The Better Rhetor

Friday, February 14, 2003
Moral Clarity

Shock and Awe

If the Pentagon sticks to its current war plan, one day in March the Air Force and Navy will launch between 300 and 400 cruise missiles at targets in Iraq. As CBS News Correspondent David Martin reports, this is more than number that were launched during the entire 40 days of the first Gulf War.

On the second day, the plan calls for launching another 300 to 400 cruise missiles.

"There will not be a safe place in Baghdad," said one Pentagon official who has been briefed on the plan.

"The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before," the official said.

Children of Iraq

They come from above, from the air, and will kill us and destroy us. I can explain to you that we fear this every day and every night." – Shelma (Five years old)

It is not Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, but Iraq's 12 million children who will be most vulnerable to the massive use of force that the US plans to unleash against their country in the coming months. With or without UN Security Council backing, the looming war on Iraq will have immediate and devastating consequences for the country's children, more vulnerable now than before the 1991 Gulf War.

The report of the international study team, published by the charity Warchild, warns that there will be a "humanitarian disaster" if war breaks out. Children, already weakened and vulnerable because of sanctions are "at grave risk of starvation, disease, death and psychological trauma".

The experts expect casualties among children to be in the thousands, probably in the tens of thousands, "and possibly in the hundreds of thousands".

The team concludes a new war would be "catastrophic" for Iraq's children

Shock & Awe/Build & Heal:
Past and Future Fact in Iraq

As best as I can understand it, the case for war against Iraq rests primarily on what Aristotle—these old Greeks, they understood things—called the argument of future fact, or the possibility that a thing might occur in the future based on events that have happened in the past.

So we are preparing to decimate Iraq based on the possibility that the Iraqi government might in the future provide Al Qaeda or other terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has been a bad actor in the past, this argument goes, and it is likely they will continue to be a bad actor in the future. Indeed, they will likely try to kill all of us, hence we should get them first. That is basically the administration’s argument: The U.S. should invade Iraq on the basis of what they might do to us—and to Israel—in the future. The events in the past on which we base these future possibilities are fuzzy and riddled with contradictions, but never mind. The very possibility that Iraq might do something bad is proof enough.

(There is a secondary argument as well, based on formulations of the possible and the impossible, which suggests it is possible for us to create a new democracy in Iraq and so uplift the entire region. But this is a flavor-of-the-month kind of thing, tacked on while the Bush people were casting around for a pretext to strike, and strikes me as cynical to the extreme. If we were serious about helping Iraqis, we would lift the sanctions immediately and begin flooding the country with medicine and food.)

No, the main argument here is from fear—the possibility that Saddam Hussein will do something horrible to us. The Bush people flog this prospect relentlessly. Condoleeza Rice asks us to imagine Iraqi warheads filled with deadly VX nerve agents that could kill up to one million people . Mr. Bush, in his fundamentally dishonest State of the Union address, invites us to contemplate Saddam Hussein in possession of nuclear weapons. Colin Powell makes similar arguments at the U.N.

And, sure, it’s scary stuff. I mean, it scares me. I’m wondering if I should buy the freakin’ duct tape and how long my air supply would hold out if I actually managed to seal my windows correctly, which I’m sure I wouldn’t. (I’d be dead of duct-tape incompetence long before my air and water were exhausted.) So the administration has latched on to a frightening possibility and exploited it effectively, if not ruthlessly.

But here’s the thing. The argument of "future fact" is one you make when the outcome of a path is not certain, and when you are not sure how things will turn out. In such cases, you argue on the basis of the probable, on what’s most likely to happen, given the situation. You strive for the correct and prudent course, even when the outcomes are unclear.

But if we go this way, commit to war, then some things become inevitably and inescapably certain: Appalling numbers of people will die, and a great many of these dead will be children. Some will be killed outright, as the missiles fly in during what the Pentagon triumphally calls Shock and Awe, and others, perhaps many more, will die of starvation and related diseases in the privations to follow. If they do not die, these children, they may be damaged emotionally and psychologically for the rest of their lives. This is the certainty to which we commit if we act against the possible.

So we must ask ourselves: What is the desired equation here? What is the exchange? Do we address our fears of what might happen in the future by killing, certainly, thousands of civilians, many of them children? Is that a wise, honorable, or moral course? Or do we acknowledge our fears and yet say, "No, we cannot resolve these by sending cruise missiles against cities, against civilians, against children? That is an unacceptable course of action for American people."

In presenting us, more or less on a daily basis now, with one nightmare scenario after another, and using these as a pretext to attack Iraq, the administration is offering a false dilemma, in which only two options are given for a problem that can be addressed in multiple ways.

