P.S. ACOT: Larry King on the case FOR the War in Iraq

P.S. ACOT: Larry King on the case FOR the War in Iraq

Since you said publicly that I might write something in favor of war with Iraq, I felt compelled to actually write it. It also looks as if I'd better hurry. What I have to say will apply whether the war is imminent or actually underway. Judging by the comments you and your readers have been making, in either case I won't be preaching to the choir.

I'll start with the usual disclaimer that war is horrible and no one sane would ever favor going to war except as a desperate last resort. The disclaimer is both true and meaningless. Slicing into human flesh with a sharp blade is awful, too. When the alternative is letting a tumor grow, most people get over their squeamishness.

Saddam Hussein is a human tumor. His malignancy is a matter of public record. Anyone unfamiliar with the record can consult Amnesty International, which is reasonably objective and not usually considered a hotbed of pro-war sentiment. Since 1993, it's published 22 reports touching on Iraqi violations of human rights.

The most instructive are two reports from 15 August 2001, on torture, executions, and punitive surgery. The first two terms are self-explanatory. The third refers to the use of amputation as an instrument of punishment and coercion.

Virtually anyone might become a victim in Iraq. Any disagreement with or criticism of the regime is construed as dissent. Dissidents, suspected dissidents, their friends and family, and anyone unfortunate enough to be acquainted with any of them are subject to arrest and imprisonment without trial. Once imprisoned, they're generally tortured.

The usual methods favored by brutal dictatorships are employed. Electrical shocks are administered, preferably to the genitals. Cigarettes are extinguished on bare flesh. Victims have their arms bound behind them, then are hoisted by their bound arms from the ceiling.

Hussein's thugs have also added some variations. They torture not just the suspected dissident himself, but members of his family, in his presence. Mothers, wives, and daughters are favorites. A further variation is the gang rape of mothers, wives, and daughters, in the presence of the suspected dissident. And yet a further variation is video-taping the gang rape, then sending him the tape, a useful approach in the case of dissidents who've fled the country.

The death penalty is used frequently, for a wide range of offenses. Executions are carried out by methods ranging from firing squads to beheadings. Beheading with a sword is the prescribed technique for the ``crimes'' of homosexuality and prostitution. The latter serves as a catch-all offense with which to charge women.

Lesser offenses are punished by amputation. A hand or a foot is cut off for evading military service, for example. The tongue is cut out for ``slandering'' the state. Eyes are gouged out as general punishment. Gouging out the eyes of a child in the presence of his father has proven effective in discouraging any tendency the father might have to disagree with the regime.

Amnesty International can't provide a precise accounting of Hussein's victims. Various human rights organizations give different estimates. All agree they number in the hundreds of thousands. Hussein has exercised effective control of the Iraqi government since the July 1968 coup in which the Ba'ath party seized power and has held complete control since July 1979. That's a lot of time for bodies to pile up.

Incidentally, the official biography of Hussein notes approvingly that immediately after the coup, ``on 30 July 1968, he was personally in charge of swift operation to purge the new government of July 17 Revolution of certain old regime's figures who for tactical reasons co-operated with the Ba'ath Party revolutionaries.'' That means he slaughtered the Ba'ath Party's allies in the coup, members of the Arab Nationalist party.

Like any tumor, Hussein not only is malignant but inclined to metastasize. Of the six countries bordering his own, he's invaded two (Iran and Kuwait) and attacked a third (Saudi Arabia). He also launched missiles against a fourth, non-contiguous country, Israel, honoring a long-standing rule of Islamic politics: when things start going badly, try to kill some Jews.

The second war Hussein started, the Persian Gulf war of 1990-1991, laid the groundwork for the conflict that's likely to begin soon. But it's worth recalling the first, against Iran: eight years of combat so vicious and stupid that military analysts remarked on its resemblance to World War I, complete with poison gas and frontal assaults against trench networks. Casualty counts are uncertain, but the conservative consensus is about a million dead, wounded, and missing all together. Of that figure, about a quarter of a million were Iraqi dead.

Barely two years after the Iran war ended, Hussein invaded Kuwait to begin the Persian Gulf war. Some of the more lurid accounts of Iraqi atrocities were later refuted, or at least never proved. But Amnesty International, the Red Cross, and other independent agencies confirmed Kuwaitis suffered the usual treatment of Hussein's enemies -- eye-gauging, gang rape, and so forth. When allied forces routed Iraqi troops, Hussein added ecological rape as well, igniting the Kuwaiti oil fields. And of course he tried to set off a mini-holocaust with those missile attacks against Israel, one of the few countries in the world that had not joined the campaign against him.

