In February 2003 I wrote the following:
Today there is so much annoying media banter, Internet hoopla, and emotional commentary from friends and neighbors suggesting that the United States should avoid going to war in Iraq. Those who condemn any offensive in the Middle East as foolish are motivated by the beliefs that war accomplishes nothing except the wrongful deaths of youthful soldiers, embedded journalists, and innocent citizens who get in the way of stray bullets, hidden land mines, and misdirected bombs.
I do not intend to justify the warlike actions of the coalition of countries who desire to oust Saddam Hussein and force a regime change in Iraq. Nor do I pretend to know what should be done to help oppressed people in other countries try to resolve the many issues that are causing disagreements, demonstrations, violence, and mayhem.
The argument between thinking Americans should not be about endorsing, fighting, and paying for a conventional war. Instead, we should have a serious discussion about how an outsider nation with abundant resources can help any oppressed people who live in countries ruled by brutish dictators such as Hussein, Hitler, Stalin, and Idi Amin.
Instead of jumping into a preemptive war, destroying valuable infrastructure, and killing and maiming citizens who don’t hate us yet, our leaders should be considering a list of recommended solutions to that unproven threat to determine the most appropriate actions. If a consensus could be reached, our leaders could establish a priority for implementing these actions and a time frame for evaluating their success.
Our forefathers resorted to armed rebellion in order to escape the despotism of the King of England. The leaders of the colonists accomplished this with the help of French and German mercenaries. Initially our Revolutionary War was an unorganized offensive in response to laws dictated by an insensitive monarch that were deemed unjust by the colonists. Revolutions are justified after the fact from the standpoint of the victorious and the liberated people who were oppressed.
Had the French revolution failed, would the gruesome actions of the downtrodden French be considered “just” by modern historians? Revolutions are considered “successful” when the oppressed triumph, and deemed “just” when they are launched by the oppressed. Simon Bolivar, Jose de San Martin, and George Washington are heroes of the revolutions they led. So is Fidel Castro to the residual inhabitants of “modern” Cuba.
No one desires war, least of all those who are likely to die in the conflagration. Therefore, if our leaders accept the current mandate of the public that they should do everything possible to try to avoid war, what alternatives to war does our country have? Could we have prevented the Nazis from expanding their empire by not opposing them militarily? We entered World War II as a consequence of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Hitler made no direct military offensive against the U.S.
Since World War II the United States has engaged in other military actions in defense of countries that were resisting the expansion of Communism. In the case of the recent defense of Kuwait, the Allied Forces sought to halt the expansionism of Saddam Hussein in his quest to become the most powerful Moslem leader of that area.
Defensive and revolutionary wars are morally “tolerable” to the successful survivors who write history. All wars are beneficial to the victorious, at least for a temporary period of time. To them go the “spoils of war:” territory, political, administrative, and legal power, resources (private and public), and the right to rule their new subjects any way they choose.
The local or foreign idealist hopes that a better life will result for the majority of the people. Seldom does a new government significantly affect the miserable lifestyle of the abject poor. Physical reconstruction and emotional recovery from the ravages of a violent war tend to add to the readjustment problems that follow a surrender. Both the conquered and the conquerors must socially accommodate themselves to the new political circumstances.
There are two basic problems that any outside nation faces in trying to help the oppressed citizens of another country. These are 1) challenging the other country’s sovereignty, and 2) achieving a significant regime change where the disadvantaged gain some benefits, not just a new and perhaps harsher dictator.
When a country’s territory is threatened from abroad, its leaders always rely on the excuse commonly used throughout history: “We were attacked!” Then, they order the hasty armed defence of the current dictatorial modus operandi and the country’s exposed external borders. All tyrannical leaders defend the status quo (whatever that is in their country) and plead “innocent” to charges of foreign aggression.
The formation of the United Nations after World War II established the first theoretical breach in the sovereignty of each nation that joined that organization. What happened when our Founding Fathers created a federation of states called the United States? The governments of the individual states were very reluctant, and their successors still are, to accept the Federal government as the final word about a state’s rights. However, our Civil War settled who had the most power!
So far, the intervention of the U.N. in the affairs of its member nations has been minor. The power vested in the United Nations has not been seriously tested. Now that there is only one country that considers itself a superpower, the role of the U.N. needs to be clarified and maybe expanded. But that “united” entity has no taxing power, no army, and no citizens. And I suspect when push comes to shove, U.N. resolutions won’t get much respect from anyone, e.g. the dispute over Israel.
