Thoughts on the War Debate

When Fox asked me to write a column about the war this week, I was a bit at a loss. For about six months now, I’ve advocated against the war. But I also decided that once the bombs start falling, the debate ought to end. And last week, for me, it did end. Now that we’re in the thick of the mission, it’s time to unite, and to pull for a swift, decisive victory that’s as bloodless as it can be.

Given my precarious position, I’ve found myself regularly frustrated by hysterics coming from either side of the debate. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to list and address some of the more egregious examples.

1) The World War II Analogies.

Saddam Hussein is not Hitler. He’s certainly not worse than Hitler (as Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens once said on the floor of the U.S. Senate). He’s likely every bit the moral midget Hitler was, but he hasn’t the means, the capacity, the wealth, the support or, frankly, the charisma Hitler had. Hitler was a threat to the world. He conquered most of Europe. He killed six million Jews.

Saddam Hussein is a threat to his own people, and, at most, a neighboring country or two.

Likewise, Basra isn’t Normandy. You’re free to believe that this is a just, moral war, but it’s insulting to say that it presents a moral imperative on par with World War II. Retired General Barry McCaffrey said recently that the allies in Iraq risk 3,000 dead before the mission is over. That number ought to turn your stomach. You might still think it’s regrettably acceptable, but it ought to at least get you queasy. That’s another September 11’s worth of dead Americans, a voluntary one, in an effort to prevent another September 11, one that may or may not happen, and may still happen once (or even because) we topple the Iraqi regime.

Three thousand dead to topple Saddam Hussein is a travesty. Three thousand dead in the effort to liberate Europe and the Pacific would have been a blessing.

2) Moral Relativism

Much as this war troubles me, there is no moral equivalency between the Bush administration and Saddam Hussein and his henchmen. Our president occasionally enacts policies that I find troubling as an advocate for civil liberties. Saddam Hussein has thrown dissenters into vats of slow-acting acid. The two aren’t comparable.

There is no moral relativism between invading U.S. forces and Al Qaeda operatives. And, in fact, there’s no moral relativism between U.S. forces and the Iraqi forces we’re fighting.

I’ll give you some examples.

As we’ve seen, when U.S. forces have conquered Iraqi villages in the past week, they’ve handed out chocolate and bottled water to Iraqi children. When Iraqi soldiers invaded Kuwait in 1990 and encountered Kuwaiti children, they killed them.

When U.S. forces capture Iraqi soldiers, they abide by international treaties, and often grant the enemy better accommodations than they have themselves. When Iraqi forces capture U.S. soldiers, they humiliate and then reportedly execute them on videotape, then feed that footage for broadcast to the world.

No country that I can think of in the history of warfare has gone to the lengths our military has in this conflict to avoid civilian casualties. We’ve spent billions on "smart bomb" research and development, we’ve altered our military strategy, and, some have argued, we’ve even risked the safety of our own forces at times to avoid unnecessary civilian carnage. Iraq, on the other hand, has willingly endangered its own civilians by deploying them as human shields, by camouflaging soldiers as civilians, and by instructing soldiers to fight under the white flag. There’s no moral equivalence here. We’re doing more to protect Iraqi citizens than Iraq is.

3) Objection to This War Makes One "Subjectively Pro-Iraq"

This argument was put forth most recently by Rush Limbaugh, who said he’d yet to meet an antiwar protester who could answer the question "If we do go to war, do you hope America wins?"

I can only speak for myself, of course. But I can answer that question unambiguously.

I originally opposed this war. And yes, I hope we win. Decisively.

There are lots of other thoughtful, patriotic people who originally opposed the current war for reasons not rooted in anti-Americanism, people not named Michael Moore or Susan Sarandon or Chrissie Hynde. Some of us even voted for President Bush.

And we, like you, get goosebumps when Iraqi civilians greet American troops with cheers and flowers; we, like you, get nauseous when we see photographs of the bodies of American soldiers; we, like you, choke up when we see interviews with those soldiers’ families; and we, like you, would like nothing more than to see a Marine emerge from a Baghdad bunker with Saddam Hussein’s head on a stick.

I have no desire to let loose with "I told you sos" after this war is over. I’d much rather say, "I was wrong."

4) Uni- vs. Multi-lateralism

Another one from the antiwar crowd, unique in that it’s wrong on two levels. The argument says:

1) We’re acting unilaterally.

2) That’s a bad thing.

Well, first, we aren’t acting unilaterally. We’re acting against the objections of France, Russia, China and Germany.

We all, of course, know well of Germany’s pacifist tradition (that’s sarcasm). Russia’s still in its own brutal war with Muslim rebels in Chechnya, even as it threatened a U.N. veto. China’s still suppressing Muslims in its Xinjiang province. And, as former undersectretary of defense Jed Babbin said recently, "Going to war without France is like going hunting without an accordion."

Thirty countries are on record as supporting the war effort, including Italy, Spain, Britain, and most of Eastern Europe.

More importantly: So what?

Our national sovereignty is too important to place in the hands of a body of international bureaucrats -- a body that exalts brutal dictators like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, that allows a country with an active slave trade (the Sudan) to sit on its human rights commission, and that allows Libya to chair it.

I’m not happy that we went to war. But if we had to, I think take solace, not umbrage, that we did it over the objection of the United Nations.

All of these arguments are rather ridiculous, a couple of them down right hysterical. I feel silly even attempting to refute them. But they’re being thrown out by otherwise serious people, and so it’s important to put them into context.

Radley Balko is a writer living in Arlington, VA. He also maintains a weblog at

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