I bring all this up for two reasons. The first is, most of the arguments I've heard against the war seem to be made by people who don't remember or have chosen to ignore how we got to this point. The second reason I'll come to presently. For now, let me deal with arguments against attacking Iraq. It won't take long. Most of them are incoherent.

The most common now seems to be: we need to give UN sanctions and arm-inspection more time. No, we don't. We've given sanctions and arms inspections twelve years. Actually eight years -- Hussein kicked the inspectors out in 1998. He only let them back in when the U.S. began massing forces on the Iraqi border late last year. That is not a coincidence, and it exposes the flaw in the `give-inspections-a-chance' argument.

Hussein won't comply with UN directives unless he's threatened with force. When the pressure slackens, Hussein will revert to evasion, delay, and obstruction. And inevitably it will slacken. Troops canít be maintained in the field indefinitely. Attention will shift. Political leadership will change.

The argument is further flawed by its misunderstanding of what the UN inspectors are supposed to do. Iraq agreed to collect and destroys various weapons, under the terms of the truce that ended the first Persian Gulf war. The inspectors' job is to inspect -- to make sure nobody absent-mindedly leaves a few canisters of sarin in the garage or lets a kilo of plutonium fall off the back of a truck.

They are not supposed to play some kind of game with the Iraqis, where they try to track down the weapons while Iraq hides them and moves them around and lies about them. But that seems to be the implication behind the phrase give the inspections time to work. If the inspections are working, they shouldn't take much time.

Finally, and I think the most important point, people haven't thought the argument through. Giving the inspectors more time presumes they'll eventually have taken enough time. They'll disperse and the troops will go home. Then what?

Hussein will go on torturing and killing his citizens. He'll start preparing to invade other countries to torture and kill their citizens. He'll resume development of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. And he'll have the advantage then of knowing how the inspections work. He'll be able to hide the plants better, disguise the necessary purchases of chemicals and machinery more effectively. Eventually, he'll construct nuclear devices, or accumulate stockpiles of chemical weapons. Does anyone believe he won't use them?

Another argument concedes we're not exactly rushing into things, after twelve years and almost a score of UN resolutions. But we shouldn't act without the full backing of the UN, this argument goes, and we haven't got it. Look at all those Europeans who oppose us.

Actually, more European governments support the U.S. then oppose it. Eight of their leaders signed a public letter of support in late January. Ten more followed suit in early February. Several of the first group and all of the second are formerly communist countries in eastern Europe, who made a worthwhile point: ``Our countries understand the dangers posed by tyranny and the special responsibility of democracies to defend our shared values.''

True, the U.S. lacks the backing of Germany, France, Russia and a few bit players like Belgium, an ad hoc group whose leadership has been assumed by the French. Maybe you think the French are motivated by high ideals. I think the last French political figure motivated by idealism was Jeanne d'Arc.

A digression on France's geopolitical maneuvering would take days. To condense it drastically, French President Jacques Chirac is making an issue of Iraq to establish that Europe stands as a world power separate from and not always aligned with the U.S. Europe in this usage means the European Union, which is dominated by Germany and France.

In other words, Chirac is acting in what he sees as France's interests, as French leaders invariably do. And as French leaders invariably do, he's screwing up. Ten new members are set to join the EU next year, two more a couple of years later. By sheer force of numbers, they threaten to undermine the Franco-German domination of the EU.

As it happens, ten of the prospective new members are among the eighteen that publicly backed the U.S. on Iraq. Chirac reacted to their support with an extraordinarily petulant outburst at an EU summit in Brussels last month. Besides overtly threatening not to let candidates into the EU, Chirac hissed they were acting as if they'd been ``badly brought up.'' Hungary's prime minister, Peter Medgyessy, remarked that he'd like to respond in kind, but he'd been brought up too well. Central European sang-froid notwithstanding, Chirac's childish outburst irritated all the candidate countries. And it pretty much assured they'll remain in the American camp.

Inadvertently, Chirac also confirmed Donald Rumsfeld's view of France and Germany as ``Old Europe.'' Possibly Rumsfeld was just being snide and said more than he understood, but I doubt it. I think he was pointing out exactly what the French are frightened of. In an expanding Europe, they're not going to carry anywhere near the weight they used to.

France, Germany, and Russia also have a more mundane reason for opposing any military action against Iraq. It's money. I'll expand on that shortly.

In its simplest terms, the argument for international support seems to be that we need the support of the international community because the international community is a good thing to support. That is, it's good to support the idea of a group of countries adhering to certain rules of conduct and punishing gross deviation from those rules.