There are other paths. Instead of bombing, we can continue the inspections; we can lift the sanctions (if we genuinely care about the Iraqi people); we can resolve the Palestinian crisis; we can attempt a Marshall Plan for the most impoverished peoples of the Middle East. And we can work to build in democratic and non-violent ways, democracy in around Iraq.

Instead of "Shock and Awe," why not "Build and Heal"?

The facts of the future are unclear and at times very frightening, at least to me. But we can influence these possibilities in better ways than through the mechanized slaughter of a nation and its children.

(Thanks to Cursor for most of the links above.)

Thursday, February 13, 2003

I think everyone in America should read Bob Herbert.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003
War Is Peace
(At the White House Press Briefing)

From the ongoing farce, Ari & I, by Russell Mokhiber:

Mokhiber: According to the current Business Week, the Commerce Department estimated [in 1992] that tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed as a result of the first Gulf War. And a Zogby poll yesterday shows that 54 percent of Americans are opposed to the upcoming war in Iraq if it means thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths. So, the question is, what is the administration's estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths in the upcoming war?

Ari Fleischer: I'm not aware of any estimates. But I will say to you that every step will be taken to protect civilian and innocent life. The greatest risk to civilian life of course comes from Saddam Hussein, who has shown that he is willing to kill his own people with chemical weapons, he is willing to put his own people in harm's way as human shields. And the greater threat that the President also has to concern himself with is that the civilians who will be killed -- the Americans -- as a result of Saddam Hussein carrying out an attack, directly, or through terrorists' organizations that he hooks up with. That's what is on the President's mind as well, Russell.

Mokhiber: Second question. It was a question I asked last week and you didn't get a chance to answer, so I'd like to rephrase it. President Bush has said that Jesus Christ is his favorite political philosopher. He said that during the campaign.

Fleischer: Do you really want to open this door again?

Mokhiber: I want you to answer the question.

Fleischer: Where's Lester?

Mokhiber: You didn't get a chance --

Fleischer: Did you wait until Lester was gone to raise this today?

Mokhiber: I would actually like you to answer the question.

Fleischer: Okay, go ahead.

Mokhiber: President Bush has said that Jesus Christ is his favorite political philosopher. He said that during the campaign. Jesus Christ said -- turn the other cheek. He said -- the meek will inherit the earth. And he said -- do violence to no man. How does the President square his militarism with Jesus Christ's pacifism?

Fleischer: One, I think your choice of words is inappropriate when you refer to President Bush's militarism. The President is seeking a way to provide peace and to protect the American people from a growing gathering threat in the hands of Saddam Hussein and the weapons that he has collected. The President approaches this matter for his Constitutional duties. And his Constitutional duties as the commander in chief -- he is sworn to uphold the Constitution and protect the American people from threats to our lives. And that's the manner in which he approaches it.

He does view this also as a matter of great morality in terms of the serious judgment that any President has to make about risking lives to save life. And that's the focus that the President brings.

We had to destroy the village in order to save it.

For more, go to Common Dreams.

Monday, February 10, 2003
A Problem with the Truth:
The US and The Case for War

With a track record like this, is it any wonder Colin Powell is having trouble convincing people? Compiled by John Quigley at Ohio State University and presented by the people at the Institute for Public Accuracy:

* On three occasions, [the US] told the [UN Security Council] it was invading other states because U.S. nationals were in danger there: Dominican Republic 1965, Grenada 1983, Panama 1989. In none of these instances were U.S. nationals in danger.

* In 1954, when the elected government of Guatemala was overthrown militarily by Guatemalan military officers, the U.S. was charged before the Council with organizing the coup. It denied to the Council any involvement. In fact it organized the coup.

* In 1964, it told the Council that U.S. vessels had been attacked by Vietnamese vessels in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin. This information was based on reports from U.S. vessels that the vessels' commander soon said were in error. Nonetheless, the State Department used the information before the Council and relied on it as a major rationale for a military buildup in Vietnam.

* In 1993, after it launched missiles at the headquarters of the Iraqi intelligence service in Baghdad, the U.S. government told the Council that the circuitry found in a Renault (vehicle) at the Iraq-Kuwait border was of a type that linked it to the Iraqi intelligence service, and that the Renault was part of a plot to assassinate George Bush, who was then visiting Kuwait. As later analysis showed, the circuitry was not of a type that showed a connection to the Iraqi intelligence service.

* In 1998, the U.S. government told the Council that it had launched missiles against Khartoum, Sudan, because VX nerve gas was being produced at a factory there. In fact, no nerve gas was being produced there, as later acknowledged by administration officials.