Without a redefined role, the U.N. cannot dictate to any government what it should do and how it should treat its citizens. It can make suggestions and issue resolutions, but it has no enforcement arm to implement them. The head of the U.N. has to beg rich and poor countries to pay their debts, since there is no collection agency to force a delinquent government to send in a check. A deadbeat country won’t be thrown out of the U.N. because everything is negotiable. The U.S. proved that.
As long as a country’s sovereignty cannot be broached militarily by the U.N., a strong dictator with loyal troops and intimidated citizens can withstand foreign pressure to reform. Achieving a regime change anywhere in the world is improbable if the local citizens aren’t ready to use violence to oust their megalomaniacal leaders financed by local taxes. In a highly militarized country like Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Hussein’s Iraq, this possibility is slim or none.
The complaints of the ill-treated and the powerless inside such a country don’t reach the ears of the anti-war protestors in other countries that would like to help. Foreign nations will not wage a war of liberation unless an aggressive military action is taken by some arrogant dictator directly against them. “Why should innocent blood be shed?” is always the rhetorical question. Since the leaders of the U.N. always strive to obtain a peaceful, negotiated solution, there is no hurry on their part to help an oppressed people overturn their government and create a potential leadership vacuum.
So, what good is the United Nations, if they can’t enforce their own resolutions? Has it served its political purpose and become as obsolete and ineffective as the former League of Nations? Can it build a consensus of its members and take independent military action? Is it authorized to intervene in the domestic affairs of a member nation? Is there any way that it can pierce a rogue country’s armor of sovereignty? What is its mission today? Is restraining terrorism a priority item in its mission statement? If it is, what does it need for a mandate and from who will come the financial and human resources to achieve that specific mission?
Let’s say that correcting human rights abuses is on the political agenda of the U.N. Has it found a way to rein in those abuses in the Palestine/Israeli conflict? Has it found a solution for the dispute over Kashmir? Can you name any major political dispute between clashing internal forces that the U.N. has resolved since its inception? Can you think of any territorial dispute that has been solved by peaceful negotiations? Is the truce in Korea a final resolution to that problem? Was the U.N. a participant in the Russian armed action in Afghanistan? Tribal fighting has not ended in that country yet. Are the majority of the citizens there finally liberated from a government that was oppressive, corrupt, and brutish? We hope so, but we are never sure.
If tyrants can’t be restrained by their own constituents and the U.N. is unable to bring about a regime change for the elimination of gross human rights abuses, what recourse has an oppressed people? Armed insurrection, terrorism, guerrilla warfare? If a despot won’t spend public money to try to reduce the starvation and health risks of his or her people, what can be done today by outsiders? Sanctions haven’t worked. They don’t punish the wealthy dictators and their cronies. Inspectors and peace keepers will be ineffective, too, especially in those countries where the ruling government won’t cooperate.
The normal solution, of course, has been to ignore the cries for help from the oppressed and pretend we don’t hear them. If we copy the way an average person treats unemployed street beggars, maybe the problem will wander away to another part of town. It’s easy to argue that we shouldn’t impose our way of life on another country and its people. They have to find the “right” solutions to their own problems. We will be happy to sell them arms, of course. Then they could start an uprising which we could support and accept as “just” if a war of rebellion ensues.
The dilemma isn’t deciding to use military force or not. It is deciding to help the oppressed or not. To help them always means taking military action. Threats and sanctions mean nothing to a dictator who is ready to kill his own people. He knows that the outsiders who are pressing him to change are reluctant to spend the money to wage war and to risk the lives of their citizen soldiers. Foreign anti-war protesters are indirectly supporting the hated dictator with their demonstrations.
So, get out the blinders and the ear plugs, cancel all pleasure trips abroad, and let’s enjoy our lives here in peaceful America protected by two huge ocean moats. Maybe we can breed some ferocious sea monsters capable of sinking all enemy ships that dare to approach our shores. That might be much cheaper than building the new air defense system that we are spending billions of dollars to develop and deploy.
A pre-emptive war launched by foreign countries that initiates an unpredictable outcome and causes collateral damage to humans and the local infrastructure shifts the burden of responsibility to the invader nations. Will they be around to pick up the pieces, attend to the injured, fix the infrastructure, and finance the recovery?
If the results of the Iraq war up through June 2010 are any indication of the futility of invading a nation in order to effect a regime change, maybe it’s time to reconsider our few options.