Harry Van Der Linden The Bush administration holds that a military invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein is justified. Disagreement within the administration exists only concerning the timetable of the invasion, the number of required ground troops and whether alternative means should still be tried prior to resorting to a full-scale war. Should we support this war proposal? There is no doubt that the U.S. will be able to topple Saddam, but the economic, political and human costs will be very high. An invasion with several hundred thousand ground troops will lead to numerous American casualties and cost tens of billions of dollars. Perhaps a massive aerial bombing with a smaller invasion force will suffice to accomplish the task and reduce the number of American casualties to "acceptable" limits. However, in either case, the human costs to the Iraqi people will be devastating. It is disturbing that few American political commentators have raised the issue of Iraqi casualties, both soldiers and civilians. Are they simply blind or indifferent concerning this matter? Or do they suppose that the prospect of a better regime is worth any price to the Iraqi people? Surely, we cannot consistently describe Iraq"s people as victims of Saddam"s dictatorship and also devalue their lives because they are part of the "axis of evil." Considering the Gulf War and its aftermath, it is to be feared that a new war will once again inflict intolerable suffering on the Iraqi population. The Gulf War had a just cause, but its execution was morally flawed because the bombing of military positions was excessive (more tons were dropped than during the Second World War), while many civilians died due to errant missiles and the bombing of civilian targets with (limited) military purpose. After the Gulf War, the U.S. strengthened Saddam"s hand by encouraging and then abandoning a revolt by his internal enemies. The economic sanctions, much worsened in their impact by the destruction of the infrastructure through aerial bombing, may have killed during the 1990s as many as 1 million Iraqis, half of them children. Can we trust that things will be really different this time around? Will the U.S. not once again bring about massive destruction for the sake of minimizing its own casualties? Moreover, can we be confident that the U.S. will have the power and motivation to rebuild Iraq politically and economically after Saddam? An invasion will have serious political costs. Most of our European allies strongly oppose it, while Iraq"s neighboring states are not prepared to function as launching pads for war. An invasion without U.N. support will strengthen the suspicion among our friends and allies that America is not prepared to play by the rules of international law and diplomacy. The Bush administration already has done much damage in this regard by breaking the ABM treaty, disregarding the Kyoto protocol on global warming, opposing the International Criminal Court and so on. In light of such actions, claims of principled leadership by the Bush administration become less convincing, while accusations of unilateralism, militarism and global dominance become more credible. Many people in the Muslim world will be outraged by an American invasion, and some may act violently against the U.S. and its citizens. Iraq appears not to have directly supported the 9/11 terrorists, but Saddam"s defiance of the U.S. has increased his stature among the sympathizers of such terrorists. It might be argued that all these costs are justified in light of the main official rationale of the proposed military action against Iraq: the annihilation of Saddam"s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction. However, virtually all these weapons were destroyed by 1998, and no evidence has been offered that Iraq is once again involved in a large-scale development of these weapons, including their delivery systems. As Scott Ritter, who was for seven years a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, has recently noted, it is implausible that such a development would not be detected by surveillance and intelligence work. Moreover, even if Saddam were to have the weapons, it still needs to be shown that he would aggressively use them. Perhaps the Bush administration is motivated by domestic political gains, oil or plain revenge, but all such motivations for military action are morally reprehensible. The war on Iraq proposal reflects how deeply America has become accustomed to solve international problems by military action. Public reaction has not been one of indignation and disbelief, but rather one of acceptance or hesitant and pragmatic disapproval. Pacifists might be right that modern warfare is always morally objectionable because it inevitably leaves numerous dead civilians, very often children, behind in its trail. Most certainly, military action must be truly a last resort measure, to be undertaken when we are under serious and immediate threat or when it is the only way out of a humanitarian disaster or genocide in progress. No one has seriously made the case that the situation of Iraq can be described in these terms, and, yet, the option of war is discussed in an almost detached manner. Has America lost its moral compass? A clear alternative is available and morally imperative: The U.S. should honestly support recent U.N. attempts to resume the weapons inspections, end the economic sanctions except for military equipment and offer widespread humanitarian and economic assistance to Iraq. Our aim should be to support the people of Iraq, while seeking to isolate Saddam Hussein and his brutal dictatorship. We should also seek genuine peace in the Middle East, further weakening Saddam"s popular support. It is more than time to cast aside the illusion of thinking that we can bomb or starve Iraq into democracy. Harry van der Linden teaches ethics and political philosophy at Butler University and can be reached at hvanderl@butler.edu. He is president of the Indianapolis Peace and Justice Center. Its executive board has adopted a resolution with similar observations condemning the planned war against Iraq. For more information, call 920-1510.

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