Since it looks like we’re heading toward one, here’s my take on war.
1. It should be done if it’s necessary. For now, I’ll be vague as to what constitutes “necessary” because it’s very much open to interpretation.
2. If you’re going to do it, then you should make sure your opponent ends up as a grease spot on the wall, and that his country is reformulated so that it never ever bothers you again.
In the best of all worlds, both of these are fulfilled; you have no choice but to go to war, and you squash your opponent like a plump grape underneath a sledgehammer. But to be entirely honest, if I had to choose between the two of these, I’d pick number 2, if only because if we must participate in an unjust war, ’tis better it was done quickly. That way the stench of our pointless involvement is over quickly, and we expend as little matériel as possible (not to mention, you know, the deaths of those who fight our wars for us are kept to a minimum). Also, if you have the first, but not the second, what you end up with is a long-standing crapfest that you will ultimately have to revisit, whether you wish to or not.
Such as it was with the Gulf War. I’m not a terribly big fan of that war, but I’m perfectly happy to cede the point that it was necessary to some great extent. Yes, it was a war about oil. Thing is, while we can argue about the need to reduce our oil consumption (I tend to think the greatest advance in technology in the last couple of decades is the coming age of fuel cell and alternate energy cars), ultimately we still do need oil, and certainly needed it in 1990.
And of course it’s not like it was just a war about oil on our side of the fence; had Kuwait’s primary export been goat meat, Saddam would have been less likely to get all fired up about reintegrating the lost 19th province of Iraq. The Gulf War also offered the added attraction of the possibility of turning Saddam into a fine particulate mist with the aid of a well-placed smart missile. He’s a morally disagreeable enough person, and his regime largely worthless enough to have made the case for its dismantling persuasive.
The Gulf War took place while I was in college, and I remember being at candlelight vigils in the quads, not to pray that the US stopped the madness of the attack, but that we kicked the righteous hell out of the Iraqis and that it would all be over quickly. I had a brother in the Army, who was over there in the fight. The longer the fighting went on the better the chance something bad would happen to him. Fortunately, it was over quickly, and we learned what happens when a large but poorly-trained, badly-equipped army goes head-to-head with a highly-trained, massively-equipped army: The poorly-trained army loses people by a ratio of more than 100 to 1. We squashed the Iraqi army, all right.
But we didn’t squash Saddam or his regime, and ultimately, I find this inexplicable. Saddam should have not been allowed to continue to rule. His personal detention (to say the least) and the dismantling of his political machine should have been part of any surrender. War isn’t a football game, after all, where the losing coach gets to try to rebuild for next season. Particularly in Saddam’s case, where he was the aggressor; he started it. The penalty for starting a war (which, to be clear, you then lose, miserably) should be a nice 8×8 cell with no phone privileges until you die.
Lacking the will to depose Saddam, we (and by we I mean the US and the UN) should have been willing to back up the weapons inspectors with the immediate and massive threat of force. Simply put, any facility that the weapons inspectors were denied entry to should have been bombed into pebble-sized pieces within 15 minutes of the inspectors leaving the area. Aggressive countries that have been defeated in war do not have the luxury of “national dignity” or whatever it is you want to call it. The fact that we just spent more than a decade letting a hostile regime jerk the world around is angrifying (a new word. Use it. Love it).
Let’s turn our attention to the new war we’ll be having soon. Toward the first point, is this war absolutely necessary? I doubt it. I think it would be much more useful to swarm the country with weapons inspectors and high-altitude bombers that track their every destination. After the first few times Saddam’s precious presidential palaces are turned into powder when the inspectors are turned back, they’ll get the clue. I see nothing wrong with reminding Iraq on the point of a missile of its obligation to let us look anywhere for anything. Clearly they won’t like it, but, you know. So what.
Many suggest that the purpose of the coming war will to be to assure that Iraq cannot ever threaten any of us, but this achieves the same goal at lesser cost (and without exposing our military to undue chance of death). If indeed containing that threat were the goal of the upcoming war, this works just as well, and will have the additional value of being what was actually the correct response anyway, and only the better part of a decade late.
However, it’s clear that Dubya wants a war for purposes not related to weapons containment; indeed, his administration is utterly disinterested in that aspect of the Iraq problem, except as a convenient trope to sell the war to inattentive voters. Dubya wants regime change, and I can sympathize. Saddam has been in power a decade longer than he should have been, and I can think of worse uses of the American military than clearing out bad governments around the world. If Dubya said something along the lines of “First we get rid of Saddam, and then we’re going to pay a call to Robert Mugabe,” well, that’s a barricade that I’d be inclined to rush.
I’m not holding my breath on that pronouncement, however. Ultimately I suspect that Dubya wants Saddam out as part of a father-avengement thing, although what Bush I needs to be avenged for is unclear; Bush I isn’t dead at the hand of Saddam, after all, nor injured, nor in fact seriously put out in any recognizable way. I believe at best Dubya is avenging his father’s taunting at the hands of Saddam. If that’s the case, Dana Carvey had better go to ground as quickly as humanly possible. This is of course a poor reason to send a nation into war, but Dubya does have the advantage of a decade’s worth of stupidity in dealing with Iraq providing him with some actual legitimate reasons to plug Saddam.
Let’s get down to brass tacks. On balance, the end results of fighting this war will be (cross fingers) the removal of Saddam and the dismantling of his political state and (incidentally) a clearing out of whatever weapons capability that may exist. For those reasons, I’m not opposed to fighting a war with Iraq now. Be that as it may, even those people who fully support a war against Iraq are rather painfully aware that the stated reasons that the Dubya administration wants to gear up for war are window dressing for a revenge fantasy. It is possible to fight a just war for less than entirely just reasons. We’re about to do it.
Just, necessary or not, let’s hope that this war is total, complete and ends with Saddam dead or in chains, his system smashed, and Iraq occupied in the same manner as Japan or Germany was at the end of WWII, with an eye toward making the revamped country successful and benign (the scariest things to come out of Japan and Germany in the last 55 years, after all, were Godzilla and the Scorpions, respectively). Anything less will be, in a word, unforgivable. If we mean to wage war, let’s wage war like we mean it.