MESSAGE ON IRAQ
A statement by JRS, October 14, 2002:
The following site does not seek to develop a rigid political outlook on any subject. It seeks to promote the development of the deeper human capacities and sensibilities which will guide us in shaping our world, and living our lives, as moral, yet realistic, people. Nonetheless, the current situation regarding the approach of President Bush and the present US administration to the "Iraqi problem" compels me to say a few brief words.
The heart of morality is compassion, and the moral person should always seek peace, before he seeks war. Although the United States is highly alarmed by the biological and chemical weapons capacity of Saddam Hussein’s regime, as well as by that regime’s apparent efforts to develop nuclear arms of its own, the US government’s current tone and actions suggest that it has already made up its mind to attack, without giving peaceful options a chance.
It is understood that the US is exasperated by Saddam’s previous interference with UN weapons inspections, and that it feels it has already given Saddam "a chance." Believing that diplomacy and pacific measures for derailing Saddam’s weapons program have failed, and are doomed to fail, it seems to have now decided, adamantly, upon the course of war.
If all the saber rattling of recent weeks were only a strategy for convincing Saddam to let UN weapons inspectors back into his country, and enable them to do effective work, then perhaps one could commend the current US administration for pursuing a clever and productive strategy. However, it now seems as though there is an intention, here, to go forward with war no matter what. And that the US is determined to find fault with any concessions Saddam might conceivably make, in order to accomplish its ultimate objective, which is "regime change" in Iraq.
Presumably, the rationale for this "regime change" would be to promote greater stability in the Middle East, by removing an ambitious and aggressive leader from power, and to promote greater safety for the US, and US allies, by defusing the threat of a conventional or terrorist threat involving "weapons of mass destruction", originating, either directly or indirectly, from Iraq.
However, it is my belief that just the opposite effects will result from a unilateral, or weakly-supported, US attack upon Iraq at the present moment:
The Islamic world will be inflamed. Without a major international consensus on the necessity of taking military action, and without support from key players in the Islamic world, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, a US invasion of Iraq will appear, to many, to be nothing less than a US attack upon Islam. At the very least, it will seem to represent heartlessness and callousness towards the lives of Muslims, for many innocent people are bound to die in such an attack. And it is far more likely to be interpreted as an act of arrogance, aggressiveness, and domination, than an act of liberation and international peacekeeping. (This perception is likely to increase dramatically if the US must then maintain an army of occupation in Iraq, while it attempts to build a new government to replace Saddam’s: a government which many Arabs are sure to see as a "puppet regime.")
The backlash against the US will make it far easier for anti-American terrorist organizations to recruit members, and generate financial and logistical support. (THE WAR ON TERRORISM COULD, IN THIS WAY, BE UNDERMINED.) It will also increase the power of Islamic fundamentalism, and other anti-American and anti-Western forces in the Middle East, which may put tremendous pressure on pro-US governments in the region, leading to anything from popular protests and political challenges, to violent revolutions. The overall effect will be extremely destabilizing, and could vastly magnify the threat to US interests in the region.
Throughout the world, the public image of the US will suffer a significant decline. The US has been increasingly demonstrating a tendency to act alone in recent years, against the grain of the rest of the world, thereby isolating itself from the international community. It has lagged behind other nations in the war against global warming, placing its own industry and economy above the needs of the planet, and showing an unwillingness to make sacrifices that other nations are making. It has likewise fallen out of step with the rest of the world regarding the formation of effective international mechanisms for dealing with the issue of war crimes. It does not want to risk the possibility of its soldiers being judged by others, in the event of future conflicts. And in a recent policy paper, it stated that it will never again allow its military supremacy to be challenged, implying that it thinks it is "on top" of history, and plans to stay there. A unilateral invasion of Iraq, or one supported only by a handful of choice friends, will, in this context, only add to the PR damage by accentuating this solitary, and some would say, self-absorbed behavior. It will add to the growing perception that the US is a country which now feels that "Might Makes Right", that its size entitles it to do whatever it wants, that it does not need to persuade anyone of anything, because it does not "need" anyone else to accomplish its goals. But, of course, that is wrong. No man, and no nation, can ever stand alone. Countries need friends as much as people need friends; and when a country thinks it is above needing friends, that is when it loses its friends, and begins to discover the terrible price of being alone.
