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10 Questions Americans Are Asking as the US Government Prepares for War

Ten questions Americans are asking in the run-up to war with Iraq.

Publisher's Note: As turmoil in Iraq and the broader region deepens, many are revisiting the history of the United States’ invasion of Iraq. In early 2003, the Bush Administration claimed the cost of the war would be less than $100 billion, that our actions would make Iraq a model for democracy for the region, and that we had no choice but to invade because the country possessed weapons of mass destruction.

None of those assertions turned out to be true.

Was there any way to know in advance how history would unfold? At YES!, we scrutinized many facts and expert opinions known at the time. Prior to the invasion on March 19, 2003, we published our findings.

Sadly, our projections have largely turned out to be correct. In the rush to war, the voices of the experts and other citizens doubting the wisdom of an invasion were marginalized and their projections ignored. Particularly telling given current events in the region is Brent Scowcroft’s warning that a war on Iraq could overwhelm U.S. efforts to defeat global terror groups and risks a "conflagration in the Middle East.”

Below is our article from 2003. It serves as a reminder that the terrible consequences of a military invasion can be foreseen. The U.S. had good alternatives to address the possibility that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. The invasion of Iraq was truly a war of choice. We could have chosen differently.

—Fran Korten

June 20, 2014

 


1. Why go to war with Iraq now?
2. Is Saddam Hussein a threat to the U.S. or other countries?
3. Will war with Iraq make us safer?
4. What is the new Bush Doctrine?
5. Does Saddam Hussein have links to Al Qaeda?
6. What would war look like?
7. Why aren't our allies standing with us on this war?
8. What would it cost to go to war?
9. What would we be fighting for?
10. What alternatives are there to war?

 

1. Why go to war with Iraq now?

When asked at a Congressional Armed Services Committee hearing about what is now compelling the U.S. to "take precipitous actions" against Iraq, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said, "What's different? What's different is 3,000 people were killed." Is there a link to Al Qaeda and the events of 9/11? So far, the administration has produced no evidence (see question #5 on links to Al Qaeda).

The administration also says Iraq every day is getting closer to having nuclear weapons. At a September 7 news conference, President Bush cited an International Atomic Energy Agency report as evidence that Hussein is only six months away from acquiring nuclear weapons. Later that month the IAEA stated that no such report exists. On October 4, the CIA released a report stating that Iraq does not possess nuclear weapons or the materials for making them, but could acquire nuclear weapons by 2010. The report also says that Iraq's ability to produce and store chemical weapons is probably less than it was before the Gulf War, but that its ability to produce biological weapons agents has grown in the last decade.

Emerging from a meeting of members of the Senate Intelligence Committee with CIA Director George Tenet, Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill) said that the report does not tell the whole story and that some information that could weaken the Bush administration's case against Iraq remains classified. According to the Associated Press, Durbin commented, “It is troubling to have classified information which contradicts statements made by the administration.”

2. Is Saddam Hussein a threat to the United States or other countries?

Hussein has never attacked the United States, but has been accused of using chemical weapons against Kurds within Iraq and against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. He launched Scud missiles against Israel during the 1991 Gulf War. He has not launched attacks against any nation since.

Most observers believe that the threat is less than it was in 1991, when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The former head of the UN inspection team, Scott Ritter, states that 90 to 95 percent of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were confirmed destroyed and that there is no evidence that Iraq retained any of its weapons or capacity for producing them. Due to 12 years of UN sanctions, Iraq is now an impoverished country, making a large-scale weapons program far less feasible, Ritter said.

The current weapons inspectors have found no evidence of a restarted nuclear weapons program or of biological weapons. The inspectors did find 12 empty warheads that could be used for firing chemical weapons and trace amounts of thiodiglycol, which can be used to make mustard gas. Inpectors destroyed the thiodiglycol. They also discovered that Iraq possessed ballistic missiles whose range went beyond prescribed limits. As of February 28, 2003, Iraq had begun destroying these missiles under supervision by inspectors.

According to Brookings Institute analyst Michael O'Hanlon, Hussein has not funded Al Qaeda or other Islamic fundamentalist terrorists that target the U.S., but has given money to anti-Israeli terrorists. O'Hanlon said that Hussein has not passed weapons of mass destruction to those terrorists. The CIA report released October 4, 2002, says that Hussein has weapons that can target his neighbors, but none that can reach the U.S. or Western Europe.

3. Will war with Iraq make us safer?

General Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser to President Bush's father, warned that a war on Iraq could overwhelm U.S. efforts to defeat global terror groups and risks a "conflagration in the Middle East."

West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd warned that an Iraq war could result both in a civil war among Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite factions in Iraq and in neighboring states. Faced with his removal from power and potential death, many observers believe Saddam Hussein might be pushed into using whatever weapons he may have at his disposal. Judging by his actions during the Gulf War, if attacked, Hussein is likely to attack Israel. Israeli leaders have said they would be less reluctant to retaliate, if attacked, and Israel is known to possess nuclear weapons.

