|A Sniper Nation
By John Bedell
This week the people of Washington's suburbs find themselves besieged by a single madman, afraid to put gas in their cars, afraid to let their children catch the bus to school. The news shifts back and forth between urgent police bulletins and sad funerals, from reporters "at the scene" to shots of mourners with stunned tears in their eyes. It struck me, as I listened to a nervous conversation on the train this afternoon, that while people all around the capital are paralyzed by fear of one gunman, our leaders are sitting in the center of it all calmly planning to inflict a thousand times as much death suffering on the equally innocent and frightened citizens of Baghdad. Have Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld given any thought to how those Iraqis feel? To their terror of American bombs? To the sorrows of those who will mourn them?
Don't kid yourselves; if we invade Iraq, hundreds of civilians will be killed, probably thousands, possibly tens of thousands. Meanwhile the CIA has released a study saying that it is highly unlikely Saddam Hussein will attack us unless we attack him first. Unless I am mistaken, the CIA is not a refuge for lefty pacifists. Under enormous pressure to find justifications for a war, the analysts couldn't find one. Bush continues to claim that he must invade Iraq to prevent a devastating attack on the US, but I don't believe him and neither does the CIA.
Saddam, I admit, is evil, but so is war. We are not talking about tank battles in the desert, but about attacking Baghdad. If we fight there using the firepower we used in Kuwait, we will destroy the city and bury its citizens in the rubble. If we ask our soldiers to shoot their way in, they will take frightful casualties. Maybe it won't come to urban warfare, but it could--several retired US army commanders have raised the same warning--and we shouldn't go to war unless we are prepared to face it. Are we? How many Iraqis are we prepared to kill? How many American soldiers are we prepared to lose? What cause do we have that gives us the right to spread terror and death among innocent strangers?
I know it seems extreme to compare the US government to a lone gunman, but I am so disturbed by the air of complete unreality that surrounds the Iraq debate that I can't help it. A majority of Americans say they support deposing Saddam, unless there are casualties; what kind of fantasy is that? Bush says he wanted Congressional authorization to attack because it would strengthen his negotiating stance, which led to that bizarre circus in which dozens of Senators and Congressmen voted for a war they have said is unwise or unnecessary. Some of them, we are told, wanted a quick vote so they can "put the issue behind them" and campaign on something else. But war with Iraq is not behind us, it is before us, and their vote brought it closer.
I have thought all along that the Bush and his advisers do not understand the seriousness of what they are proposing. They have refused to ask for money to pay for a war, refused to acknowledge that they would be flaunting international law, refused to admit that the death and destruction might be immense. They tell lies about close ties between Saddam and bin Laden without even acting like they believe them. They say "regime change" instead of war, "intervention" instead of attack, "occupation" instead of conquest, trying to hide the frightening reality of their plans behind latinate doublespeak. Last week Bush even put forward the last and most cowardly defense of aggression, that making war on Iraq is necessary to protect peace. Excuse me, Mr. President, but if we invade Iraq, we will have war, not peace; they are opposites, not synonyms. What's more, as U.S. Grant once remarked, to make war is to kill. We are not talking about some kind of forceful diplomacy, but about killing Iraqis. Before we do that we should think long and hard about how frightened and angered we have been by the killer in our midst, and ask how we can justify inflicting that on others.
October 11, 2002
War is hell.