At this very moment 35,000 troops are headed to the Persian Gulf along with millions of dollars of military equipment. This will bring the total number of American troops stationed in the Gulf area to 80,000, and plans are in works for nearly 200,000 more soldiers to be deployed in the coming months. Whether or not officially declared by Congress or Bush, the administration’s hawkish actions and rhetoric reveal that the United States is clearly headed for war. Yet war is not inevitable. It is imperative that Americans not allow themselves to be swept along by the wave of official pro-war rhetoric and the sheer momentum of military escalation. We must look beyond our disgust with Saddam and acknowledge that a war with Iraq is not in our national interest and carries an unacceptable human, economic and social cost.
A second Gulf War makes little sense strategically. Even if war was an effective and morally acceptable method of combating terrorism, no credible evidence has been provided linking the Iraqi regime to al-Qaida or other anti-American terrorists. A U.S. invasion could actually endanger the success of efforts to curb terrorism by increasing anti-American sentiment in the region.
The Bush administration has also failed to show that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction that could threaten the United States or other nations. In fact, former chief U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter believes Iraq has been effectively disarmed and no longer poses a real threat. Recent weapons inspections have yet to provide evidence to the contrary. Unfortunately, U.S. criticisms of Iraqi military capabilities and abuse of weapons of such weapons are overshadowed by our own status as one of the few countries to have used weapons of mass destruction on civilians (atomic bomb in Japan in 1945 and Agent Orange in Vietnam). As the United States issues ultimatums regarding the admittance of arms inspectors to Iraq, we not only possess over 7,000 nuclear warheads but have also prevented weapons inspectors from entering our own borders as recently as last year.
Even if Iraq were found to maintain such weapons, the human costs of a war should be enough to dissuade us from military invasion. A second war aimed at the more difficult goal of regime change and requiring an extensive ground offensive would be bloodier than the first Gulf War. American GI casualty numbers will be further increased by the lack of a strong opposition military force, similar to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, to do the dirty work needed to oust Saddam.
A military invasion would also result in an unacceptable loss of civilian life. U.N. emergency planners have recently estimated that 500,000 Iraqi casualties may occur during the early stages of the war. If 500,000 American lives were endangered by such an invasion, war would never even be considered. The “human shielding” of Iraqi military centers in residential neighborhoods makes a high civilian death toll inevitable; such civilians are especially at risk as the Iraqi ruling elite fight to maintain power at all costs. The post-war situation could be just as grim. Ethnic divisions and instability could lead to civil war and instability following foreign military intervention. The continued rule of warlords in Afghanistan has shown that the establishment of democracy and the rule of law involves far more than military conquest. Bush’s plan for “regime change” fails to provide a comprehensive solution to the problems facing the international community and the Iraqi people.
Bush could not have picked a worse time (or from his perspective, a better time) to launch a full-scale war. As the economy continues to worsen, unemployment rises, next year’s budget deficit increases to $145 billion, and funding is reduced to important social programs, we can hardly afford a $200 billion war. In fact, Bush seems to have succeeded, at least temporarily, using the war to divert attention from important domestic and international issues such as the economic slowdown and the health care crisis facing our nation.
As the situation worsens, it is increasingly important that those who are opposed speak out. Apathy or inaction is little different from formal approval of Bush’s war machine. Students, professors and community members are gathering today at 11:15 a.m. on Beinecke Plaza to protest Bush’s war by memorializing the victims of a war — from Americans and Iraqis to the social programs that are being cut to finance the war. Please join us.
Aravinda Ananda is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College and Ruth DeGolia is a junior in Branford College. They are members of the Yale Coalition for Peace.