This week is the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War. There’s an exhaustive summary of the costs of the war by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies here. It’s kind of overwhelming, but worth scrolling through just to add context and clarity.
Back in March 2003, I watched the “Shock and Awe” show from my living room couch in disbelief, knowing this was exactly the wrong response to everything we’d gone through in New York after 9-11. But as much as I felt it was a disaster, I had no idea what an immense disaster it was going to turn out to be.
A couple of weeks before Bush got the go-ahead from Congress to initiate the attack, a friend had suggested I apply for an opening at a pretty high-profile op ed syndication service. I wasn’t getting a whole lot of work at the time, so I decided to apply sending in three sample op eds. I think the best one I wrote was a call for the US not to commit to a war on Iraq, which I’m reproducing below.
Needless to say, I didn’t get the job, and the piece was never published.
The Winds of War
By Ed Morales
The winds of war have been blowing fiercely all through this difficult winter, but they got even stronger last week. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s grim pronouncements about Iraq dominated the water cooler talk, the dinner-at-home talk, the call-your-parents-on-Sunday talk, the coffee-table talk, the talk show talk, and even the kiss-your-sweetheart good night talk.
Colin Powell is a wonderful speaker who expresses himself calmly and clearly, carefully avoiding inflammatory rhetoric. Playing good cop alongside Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s bad cop, he makes the case for the invasion of Iraq as a logical necessity, the natural result of a wish for the spread of democracy. As a fellow product of the Bronx, I want to root for him.
But so much about what Powell presented seems unconvincing, as if it were the desperate rhetoric of a salesman pushing a dubious product. Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix continues to contradict the claims made by Powell about Iraq’s productive and launch capabilities regarding weapons of mass destruction, and even members of the U.S.’s own intelligence community doubt the direct connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq.
What’s more, in his address to the U.N., Powell referred to a report issued by the office of British Prime Minister Tony Blair as a “fine paper…which describes in exquisite detail Iraqi deception activities.” The following day the British Government admitted that the paper was at times plagiarized word for word from articles that appeared in publications like Jane’s Intelligence Review from as far back as 1997. Much of the information Powell cited so glowingly was outdated and not the product of original government investigation.
Clearly, Saddam Hussein is a brutal dictator whose repressive rule in Iraq is contradictory to the ideals of democracy. But he is under the burden of long-imposed economic sanctions, his country is carved up into no-fly zones, and he doesn’t even have the handful of SCUD missiles that he had in 1991 to launch at his nearest target, Israel. The notion that the Iraqi regime is a critical threat to U.S. national security is questionable, to say the least.
Is attacking Iraq worth the cost of a single U.S. casualty, the condemnation of many of our allies in Europe and Asia, or the increased threat of new terrorist violence by the swarms of new recruits that will no doubt embrace Al Qaeda the minute the first bombs are dropped?
Here in my hometown of New York, where red alert has been in effect for almost a year and a half, I’m reminded of Al Qaeda every day, when I drive past a phalanx of police cars that guard the entrance of the Brooklyn Bridge, or see special personnel with submachine guns in front of prominent synagogues and in Times Square, or share nervous laughter with fellow subway passengers when the train stops for an extended time in an underwater tunnel. Sometimes I still get nervous when I hear an aircraft flying over head that sounds just a little bit out of the ordinary.
But that doesn’t mean that I agree with the Bush administration’s pronouncement that “the game is over.” Finding peaceful ways to contain Iraq, the way previous administrations successfully contained former bad boy dictators like Libya’s Muammar el-Qadaffi is a serious undertaking that should not discount the efforts of the U.N. and our European allies. The Bush administration should not see efforts led by France, Germany, and Russia to step up weapons inspections as an affront to us. It should wonder why countries that showed unwavering solidarity with America after the World Trade Center Attacks find themselves placed in the role of adversary.
So let’s hope that Colin Powell’s talk and all the talk it inspired is just that, talk. And the winds of war can die down a little, giving us a chance to get a whiff of the first blooms of spring.