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Fred's Views


Of War

After a week of sitting on the sidelines, I'm going to jump on my bandwagon and journey off to war, sort of. Let me start by saying that I have nothing but the greatest respect, admiration and gratitude for those soldiers (of whatever branch of the services) who put their lives on the line for our safety and freedom. My hope and my prayers are for their safe and quick return.

I find I have a strange mix of emotions moving through me. I believe that war is the last option to be avoided if at all possible, but certainly not at all costs. I believe that every body loses in war. Sometimes, it's the lesser of two evils. On the one hand, I can't quite shake the feeling that this war could have been avoided. On the other hand, I'm excited by the prospect of ridding the world of one more tyrant, even if it is by force.

Let me first add a little background, from my perspective. Frankly, I'm not up to date on all of the actions that the UN has taken during the last dozen years, but here's my understanding of the situation: The government of Iraq has never completely lived up to the terms that ended the "Gulf War". The UN has tried to compel the Iraqi government to comply on numerous occasions. At least one ultimatum has been issued by the UN and not yet met by the Iraqi government. I do not know if that (or any other) ultimatum carried with it a specific expiry date, but, in any case, 12 years is more than enough time for compliance. Assuming the above is substantially accurate, here I go.

When I learned that the U.S. was bent on ousting Sadam now and that its resolution would be vetoed by France (and others), my first reaction was that we were witnessing the end of any military influence by the Security Council in particular and the UN in general. The UN has always been a victim of constraints intended to protect one or a few nations from being ganged up on by a larger group. Unfortunately, it usually has had quite the opposite effect. Although the UN's mission is to promote world peace and understanding, many of its members do not actively pursue peace or peaceful solutions to their problems and grievances. Thus, the UN is by its very makeup a fraud. That is not to say that it does not or can not do great things in the service of mankind, just that it has little or no chance of living up to its full mandate - and never has.

As a parent, I know all about ultimatums. In the heat of the moment, you blurt out an ultimatum such as "If you don't get to bed right now, they'll be no TV for a week." Now, if you stick to that ultimatum, however unfair it might be, you've got a weapon to use in the constant battle with those tiny, merciless and totally ruthless terrors known as "kids". But, if you waver; if you give in; if you let them off after just a day or two; or if you don't carry it out at all, you're finished. It won't matter how many ultimatums you issue. It won't even matter if you carry out every other ultimatum in full, they'll never believe any ultimatum you issue - because you didn't back up the first one.

In world politics, Sadam is, after all, a little kid. Testing, constantly testing his limits. He knows that the UN can be "big on words, but small on actions". And like a kid, he naively underestimates the American backbone, preferring to believe popular American culture; preferring to believe that the American people will crumble in the face of a few deaths or set-backs. Those Americans who oppose the war do not support Sadam. They are concerned that this is the wrong war at the wrong time. They are concerned that President Bush has not made his case, and that there is not sufficient evidence to believe that Sadam has "weapons of mass destruction" that will ultimately be unleashed on the American people or their allies. And they believe that war is not the solution.

One of my problems, indeed, is that I wish the evidence that the U.S. has provided against Sadam were more substantial and specific. I am not convinced that Sadam still has "weapons of mass destruction" or that he is actively arming himself with the ultimate aim of attacking the U.S. or its allies. I am not convinced - but my heart and gut tells me that he almost certainly has some sort of bad (if not evil) intentions - and most likely is ardently working toward a nuclear capability. I have never served on a jury, and I don't particularly want to - not because I want to shirk my civic duty, but - because I am not certain if it is possible to gather enough evidence to prove any case "beyond reasonable doubt" - or at least my idea of reasonable doubt. And that is the problem here. I am like the juror who is dead certain that the accused is guilty but, when the evidence is reviewed, finds that there is not enough evidence to support a guilty verdict beyond reasonable doubt. In court, Sadam would probably go free because the U.S. would be unable to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt - and that, in a sense, is what did happen with the UN.

I think I've just presented two somewhat contradictory arguments: the UN acted responsibly and found the evidence wanting; or the UN shirked its responsibilities and didn't back up its ultimatum. In fact, I think both these arguments were at play in the UN. I am not going to accuse any country of shirking its responsibilities; I simply don't have enough facts. And how I wish that more facts were available. How I wish the U.S. could have provided much more damning evidence. But things don't seem to work that way in the real world.

Whether or not the U.S. and its coalition should have gone to war at this time is something that may be debated as long as there are historians to debate. Of course, if large caches of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons are found, then the U.S. will be vindicated. But what if they are not found? Does that prove the U.S. was wrong? As a juror, I'd have trouble again finding them guilty.

How I wish the UN had acted. But they did not. The U.S.-led coalition has acted. It acted on the basis of gut-instincts and on evidence: evidence gleamed from intelligence sources and from history itself. Tyrants seldom respect diplomacy. Chamberlain learned that lesson the hard way over sixty years ago.

Copyright © 2003 by Fred Oldfield. All rights reserved.


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