Osama bin Laden cited U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia and support for various Arab regimes in his call for jihad against the U.S. A war against Iraq is likely to inflame anti-American sentiment among Arabs and other Muslims, according to a number of experts, including Scowcroft. According to the New York Times, European anti-terrorism experts have found evidence that Islamic militants have been recruiting hundreds of fellow Muslims to carry out attacks in the event of a war against Iraq.A full-scale war against Iraq, ouster of Saddam Hussein, and occupation would allow the U.S. to eliminate any weapons of mass destruction. Would the world be more secure? A number of the Iraqi opposition leaders mentioned as members of a post-Saddam government are accused of playing roles in Iraq's atrocities. Among them is Nizar al-Khazraji, the top commander of the Iraqi army from 1980 to 1991, who is currently under investigation by the Danish government for war crimes. He's accused of carrying out the 1988 poison-gas attacks that killed thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq. Gen. Mahdi al-Duleimi, who claimed to Newsweek that his proposal for toppling Saddam has won high marks from the Bush administration, is accused of carrying out chemical weapons attacks as a general during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

4. What is the new "Bush Doctrine"?

On September 20, President Bush unveiled a new National Security Strategy that for the first time asserts the U.S. right of “preemption" and "defensive intervention," even where no “imminent threat” exists. “We will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary” the strategy declares, and states that “the best defense is a good offense.” General John Shalikashvili, in his introduction to the new plan, says that it is a necessary adjustment to the newly unpredictable world context.

The new policy has met with criticism from U.S. allies. “The only superpower wants to make all the rules," said an editorial in the Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun. Newspapers from Paris to Dublin compared the U.S. stance to Roman imperialism.

While the strategy document affirms that “America must stand firmly for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity and the rule of law,” the doctrine actually breaks with five centuries of international law, violates the U.N. Charter, and threatens to escalate the level of global conflict, according to a wide range of legal, military, and public policy experts, including Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman and General Brent Scowcroft. A preemptive strike against Iraq would mark the first exercise of the new strategic policy. READ MORE

5. Does Saddam Hussein have links to Al Qaeda?

So far no evidence of such a link has been produced, although members of the Bush administration have stated that there are links. According to a State Department report earlier this year, Hussein has not been involved in any terrorist plots against the West since his alleged attempt to assassinate President Bush's father during his 1993 visit to Kuwait. Hussein's regime is secular, and Muslim fundamentalists represent a threat to his power.

6. What would war look like?

Many analysts say that a second invasion of Iraq will be much more difficult than the first one. During the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. military sought only to expel the Iraqi force from territory it had invaded. Achieving the goal of "regime change" would likely require intense fighting in Hussein's home territory of Baghdad.

Fighting in Baghdad, Iraqi soldiers would blend in with civilians and use them as human shields, according to Sharif Ali bin Al Hussein, a spokesperson for the opposition Iraqi National Congress, and British Member of Parliament George Galloway, who recently met with Hussein. Such guerilla fighting would make thousands of American deaths likely, as well as high casualties among Iraqi civilians. On notice that their survival was at stake, Hussein's military would likely fight bitterly.

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, General Brent Scowcroft, national security advisor to President Bush senior during the Gulf War, predicted that an attack on Iraq would likely prompt Hussein to use whatever weapons of mass destruction he has against Israel, a nuclear power, which in turn could unleash nuclear weapons on Iraq. Scowcroft warned that an American invasion of Iraq could create an “Armageddon in the Middle East.”

7. Why aren't our allies standing with us on this war?

Britain's prime minister Tony Blair is the only national leader supporting U.S. plans for an invasion of Iraq. Blair said “The threat is real,” and urged action against Hussein. The lonely posture of the U.S. and Britain stands in sharp contrast to the Gulf War, in which the U.S. was part of a coalition of allies that provided military and diplomatic support and 80 percent of the funding for the war.

In September 2002, Iraq acquiesced to calls from many world leaders, including the Bush administration, for renewed and unfettered U.N. inspections. Our allies welcomed this development and urged the U.S. to wait for the outcome of the inspections. The Bush administration has dismissed the offer and renewed its calls for invasion.

Political leaders and press throughout the world have described the U.S. stance as imperialist and a threat to world stability. US plans for unilateral action against Iraq “are introducing chaos in international affairs,” said Nelson Mandela. (See question #4 on Bush doctrine). France promises to veto any war resolution in the U.N. Security Council.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has repeatedly said Germany would take no part in an invasion of Iraq. Many analysts have attributed Schroeder's recent election victory to his stance on Iraq.

Opposition to a U.S. invasion of Iraq is widespread among both citizens and governments throughout the world. On February 15, millions of people gathered in cities around the world to protest a U.S. war on Iraq in what has been called the largest day of protest in world history.

READ MORE

8. What would it cost to go to war?

New cost estimates for a war with Iraq leave the Bush Administration's original estimate of $50 to $100 billion far behind. A short war with Iraq could cost the world one percent of its economic output over the next few years and more than $1 trillion by 2010, Australian researchers said in a recent report. The compounding effects of rising oil prices, extra budget spending and economic uncertainty could cut $173 billion from the world economy in 2003 alone, reported the researchers, together with Reserve Bank of Australia board member Warwick McKibbin, and the Center for International Economics executive director, Andrew Stoeckel. A longer war could more than triple the costs, they said. Yale University economist William Nordhaus, focusing on cost to the U.S. economy, estimates that if the U.S. achieves a quick and smooth victory, the war's U.S. cost could be as low as $120 billion, but any complications could bring the total cost to the U.S. economy to as much as $1.6 trillion.

