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Between Iraq and a Hard Place


By Anthony S.A. Freinberg

Last Wednesday night, I took advantage of a rare lull in work to indulge myself and watch the “Tonight Show” monologue. “Hey,” said a grinning Jay Leno. “Did you know that ‘Iraq’ is Arabic for ‘Vietnam?’” I laughed out loud, alone in my room. And then I stopped.

A week later, as America continues to march inexorably towards war in Iraq, I again sit in my shoebox-sized bedroom in Lowell House and worry that America is headed for another Vietnam-like international nightmare. And I wonder what the hell I should do.

No one would seriously dispute any longer that a war in Iraq will begin imminently, with or without a United Nations mandate for American intervention. Those who still argue that action should only be undertaken with foreign support have missed the boat. Foreign backing for the use of force, except from ever-loyal Great Britain, is just not going to come. With implacable French and German opposition—and now the prospect of Russia also joining their antiwar alliance—multilateral intervention is no longer a possibility. Nor is the idea that the Bush administration will abandon its determination to oust Saddam Hussein.

Not alone at Harvard, I am afraid of the potential consequences of this militarism. Maybe the war will be over in the few weeks that remain before the arrival of the scorching Arab summer; maybe thousands of American soldiers will not be cut down in street fighting in Baghdad; maybe Saddam, realizing he has nothing left to lose, will not fire off whatever biological or chemical weapons he possesses; maybe the war will not act as a boon to al Qaeda—America’s real enemy in the “War Against Terrorism”—as they seek to portray the U.S. as violent, anti-Muslim aggressors. Maybe not.

I worry about the consequences of maybe not. I fear abuse of the Bush doctrine of preemptive engagement. I fear the deaths of many American soldiers. And, selfishly, I fear most of all that a dirty bomb will explode the next time I happen to be in New York.

So, in theory, I should have been glad to hear that an “Emergency Anti-War Rally” is to be held next Wednesday lunchtime outside the Science Center. No doubt there will be scores of fellow undergraduates in attendance who share my concerns. But unfortunately the e-mail advertising the Harvard Institute for Peace and Justice (HIPJ) event that landed in my inbox two days ago was, in several places, every bit as “foolhardy” and “insane” as the American foreign policy which it attacked with those words. The blindly anti-war views of these radical protestors, expressed in the e-mail alongside many legitimate arguments against invading Iraq, offer no solace for anyone who desires a practical solution to current international problems.

Whether or not one is in favor of an immediate American attack, all who cherish the principles of democracy and freedom recognize that the world would be a better place with Saddam removed from power. HIPJ avoids this issue, instead claiming that “23 million Iraqis are better equipped to determine their country’s destiny than U.S. bombs.” Would those be the same 23 million who have lived under Saddam’s tyranny for over three decades and have no means to topple the despised despot? The same 23 million who were coerced into giving Saddam a 100 percent approval rating in his latest plebiscite? The innocent Iraqi men, women and children who are being systematically oppressed desperately need liberation; HIPJ is naïve to think that will come about without international assistance.

Using an estimate from Lawrence B. Lindsey, until December the Director of the National Economic Council, that the war could cost up to $200 billion, HIPJ’s e-mail suggests that money could be better spent “conserv[ing] the environment.” How appropriate, coming from the group that tried to tree-hug the Taliban out of existence. (Does anyone else remember HIPJ’s farcical “We are all children of the earth” protest against war in Afghanistan that took place on the steps of Widener Library in the fall of 2001?) War is, unfortunately, sometimes necessary, on both pragmatic and ideological grounds. Trite arguments, such as the suggestion that “war [in Iraq] is part of a long and carefully-planned campaign by elites like Cheney and Rumsfeld to…achieve U.S. control over the world’s oil resources,” do not help to resolve whether or not this is one of those occasions where immediate military intervention is justified.

There is a need for a mature debate about the correct course to pursue in dealing with Saddam, a need that is especially important in light of the Bush Administration’s distressing secrecy. Protest is a vital democratic tool by which the masses can make their views heard. And I, for one, feel that this is a war worth protesting. But until the leadership of Harvard’s protests is wrested from the hands of HIPJ’s out-of-touch radicals, I will have to pass on lunchtime rallies at the Science Center. After all, it makes little sense to trade in one bunch of unwavering, unthinking dogmatists for another.

Anthony S.A. Freinberg ’04 is a history concentrator in Lowell House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.

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