Howard Zinn Gets A Fisking

Howard Zinn, author of the terrible A People’s History of the United States (read Paul Johnson’s far superior A History of the American People instead) has
a diatribe against any attack on Iraq
. In the spirit of public debate, it’s time to take his arguments apart:

The Bush administration’s plan for preemptive war against Iraq so flagrantly violates both international law and common morality that we need a real national debate.

Considering the lack of uproar about Hussein’s violation of the Gulf War UN mandates about weapons of mass destruction, it’s clear that the internation law argument is based on a faulty ground. Common morality also says the the United States has a moral obligation to do what it can to rid the world of horrendous regimes like that of Hussein’s Iraq.

The discussion should begin with the recognition that an attack on Iraq would constitute an attack on the Charter of the United Nations, since the United States would then be in violation of several provisions, beginning with Article 1, Section 4, which states: "All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state… "

First, that’s Article 2, Section 4. Second, that idea is hopelessly naive when it comes to a state that presents a real threat to regional stability. I’ll discuss that more as I move on.

But let us suppose that international law should not stand in the way when extraordinary circumstances demand immediate violent action. Such circumstances would exist if there were, in the language of our own Supreme Court, a "clear and present danger"represented by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.

There are facts and there are conjectures about Iraq. The facts: This regime is unquestionably tyrannical; it invaded a neighboring country 12 years ago; it used chemical weapons against Kurdish rebels 15 years ago. The conjectures: Iraq may have biological and chemical weapons today. It may possibly be on the way to developing one nuclear weapon.

Again, it is more than conjecture that Iraq is developing advanced WMDs. The defectors who once worked on those projects have said that Iraq is close to building a nuclear device, perhaps in the next few years. It is also clear that Iraq does have chemical and biological weapons facilities operating within its terrority, based on intelligence from Iraqi defectors and satellite imagery of movements around the suspected plants.

But none of these facts or conjectures, even if true, make Iraq a clear and present danger. The fact that Iraq is a tyranny would not, in itself, constitute grounds for preemptive war. There are many tyrannies in the world, some kept in power by the United States. Saudi Arabia is only one example. That Iraq has cruelly attacked its Kurdish minority can hardly be a justification for war. After all, the United States remained silent, and indeed was a supporter of the Iraqi regime, when it committed that act. Turkey killed thousands of its Kurds, using US weapons.

If Iraq gained possession of a nuclear weapon, it would irrecoverably shift the regional balance of power, and give Iraq leverage that would make it a major danger to the region. The interests of peace dictate that allowing a nuclear weapon to fall into the hand of a man who is more than likely insane enough to use it for political advantage means that action must be taken.

Furthermore, other nations which killed hundreds of thousands of their own people (Indonesia, Guatemala) not only were not threatened with war, but received weapons from the United States.

Neither state has the capability of developing weapons of mass destruction. Iraq does. That makes a rather large difference.

Iraq’s history of invading Kuwait is matched by other countries, among them the United States, which has invaded Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, and Panama. True, Iraq may possess, may be developing "weapons of mass destruction." But surely the possession of such weapons, if not used, does not constitute a clear and present danger justifying war.

We "invaded" Vietnam and Cambodia to prevent the takeover of those nations by forces that we knew would kill hundreds of thousands. And once we pulled out, knowtowing to the Left that made the war into a military and political quagmire, that’s exactly what happened. Both Grenada and Panama were strategic military actions to prevent Grenada from becoming another Communist launching point, and Panama to break up the corrupt Noriega regime. Both operations were swift and decisive, and we left having made those countries far freer than when we came. On the other hand, Iraq invaded Kuwait, pillaged it and raped it, and set it aflame when they left. There’s quite a big moral gulf between those actions.

Other nations have such weapons. Israel has nuclear weapons. Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons and have come close to using them. And what country has by far the largest store of weapons of mass destruction in the world? And has used them with deadly consequences to millions of people: in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Southeast Asia?

None of those countries represent a major strategic threat to the United States or other nations. (Although Pakistan may become problematic down the road if Musharraf falls.) Furthermore, the United States only used nuclear weapons twice, both saving far more lives on both sides than they would have cost. Once again, there’s a huge moral gulf between the United States as a free democracy having WMDs and Iraq as a military dictatorship having such weapons.

There is the issue of weapons inspection. Iraq insists on certain conditions before it will allow inspections to resume. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this year that "inspectors have to go back in under our terms, under no one else’s terms." One might ask if the United States would ever allow its biological, chemical, and nuclear facilities to be inspected, under any terms. Is there one moral standard for Iraq and another for the United States?

Once again, this is a horrible argument. The United States isn’t covertly developing weapons after a UN mandate not to do so. We’re not a military dictatorship, and we did not wage an unprovoked and unjustifiable war against one of our neighbors.

Before Sept. 11 there was not the present excited talk about a strike on Iraq. Why would that event change the situation? There is no evidence of any connection between Iraq and that act of terrorism. Is it possible that the Bush administration is using the fear created by Sept. 11 to build support for a war on Iraq that otherwise has no legitimate justification?

Before Sept. 11 we didn’t take the idea of a major terrorist strike on US soil all that seriously. We know better now.

The talk of war has raised the question of American casualties, and rightly so. Are the lives of our young people to be expended in the dubious expectation that the demise of Saddam will bring democracy to Iraq? And what of the inevitable death of thousands of Iraqis, – all of them made doubly victims – first of Saddam, then of Bush? Shall we add a new death toll to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis (the figures are from the UN) who have died since the application of sanctions?

The last Gulf War had less the 200 US casualties. Our soldiers know what to do, and they know the risks. This is what they do, and their superior training and equipment will keep casualties low on our side. As for the Iraqis, how many more will die under Saddam’s bootheel if we do nothing? The cold calculus of death says that more would benefit in the long term from taking out Saddam now. Not to mention that millions that would be killed if Saddam Hussein used a nuclear device on the US or Israel.

A war against Iraq has no logical connection to the tragic events of Sept. 11. Rather than diminishing terrorism, such an attack would further inflame anger against the United States and may well lead to more terrorist attacks. We have a right to wonder if the motive for war is not stopping terrorism but expanding US power and controlling Mideast oil.

This is the same weak argument that’s always used by the anti-war Left. The only way to dissuade more terrorism is to show strength. If we don’t take action in Iraq it wil be another sign of weakness on our part. Our withdrawls in Somalia and Haiti, and our impotent cruise missle attacks under Clinton emboldened al-Qaeda until they knew they could attack us on our own territory and get away with it. The interests of peace dictate our constant vigilence, and our strength. If we show that we will strike back against terrorists even if the rest of the world refuses to go along, it will show that we are not a nation that can easily be attacked. If we really wanted Iraqi oil, there are also a hell of a lot of easier ways to get it than going to war. That old argument was trotted out for the first Gulf War, and it wasn’t true then, and it’s not true now.

A preemptive war against Iraq, legally impermissible, morally unpardonable, would be a cause for shame to future generations. Let the debate begin, not just in Congress, but throughout the nation.

No, the cause for shame would be in being too timid to take on a weakened and evil regime when we had the chance, and forever mourning the millions who lost their lives because of it. We dare not allow Saddam Hussein to get his hands on a nuclear weapon, else the chances of ever having peace in the region will quickly crumble.

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