leader? If it were, why haven't we taken out the leader of Libya who has been quite encouraging of such behaviors in the past? How about Syria, where terrorists know they'll find safe harbor? And if financial incentive alone is enough, why not Saudi Arabia where there seems to be a solid money trail that leads directly to the villain who started this whole conflict, Osama bin Laden?
In short, the problem with the war in Iraq isn't the war in Iraq. It's the reasons we're given for the war that are either wrong or, at best, covers for the real reasons. Many suggest that the real reason behind this war is oil. They could be right. On the other hand, the one thing most guaranteed to keep the oil flowing is stability. And say whatever else you will about Saddam Hussein, his government was stable! Are there reasons that warrant US military action in Iraq? Possibly. But if there are, I can't recall having heard them.
Meanwhile, the rationale that we're most likely going to continue to hear is that the war in Iraq is part and parcel of the "war on terror." That's at least in part because so many of us don't much like terrorism. It's also a "safe" reason because it's almost impossible to argue against. If you do, that must mean you're for terrorism, and that's as bad as some of the things Saddam Hussein himself has said and done! In fact, there have been more than a few implications that speaking out against the war in Iraq or the "war on terror" as a whole might be considered criminal acts in and of themselves.
The "war on terror" also has the added bonus of covering a lot of ground with one explanation. Not only does it provide an unassailable (well, not quite, but that doesn't mean it's not treated that way) reason to take our military into other countries, it offers a handy cover for the attack on American liberties as well. Don't want curbs on your First Amendment rights? No one does, but it's important in the "war on terror." Worried about losing your Fourth or Fifth Amendment rights? We're sorry, but some temporary inroads are necessary for the duration of the "war on terror." Concerned about your rapidly disappearing privacy? We're all concerned, but it's a small sacrifice to make for increased safety while we fight the "war on terror."
The questions are many and varied: Why are we fighting in Iraq? Why must Americans be subjected to a national ID card? Why is the administration starting to make the occasional rumble about Iran being "next?" Why is the supposedly temporary PATRIOT Act extending law enforcement powers being considered not just for permanency but for expansion? The only answer we're given time and again is that our sacrifices are for the "war on terror."
It's been suggested that one reason American was attacked was because our attackers don't like freedom (I personally believe there's a little more to it than that, but agree that our freedomincluding those aspects fundamentalist Muslims consider to be sinfulplayed a role). If that's the case, perhaps the "war on terror" has made us safer after all. Oh, not because any of the policies actually work, but rather because those policies are taking away the very freedom the terrorists were supposedly aiming at.
It's ironic, isn't it, that our soldiers are fighting in the name of freedom for Americans and for others, but at home we're losing the war thanks to those who are ostensibly on our side. While we honor our fallen soldiers on Memorial Day, perhaps we can remember the rest of the parties in this "war" on Election Day. That would be a suitable memorial indeed!
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