War? 

Scene Writers Opine

Scene Writers Opine

We’d be hard-pressed to name a more important issue in the world right now than the prospect of war with Iraq. Should the United States invade Iraq, as appears likely? Or not?

The issue is caught up in a thousand tiny questions, none of which is easily answered. What’s our national interest in Iraq? Are there weapons of mass destruction there? Is Iraq aiding terrorists? Is it possible that we can get rid of Saddam Hussein and install a workable government there?

To some people, other questions are even more pertinent. Does this war contain its own Shakespearean subplot—the desire of the son (George W. Bush) to avenge the mistake of his father (George H.W. Bush)? Is the war something about which we can even make a rational decision—that is, how can we average Americans make up our minds about war, given the seemingly vague information we’re given about a nation so far away?

Like all Nashvillians, Scene writers have been struggling with their own ideas about war with Iraq. We don’t know any more than you. But as you will read, some of us think war is justified. Others think it’s nonsense. Reading our opinions on the matter is not designed to make you change your mind one way or the other. But it will certainly make you realize we all come to this moment from many different angles, with unique concerns and with, on occasion, rather peculiar politics.

How are we regular folks in Nashville really supposed to know what to do? It’s not like we’re getting the intelligence briefings. From my perspective, much of my opinion is based on a dinner at F. Scott’s. My wife and I were with a couple who have covered the Middle East extensively. One covered the last war with Iraq; the other wrote a book on Islam. Both are far to the political left, as in near socialists. “I would volunteer to cover his assassination,” the normally demure woman said. Said the guy: “The Middle East is such a gem of a place and the people there are, for the most part, incredible, but Iraq just screws it all up.”

Here were liberal people with more than enough information to make a solid judgment about going to war, and both were saying do so. Funny how opinions form, but at that point they confirmed my earlier suspicions that if Saddam wouldn’t leave on his own, war was probably the right course to take.

I do have other reasons. First, I think the war can be fought with the loss of few American lives. Second, the Middle East is strategically important to us (oil). Finally, we’re the world’s superpower, Saddam is making life difficult, and we have to make him behave.

—Bruce Dobie

I supported the first Iraq war. I might support this war, too, if our leaders provided an honest, coherent reason. I haven’t heard one yet.

Instead, this looks like a policy in search of a justification. Out of the blue, the administration began talking of war months ago, then claimed the media had created a “frenzy,” in President Bush’s words, when people began asking why.

Saddam gassed his people? Sure. And we raised nary a peep, because he was our ally against Iran. Saddam supports terror? Our friends the Saudis and Pakistanis are much worse. Saddam has nukes? Not yet, but the Pakistanis do—and shared their technology with North Korea. Saddam’s a threat? Not much, while U.N. inspectors are on the ground and our satellites and F-16s are overhead.

The first Iraq war defended the principle that the world should not let one nation invade another, unprovoked. Now our president says the mere possibility that a hostile country could attack us is provocation enough for us to act first. There’s a reason so many Americans are uncomfortable with this doctrine. It was used against us in December 1941.

Ultimately, Bush’s Orwellian tenet makes for a world that’s less, not more, stable. It’s one of the most unprincipled, un-American ideas I’ve ever heard. George, Dick and Rummy will have to do a lot better than that.

—Randy Horick

In 1981, Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut killed in Saturday’s tragedy, helped bomb and destroy the Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad. The rest of the world condemned the attack. Even Reagan came down hard.

In hindsight, the destruction of Osirak was prescient, even heroic. Unfortunately, it only slowed Saddam. Nothing has cooled his ardor for weapons of mass destruction. Not sanctions. Not inspections. Not the U.N. Not weeks of bombing in the Gulf War. The Blix report makes this explicit. Saddam cannot account for the “disappearance” of his private stock of VX, serin, mustard gas or anthrax. Nor can he explain why books on uranium enrichment were found stashed in scientists’ homes.

Consider this: Had he complied with the U.N. inspections after the Gulf War, Saddam would have won permission to sell oil again, making him the wealthiest tyrant in the world. Instead, he chose to stick to his demented hobby.

He should be removed by force. Bush’s critics don’t offer a serious alternative to disarm him. They seem to believe that some mix of patience and negotiation will persuade Saddam, when he is not torturing and exterminating his enemies, to abide by global norms.

—Daniel Casse

On the issue of war with Iraq, I’ll excuse myself from the discussion. It’s not that I don’t have an opinion. A war to deepen the pockets of oil tycoons and their lapdog legislators, to accelerate the depletion of natural resources, to divert attention from the dire state of the U.S. economy and the Bush administration’s assault on bedrock liberties—something that should make true conservatives tremble—sickens me as an American.

