London. Of the three serious wars that the U.S. has fought since 1945–Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War, one ended in defeat and two in draws–not exactly a glorious record.
An Iraq war likewise could end in stalemate. Saddam Hussein is not the Taliban. A war would require a large-scale land invasion of an American-British force that would undoubtedly suffer significant casualties. It would also need staging grounds and this time round Saudi Arabia, the main base for the Gulf War, is unlikely to agree to offer its services. Moreover, what does America do if Saddam decides to use the horrible weapons he is said to possess? It’s one thing for him to use them–the entire world knows he is a rogue–but if the U.S. and Britain uses them too they will be judged by a different standard.
The U.S. suffered immense opprobrium in Vietnam for using napalm, which is nothing as compared with modern day chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Besides, Iraq presumably would be using its weapons against only troops. If America and Britain retaliated it would be inevitable that civilian Iraqis would be hit as hard as its military. And what happens if the U.S. and Britain simply get bogged down? How do they deal with the mounting distaste for casualties at home? How do they cope with the bitter anti-American sentiments of the Arab world? How does the U.S. fight a second front, if war should open up elsewhere now that the Pentagon has recently abandoned its goal of being able to fight two regional wars simultaneously?
Has President George Bush got better nerves than President Lyndon Johnson, once a man of unbendable purpose before his physical and moral degradation in the course of the Vietnam War. Has Vice-President Dick Cheney got more iron in his soul than the steely Robert McNamara, Johnson’s Secretary of Defence, who later confessed he was started on the road to resignation by the brave decision of a protestor to immolate himself close by the Secretary’s office? Not least, how will America stand at the end of such a war, particularly when much of the world knows that it failed to answer those who have argued for years that containment was working, more than less?
No wonder that there are well-founded reports that both the Pentagon generals and the British General Staff are arguing against this venture. Yet for the moment the juggernaught appears unstoppable. Last week there were reports that the British were withdrawing their troops from Bosnia so that they can be readied for re-deployment in an Iraqi war. Moreover, the very fact that America has not yet laid its hands on Osama bin Laden–its ostensible purpose in going to war against the Taliba- suggests that the political pressures on Bush to up the ante and topple Saddam Hussein–who does have a fixed address where he can be located–are mounting by the day. (It is at this point that the civilian hawks and the military brass part company–the brass maintain their jobs even if there is no war; the civilians lose theirs if Bush loses his political credibility and goes down to defeat.)
How then to head off what could be a disastrous war followed by an even more disastrous stalemate or perhaps an American humiliation? It is not enough to hope that Bush and Cheney might be consumed by some Texan accountancy scandal. Or to think that the resignation of Colin Powell, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed consideration of the use of nuclear weapons during the first Gulf War, would seriously disturb the White House once it had set its course.
Incredible as it may sound on first hearing the road to avoiding war lies through Pyongyang. Not in the literal sense, but the way that Jimmy Carter paved it with his historic peacemaking trip to North Korea to parley with Kiml Sung. At that moment North Korea and the U.S. appeared to be a collision course over the evidence that the North was building nuclear weapons. President Bill Clinton had on his desk an estimate that war could lead to 50,000 American soldiers dead and the destruction of much of Seoul. North Korea is now the recipient of more American aid than any other Asian country and the Western allies are building two light water nuclear power reactors for it. In return the North has frozen its plutonium production. For all the bluster over “the axis of evil” the Bush Administration has not overturned this deal. What would entice Saddam Hussein to cooperate? Number one must be a public announcement by Washington–one that three successive administrations have refused to make–that it no longer seeks the end of Saddam’s regime before it will consider ending sanctions. Second, a clear statement that sanctions will be lifted if a new inspection team finds no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Third, a program for Iraq’s re-integration into the world economy. Fourth, a parallel speedy effort by Washington to establish an independent Palestinian state according to the principles enunciated by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
None of this will get rid of Saddam Hussein, or bring democracy and the better observance of human rights to the oppressed Iraqi people. But it will conceivably avoid a terrible war, the worst of all human wrongs.
Jonathan Power is a columnist, film-maker and writer. M.Sc in economics, trained as a geographer, and agricultural economist. For the first ten years after graduate school community work in slum neighborhoods in Chicago and London. Worked for Martin Luther King 1966-1967. He is an associate at the Transnationl Forum for Peace. Power can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
(C) TFF 2002