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My Turn: Historical perspective on the war

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2003

The conflict over Iraq deserves comprehensive thought. Am I nervous about an invasion of Iraq? You bet. There are plenty of things that can go wrong.

On the other hand, to leave Iraq at status quo poses huge risks to us, to our allies, and to that benighted country's own people. The anti-war crowd says "no war" but does not offer a viable alternative. Maybe they don't have a plan at all, just opposition to the idea of fighting.

Would they have discouraged U.S. participation in World War II? Would they have discouraged us from Desert Storm? Is there any situation where the use of armed force is acceptable? I would invite those who write anti-war letters to give us a broader context for their views.

I support the invasion of Iraq and I will supply a context for that view. There are two aspects of human governance that have persisted for millennia. One is that the people in charge of a place use fear of violence to rule the people in that place. The second is that if the people in charge of a place have amassed enough weapons and soldiers, they can go take over the lands of other people and rule them as well.

The Roman Empire is generally admired, but it was different from Hitler's attempt at world domination only in that it went farther and succeeded longer. Both took land by force and ruled through fear. Our own history of westward expansion is not much different.

Here in the USA and in most of the world, we now say taking land by force and ruling through fear are wrong. This is a very recent view - and not universally shared. This view is less than a century old. Nations that hold this view are said to be "civilized."

What is the justification for a civilized country to invade another country? Is self-defense enough? Is preventing the other country from doing bad things to its neighbors enough? That, and revenge, were the reasons for fighting Japan. After Pearl Harbor, we could have said, "Boy, that really hurt but Japan knows we fear them now and they'll leave us alone."

In the specific case of Iraq, the reason to invade is defense of the USA and other civilized nations. The only reason Saddam was cooperating with the U.N. is the actual presence of armed force near his borders. Why don't we invade all of the uncivilized countries around the world? Tempting, but there's only so much military available. We have to focus on the ones that can do the most harm to civilized countries. Iraq qualifies.

We in the civilized world have advanced over our uncivilized neighbors, we think, because we say we live under the rule of law. Most of us obey laws willingly but there is a fair fraction of society that obeys only because of fear of violence or confinement. Those who rise to the fear and break laws are criminals.

The 9/11 attackers were at bottom, criminals. I don't think most Americans oppose the effort to capture them, and there wasn't near the amount of opposition to the invasion of Afghanistan that there is to Iraq, but what is the actual difference?

Saddam and his retinue are criminals that have money and capability. They respect no laws, civil or religious, and will do wrong to thousands or millions if they have the chance. Just as the police in a U.S. city must invade a crack house to reduce a neighborhood drug problem, we must do the same in Iraq.

I invite anyone in the community who opposes this invasion to provide a larger context for their opinion. What should we do other than what we are doing?

Don't say "continue with inspections" because that will not happen if our troops are withdrawn. Keeping troops in place and patrolling the no-fly zones is expensive and does nothing to end the problem.

I guess we could withdraw from the Middle East altogether. The result would be internal wars with the meanest and cruelest regime likely to win and would lead to the destruction of Israel. Saddam could, and would gobble up every nation all the way to Egypt and Turkey and then be ready for another shot at Iran. That is the price of disengagement from the region.

Murray Walsh worked as a manager during the Hammond administration and later served as planning director for Juneau. He operates a planning consulting service and is involved in several local and regional service organizations.



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