Right now, though, something more than uninformed opinion is needed—especially that of a movie reviewer who’s scarcely called to ponder anything more pressing than The Hot Chick. Pundits are poor substitutes for journalists and truth-tellers, whose voices, God knows, are hard enough to hear. So check out this Web site— www.counterpunch.org —and let its provocations anger you either to action or informed disagreement. Seek out other sources. And demand more of your media than mute acquiescence.

—Jim Ridley

I once stole a dog. It was a crime. The dog was emaciated, starving, sick and on its way to a protracted, agonizing and unceremonial death. Neither city officials nor the poor creature’s owners would respond to resolve the situation. So, trespassing in the dark of night and risking death by shotgun blast, I took matters into my own hands, appealing to a higher authority—one of moral principal.

There is, believe it or not, a parallel between this tale and the question of war with Iraq, whose leader has similarly perpetrated unspeakable and torturous crimes against innocents. To see the sickening images of 5,000 Kurds—parents and their toddler children—being gassed and suffocated to death as part of Saddam Hussein’s “experiment” in chemical readiness really speaks for itself. That’s to say nothing of this monster’s other genocidal pursuits.

Do I want war? It’s a ridiculous question on its face. No one wants war, just as no one wants to be pushed to commit a crime. But is it the moral obligation of the world’s superpower to create humaneness where no one else can? Yes.

—Liz Murray Garrigan

Franklin Roosevelt was leaving the White House for Warm Springs for the last time. “Eleanor,” he said, “I’ve seen so much now of the Near East.... When we get through here, I believe I’d like to go and live there. I believe I could help to straighten out the Near East.” I think FDR—as a shrewd man of good intentions—could have done some good there. But I have my doubts about George.

This is a man whose “compassionate conservatism” reserves most of its compassion for those who least need it. This is an outdoorsman who’s rolling back every environmental regulation he can get his executive orders on. This is a head of state whose statecraft has done nothing to reduce the bombs and bulldozers in Israel. This is a warrior whose war on terror has done little but unleash the warlords—and make the president of Afghanistan into the mayor of Kabul. This is a chief executive who plans a billion-dollar war while simultaneously planning to cut the revenues he’ll need to pay for it.

Bush’s rationale for war in Iraq—so far—seems to boil down to: “Trust me; I know what’s right.” Therein lies my problem. I just don’t trust George.

—Christine Kreyling

The United States military campaign in Afghanistan was swift and effective. It removed the despotic Taliban from power, vanquished the swarm of deadly al-Queda terrorist camps and stopped a veritable Holocaust of women and children. All noble ends, and we achieved them by using military force, not by negotiating with fanatics, holding hands with the French or listening to the irrelevant opinions of Hollywood celebrities.

If only the case against Saddam Hussein were similarly a slam dunk. Hussein may be a malignant loon, an executioner and a money man for Palestinian suicide bombers, but who really knows if he has the capability to attack us? I support using military force to eliminate Hussein only if it can be done relatively quickly and without mass casualties—much like in Afghanistan. If not, then I’m in favor of continued pressure on Iraq, with the hope that Hussein’s hold on power will slip.

A world without Hussein is unquestionably a better place. A producer of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons would be wiped out, the Iraqi people might have a chance at living decent lives and an entire region could begin to think about peace and stability. And a major potential threat to our own security would be buried underneath a few tons of rubble.

—Matt Pulle

Leaving aside the question of whether this potential war is really about oil, it is about America’s primacy in the world. In words and actions, the Bush administration has made clear that it’s important for the U.S. to remain the preeminent global leader, as if this will somehow solve all our other problems. One need only look at the history of empires to know the eventual outcome: It’s precisely this hubris that could be our downfall.

Yet this looming war is being cast in the starkest terms of good vs. evil. Saddam Hussein is obviously a bad guy. (Never mind that the U.S. has lent its support to plenty of bad guys—Hussein among them.) But the harder we push in our crusade to be the good guys, the less clear it becomes whether we are. Terrorists and dictators are destructive and awful in every way, but that doesn’t mean our responses to them are right. Call me naive, but I can’t support this war.

Given the president’s rhetoric, though, it appears our nation has no other options. Unless Hussein should inexplicably comply with all our demands, or the people of his country should somehow “rise up” (and we’ve heard that one before), U.S. policy is leading inexorably toward war. The thought of countless American and Iraqi lives lost is bad enough, but more terrifying and troubling is that this war will bring consequences we simply can’t anticipate.

—Jonathan Marx

International law is coherent on the subject of when a sovereign nation (even one ruled by a tyrannical madman) can be violently reengineered through military invasion. Unilateral action is appropriate only in self-defense against armed attack. Otherwise, armed intervention to restore peace and security requires approval by the U.N. Security Council. Realpolitikers may dismiss “international law” as inconvenient utopian whimsy, but what’s involved are specific treaty commitments by the U.S. and others. The Bush administration argues forcefully that Iraq’s leadership is loathsome, but makes no compelling case for the legality or appropriateness of U.S. intervention without Security Council approval.

