Jimmy Carter on War

posted Mar 09, 2003

I don't want this to turn into a political 'blog ("warblog") but I have a few comments to make, focused by an article by ex-President Carter. I'll try to make sure the points are "fresh"... i.e., I haven't seen them made elsewhere. I assume you read the article first.

The war can be waged only as a last resort, with all nonviolent options exhausted. In the case of Iraq, it is obvious that clear alternatives to war exist.

Point: We are not waging war on Iraq. We are waging war on Saddam Hussien, who is the dictator-for-life of Iraq. It's a big difference.

In the case of the Cold War, the USSR could be relied to act somewhat rationally, which is why Mutually Assured Destruction worked as a doctrine. This is because regardless of the ruthlessness and immense power the leader of the USSR possessed, it was not uncontested, and there were still limits on how insane he would be. Granted, they were not good limits, as the mass murders and other well-document crimes against humanity demonstrate, but still, simply nuking a US city for the hell of it was well outside the boundaries of what any of the leaders would have expected to be able to get away with.... in large part because they understand what MAD meant, including quite possibly death for them personally.

Saddam Hussein, on the other hand, is Iraq right now. The rationality of one person can not depended on, especially one with the track record Saddam Hussien has. MAD doesn't work on irrational people, only largely rationally-self-interested countries.

One of the problems with thinking about "Iraq" is that we think of it as a country, like other countries, particularly like democracies, as that is what we are used to. We know the rough limits of how far France or Germany will go, because the leaders are very accountable to their people. This is not the case for Iraq. Iraq is Saddam Hussein, and he hates us, and I don't trust his rationality the same way I trust even the French people.

Iraq is not a smaller version of a democratic country, with "justifiable greivances", Iraq is an enlarged version of Saddam Hussein, with "irrational blind hatred". Until a better government is ruling Iraq, that is how it is.

This applies equally to other brutal dictatorships as well (North Korea anyone?); you aren't dealing with a country in the same way that you are dealing with ponderous, leviathon entities like "Germany" or "Russia". You are dealing with one man, one very anti-social man, and that must be accounted for.

Are there options to war? Yes, actually, but they are not the inspections; those failed five+ years ago. (Call it five+; if I was in a meaner mood I'd go ahead and say they've failed from day one, since they've never accomplished their stated goals.... UN-stated goals if you prefer.) Frankly, they ceased being an option a long time ago. At this point, the alternatives to war are not in the United States hands.

Why is that? It only takes one to war, not two; "Iraq" (read: Saddam Hussein) does not need our consent to kill us. If an Iraqi nuke makes it into the US, courtesy of Islamic terrorists (no matter what they call themselves; al Qaeda may be dying but all else being equal, something else will rise in its place), then war is on, no matter what. Saddam Hussein and enough terrorists have indicated by both words and deeds that they are willing to do this, and only lack the means. They cannot be allowed to have them.

Even if we packed up and left the region, we'd still be at war. We're already at war with Saddam Hussein and have been since 1991 at least. The fact that up to this point he has not been able to aquire the means to make it a shooting war is temporary; he would when he is able, and again, has demonstrated this with actions multiple times. Give him time, and he will rectify the lack of means with every sort of weapon he can get his hands on.

The only alternative to war with Saddam Hussein is for there to be no more Saddam Hussein, since a sudden change-of-heart seems unlikely. In other words, Iraq-the-rest-of-the-country is going to have to get rid of him. And not just replace him with Saddam Hussein the Second (not necessarily his literal son, just a figurative one), a real government of some kind based on representation by the people. Only then could we treat Iraq as a rational entity.

The ideal outcome of the shooting war which will probably start in a few days is that Iraqi armed opposition simply surrenders, and we replace the government with a minimum of fuss. In theory, nobody even needs to die. In reality, Saddam Hussein is too irrational to allow this. The improvement of the lot of the Iraqi people would be immense at minimal cost.

As it is Saddam Hussein being offensive, it is up to Saddam Hussein to stop this war, not the United States. If the United States is no longer in danger, we will be happy to go home. Leftist rhetoric notwithstanding, we are not an imperial power and we would much prefer to be left on our own.

But now, with our own national security not directly threatened...

It is threatened. How you can listen to anything coming out of Saddam's mouth and not say its threatened is beyond me.

Of course, what this line of reasoning really means is that "Saddam Hussein is not capable of carrying out those threats." Which is true... today. Waiting until one of our cities is nuked is too long; despite the lack of the short term threat, we must take a country seriously when it says by its actions and words that it wants to hurt us.

Cheap shot: I wonder how many war protestors simultaneously decry the short-term views of our major economic entities, which can't see past the next quarter? The "We are not [currently] threatened" is amazingly short-term, quite naive, and if allowed to prevail will cost far more lives then any war would.

