NEW YORK—Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential frontrunner, opposes war with Iraq. Despite this stance, he suggests that Americans should set aside their political differences once the Mother of All Bombs starts blowing up munitions dumps and babies in Baghdad.
“When the war begins, if the war begins,” says Kerry, “I support the troops and I support the United States of America winning as rapidly as possible. When the troops are in the field and fighting—if they’re in the field and fighting—remembering what it’s like to be those troops—I think they need a unified America that is prepared to win.”
Fellow presidential candidate Howard Dean, who calls Bush’s foreign policy “ghastly” and “appalling,” is the Democrats’ most vocal opponent of a preemptive strike against Iraq. But once war breaks out, he says, “Of course I’ll support the troops.”
This is an understandable impulse. As patriots, we want our country to win the wars that we fight. As Americans, we want our soldiers—young men and women who risk too much for too little pay—to come home in one piece. But supporting our troops while they’re fighting an immoral and illegal war is misguided and wrong.
An Unjust Cause
Iraq has never attacked, nor threatened to attack, the United States. As his 1990 invasion of Kuwait proved, Saddam is a menace to his neighbors—Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel—but he’s their problem, not ours. Saddam’s longest-range missiles only travel 400 miles.
Numerous countries are ruled by unstable megalomaniacs possessing scary weaponry. North Korea has an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the western United States and, unlike Iraq, the nuke to put inside it. Pakistan, another nuclear power run by a dangerous anti-American dictator, just unveiled its new HATF-4 ballistic missile. If disarmament were Bush’s goal, shouldn’t those countries—both of which have threatened to use nukes—be higher-priority targets than non-nuclear Iraq?
Iraq isn’t part of the war on terrorism. The only link between Iraq and Al Qaeda is the fact that they hate each other’s guts. And no matter how often Bush says “9/11” and “Iraq” in the same breath, Saddam had nothing to do with the terror attacks.
That leaves freeing Iraqis from Saddam’s repressive rule as the sole rationale for war. Is the U.S. in the liberation business? Will Bush spread democracy to Myamnar, Congo, Turkmenistan, Cambodia, Nigeria, Cuba, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan or Laos, just to name a few places where people can’t vote, speak freely or eat much? You be the judge. I wouldn’t bet on it.
Of course, it would be great if Iraqis were to overthrow Saddam (assuming that his successor would be an improvement). But regime change is up to the locals, not us. George W. Bush is leading us to commit an ignominious crime, an internationally-unsanctioned invasion of a nation that has done us no harm and presents no imminent threat.
Germans in the 1930s
We find ourselves facing the paradox of the “good German” of the ’30s. We’re ruled by an evil, non-elected warlord who ignores both domestic opposition and international condemnation. We don’t want the soldiers fighting his unjustified wars of expansion to win—but we don’t want them to lose either.
Our dilemma is rendered slightly less painful by the all-volunteer nature of our armed forces: at least we aren’t being asked to cheer on reluctant draftees. Presumably everybody in uniform knew what they might be in for when they signed up.
“I’m horrified by this war,” a friend tells me, “but once it starts we have to win and win quickly.” For her, as for Kerry and Dean, our servicemen are people performing a job. They go where the politicians send them.
The thing is, we don’t really have to win. Losing the Vietnam War sucked, but not fighting it in the first place would have been smarter. Losing to Third Worlders in PJs led Americans to decades of relative humility, self-examination and taking the moral high ground in conflicts such as Haiti and Kosovo. Our withdrawal from Nam was mainly the result of antiwar protests and public disapproval that swayed our elected representatives. It also saved a lot of money that would otherwise gone to save more “domino” dictatorships from godless communism.
Most Americans who didn’t actively protest the war at least sat on their hands during Vietnam. We should do the same during Bush’s coming unjust war of aggression. Members of our armed forces don’t deserve insults, but their role in this war doesn’t merit support. Cheering them as they leave and holding parades when they return would certainly be misinterpreted by citizens of other countries as popular support for an inglorious enterprise—and it would make it easier for Bush to send them off again, to Iran or Libya or wherever. Let’s keep our flags under wraps.
I want our troops to return home safely. I want them to live. Like a good German watching my countrymen march into Poland and Belgium and Luxembourg and France, I don’t want them to win and I don’t want them to lose.