1991-03-06: What Clear and Present Danger?


 06 March 1991 – Copyright © Mark H. Goodrich

Hold up there GOP Faithful! In what is quickly becoming the first red herring of the 1992 Election Season, the Democratic Leadership in Congress and those legislators from both parties who voted against going to war in Iraq are now being falsely accused of everything from seeking to aid and comfort an enemy in time of war to an absence of patriotism.

Votes against an early war were just that. They were not an endorsement of Saddam Hussein or a call for acquiescence to his alleged bullying. They sought no return to American isolationism, but instead recognized that the United States can not be an effective police force against the myriad wrongs perpetrated by regional dictators around the world. They were a plea for the United States to refrain from fundamentally unilateral action under a United Nations Resolution that lacked the color of a truly international coalition. They were a prayer to extinguish fewer lives and less national wealth in the hope that diplomacy might carry the day without the need for yet another war.

Indeed, it seemed particularly appropriate given that the truth and accuracy of the claims by the Bush Administration regarding the need for immediate military action have been questioned so broadly by officials in the United States and abroad. That Iraq used chemical weapons on its Kurdish Citizens in 1988 seems clear, but it was the United States that sold the chemical gas to Iraq in the first instance. While it is true America intended that Iraq would use the gas against the Iranians, our active participation in violation of both US and International Law would seem to disqualify us from using this rationale as a basis for war. A long list of people who currently work for the Bush Administration, including the President himself, have been propping Saddam Hussein up with military aid and looking the other way with regard to his human rights abuses for a decade, using him to fight a proxy war against Iran and provide an allied state close to Russia. It is also clear that Kuwait has been over-drawing from common oil resources in violation of its agreements with Iraq, and that Saddam Hussein sought approval from the United States to enforce his contract rights before moving into Kuwait. Finally, aid workers in Kuwait have uniformly debunked the stories of the Bush Administration about ripping babies from incubators and other alleged atrocities, revealing them to be nothing more than American propaganda to justify war. Indeed, the quickness of the action is leading some to question whether the actual goal of the administration was to try and cover the tracks of the Reagan and Bush Administrations over the past decade – many of which were under the direction of President Bush as Director of the CIA and Vice-President under Ronald Reagan – and avoid the embarrassment of trying to justify yet another illegal American action under international law before the World Court.

There was never a doubt about whether American interests would prevail over Iraq. Because President Bush chose war – demonstrating that he is not a wimp and rewarding his friends and right wing constituents in the armament business – it will never be known whether the invasion of Iraq was truly necessary. Indeed, it may never be known whether Iraq was actually an instigator, or merely tricked by the Bush Administration. It may prove out that the bully in this instance was not Saddam Hussein, but George H. W. Bush.

What is known are the costs of the war that the President elected to initiate so hastily. Over 200,000 were killed, including many teenage conscripts sent to the front by Iraq as mere cannon fodder. 184 Americans and some 1,600 civilians in Iraq and Kuwait were killed, and untold numbers injured. More than $40 Billion Dollars in the national wealth of America was depleted. Some on the right are now arguing that the costs were slight – a characterization hard to accept by those who lost loved ones and the taxpayers who will suffer the economic impacts. The winners are oil companies, military contractors, and the prospects of the President for re-election next year by those who never feel more patriotic than when our country is kicking the hell out of some small nation, with or without justification.

The current national euphoria over the victory has already taken over all logic and reason on the editorial pages of the fourth estate in America. It is important that the electorate remember these events given that neo-conservative Republicans are still pushing for a broader – some say continuous – war in the Middle East. On their radar are at least Iran, Syria, Libya, Lebanon, and Iraq again to, as those on the right argue, “finish the job”.

There is little in the way that Saddam Hussein rules Iraq to post on the credit side of his ledger, but he is a stabilizing factor in a highly unstable region, and wars invariably lead to unintended consequences. The choice made by the Bush Administration to invade may have the ultimate effect of weakening Iraq to the point that it is no longer a stabilizing force, and lead to an implosion of the entire Middle East in yet another of a three-thousand-year string of conflicts in the region. In that event, the real costs of this military escapade over the decades to come may make the $40 Billion Dollars already spent look like pocket change, and result in deaths and injuries measured not in thousands, but in millions.

But even $40 Billion Dollars for an unnecessary military adventure is outlandish when the Congress and Administration are unwilling to spend similar amounts to provide health care, housing and food for the poorest citizens in our own country, or repair the crumbling infrastructure that has been ignored for decades in favor of building a military machine that is larger than those of the entire remainder of the world combined.

It was hardly unpatriotic for members of Congress and others to call for patience in deciding whether war was necessary. Indeed, to avoid stating their convictions and the will of constituents would have been an abrogation by elected representatives of their duty.

In the final analysis, they were calling for the Bush Administration to clearly identify the “clear and present danger” to the United States that it purported to exist, before rallying the United Nations on questionable facts and sending our military to kill people on the other side of the world.