Many of the other "Just War" critieria I can't say I agree with any more. With the world shrinking all the time and the prospect of real nukes in the hands of real terrorists within this decade, the "violence proportional to injury" clause must be modified to include the concepts of "potential violence" or "desired violence", not actual historical violence. That made sense with conventional wars with slow-moving armies and conventional weapons; when facing the prospect of having a city wiped out with no warning, that precept has got to go.

The peace it establishes must be a clear improvement over what exists. Although there are visions of peace and democracy in Iraq, it is quite possible that the aftermath of a military invasion will destabilize the region and prompt terrorists to further jeopardize our security at home.

Bolded emphasis mine. This paragraph negates itself in my mind; both visions of peace and destabalization are real. Both may even happen at once. You can't ask for perfect certainty before going to war. I defy anti-war protesters to be honestly perfectly certain that no war is the right answer either, given the stakes. Might the standards for war be higher? Yes, certainly, and I think the case has been made that we can stablize Iraq-the-country after a war is made better by the US then any other entity in history; to violate my "fresh" promise a little, the re-building of Germany and Japan is simply unheard of in history, and it's the US that did it. If we fail in this, then I will join the current anti-war crowd in calling for Bush to be ousted next election; the issue is that important.

Also, by defying overwhelming world opposition, the United States will undermine the United Nations as a viable institution for world peace.

OK, this has also been said elsewhere, sorry: The UN is already not a viable institution for world peace, on two counts: One, it makes resolutions with no teeth. You can't keep the peace that way. Two, it has no track record of keeping peace. In fact it has a track record of overwhelming failure. The UN should be destroyed.

If you like, put something better in its place, building on the successes of the two previous international organizations while avoiding the failures. All the UN is doing now, though, is preventing that better organization from coming into existance; it is a walking dead international organization, to coin an extremely clumsy phrase.

But to use the presence and threat of our military power to force Iraq's compliance with all United Nations resolutions — with war as a final option — will enhance our status as a champion of peace and justice.

With all due respect to a former President, these are empty, contentless words. They sound nice, but there is no conceivable way to implement them, except the way we already are and will continue to do. We certainly can't have our military sit there but promise not to use them for war; they might as well not be there (to the extent that promise was believed!). In fact, if this were the President's exact policy, we'd hear the exact same thing coming from him; Saddam Hussein must believe we are ready to bomb him, and we must even be ready to. If that's enough and no bombs actually drop, great, but we still have to be serious.

And that's why these words are content-free: There is no way to have a threatening posture with our military without having a threatening posture with our miliatary. The "sentiment" may be nice but there is no concrete way to satisfy the words except what we are already doing, which apparently isn't satisfactory or ex-Pres. Carter would not have commented.

Jumping out of order for one last point:

The war's weapons must discriminate between combatants and noncombatants.

I sincerely regret this, but this can not be a stopper. Saddam Hussein has chosen to build the military targets next to the civilians, and unfortunately we can not allow that to sway us. Building every base underground below a hospital, child care center, school, and baby-formula factory can't give a blank check to a country to do what it likes, because nobody can attack it without killing civilians. Instead, it's another atrocity committed by Saddam Hussein.

And make no mistake that it is an atrocity laid on Saddam's head, not ours, because in the event of an attack, he wants them to die, so he can show the damage to the world. That's why he put them there. It is the US going to unprecedented lengths to avoid killing civilians. It is Saddam going to regrettably-precedented lengths to make sure civilians die. I feel sorry for the civilians, but I have a hard time feeling terribly guilty about it, when it is Saddam who should be feeling guilt, were he capable of it. (Us going home doesn't stop the carnage, either; brutal dictatorships run on blood, so you can't even reasonably claim that if we didn't drop the bombs no civilians would die unnecessarily. Civilians are dying and will continue to die; the question is for what purpose, and whether we can stop it.)

OK, I think this gets the warblogging out of my system for a while. With the exception of the labelled point about the UN, I don't feel like I've read these points too many times. And one last thing: I'm not really in favor of the war. Instead, I feel that we are being forced into by Saddam Hussein, and his attempts to develop nuclear and biological weapons that will be owned by a madman, and the existance of a terrorist network that will happily bring those weapons in to the US. Even if Iraq was perfectly clean of connections to terrorists, and even if Saddam Hussein is not currently aiding them, any serious person can see the odds of that still being true once Saddam had nukes or other useful weapons are about zilch. So it is with regret that I feel we are being forced into a war, whether we like it or not, and packing up our military and going home doing nothing merely means that the next battle will be fought on American or Israeli soil, not "the war is over". Summary: We're at war, have been for over a decade now. Whether we "should go to war" is a moot point; the war has been brought to us.


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