In what appears to be the last hours of diplomatic wrangling over which Iraqi transgressions will precipitate war, it seems instructive to look at the last 17 months of rhetoric by the Bush administration that has been so remarkably unsuccessful in winning popular support for a war.
It is extraordinary that the Bush administration has been unable to justify to the country and the world the legitimacy of removing a tyrant and war criminal whose conduct and paranoia remind even the most casual observer of Joseph Stalin. If anything, the diplomatic debacle has made the United States look far worse than the Iraqi leader could have hoped.
China and Russia have voiced opposition to U.S. action and France has threatened to veto a new U.N. resolution on Iraq. It was thought, especially in the case of France, that they would support the United States when the time came; as the clock ticks down this seems less and less likely.
Meanwhile demonstrators are marching in anti-war protests of unprecedented scale to oppose a war that has not even begun to produce body bags, and GW student reservists are leaving their studies for active duty as the number of troops surrounding the Middle Eastern nation approaches 300,000.
Colin Powell reiterated Wednesday that Hussein is trying to divide and deceive the international community on the seemingly imminent war. Powell might as well concede defeat on this point, as the world couldn’t be more divided. Hussein’s strategy has proven extremely effective, pragmatic and illustrative of the dangers of assuming that our enemy is irrational.
The failure to adequately win support for the war from even our closest ideological allies is two-fold.
On the diplomatic front the United States has been unable to win support of the European nations who see Bush as a unilateralist; unwilling to support the Kyoto treaty, the International Criminal Court and abandon the ABM treaty to the ire of their countries.
For the Europeans the anti-war movement is more anti-American than pro-peace. There is near universal popular support in Europe and around the world against a war. French President Jacques Chirac sees himself as a demi-Gualist leading the French to the head of the soon to be expanded European Union with a wave of populist anti-American sentiment. The Germans want to rival the French in the EU and have seized on the issue of war. Public failures like the Turkish refusal to allow their NATO allies to base troops within their borders only encourage other nations to rally on the anti-war side. Politicians the world over have found it politically expedient and in their national interest to oppose U.S. actions.
The Bush administration has also failed to convince the people that war is both necessary and justified.
Polls in support of the war show only tacit support for a war against a nation few see as a clear and present danger. The evidence presented thus far by Powell at the United Nations and Bush in his State of the Union address have lacked the desired impact. There has been no smoking gun, no casus belli, aside from repeated evasive action in the face of weapons inspectors. War, consensus seems to say, will come when the troops are in position on a Gulf of Tonkin-type pretext.
Though the president, who once had a 90 percent approval rating, has been unable to win overwhelming support for the use of U.S. troops after more than a year of debate, the anti-war movement has been remarkably successful in making its presence known. The demonstrations have been the largest since the height of the Vietnam War, despite the fact that the bombs have not yet started to fall in Iraq. While anti-war support will dissipate when the yellow ribbons start ringing trees, the casualties of soldiers and civilians will drive more into the streets.
The propaganda war is not being won. For those unwilling to believe the U.S. engages in propaganda – official or not – take a look back at the first Gulf War, when the president claimed 41 of 42 SCUD missiles were destroyed by Patriot interceptors. In fact, the success rate of this jury-rigged defense system was about 20 percent. But this information was not made public until years after. The memory of this and other “inaccurate” information (including the efficacy of smart bombs) from the first Gulf War is still fresh in the minds of many and doubtless colors people’s perceptions, casting doubts on the infallibility of U.S. technology.
In the final analysis, the Bush administration’s determination to oust Hussein will be judged on the outcome of the war in hindsight. If the war is short, contained and reveals extensive hidden Iraqi weapons of mass destruction or Al Qaeda links, then the Bush doctrine of preemptive action will be vindicated. If not, the virtues of waging a preemptive war will seem rash and guilty of the very bellicose behavior the U.S. so vehemently condemned.
There are causes for war. Few would argue that Saddam is guilty of gassing thousands of his own people and being a hostile neighbor. There are doubtless empty cells somewhere in the Hague awaiting the Iraqi leader and his lieutenants. So why has the Bush administration had to alienate our country to the world in pursuit of ridding the world of this tyrant?
-The writer, a senior majoring in history, is Hatchet metro editor.