An open letter to Sens. Kennedy and Byrd:
I am writing to support your asking hard questions about the
administration's precipitate rush toward military action in Iraq, a
country which has not attacked us directly (despite all the
administration's strained attempts to establish a connection between
Saddam Hussein and the Sept. 11th attacks), and shows no immediate
prospect of doing so.
Yesterday evening, President Bush reached into history for
comparisons, calling Saddam Hussein a "student of Stalin". But the
threat from Stalin's USSR --- incomparably greater than that posed by
Saddam Hussein's Iraq --- not only could be, but actually was,
defeated without any direct military confrontation. In that case,
peaceful methods worked, while military action would have been a
With that in mind, it is disturbing to see how much stress the
administration puts on potential risks of nonmilitary action, and how
little, if at all, it addresses the risks of war. Even if American
forces do succeed in quickly and effectively displacing the current
Iraqi regime, what replaces it? The Iraqi population is riven with
sectarian divisions, including sectarian groups which might well
attract military support from others in the region --- not to mention
the ethnic Kurdish region in the north with ambitions to independent
statehood. It is unlikely that, after the displacement of Saddam
Hussein by American action, these groups will decide to resolve their
differences by the unprecedented procedure of holding a fair election
and abiding by the results. It is more likely that the result would
be some level of armed conflict on the ground, with the potential to
spill over the border.
And while Saddam Hussein has been reckless at times, his
recklessness has its limits. As chronicled in Samantha Power's book,
"A Problem from Hell", all of Saddam's uses of chemical
weapons, both against Iran and against his own Kurdish citizens, were
with the knowledge and tacit approval of the American administrations
of the day. Faced instead with the prospect of retaliation during the
Gulf War, even in a direct shooting war with the United States, he
held back. We can't be sure that all sides in an Iraqi civil war will
show the same restraint.
There are also effects on the wider region to consider. A military
attack would hand the allies and heirs of Osama bin Laden a massive
propaganda victory, gift-wrapped for their convenience. Their
argument is that American "crusaders" are, in effect, already at war
with the greater Muslim polity, which has no choice but to fight back
with whatever means it has to hand. By attacking an Arab country
without any direct provocation, we will be proving their case, and
potentially doing much to destabilize the region.
Also, the stress on Iraq to the exclusion of all other threats is
peculiar, to say the least. Why is Iraq more of a threat than, say,
North Korea, which is a state run by madmen, which sells missile
technology to all comers, and may already possess nuclear weapons?
The administration does not address the question. Yet it is engaged
in diplomacy with the North Koreans --- as treacherous a regime as
exists on the planet --- even as it proclaims the impossibility of
similar dealing with Saddam Hussein.
Lastly, there is a disturbing pattern in the administration's
arguments, of the use of evidence of, to put it kindly, debatable
quality. The American people deserve better.
Four decades ago, a president came to Congress with a story about
an attack on American forces, and demanded authorization for a
military response. He got it. We now know that there was no attack,
and the authorization he got looks from a distance like very poor
I hope we have learned from our history and experience.
This letter is posted as part of the Open Letters Blogburst,
one of many postings expressing their concern at the present
situation. For a list of other posts, see the blogburst index.