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The Moral Quandary | The Nation

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The Moral Quandary

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Then there's the matter of casualties. It's remarkable how few of the proponents of war address this. Jonathan Chait, in a long article in The New Republic about why liberals should support a war to oust Saddam, devoted all of three sentences to the subject. We seem to have entered the era of the "zipless" war, in which cities get stormed and missiles get fired with nary a hint of blood. To his credit, Pollack does discuss the issue. If Iraq is invaded, he writes, the number of American dead could range from 500 to 1,000 if things go well and as many as 10,000 if they don't. The Iraqi toll would likely be much higher. During the four-day ground attack of the Gulf War, Pollack notes, between 10,000 and 30,000 Iraqis died, and an invasion now could claim similar numbers--especially if Saddam's Republican Guard puts up a fight in the streets of Baghdad. The carnage would increase further if Saddam, feeling cornered, decided to deploy his biological and chemical weapons (if, in fact, he turns out to have them).

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Michael Massing
Michael Massing, a New York writer, is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and Columbia Journalism...

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After railing against non-violent intervention in the face of genocide, Samantha Power rethinks her stand.

Votes are now being counted in the first truly free election in Liberia's troubled history. It's a far cry from the 1986 election, which dictatorial Samuel Doe fraudulently "won" by shutting down not only newspapers but entire political parties. The Reagan Administration just looked on.

Once the fighting stops, of course, the United States would face the monumental task of rebuilding Iraq. To do it right, Pollack maintains, America would have to station up to 100,000 troops in the country for five to ten years, at a cost of up to $20 billion, and spend another $5 billion to $10 billion in aid. Is the Bush Administration willing to make such a commitment? It certainly hasn't said so in its many public statements on the issue. And its behavior in post-Taliban Afghanistan inspires little confidence. The Administration has been so stingy with reconstruction aid that President Karzai has literally had to come begging to Washington.

"If we're going to invade, the President has a responsibility to make his case--to explain how long it will take, and what resources we'll have to put in," says Mark Danner, who has written extensively about Haiti and Bosnia. "He's not doing that. We have to read about postwar plans in the New York Times. It's remarkable." Danner, who in early October joined such other liberals as Derek Bok, Aryeh Neier and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in signing an ad in the Times opposing the war, says, "The most forceful argument for going to war is helping the Iraqi people. But that's not the reason for this war. I don't remember anybody in the Administration talking about the Iraqi people before August. Rather, it's about America's larger strategic goals in the region. They're going to get rid of this guy, then get out. During the 2000 campaign, George Bush was totally against nation-building. And I don't see any sign of change in that."

Indeed, Kanan Makiya's vision for a post-Saddam Iraq seems excessively rosy. In his talk at NYU, Makiya noted that the democratic forces within the opposition Iraqi National Congress have received the most support from the more hawkish members of the Bush Administration: Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. This drew skepticism from fellow panelist Mansour Farhang. A former Iranian diplomat and staunch opponent of the current regime in Teheran, Farhang said the people of both Iraq and Iran would rejoice at seeing a new, democratic government in Baghdad. But, he quickly added, he doubted that America would actually install one. The Iraqi opposition, working in exile, "has had a thirty-year opportunity to create cohesive democratic organizations, and it has not done so. And now they're learning about democracy from Rumsfeld and Cheney?"

The history of US policy toward Iraq reinforces such doubts. Samantha Power, in researching her book "A Problem From Hell": America and the Age of Genocide, spent three years studying documents about the Anfal, Saddam's murderous campaign against the Kurds. Saddam's rule has been so abusive, she says, that Iraq has "sacrificed its right to sovereignty. If any of us lived in a country like that, we'd be praying for global rescue. We'd be looking up in the sky and hoping to see planes."

In the course of researching the Anfal, however, Power also saw declassified documents about the US response--or lack of it. At the time, Washington was tacitly backing Saddam in his war with Iran, and it did not want to endanger its ties to him. As one secret State Department report stated, "Human rights and chemical weapons use aside, in many respects our political and economic interests run parallel with those of Iraq." Some of the people responsible for making Iraq policy back then are in the current Administration, Power notes, and that makes her question the sincerity of their intentions toward the Iraqi people.

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