Something about that argument strikes me as tautological, but never mind. In fact, the U.S. is the one upholding the principle of an international community. That community, insofar as it's represented by the UN, has already established its position. The Security Council voted unanimously in November to demand that Hussein obey a number of previous Security Council resolutions -- fifteen to eighteen of them, depending on how you count. All stem from the cease fire that halted the original Persian Gulf War. All required that Hussein take various steps to disarm and to show he had disarmed.

Hussein agreed to those terms after much of his army had surrendered or been destroyed. In other words, he started a war and then lost it. In that regard, Iraq's situation in 1991 was no different from Japan or Germany's in 1945.

Since then, Hussein has consistently violated the terms of the cease fire. Imagine that in 1957, Germany had reverted to fascism, started to re-arm, and begun demanding that Poland give up what had once been East Prussia. Standards of conduct suitable to a civilized international community might have been upheld by UN resolutions instructing Germany in how it ought to behave. Sending the Third Army's tanks rolling up the autobahn toward Berlin would probably have worked better.

A shorter, sillier version of the international-support argument seems to value the good opinion of France, Germany, Russia, and the rest for its own sake. That inverts the proper order of things. We don't value their opinion because they're our allies. They're our allies because we value their opinion. That is, their view coincides with our view of what's in our interest, their interest, and the civilized world's interest. It now appears they're abdicating the responsibilities they assumed as members of the UN. In that case, screw them.

Those are the only arguments I've heard that appear grounded in the real world. The rest aren't arguments, just slogans.

Chief among the slogans is no blood for oil or it's just about the oil or something similar. Invoking an oil company, of course, ends all discussion in some circles. It's like bringing up the Zionist one-world government if you're sitting around a militia campfire in Idaho. Everyone nods knowingly and the conversation moves on.

No one's has ever explained to me what's wrong with fighting for oil. If you substitute food or water or good jobs at decent wages for oil, you should see what I'm getting at. Western civilization runs on oil, and western civilization is a good thing. Anyone who thinks otherwise is free to go live in another one.

But leave aside whether we should be willing to fight for oil in general. The implication in the slogans seems to be that we want Iraq's oil specifically, so we're willing to invade the country to get it. That's nonsense, in two different directions.

First, if oil companies, those avatars of greed and evil, want to make money out of Iraq, their best bet is the status quo. The economics here are simple. Iraqi oil production is limited by UN sanctions. Limited production pushes up prices. If Bush is a helpless lackey of Big Oil, he would best serve his masters by prolonging UN arms inspections. Hussein would defy the UN, as he's been doing. The UN would maintain its sanctions, as it's been doing. Oil prices would be propped up. Oil companies make more money when the price of oil is higher.

Second, if the goal is simply to turn on the Iraqi oil spigot so Americans can drive around in their air-conditioned SUVs, as it's invariably phrased, that could be accomplished without the expense and bloodshed of invading Iraq. Just give in. Go the UN and say, everything's okay in Iraq as far as we're concerned. Let's lift those sanctions. With no sanctions, Iraq would pump and sell as much oil as we wanted as fast as they could pour it into a supertanker. The price would go down. All those SUV-owning Americans could drive around in air-conditioned comfort much more cheaply.

Please note the first point and the second point are mutually exclusive. The blood-for-oil argument isn't even internally consistent.

By the way, OAO Lukoil, Russia's biggest oil company, has an agreement with Hussein's government to develop Iraq's largest oil field. TotalFina Elf SA, France's biggest oil company, has an agreement in principle to develop the second-largest field. No appeasement for oil looks to me like a lot more appropriate slogan than no blood for oil.

France is probably Iraq's largest trading partner overall in Europe. I say probably because a fair amount of trade with Iraq is illegal under the UN sanctions, so the statistics are a little hazy. Germany may be the biggest.

Most of the arguments I've heard against the war aren't even slogans. They boil down to an attitude. People equate Iraq with Vietnam. All the cool people opposed the war in Vietnam, so now people who are undeniably cool oppose a war in Iraq.

No real similarity exists. It's just residue. Out of sheer habit, people feel -- and I chose the verb carefully -- that any use of force by the United States anywhere must be wrong. As an argument, that's too silly to bother rebutting.

Just as Iraq is equated with Vietnam, Bush is equated with Nixon and Johnson. Cool people have to oppose him because he's like, a greedy corporate goon. He made billions by insider trading and he manipulated the Supreme Court and all those people in Florida and stole the election. And he's just, like, a moron.

All that may be true, although some of the contradictions should be apparent. But, for the sake of argument, let's stipulate Bush's detractors are right. Every allegation, suspicion, and random insult ever leveled against him is true. He's a crook and a moron.

It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter whether Bush is a moron, or for that matter whether Dick Cheney is the evil intelligence behind him, Rumsfeld is a testosterone-driven war lover, and Condoleeza Rice is just trying to prove she's as tough as any white boy, all of which I've seen advanced as ``arguments'' against the war.