Should the U.N. authorize a war? The argument for unleashing violence on the Iraqi people as a substitute for containment and inspection is unconvincing. Perhaps Colin Powell made a better case this week. (His U.N. appearance was to occur after this is written but before it appears.) But whatever the latest evidence, and however recalcitrant some allies may be, if Bush is to have his war, he must convince the Security Council. The world is a dangerous place that becomes no safer when individual actors, even ones with honorable intentions, rewrite the rules to suit their political whims. In a system built on law and justice—and that is the international order we crave—you get your way through persuasion, not belligerence or intimidation.

—Bruce Barry

To support a U.S.-led war against Iraq, I’d need some adequate answers from the Bush administration. Namely: Why is Iraq a greater threat to national security than North Korea, al-Queda or Iran? If North Korea has an active nuclear weapons program and Iran has nuclear capability, why give Iraq’s threat precedence? If the concentrated diplomatic efforts of an international coalition could oust Saddam Hussein from power, why exercise the military option? What is our post-invasion plan for Iraq? How much will it cost us to stabilize the region afterward? If war with Iraq further destabilizes our own economy in the short and long term, isn’t our homeland less secure?

I believe that most Americans sense a disconnect in our Iraq-obsessed foreign policy. In other words, the level of attention we give Iraq seems disproportionate to the danger it poses to us. Consequently, all the rhetoric about Hussein seems to mask another agenda—makes it seem as if Bush is really just wagging the dog for the sake of political cover, which does nothing for his credibility at home or abroad. So until these questions are answered, I’m against the war.

—Adam Ross

Never mind the ethical dilemma of a preemptive strike. Attacking Iraq unilaterally would be an unquestionable miscalculation. The only way military action might have a positive outcome would be if a democratized society were created to give Arabs in the region a glimpse of real alternatives to their current condition. And since Iraq is an artificial set of borders imposed on several tribal factions, it would take enormous effort, and we’d need plenty of help.

If we think it doesn’t matter how we’re perceived internationally, we might be reminded that our strong-arming the Saudi government into letting us keep our military bases there after the Gulf War—despite strong opposition by the Saudi people—was one of the major factors leading Osama bin Laden to target the U.S., and leading 19 Saudi nationals to do the dirty work. If we turn Iraq into Exxon-Baghdad, fuhgeddaboutit.

A prominent American not long ago said, “[Stemming anti-American sentiment] really depends on how our nation conducts itself in foreign policy. If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll resent us. If we’re a humble nation, but strong, they’ll welcome us.” Advice the president would do well to heed. Actually, they’re his words, from the second presidential debate.

—Jack Silverman

There are several reasons the United States shouldn’t go to war with Iraq. Doing so would indulge impulses venal (oil), petty (the Bushes’ personal vendetta against Saddam) and violent. (Iraq hasn’t aggressed against the U.S. or its allies, and there is no imminent threat that it will; Saddam’s ties to recent terrorist attacks are tenuous at best.) Not only has the U.S. failed to exhaust all of its options with Iraq, but we also lack the support of our allies and the moral grounds for an attack. Waging war now would cast the nation as a global vigilante and likely trigger a cycle of violence that would have cataclysmic consequences beyond our control. Saddam is a sick, sadistic man who must be stopped. Right now, though, he’s contained. Our best strategy is to make sure that he stays that way. War at this point would mortgage the nation’s humanity.

Meanwhile, as Chuck D put it, “God bless us all—beyond the flags.”

—Bill Friskics-Warren

There are many troubling issues here. I’m uncomfortable with major military action that isn’t accompanied by a Congressional declaration of war, but in light of post-Gulf of Tonkin history, that’s a rather moot point. I’m also cognizant of the fact that those protesting this action offered silence or complicity in the face of President Clinton’s military adventures.

Given the limits of available knowledge, it comes down to this: Do I think that both delay and action are fraught with the potential for cataclysmic peril and for the shrillest and most destructive Monday morning quarterbacking? Yes, I do. Would I like to see Saddam dead? Yes, I would. Do I think that if we choose invasion, we would be doing the Iraqi people and their neighbors a service for which they would ultimately be grateful? Yes, I do. Most importantly, do I trust the Bush administration to take the intelligence and tactical input it has and make a decision in my name?

Yes, I do.

—Rob Simbeck

The trajectories of history that have brought the United Nations, the United States and Iraq to the present flash point of crisis make war inevitable.

One may argue—inconsequentially and unconvincingly, in my view—that we have reached the present diplomatic crisis through blunder and miscalculation. No amount of wishful thinking, however, can alter the fact that the United Nations, encouraged by the United States, has demanded disarmament by Iraq and that Iraq has defiantly refused to accede.