Invading Iraq now, without persuasively stating its case, and winning most of the world to its side, will brand the US as a bully, and a country that thinks it’s too good for the rest of the planet. In the process, the Pandora’s Box of forced "regime change" will be opened - a clear violation of international law, in which the integrity of borders and the principle of national sovereignty are to be respected. If they are not, how is the new principle - that both borders and national sovereignty may be violated - to be controlled? Who is to say what regime needs to be changed, when it needs to be changed, and how it needs to be changed? Who is to verify that the "moral, preemptive attack" of one nation upon an "impending aggressor" is really not, in itself, an act of aggression, and that its rationale of "self-defense" is not really an excuse for conquest? In this case, the US - if it were to strike without a clear international consensus - would seem to be setting the precedent that the stronger nation has the right to make the determination, turning justice into a matter of the size of one’s arsenal. And "regime change" will be legitimized as a tool of the powerful. Although the US frequently argues that it cannot reveal all of the information which compels it to act, because that could compromise the intelligence sources which have provided that information, the world, at large, will not buy this. It will imagine that there is no evidence, and that this excuse is being given because there really is not any convincing reason to go to war, except for the agenda of one nation. If there is compelling evidence that proves Saddam is a risk to world peace who absolutely MUST be stopped now, that information needs to be shared to the extent necessary to convince other nations to join with the US in the attack. Otherwise, to repeat, the US will be creating a gigantic public relations disaster, and the tarnished image that results, may come back to haunt it in the form of increased hostility and distrust: forces which generate real political, economic, and social consequences.
Although Saddam has proven himself to be a ruthless and ambitious leader over the years, using terror and murder to hold onto power, committing atrocities against his Kurdish minorities, and launching invasions of Iran and Kuwait, he has also proven to be a "survivor." He does not exhibit the dark "idealism" of the Islamic fundamentalists, who place their ideal of holy war above life, itself. He has always exhibited behavior more pragmatic (if marred by miscalculation), and more responsive to rational considerations, such as the fear of death. Saddam does not want to be blown off the face of the map. For this reason, I do not believe he is likely to use his weapons of mass destruction against the US, or US allies, or to provide terrorists with such weapons which could be traced to him, because he knows that that would result in his annihilation by any and all means at the disposal of the United States military. However, once he is backed into a corner - once the threat of invasion, which might have deterred him, actually materializes - then invasion ceases to be a deterrent. Then, he has nothing left to lose - and just like a rat trapped in a corner which lunges at the cat that has cut off its retreat - he might be expected to use everything in his arsenal, including his biological and chemical weapons, to resist his foes. Deadly strikes against US troops and local US allies, and perhaps terrorist reprisals against the US, as well, could be unleashed.
I think it is important, in this moment, to establish a clearer vision of what is taking place, and to transcend the simplistic characterization of this potential conflict as one between Good and Evil, which is a useful perspective for generating violent action, but a poor one for developing appropriate responses.
Saddam is ruthless, yes. Saddam is dangerous, yes. Saddam needs to be watched, monitored, contained, yes. But let’s take the following points into consideration, as well: when Saddam invaded Iran in 1980, the US did not jump all over him. In fact, the US became an important arms supplier of Saddam. According to recent reports by major news media, the US was aware of Saddam’s chemical attacks upon Iranian troops during this war, but did not withdraw its support from him, and, in fact, continued to help Iraq with intelligence information, such as the sharing of satellite surveillance of Iranian troop movements. US laboratories also provided Iraqi laboratories with certain deadly biological agents. Although Iraq had requested these agents, supposedly for "medical research", the possible implications of this "biological transfer" were quite obvious. The US, of course, was at that time concerned by the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolutionaries, and saw Saddam and Iraq as a bulwark against the expansion of that revolution. Times change. And now it’s Saddam’s Iraq which is a far greater threat than Iran. Although knowledge of the relationship just described does not diminish the threat which Saddam poses, it does help to clarify the fact that the US had a role in creating this "Frankenstein", which helps to undermine the simplistic scenario of Good versus Evil, which is being used to try to goad the American people into action. For the US seems to have objected less to these deadly weapons, in the past, when they were being used against its foes, than it does now, when Saddam is no longer "on its side", or better stated, no longer being used by its side. Meaning that America’s problem with Saddam is not really one of morality, after all, but one of political circumstance and expedience. Let it also not be forgotten that the US DOES have nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, and that there are many countries which have doubts about America’s impartiality or commitment to justice, worldwide, and which might like to see the US stripped of its weapons of mass destruction. Certainly, the US cannot argue that the possession of these weapons is evil, in and of itself, considering its own massive arsenals; nor considering the fact that it, itself, is the one country to have ever used nuclear weapons against another.
All of this is not meant to justify Saddam or downplay his threat: just to move the discussion out of the realm of Black and White, and Good versus Evil, into the realm of real human beings, real nations, and pragmatic politics. Crusades tend to lack flexibility, and often trap those who launch them in counterproductive and self-damaging forms of behavior, as much as they harm those who are targeted by them. The Good versus Evil conception is useful in creating energy, but very nearly always inept in directing it. We need to rise above that concept: to see clearly and practically, but not ideologically and rigidly.
