AGAINST THE WAR
By Michael Walzer
Michael Walzer is a social science professor at the Institute for Advanced
Studies in Princeton, N.J.
There are two ways of opposing a war with Iraq. The first way is simple
and wrong; the second way is right but very difficult.
The first way is to deny that the Iraqi regime is particularly ugly, that
it lies somewhere outside the range of ordinary states; or to argue that,
however ugly it is, it doesn't pose any significant threat to its neighbors
or to world peace. Perhaps, despite Saddam's denials, his government is
in fact seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. But other governments are
doing the same thing, and if or when Iraq succeeds in developing such
weapons -- so the argument continues -- we can deal with that through
conventional deterrence, in exactly the same way that the United States
and the Soviet Union dealt with each other in the Cold War years.
Obviously, if this argument is right, there is no reason to attack Iraq.
Nor is there any reason for a strong inspection system, or for the current
embargo, or for the northern and southern ''no-fly'' zones. A significant
part of the anti-war movement, at least in the United States, seems to
have adopted exactly this position. Its leaders oppose any ''targeting''
of the Iraqi regime and have succeeded in keeping even the demand for
ongoing U.N. inspections out of a number of the anti-war statements that
have been circulating in the United States.
This first form of opposition does keep things simple, but it is wrong
on every count. The tyranny and brutality of the Iraqi regime are widely
known and cannot be covered up. Its use of chemical weapons in the recent
past, the recklessness of its invasions of Iran and Kuwait, the rhetoric
of threat and violence that is now standard in Baghdad; the record of
the 1990s, when U.N. inspectors were systematically obstructed; the cruel
repression of the uprisings that followed the Gulf War of 1991; the torture
and murder of political opponents -- how can all these be ignored by a
serious political movement? How can it be ignored by a movement of the
Nor should anyone be comfortable with the idea of an Iraq armed with nuclear
weapons and then deterred from using them. Not only is it unclear that
deterrence will work with a regime like Saddam's, but the emerging system
of deterrence will be highly unstable. For it won't only involve the United
States and Iraq; it will also involve Israel and Iraq. If Iraq is permitted
to build nuclear weapons, Israel will have to acquire what it doesn't
have at the present time: second-strike capacity. And then there will
be Israeli ships in the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean equipped
with nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert. This may be ''conventional''
deterrence, but it is insane to look forward to it.
The right way to oppose the war is to argue that the present system of
containment and control is working and can be made to work better. This
means that we should acknowledge the awfulness of the Iraqi regime and
the dangers it poses, and then aim to deal with those dangers through
coercive measures short of war. But this isn't a policy easy to defend,
for we know exactly what coercive measures are necessary, and we also
know how costly they are.
First, the existing embargo: This can and probably should be adjusted
so as to allow a wider range of products useful to the civilian population
into the country, while still excluding military supplies and the technologies
necessary to the development of weapons of mass destruction. But however
''smart'' the sanctions are, they will still constitute a partial blockade
and a forceful restraint of trade and, given the way Saddam spends his
available funds, they will impose severe hardships on ordinary Iraqis.
It is fair to say that their own government is responsible for these hardships,
since it could spend its money differently, but that does not make them
easier to bear. Malnourished children, hospitals without medical supplies,
declining longevity rates: All these are the (indirect) consequence of
Second, the ''no-fly'' zones: Preventing Iraqi planes from flying over
an area that amounts to about half of the country requires constant American
overflights, and this requires in turn what has averaged out as twice-weekly
bombings of radar and anti-aircraft facilities. So far, no planes or pilots
have been lost, and I believe that few civilians have been killed or injured
in the bombing raids. Still, this is a risky and costly business, and
if it is ''short'' of war, it isn't far short. On the other hand, if Saddam
were allowed free rein in the north and south, against the Kurds and the
Shiites, the result would probably be a repression so brutal that it would
justify, perhaps even require, a military intervention on humanitarian
grounds. And that would be a full-scale war.