For 11 years, Iraq has dissembled, evaded and stonewalled in the face of U.N. insistence upon verifiable disarmament. With the unanimous promulgation last November of Resolution 1441, Iraq was extended an unprecedented last chance to disarm peacefully or, in the words of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, to “face the consequences.” This resolution, wrote eight European heads of state—in clear contradiction of French and German obstructionism—“is Saddam Hussein’s last chance to disarm using peaceful means.”

Like genies from a bottle, the trajectories of history are let loose. If the U.N. demands and Iraq defies, there must be war. Otherwise diplomacy dissolves, chaos ensues and prospects for regional stability and world security vanish.

—Marc Stengel

The reality is that the only solution to the Iraq situation is the removal from power of Saddam Hussein and his coterie. Even those who oppose war (at least those who are intellectually serious) admit that Hussein should not be in power. The further reality is that the only real way to accomplish this is with a major military action that includes the invasion and occupation of Baghdad, in much the same fashion as we have done in Afghanistan.

In truth, this isn’t a new war. This is just Part II of the war begun in 1991 and brought to a screeching halt in an effort to appease many of the same factions who oppose its continuation now. Hussein has been in violation of United Nations resolutions for years and our “answer,” up until now, has been to lob an occasional cruise missile in the air. The time has come, in the post-Sept. 11 era, for our nation’s enemies who have brought death and destruction to our cities to face the uncomfortable reality that sometimes all-out war is not just one answer among many to consider, but the only answer left.

—Roger Abramson

Give me a just war—and I will back it to the hilt. Convince me that American life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are in danger—and I will offer all my support. Tell me that sacrifices need to be made to defend this way of life I love—and I will feel (somewhat) less anxious about the fact that I have two draft-age sons. But so far, President Bush has yet to move me to embrace his military impulses.

Am I a wimp? Do I lack understanding of the international “big picture”? Do I fail to comprehend that the U.S.—like a cop on the beat—has a duty to put the “bad guys” out of business and to “protect” all the townsfolk? Or do I lack vision in not seeing what is apparently so obvious to Mr. Bush and his advisors—that the Iraqi regime represents a clear and present danger to U.S. security? I remember how I felt after Sept. 11, 2001—that a war of some kind was imminent, and that the president could count me as a loyal subject.

This doesn’t feel the same. Maybe I’m just a cynic, but when I think hard about Mr. Bush’s ardent desire to take Iraq to task, I can only conclude that—somehow, some way—it’s just about oil.

—Martin Brady

If we do go to war, we can expect bloodshed and carnage on our own soil. Televised war is horrible enough. I can only imagine the hell of living in a battle zone. I don’t wish it on the people of Iraq, and I don’t wish it on us.

We absolutely should not engage in war with Iraq. It will further destabilize the Middle East and paint a target sign on our own democracy.

—Chris Davis

At this point, it’s hard to see a way out of war with Iraq. There was never any great logic supporting war. President Bush pursued it after the successful completion of the Afghanistan operations, largely to show that the U.S. was pursuing vengeance for the Sept. 11 attacks. The attraction of attacking Iraq is that it gives the U.S. another target for its massive military power. The trouble is that war on Iraq has little to do with war against militant Islamic terrorists, which is going to require more subtlety and less firepower. Bush talked tough after the terrorist attacks, but the real war is going to be more quiet, difficult work and less photogenic pyrotechnics.

The problem at this point is that Bush already has made a major commitment of American security assets—and has succeeded in getting other nations to do likewise. How do we walk away at this point? It will leave many allies, who, at some cost to themselves, prepared to support the U.S. initiative. Can we ever credibly ask them to support us on anything else difficult?

The pursuit of a war against Iraq is wrongheaded, but we’ve already crossed the Rubicon.

—Phil Ashford

As I write this, my 22-year-old nephew Matt is sailing with his Marine unit to Kuwait. My mother encouraged him to keep a journal. My late uncle Charlie Harris kept one when he was Matt’s age—and fighting in France on D-Day. I can think of no better argument against war today than the one my uncle offered in June 1944:

“There is a heavy price to pay in fighting another man’s war—and any war is that. Yet the people at home continue their complacent ways. When you come down to it, the war is distant to the U.S. citizen who has remained a civilian. I can think of several men I’d like to see right here at the front with me. Then when they sat around at Lloyd’s (drugstore) talking about the war, they’d probably keep their damn mouths shut. And when they counted our losses it would be in lives and not tanks or planes or ships. Man can weave a pattern with his industries and replace any of them, but only God can pattern a life. You realize that over here—not in the States. It is too safe there, and we have seen no war on our own soil. But the next war I believe will be different—and I am sorry.”

—Angela Wibking

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