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[casi] The Argument for War (Duck Soup)


Published on Thursday, December 19, 2002 by

The Argument for War (Duck Soup)
by Marty Jezer

The Bush Administration is moving us closer to an
invasion of Iraq. The United Nations’ weapon
inspectors are doing their work, but the
Administration, in disdain of the inspectors, long ago
decided the need for war.

The Administration has three arguments for war. 1)
Saddam Hussein is linked to Al Qaida and shares
responsibility for its terrorist attacks. 2) Iraq has
weapons of mass destruction and threatens the security
of the United States. 3) Saddam is a tyrant who must
be overthrown.

The first argument, advanced by Administration
spokespeople immediately after the September 11 World
Trade Center attack, has never been substantiated.
Iraq, by Middle East standards, is a modern secular
state, albeit run by a despot. Al Qaida has a
fundamentalist, theocratic, anti-modern, anti-Western
ideology. Osama bin Laden is a religious fanatic.
Saddam, once an American friend and ally, has no
over-riding governing purpose except
self-aggrandizement. Their only commonality is hatred
of the United States. As the CIA has indicated, Bush’s
hostility towards Iraq will likely bring Saddam and
bin Laden together.

Their alliance, when it comes into being, will be a
consequence, not a cause, of Bush’s aggressive,
militaristic policy.

No one knows whether Saddam has nuclear, chemical or
biological weapons. It’s possible that he has some or
is trying to develop them. So do other countries in
the world, including our own. Saddam stands out
because he actually used chemical weapons against Iran
and the Iraqi Kurds. (He did so, it should be noted,
with U.S. support). But he has no delivery system to
threaten the United States. He is a threat to his
neighbors, but, interestingly, none of them, except
Israel, are enthusiastic for a war. More to the point,
if Saddam is found to have such weapons, he is
violating United Nations resolutions, not U.S. law.
There’s no practical or legal justification for
unilateral United States action against Iraq, even if
we get the British to go along. Containment, with U.N.
authorization, is working with Iraq. Saddam, whose
main interest is survival, knows that if he attacks
another country, he and Iraq will be blown off the

The third argument, that Saddam is a tyrant,
represents a humanitarian argument for intervention.
On this, the charges are true. Saddam runs a ruthless
dictatorship and has imprisoned, tortured and murdered
his political opponents. The Bush Administration talks
about "regime change" -- overthrowing Saddam and
creating a democratic Iraq. It sounds idealistic, and
also familiar.

George W. Bush has always opposed using U.S. forces
for peacekeeping operations and nation-building
activities. In Afghanistan, where the Administration
is failing miserably in helping our Afghan allies
rebuild their nation, his disinterest shows. We have a
history of military interventions in Latin America,
Africa, and Asia spouting democratic rhetoric. But the
record is that we have almost always intervened on the
side of dictatorship. Franklin Delano Roosevelt once
said about a Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza,
"He may be a son-of-a-bitch but he’s our
son-of-a-bitch." The Administration’s problem with our
old ally Saddam Hussein is not that he’s a SOB, but
that he’s no longer "ours".

We said about Vietnam (as we say about Iraq) that it
was a dictatorship. The people had no say about their
government. In attempting to free the Vietnamese, we
promised them democracy and prosperity -- remember the
TVA-like Mekong Delta Project? In actuality, we killed
millions -- making the Vietnamese double victims:
first of their government and then of our military.
The telling quote of the Vietnam War was that of an
American officer who said, "We had to destroy the
village in order to save it." That paradigm is as
absurd for Iraq as it was for Vietnam. In order to
overthrow the Iraqi dictator, we are going to have to
destroy Iraq and kill its people.

According to Bush at War, Bob Woodward’s insider
account of the Administration’s response to 9/11,
there has been almost no discussion within the
government about what to do if and when Saddam falls.
The Administration is interested in projecting its
military power, not in initiating humanitarian
endeavors. The countries of the world ought to support
Iraqi dissidents and work with them to remove Saddam
from power. There’s no sure, easy way to achieve that
goal, but going to war, even if it succeeds in getting
Saddam, is a horribly destructive and immoral way of
going about it.

A just war is a defensive war, when all political
alternatives have failed. A government that starts a
war, as the Bush Administration proposes to do, needs
a compelling reason to justify its aggression. It also
has to have a realistic idea of the outcome. The Bush
arguments for war fail to meet both standards. There
is no compelling need for war, and no one has any idea
of the human cost or the short and long-term political

In the Marx Brothers’ classic comedy Duck Soup,
Groucho, the leader of Fredonia, trades insults with
"Trentino," the villainous leader of Sylvania, mostly
at the expense of the privileged and clueless dowager
played by Margaret Dumont, who will take advice from
anyone who flatters her. (Think Rumsfeld, Cheney and
Wolfowitz as the Marx Brothers and George W. Bush as
Margaret Dumont). Anticipating more insults, Groucho
preemptively slaps Trentino in the face and Trentino
declares war. What follows is an over-the-top, Busby
Berkeley-like celebration of mindless patriotism and
senseless war. "To war, to war," the citizens sing,
"Fredonia’s going to war."

When life imitates art, one expects stirring drama.
When politics imitates comedy, the result is usually
disaster. The road to Iraq is one long slippery banana
peel. It is not funny and no one is laughing.

Marty Jezer's books include Abbie Hoffman: American
Rebel and The Dark Ages: Life in the U.S. 1945-1960.
He welcomes comments at

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