Third, the U.N. inspections: These will have to go on indefinitely, as
a regular feature of the Iraqi landscape. For whether or not the inspectors
find and destroy weapons of mass destruction (some of these are very easy
to hide), they themselves are a barrier to any deployment of such weapons.
As long as they are moving freely and aggressively around the country,
on their own time schedule, Iraq is effectively disarmed. But the inspection
regime will collapse, as it collapsed in the '90s, unless there is a visible
readiness to use force to sustain it. And this means that there have to
be troops in the vicinity, like the troops the U.S. government is currently
moving into position. It would be better, obviously, if these troops were
not American or not only American. But, again, maintaining a readiness
of this sort, whoever maintains it, is costly and risky.
Defending the embargo, the American overflights and the U.N. inspections:
This is the right way to oppose and to avoid a war. But it invites the
counter-argument that a short war which made it possible to end the embargo,
the weekly bombings and the inspection regime would be morally and politically
preferable to this ''avoidance.'' A short war, a new regime, a demilitarized
Iraq, food and medicine pouring into Iraqi ports: Wouldn't that be better
than a permanent system of coercion and control? Well, maybe. But who
can guarantee that the war would be short?
We say of war that it is the ''last resort'' because of the unpredictable,
unexpected, unintended and unavoidable horrors that it regularly brings.
In fact, war isn't the last resort, for ''lastness'' is a metaphysical
condition, which is never actually reached in real life. It is always
possible to do something else, or to do it again, before doing whatever
it is that comes last. The notion of lastness is cautionary -- but this
is a necessary caution: Look hard for alternatives before you ''let slip
the dogs of war.''
Right now, there still are alternatives, and that is the best argument
against going to war. But it isn't an argument easy to march with. What
do you write on the placards? What slogans do you shout? And can you march
alongside people who are little more than apologists for Saddam, who intend
the march to strengthen his hand? Who are our comrades in this campaign
against the war?
I suggest that it isn't, it shouldn't be, only an anti-war campaign. It
should be a campaign for a strong international system, one that is organized
and designed to defeat aggression, to stop massacres and ethnic cleansing,
to control weapons of mass destruction, and to guarantee the physical
security of all the world's peoples. The threefold constraints on Saddam's
regime are only one example, but a very important one, of how such an
international system should function.
But an international system has to be the work of many different states,
not of one state. There have to be many agents ready to take responsibility
for the success of the system, not just one. Today, the U.N. inspection
regime is in place in Iraq only because of what many American leftists
and many Europeans called a reckless U.S. threat to go to war. Without
that threat, however, U.N. negotiators would still be dithering with Iraqi
negotiators, working on but never finally agreeing on, the details of
an inspection system; the inspectors would not even have packed their
bags (and most of the leaders of Europe would be pretending that this
was a good thing). Some of us on the American left are embarrassed to
realize that the threat we opposed is the chief reason for the existence
of a strong inspection system, and the existence of a strong inspection
system is today the best argument against going to war.
It would have been much better if the U.S. threat had not been necessary
-- if the threat had come, say, from France and Russia, Iraq's chief trading
partners, whose unwillingness to confront Saddam and give some muscle
to the U.N. project was an important cause of the collapse of inspections
in the 1990s. This is what internationalism requires: that other states,
besides the United States, take responsibility for the global rule of
law and that they be prepared to act, politically and militarily, with
that end in view.
American internationalists -- there are a good number of us though not
enough -- need to criticize the Bush administration's unilateralist impulses
and its refusal to cooperate with European states (and other states, too)
on a whole range of issues from global warming to the International Criminal
But it would be easier to make our case if it were clear that there were
other agents in international society capable of acting independently
and, if necessary, forcefully, and ready to answer for what they do, in
places like Bosnia, or Rwanda, or Iraq. When we campaign against a second
Gulf War, we should also be campaigning for that kind of multilateral
(c) 2003, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 1/29/03)