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Although I’ve done some writing on the topic, it’s been a couple of years since I dedicated a radio show to the Iraq war. Personally, I’ve opposed the war from the beginning, though I did have a contentious discussion on my show about whether we should leave right away or ease out. Though the invasion was wrong, injudicious, and illegal, I’ve pretty much held the line that we are obligated to stay in order to mitigate the destruction of the war – though I am beginning to be convinced that our presence is more of a disruption than a stablizing force at this point. While I am never sanguine about any death, Al-Zarqawi’s demise is certainly good news for Iraq. But the killing is hardly going to break the back of the resistance, and doesn’t even touch upon the sectarian violence that is tearing what’s left of the country apart.
So 3 years of hindsight has vindicated the alleged 10 percent of us who opposed the war as of March of 2003. But while I was fairly certain of my position at the time, there were arguments for the war that haunted me. Some of them were expressed in Dissent Magazine, possibly the most profound source of political commentary in the country. Started in the 1950s by a group of radicals who opposed McCarthy yet broke from the left party line on a number of issues pertaining to the cold war. Dissent was edited by Irving Howe (regarded by many as a “conservative socialist”) until his death in 1993. Over the years the magazine has published in depth articles on a variety of topics, usually with twists that separate it from the more cookie-cutter variety of left periodicals. Current editor Michael Walzer (best known for his book Just and Unjust Wars) is one of the more nuanced political thinkers of our time. The articles tend to be long and deep, but not overly academic.
They have dissented not only from the prevailing tides of political power, but also from some of the party lines of what has come to be known as “the left.” Therefor, they are chastized from all sides of the political spectrum, being labelled “neocons” as well as “self-indulgent pinkos.”
As the Iraq war loomed in 2003, Dissent dedicated a portion of its’ winter issue to a symposium on the war. Eight of their writers were asked to write a short piece justifying their position on the pending invasion. All of the writers had previously experienced a number of brushes with left orthodoxy, so their independence was a certain bet. All but two of them opposed the war. One of the two was co-editor Mitchell Cohen (Walzer opposes this war, though he is often at odds with his fellow leftists on foreign policy issues). Cohen wrote a piece that remains for me the most persuasive short argument for the war. I still refer back to it to revisit my own thoughts about the war, and though I remain very convinced of the position I’ve held all along, as stated above some of these arguments haunt me. I have put it to my KMUD callers, when describing some of the victims of Hussein’s rule, to tell me what they would have told those individuals if confronted by them for a justification for standing by while those crimes were being committed, or at least not employing force to put an end to them.
It is not just a matter of this regime’s fascist-like character (call it fascism-plus), although its ruling Ba’ath Party fused Pan-Arabism to the worst ideas of early twentieth-century Europe. It is not just Baghdad’s brutality, although it is difficult to imagine a more vicious, vengeful regime. It is not just a question of Saddam’s totalitarian aspirations at home and aggressive ambitions abroad, although Iraq’s citizens and neighbors know firsthand that these aspirations and ambitions are beyond question. It is not even a matter of Iraq’s dogged pursuit of weapons of mass destruction-although this is clearly Saddam’s fixation, and he has demonstrated his readiness to use them against citizens and neighbors (and would be pleased to do likewise against Americans).
No, it is not “just” these things. It is their combination with the fact that this regime never keeps agreements. Virtually every major accord Saddam has reached with domestic or foreign foes-usually under pressures produced by his recklessness-lasts only until he recovers sufficiently to pursue his purposes. Ask Iranians. Ask Kuwaitis. Ask Iraqi communists. Ask Iraqi Shiites. Ask Iraqi Kurds. Recall the UN inspections.
SO I CONCLUDE, reluctantly, that the options are not “war or peace,” but “sooner or later.” Unless there is a coup, force will eventually be needed to defang Saddam’s regime. The only real questions are when, how much force, and what aftermath.
Peace activists should be asking themselves what the outcome would have been had we not invaded. It’s not enough to point out the suffering under the occupation. What ideas had we proposed to put an end to Hussein’s brutality? Were we acting on them? What did we have to offer the victims? And while we’re at it, we should ask ourselves under what circumstances we would support United States military intervention. Most of us have supported few if any interventions since World War II. (Have to give credit to a right winger who came up with hilarious satirical modern peace movement responses to the invasion of Normandy – it’s obnoxious, but the writer has a point).
Cohen’s piece ends with a paragraph with a sentiment very familiar to me of late:
So I will not support an antiwar movement, even if it includes many good people. I hope, for the sake of honest public debate, that those good people keep this movement focused on Iraq. Iraqi suffering ought not to be exploited by “activists” with other agendas (such as Israel/Palestine, which has nothing to do with Saddam’s tyranny and must be addressed on its own, unhappy grounds). In the meantime, I will support Iraqi democrats, even if they are few in number and their prospects difficult. I am antifascist before I am antiwar. I am antifascist before I am anti-imperialist. And I am antifascist before I am anti-Bush.