Officials at the Pentagon initially estimated the initial U.S. military costs of a war with Iraq at $50 billion. The Democratic staff of the House Budget Committee estimates the war would cost between $48 and $93 billion. Lawrence Lindsey, Bush's chief economic advisor, told the Wall Street Journal in mid-September that the United States might spend more than $100 billion to wage a war against Iraq.

The proposed objectives for the war are the disarmament of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and regime change, operations that military experts say would require hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops on the ground. Assuming U.S. forces prevail, in the aftermath there would be peace-keeping and nation-building costs, estimated by Taxpayers for Common Sense as ranging from $10 to $20 billion per year.

Operation Desert Storm, the 1991 war against Iraq led by U.S. and Allied forces, cost $80 billion (in current U.S. dollars) with 80 per cent of those costs paid by the Allies. So far there is no evidence that other nations are willing to share the financial burden of the current proposed assault on Iraq. In addition to financial costs, there are of course potentially significant costs in human life—military and civilian—and severe damage to the environment. MORE

9. What would we be fighting for?

The Bush Administration says the Iraq regime is “actively developing weapons of mass destruction” and needs to be disarmed. Additionally, President Bush seeks “regime change” in Iraq.

There is an enormous amount of speculation about other possible causes. Many American congressional leaders, former U.S. military and civilian officials, veterans, civic groups, religious organizations and international policy-makers have suggested alternative motivations for war. These include access to oil in the region, the expansion of American power in the Middle East, the perceived financial benefits of war to U.S. corporate interests, and ties between arms manufacturers and defense contractors to the Bush Administration, as well as the well-known links to energy companies.

10. What are the alternatives to war?

Inspections:
Inspections have in the past successfully thwarted Iraq's use and development of weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein has not used biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons since these inspections were introduced following the 1991 Gulf War. UN inspectors, led by neutral parties, offers the best hope for security, according to Scott Ritter, former head of the UN weapons inspection team. Inspections were resumed in November 2002, and Chief Inspector Hans Blix reported in January 2003 that Hussein had so far cooperated fairly well, but that a number of questions remain. Both Blix and Mohamed El Baradei, chief inspections for nuclear weapons, urged that inspections be given more time.

In February, France and Germany, with the support of Russia, began drafting a plan to disarm Iraq without war by deploying UN troops to Iraq, tripling the number of inspectors, extending the “no-fly zones” over northern and southern Iraq to include the entire country, and keeping in place U.S. forces already deployed to the region to force Baghdad to cooperate. By supporting this plan, U.S. could declare a victory without war, saving thousands of U.S. and Iraqi lives and billions of dollars, and promoting world perception of the U.S. as tough but fair.

As former President Jimmy Carter argued in a January statement, “The cost of an on-site inspection team would be minuscule compared to war, Saddam would have no choice except to comply, the results would be certain, military and civilian casualties would be avoided, there would be almost unanimous worldwide support, and the United States could regain its leadership in combating the real threat of international terrorism."

The Rule of Law:
“Great nations compete in peace instead of prepare for war,” President Bush said in a speech in June 2002. The Bush administration's new military strategy emphasizes the danger of rogue states and terrorists, entities difficult to target with direct military force. However, other methods exist. In helping found the United Nations, the United States helped create a framework of international law to prevent aggression and promote peaceful cooperation among nations.

A number of international treaties for preventing terrorism, limiting weapons of mass destruction, and bringing international criminals to justice have been developed in recent years. These include the International Criminal Court, the International Convention on the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombing, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and measures to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention. So far the Bush administration has withdrawn from, refused to sign, or worked actively to undermine international support for all of these measures. What is needed is for the United States to build international support for the rule of law. The U.S., which is the world's largest exporter of weapons, could also take the lead in promoting controls on international trade in weapons. These steps could help eliminate weapons of mass destruction not just from Iraq but from the entire world.

Promoting Peace:
"I think the United States must be humble," Bush said during a televised presidential debate prior to the 2000 elections. "We must be proud and confident of our values, but humble in how we treat nations that are figuring out how to chart their own course." Many leaders are now challenging the President to live up to those words. “Our great nation now has the opportunity to express leadership in the world by forging a foreign policy that seeks to reconcile and heal the world's divisions,” said Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church, as he expressed his church's opposition to unilateral war against Iraq. Rabbi Michael Lerner proposes a strategy for preventing terrorism that includes making “… America the leading voice championing an ethos of generosity and caring for others—leading the world in ecological responsibility, social justice, open-hearted treatment of minorities, and rewarding people and corporations for social responsibility.”

These resources are provided by YES! magazine as part of our mission to encourage active engagement in creating a more just, sustainable, and compassionate world.

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