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Casualties of war.

Think about it: Saddam's threat to the region ended, the price of oil stabilized, Arabs kissing Americans in the streets of Kuwait City. Three hundred twenty-three American troops dead-a tragedy, certainly, but in relative terms a miracle. Do we at the Monthly regret counseling patience, diplomacy, and sanctions rather than war in the Persian Gulf?

Don't bet on it. We continue to believe that this war was wrong both in principle and in practice: in principle, because war should be the last and not the first resort; in practice, because when the United States does go to war, all Americans should be in some way involved, but in this conflict most of us had to bear no burden and pay no price.

For anyone who remembers the Chinese invasion of Tibet, the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, or the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the notion that the U.S. has some moral obligation to defend by force of arms any "legitimate government" against foreign aggression is too silly to merit consideration. But there are two arguments against our opposition in principle that we find compelling: 1) "While the coalition patiently waited for sanctions to work, wouldn't Iraqi troops have continued to torture Kuwaitis?" 2) "Wasn't war necessary to wipe out Saddam Hussein's chemical, biological, and nuclear threat?"

The litany of horror coming out of Kuwait certainly does make the blood boil. Tragically, the litany hasn't ended with the Americans' arrival, since the Iraqi crimes have set in motion the familiar cycle of atrocity, with Kuwaitis carrying out reprisals against collaborators-and against agitators for democracy.) But consider the other side of the ledger. Estimates of the number of dead Iraqi soldiers-not counting civilians-range from between 25,000 and 50,000 (The New, York Times) to 150,000 (NBC, drawing on Pentagon sources); Time and Newsweek put the number at around I 00,000.

Whatever the precise figure, "there were," as General Schwarzkopf put it, "a very, very large number of dead in these units, a very, very large number of dead." Many of these soldiers were draftees, often ignorant and illiterate and-judging from the mass surrenders to any Americans they could find, including journalists-generally unwilling to fight. If, as Bush repeatedly said, "Our quarrel is not with the Iraqi people," we sure had a strange way of showing it. The Kuwaitis were horribly mistreated. But dropping fuel-air explosives and cluster bombs on starving conscripts is a miserable way to alleviate human suffering.

Don't get us wrong. Unlike isolationists of the right and the left who maintain it was wrong for the U.S. to intervene at all in the Middle East, we consider it a wonder and a delight to hear an arch-realpolitician like George Bush forcefully invoke human rights in the conduct of foreign policy. America during the Cold War tended to be less than zealous in its efforts to protect human rights abroad, as our prewar relations with Iraq amply demonstrate. Bush had eight years as vice president, one and a half years as president, and plenty of evidence to deduce that Saddam Hussein was a killer who had to be contained, not coddled. Were his atrocities really less horrifying when he committed them against his "legitimate" subjects?

Still, Saddam looks like a mere neighborhood bully compared to some of the monsters we've left alone. If there was ever a case to be made for a world policeman, the Khmer Rouge made it in Cambodia. Economic sanctions would never have restrained Pol Pot, whose chief goal was to drive his country backward in time to his proclaimed "Year Zero." Along the way, his forces butchered more than a million in a truly Hitlerian bloodbath. But we did nothing. It took the Vietnamese invasion on Christmas Day, 1978, to stop the killing. Would Bush have done something? We can find some indication in the fact that his administration is now aiding Khmer Rouge rebels, still apparently commanded by Pol Pot; after all, the Vietnamese installed an illegitimate government.)

The past decade is replete with cases in which the U.S. looked the other way. The Ugandan army murdered up to 200,000 civilians in 1984 alone, according to estimates by the State Department; the U.S. grumbled and did nothing. Over the course of the eighties, 400,000 people died in fighting in Mozambique. How many "Save Mozambique" rallies did you attend, or even see on the news? The most notorious incident on Bush's watch was the murder of dissident students by the Chinese government two years ago. But while the U.S. chose to hunt down Manuel Noriega, other, more banal examples of evil went ignored: in El Salvador, Guatemala, South Africa, Liberia, Sri Lanka.

During the Capitol Hill debate on the war, prowar congressmen frequently quoted an Amnesty International Report, also cited by Bush, on atrocilies in Kuwait. We hope they will take the same interest in acting upon other reports from Amnesty. They might turn, for example, to the evaluations of some of our allies. In Saudi Arabia, according to Amnesty's 1990 report, "Torture was reportedly common.... Sentences of amputation and flogging continued to be imposed and carried out." In Syria, 'thousands of political prisoners, including hundreds of prisoners of conscience, continued to be detained under state-of-emergency legislation in force since 1963.... Torture of prisoners was said to be widespread and routine. . . ." The methods of torture sound highly Iraqi: In Egypt, the head of osychiatry at Cairo's Palestinian Red Crescent Hospital pital was subjected to "persistent and savage torture," including "suspension, beating, and electric shocks. He was also threatened that he would be killed if he ever spoke out about his torture."

That others commit atrocities by no means mitigates the Iraqis' crimes. It does, however, add a pragmatic edge to the moral argument against military force as the means for protecting human rights. Securing a new world order will require first and foremost consistency: consistent moral leaderchip and consistent application of international law. Clearly, every time some tinpot dictator strings up a dissident, we can't send in the Marines. But we also can't look the other way.

The same logic applies to the argument that we had to use force to wipe out Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction." The fact that Saddam never used such weapons during the conflict-despite confident predictions from assorted military analysts that he would-undermines the credibility of the unconventional threat he posed to his neighbors, but, again, let's assume it was for real. Between 16 and 28 nations have chemical weapons; at least 10 developing nations already have or are trying to produce biological ones, and, according to U.S. intelligence estimates, 15 will have ballistic missiles by the year 2000. Should we bomb Pakistan? India? Brazil? Burma? We can't hope to use the Air Force to stop them all. But we also can't look the other way.

The Gulf war model, like the Panama model, is dangerous not only because it played up the efficacy and even glamor of military remedies for foreign policy headaches but because it denigrated the effectiveness of nonviolent means. To control the spread of unconventional weapons and the behavior of renegade states, we have to come up with and then stick to reusable international punishments; the U.S. military, for moral and practical reasons, just isn't right for the job.

Contrary to the Bush administration line, sanctions were working against Iraq, as evidenced by Saddam's urgent demand that they be lifted as part of Gorbachev's peace package. But economic means are slow and politically risky. George Bush is a hero for stomping a fourth-rate power, while Jimmy Carter is still reviled for slapping a grain embargo on the Soviets after their invasion of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, in the past, we have seen that economic weapons, example, and diplomacy can more humanely accomplish our goals, if given the time to work: They did so in the cases of Nicaragua and Rhodesia-and in the liberation of Eastern Europe. Certainly, there will be countries that pose such an immediate, lethal threat that prompt military action is the only means to head it off. But Iraq was not such a country. A peaceful means for securing the new world order was the first casualty on January 16.
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Title Annotation:Persian Gulf War
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:editorial
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Words:1377
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