What matters is whether the policy they advocate makes sense. As a better writer and a wiser man than I once said, an idea's not responsible for who believes in it.

Judged on their own terms, the arguments for war in Iraq make sense to me. First, Hussein is not just evil, he's aggressively evil. Left to his own devices, he'll accumulate the worst weapons he can. When he thinks the time is right, he'll use them. He's most likely to use them in countries that hold the better part of the world's reserves of crude oil. Giving Hussein control over the better part of the world's oil means giving him control over the economy of the civilized world. That means giving control over your livelihood and mine to a murdering, sadistic thug.

Second, the risks are minimal. The first Persian Gulf war began at on 16 January 2001 with an air attack by the U.S.-led coalition. The ground war began on 23 February 2001. It ended just about 100 hours later, at midnight 27 February 2001. The U.S. military is better armed and more proficient now than it was then. With UN sanctions preventing its re-supply, the Iraqi army is almost certainly in worse shape.

Third, Iraq occupies strategic ground. It borders Iran on one side. Afghanistan borders Iran on the other. If the U.S. at least neutralizes Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran will then be squeezed between two countries more or less allied with the U.S. With a western-leaning Iraq and Afghanistan on either side, the Iranians stand a chance of ridding themselves of the Moslem fanatics who run the country. By eliminating the mullahs and neutralizing Iraq and Afghanistan, we'll make real progress toward destroying the strain of Moslem fanaticism that motivated the terrorists who attacked New York and murdered 3,000 Americans.

And that to me is the ultimate argument in favor of a war: We haven't got any choice. We're already at war. It started September 11, 2001.

On one side are secular Western societies. Imperfect as they are, flawed as we can all see, they're still the societies that offer the largest number of people the best opportunity to live out their lives in peace and prosperity, enjoying a fair amount of personal and political freedom.

On the other side are murderous tribes animated by primitive superstition and vicious rage. They're not content to keep their own communities squalid and fearful. They want to subjugate us as well. They want the whole world converted to Islam, obeying strict Islamic law. If we're not willing to convert, they want to kill us. Allah told them to.

One more argument is almost as compelling. Some might find it more so. You recall that I said I had two reasons for bringing up the history of Hussein's conduct during his thirty-odd years in power. Here's the second reason: People opposed to war in Iraq are willing to let Hussein stay in power. They approve of his conduct. They want to give his thugs the chance to rape a man's daughters in front of him. They're not opposed to the thugs gouging out the eyes of children.

A few weeks ago, I went to the big anti-war rally here in London. I heard a great many speeches about how awful the U.S. was for wanting to invade Iraq, which after all posed no threat to anybody in the West. And it struck me what a thoroughly racist argument that amounted to. So long as Hussein poses no immediate threat to Americans and Europeans, who cares what he does to his own citizens, or the neighboring citizens? They're just a bunch of Arabs. They probably don't care whether their children get raped or beaten, not the way we would.

For thirty years or more, I've heard the argument that the U.S. props up corrupt, brutal regimes, or at least tolerates them, and we've got no right to tell other counties how to behave until we start doing something about the world's rotten regimes. Okay, here's our chance. Let's get started.

Best regards,
Larry King


Larry King is an American-born expatriate I know who lives in London. He is not the talk show host, nor is he the author of The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. From time to time, he contributes a Letter From Europe to my column. Below, I list the letters that have appeared so far.

Larry King's Letter from Europe: Very Little Happens in August (Sep. 6, 1999)

Larry King's Letter from Europe (Feb. 2, 2000)

Larry King Takes Over The Column: Spring in London (April 10, 2000)

Of Twits And Things (July 24, 2000)

Larry King on Eurostar (March 19, 2001)

Joe Brancatelli and Larry King on Rail Travel (March 26, 2001)

Larry King on Foot and Mouth and British Tourism (April 2, 2001)

Larry King on 9/11 (Oct. 15, 2001)

Larry King on Lords and Dukes And Journalists (Feb. 11, 2002)

Larry King on Presidential Greatness (March 4, 2002)

Larry King on British Broadcasting (March 11, 2002)

Larry King on England, the U.S. and the Middle East (April 29, 2002)

Larry King on the case FOR the war with Iraq (March 24, 2003)

Larry King Deconstructs A Blunkett Remark (August 19, 2004)

Larry King On The British Election (May 9, 2005)

Larry King On 7/8 Bombing (July 10, 2005)

Larry King: Bye Bye Blair (May 28, 2007)

Larry King: Thoughts On The State of Journalism and Teaching (January 18, 2008)

Larry King Letter from London: American Ex-Pats Vote (May 19, 2008)

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