Fair to ask: Was deposing Saddam worth the cost?

Posted: Friday, April 01, 2005

Mr. Graham G. Storey's March 25 letter to the editor is thought-provoking. He raises some valid and important questions that are worth discussing. Before doing so, however, let me first say that, like other veterans in Alaska Chapter 100, Veterans For Peace, I honor Mr. Storey's military service. I also appreciate that he took the time to express his views rationally in a letter, rather than engaging in drive-by obscenities at our recent peace rallies.

Mr. Storey is offended by the sign, "War is not the answer." He says that sometimes fighting a war, though terrible, is the right thing to do in the face of evil, such as the Holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda, and Saddam Hussein's atrocities against Iraqis. Mr. Storey faults former President Bill Clinton and the United Nations for failing to intervene in Rwanda. I can only presume that Mr. Storey approves Mr. Clinton's or the U.N.'s asserted "humanitarian interventions" in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo in the 1990s. I also can only presume that Mr. Storey disapproves of President George W. Bush's failure to intervene militarily to stop the current genocide in Darfur, in the Sudan.

The larger questions are whether the U.S. has a moral obligation to intervene whenever and wherever there is a humanitarian crisis; whether the U.S. is economically and militarily capable of intervening in every crisis; and whether our foreign and military policy should be based on moral principles. These are legitimate questions on which reasonable persons can disagree. Throughout our history, presidents of both parties have chosen to intervene militarily only when strategic or national interests were involved, however those may have been defined.

President Bush gave a number of reasons for beginning the current Iraq war. One reason, though not the primary one, was Saddam Hussein's human rights violations. It is not clear that the Congress and the American public would have supported invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein solely to prevent further human rights violations. I doubt it.

The United States supported Saddam Hussein when it was in our "national interest," despite our knowledge of his ongoing human rights violations. We have supported other despots who violated human rights, and deposed democratically elected leaders, when it served our strategic interests. Perhaps deposing Saddam Hussein was a moral imperative, but I think one must also ask whether it was morally acceptable to start a war that has so far resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 Iraqi civilians. Was deposing Saddam Hussein worth that cost? I believe the American people have not yet satisfactorily grappled with or answered that question.

Mr. Storey also says it is logically impossible and intellectually dishonest for those who oppose the Iraq war to say they support our troops. This objection raises a legitimate question: What does it mean to support the troops? The members of Alaska Chapter 100, Veterans For Peace, have already taken several actions to support our troops. We have provided phone cards to every Juneau member of our local Army National Guard unit that has been activated to Iraq. We have formed a team that is available to assist the families of these Guard members with home and vehicle maintenance while the troops are away. We assisted in the recent drive to collect items and send "care" packages to these troops.

Veterans For Peace members respect the honorable, courageous, and patriotic service of our troops, but we believe that our troops are victims of this war as much as the Iraqis have been victims. We remember the returning troops from the Vietnam War whose needs were ignored or denied by our own government and the American public generally. We do not want to see that happen to the Iraq war veterans.

And yes, Mr. Storey, our troops are all volunteers, but we believe they volunteered to defend our country, not to engage in a war that is unjust, unlawful, and unnecessary. We believe this war is harming Iraq, harming the United States, and harming our troops. The sooner we bring our troops home, the better.

• Ed Hein of Juneau volunteered for the U.S. Army and served from 1971 to 1974.

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