Tuesday, October 19, 2004

opposition to the war

i wrote the following back before the invasion of iraq, and so as you read it, keep in mind the context of the day. also keep in mind that the context of the conversation was a jewish mailing list, and part of the topic revolved around opposition of the war on purely religious grounds.

1) There has been no publicly available data that suggests that such a war is necessary -now,- except President Bush's (and Tony Blair's) pronouncements on the issue. No photographs. No documents. No interview transcripts. Nothing. Watergate, Vietnam, Iran-Contra and Kenneth Starr all show us what happens when we trust and do not critically evaluate for ourselves, when we fail to exercise control over our government. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, true ... but it does make a bad case for going to war.

The blank check resolution authorizing war with Iraq, which is not a declaration of war, is very troubling. It's basically a blank check without much in the way of Congressional oversight, and because the majorities in Congress are so narrow, a veto override is very unlikely if Congress tries to use the power of the purse to quit paying for a war. That means, basically, funding for the war will go on at least in some form for as long as the President wants it. Gulf of Tonkin was a disaster (and it turns out based entirely on fabrication or misunderstanding anyway); what's different now?

[It's interesting to point out that J. Edgar Hoover, of all people was horrified by President Nixon's ideas for warrantless and oversightless use of the FBI. Maybe we should harness the rotational energy of Hoover's grave to generate electricity, thus reducing our need for oil ... ]

2) Any attempt to promote "regime change" must consider American relationships with Iraq's Arab (and non-Arab) neighbors, inasmuch as those countries will be affected by the actions of the United States. Some of these regimes have only a questionable grip on power, and can directly affect Jewish interests.

Example: Syria doesn't have the most stable government; Bashar Assad was elected with 97.29% approval in a one-man election in 2000 [CNN], and his grip on power remains tenuous at best, apparently. What would an American invasion do to an unstable Syria? What happens if, during our war with Iraq, there's unrest and revolution in Syria? What kind of government will we wind up with there if Assad is ousted/assassinated/etc, and how will that affect our relationship with other nations in the region, and what will that new country do with respect to Israel?

3) Money. War costs money. Where is this going to come from? While I've observed already that money spent on a war would be unlikely to find its way into educational, social service, or infrastructure priorities that need attention here at home, that doesn't mean that money spent on war isn't wasted. Taxpayers will have to foot the bill somewhere, and given our President's proclivities for cutting taxes in ways that primarily benefit the wealthy, the cost of that waste will most likely fall disproportionately on those who can least afford it (as usual). While it's true that the federal government can create money out of thin air (and does regularly), eventually the money has to come from somewhere unless we want 70's-style inflation (again). And it ain't gonna be President Bush's pocketbook. (Leona Helmsley comes to mind. "Only little people pay taxes.")

4) Oil. It has been observed that a primary (if unspoken) outcome of a war in Iraq will be to open Iraq's oil fields to American commercial development, which will only increase American dependence on foreign oil. And while I observed that one of President Bush's pet projects is to open Alaskan fields to drilling, I'll also point out that this isn't an either-or proposition for him. If he can do both, he will. This is not in America's interest, and it's not especially in Iraq's interest either, because American development of Iraqi oil reserves will not primarily enrich Iraq -- it will enrich American oil companies (and we all should know by now that trickle down economics does not).

5) Civil liberties for everyone, especially people (citizen and non-) of Arabian or Islamic descent, appearance, or belief. While I observed that erosions of civil liberties will continue with or without war, they and hate crimes will only increase as American soldiers come home in little metal boxes. If, that is, we don't simply decide to put them all into [internment/resettlement/relocation/detainment/deportation camps/units/areas/prisons] like we did during World War II.

It could never happen, you say. It did once. And humans have a short collective memory.

6) I've observed that only a huge change in US policy toward Israel and the Middle East will reduce anti-US and anti-Israeli sentiment in the world. Coupled with the instability issues noted above, any effort to change Iraq must not only clearly articulate the particulars of motivation (see point 1), but such articulation must be coupled with a clear communication of a change in attitude about the rest of that part of the world. That is, will the United States continue to support Israel seemingly at every turn, to the endless expense of its Arab enemies? Or another way, will the United States continue to prop up repressive regimes if the money flows our way, and when it does not, what happens? If we choose change, how will that change work?

This isn't a question that's best answered from our Jewish point of view. Rather, it needs to be considered and answered in light of the people we need to persuade. There's a reason that support for an American invasion of Iraq is poor in countries surrounding Iraq. A key part of our PR strategy, at least to help insure stability in the region while we're there and after we leave, must be to find out why they hate the United States, and address their concerns. (While I know a number of Jews who might simply favor a low-yield nuclear weapon, and while I agree that such a solution has a certain amount of flair, that doesn't really solve the problem.)

Failure to do so will only bring on more disrespect of the United States, more terrorism in the United States, Europe, and Israel, as well as against "targets of interest" such as embassies, industrial facilities, and tourist attractions, and lessen America's influence on things that really make a difference, like human rights, democracy, and tolerance.

7) Arguments based on religion tend to fall on deaf ears in society, unless the religion in question is the one practiced by the majority. That means, in the United States, if Jesus (or John, Paul, George, and Ringo) didn't say it, it doesn't matter.

By way of illustration, my favorite quote, from a Christian about prayers at high school football games (a huge issue in Texas): "If they want to pray to their dead gods, let them do it at home." Try telling this person that Jews don't believe in Jesus and see what happens. I have been physically assaulted for making that mistake, and it is a mistake I do not repeat.

This means that, while it's not wrong to base our arguments in our religion, it doesn't help us to couch our arguments in our religious terms, because Joe Average will tend to dismiss it as not Christian and so not relevant.

We must therefore find a way to re-frame our moral arguments to be both at once consistent with our views and something that Mr. Average will listen to and think about.

I'm not suggesting, by the way, that Mr. Average's disregard of our religion is right, moral, appropriate, or something we should approve of. But in a situation where we must choose between educating Mr. Average about Judaism and how we're not people with horns and huge noses who are a couple inches short in the crotch, and educating Mr. Average about why war with Iraq is bad, we need to choose one and leave the other for later.

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