False Dichotomies: How the War is Sold

Those who would wage war know how to incite support in the populace. The trick is to pose false alternatives, to argue as if the only alternative to war is something far worse. Opponents of war are pictured as fools by associating them with positions that they do not hold. These false dichotomies are being used to mislead the public about the expansion of the Gulf War that began on the 16th of January.

In a recent statement, US President Bush told us that ‘Nobody should cry for Saddam Hussein, he brought it on himself’. That statement creates the impression that all who oppose war support Hussein. I do not know one peace activist who cries for Saddam Hussein, a man who has acted against everything that we believe. If he led our country, we would be protesting his actions with all means available to us. It is also incorrect to say that Saddam Hussein ‘brought it on himself’, he has brought this destruction on others. A hero to a growing number of people in the Middle East, Saddam Hussein is now among the safest and most comfortable people in Iraq. It is the millions who are the victims of the war that deserve our sympathy.

We are often told that if we did not go to war to prevent Saddam Hussein, he would have been allowed to gain from the invasion of Kuwait. We are told that this would encourage aggression elsewhere by rewarding the use of military force. Any objective analysis of the situation would show that, as of 15 January, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait had cost it far more than it gained. While it gained Kuwaiti oil wells it cannot sell any oil. While it gained access to the sea, no ships can transport its goods through the very effective embargo. Although Iraq had gained a small amount of territory, it had been forced to deploy 400,000 soldiers in that territory at great cost. Although Iraq gained inside Kuwait, all Kuwaiti and Iraqi resources outside those countries had been frozen. Iraq’s aggression had not been rewarded in any way.

We often hear that war was necessary because, ‘Appeasement and weakness have never worked.’ Again, we have a false dichotomy. The alternative to an expanded war was not appeasement. The incredibly strict sanctions, enforced by the military forces of many countries, are neither weak nor appeasement.

For months we have been told that Hussein was a modern Adolph Hitler and that, unless we used military force against him, we would see a repeat of the World War II scenario. While it is true that in both cases we failed to take a principled stand before the villain took military action, the differences between the two situations are great. Adolph Hitler led one of the most powerful, and most sophisticated countries in the world. German scientists and engineers were world leaders; Germany developed all its own weapons and was self-sufficient economically and militarily. We should never forget that it was German scientists who taught the US how to build missiles after World War II. In contrast, Iraq is a small country, one that depended on imported technology as the basis for its war machinery. Even the massive bomb shelters that give it endurance, could not have been built without foreign help. Iraq is like Nazi Germany in having a charismatic megalomaniac anti-semitic leader, but the differences are far more important.

Every day we are told that if we did not use military force we would have allowed Saddam Hussein to continue his aggressions and seize more territory. ‘Someone had to stop him.’ I fact he had already been stopped. On the 15th of January, Iraq’s forces wre already bottled up. The presence of foreign ‘trigger forces’ in Saudi Arabia, Nato forces in Turkey, a powerful military in Iran, and western support for Jordan, had made it impossible for Iraq’s aggression to continue. Moreover, Iraq’s force deployments in Kuwait were primarily defensive in nature. They built fixed fortifications within the area that they already controlled. There was no sign of a plan to move forward. Iraq had already been brought to a halt before the US led attack on Kuwait began.

One of the most powerful arguments in favour of the military action that began on 16 January is that we must support the United Nations; we are told that if we do not participate we will be undermining the UN, which Canada helped to found. The UN’s founders hoped that it would prevent wars like the present one, but they are realists. The Charter includes provisions for forces operating under the control of the UN itself. Canada’s forces have previously served under UN command as ‘blue berets’; this time, by fighting under our own flag, they are undermining the UN as a mechanism for the enforcement of international law. We must also remember that the Security Council did not authorize force explicitly; instead it authorized the use of ‘all necessary means’. As a result of this wording, each country could decide for itself whether or not force was needed. Some countries concluded that it was necessary and are now at war with Iraq. Several other countries are calling for a Security Council meeting on the crisis but the warring countries have not allowed that meeting to take place. The UN is not being allowed to function as it should. We can best support the proper functioning of the UN if we insist that all forces be put under UN command and that the Security Council, not individual countries, determine the policy.

For some, the most appealing argument for the use of military force, is that we must defend the residents of small, weak countries. In fact, it is only the Kuwaiti Royal Family that have asked for this action. Nobody knows what the actual residents of Kuwait would want; it is hard to imagine that they want the carpet bombing that they are now experiencing or the incredible destruction that will come when the ground fight begins. Who has the right to make that decision for the people in Kuwait?

We have the great privilege of livng where we can debate our involvement in this war. When we do so, we must not allow ourselves to be distracted from the real issues. We are not debating whether or not to reward Saddam Hussein; the debate is whether or not to bomb the people that he rules so cruelly. We are not debating whether or not Saddam Hussein should be rewarded for his aggression; we are debating whether we needed to attack others to punish Hussein. We are not discussing Germany before World War II, we are discussing Iraq in 1991. We are not debating whether or not Hussein should be permitted further aggression; we are asking whether an attack was needed to stop him. We are not debating the value of international law; we are discussing how that law should be enforced. We are not debating whether or not the people of Kuwait deserve our support; we are debating how best to help them.

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