What, then, should be done? I believe that the US ought to work constructively with the United Nations, and the international community, to pursue weapons inspections, and seek every diplomatic measure possible to neutralize Saddam’s threat: to contain him, cramp his external and internal space for movement, and limit his freedom of action to develop weapons of mass destruction, and related technologies and systems. I think the US needs to be patient, methodical, energetic, and vigilant, and as Saddam keeps trying to outfox the international community, it must keep the pressure on, and keep on hounding him, and "following him", like a shadow. If Saddam’s non-compliance reaches a perilous level, then the US should be able to mobilize a significant international coalition to do what is necessary. BUT IT IS CRUCIAL THAT THE US DEMONSTRATES THAT IT IS GENUINELY SEEKING A PEACEFUL SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM, BEFORE ANY FORM OF MAJOR MILITARY ACTION IS TAKEN. Otherwise, the US will lose much more, in the long term, than it will gain from knocking Saddam out of power. People will see America as a "war-monger", and a "big bully", and imagine that its true agenda is to dominate the Middle East, perhaps to gain control of the Iraqi oil fields. Or perhaps only to throw its weight around to compensate for, or satisfy, some unevolved psychological dynamic.
As stated before, if US intelligence has information that Saddam is, in some way, a more deadly and immediate threat than any of us imagine, then that information must be shared with appropriate officials throughout the world and the United Nations, to turn the action against Iraq into a truly international venture.
Whereas I do strongly believe in the need to act against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction throughout the world, and recognize that the Iraqi situation represents a case in point, I believe that organized international conventions and channels must, in the future, be developed for this purpose. Whereas the US, in light of its power, must certainly be a major player in this drive to "keep the world safe", or "safer", I believe it must act as part of an international movement which places the process above the national level, where any such actions might be subject to misinterpretation, and viewed as the self-serving or even "imperialistic" actions of a single nation.
I believe the US must also meditate deeply upon its behavior, on many levels, in order to live and act more consistently with its stated moral principles, so that it may increase the trust and affection which the world feels towards it. The feelings of others always matter to a compassionate and spiritual heart. They should also matter to a pragmatic heart, because going through life without the world’s love, is like walking in clothes that have been soaked through and made heavy by water: they make every step harder, and colder.
As a final note, I would recommend that President Bush and his advisers take a little time off to read the Tao Te Ching. Especially, "verses" 30, 37, 39, 43, 48, 57, 58, 60, 68, 69, 72, 75, and 76. (Of course, when one reads masterpieces of this sort, one must read them carefully, and use them as starting points for deeper reflection.) Here, they would encounter the wisdom, still so sadly alien to our culture, that sometimes one accomplishes more by seeming to do less; that sometimes a great display of energy and action actually achieves far less than an approach that is subtle, even invisible. That power, expressed too forcefully and obviously, frequently undermines itself. Calmness within - connection, within, to the Universe, Truth, and Life - evaporates the psychological dynamics that force one to overstate one’s presence, and lets one merge more completely with the moment. Understanding others - not needing them for one’s own drama or purpose - one finds ways of acting towards them that are constructive. This does not mean that all problems disappear, but it means that one does not enlarge them, or create new ones.
Did you ever hear the story of the man who was not satisfied with confining a snake to a pit? Seeing the snake down there, out of his reach, he felt cheated by his safety, or was it that he feared the snake so much, that he somehow imagined it would grow wings in the night, and fly out of the pit to terrorize him in the morning? At last, unable to endure the sight of the snake anymore, slithering around in the hole so far below him, he jumped down into the pit, determined to destroy it once and for all. But alas, his effort to slay the snake backfired, for as he went to kill it, he came within the range of its deadly fangs, and received its fatal bite, at the very moment that he exterminated it. Does this bring anything to mind?
How awful, when nations become involved in dynamics of this sort! When thousands of lives become attached to this ignorance and lack of clarity!
If it is I who am ignorant, I am truly sorry; but mine is the voice that has less power than those who are saying the opposite, so that I feel it is right to put my voice into the world, at this moment, to at least plant the seed of a doubt, and a second thought.
May God help us all find peace, justice, safety, and love, somewhere down this torturous road of being a human being.
- JRS 10/14/02
PS: I will leave this statement on my site, regardless of the developments of time, which may render it obsolete, because of those parts of it which may apply to other times and situations. Also, as a way of remembering this moment in history, and looking back to see which road we took. May we work together to achieve results we can all be proud of. - JRS
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