Has America ever gone to war with less public understanding of what the war is about? Why is our Government so determined to attack Iraq? And why the rush to do it now? War is a very serious business. So I am not going to insult your intelligence by spending any time on the half dozen changing reasons that our Government has offered as a justification for starting this war. As anyone who is not addicted to Fox News knows, they are either false, grossly exaggerated, irrelevant or simply silly (I don't know whether to place the charge that Saddam is an evil man under irrelevant or silly).
But - and this is of crucial importance - even if all the Government's charges were true, not exaggerated, and relevant, this would still not justify a war if there were other ways of dealing with them and/or if a war would make Americans more liable to attack by our enemies than we already are. The U.N. inspections are working, and if we increased the number of inspectors and gave them more time, they would work better still. Along with frequent overflights, some of the U.N.-imposed sanctions and the threat of massive retaliation should Saddam attack one of his neighbors, they have already achieved most of the aims for which almost-elected President Bush says he intends to go to war. That is, given the Government's own terms of debate, the war would appear to be unnecessary. And if anyone had any doubts about the effect of such a war on our safety here in the U.S., Osama Bin Laden's most recent tape (if genuine) should have made it clear that this war will bring us more terrorist attacks and not less.
Critics who see this far and no further are content to condemn the Government for its stupidity - easy to do with Bush at the helm - and craziness. Our leaders seem to be making a terrible mistake. General Zinni, a leading U.S.military figure and diplomat, has said that he doesn't know on which planet the hawks in Washington are living. And many others, including ex-President Carter, General Schwartzkopf, and even officials in the intelligence community, have expressed similar sentiments.
But the leaders of our Government are not that stupid or crazy, and war is too important a matter to go forward without good reasons. They have their reasons. They just don't want to give them to us, because they suspect that most Americans wouldn't accept them as a justification for war. If we examine who our leaders are, their background and interests, some of what they've done and said before coming to power, and what they would gain from a war, it is not too hard to arrive at what these men and their one woman are thinking.
In my opinion, here are the real reasons that our Government is about to engage in its second massacre of Muslims in as many years:
Though we can't know which reasons are most important for any given official, I think it is pretty clear that they all play a role and that, taken together, they are enough to account for the trigger-happy behavior of the Government. There happens to be one other major reason for their actions, however, that deserves to be mentioned, if only because it is usually passed over, even by the strongest critics of the war. And this is that the war with Iraq will serve some of Israel's most important national interests, at least as interpreted by its current right wing Government. It is seldom mentioned, of course, because anyone who does so risks being denounced as an anti-semite, next to which being called a mass murderer today seems rather tame. So before developing this point, let me just say that I am Jewish. This way I can only be condemned as a "self-hating Jew".
What, then, are the main interests of the Israeli Government that will be served by this war?
That still leaves unexplained why the rush to war, why the Government's insistence on starting the war now. If Israel needs a war now to resolve the explosive and worsening problems that have resulted from the failure of its policies in the West Bank, this is not - or at least should not be - a problem for the U.S. But if I'm right in my list of the American and Israeli Governments' real reasons for going to war, THE GREAT DANGER THAT BOTH OF THESE GOVERNMENTS FEAR IS NOT THAT THE U.N. INSPECTIONS WON'T WORK, BUT THAT THEY WILL. For if the inspections work, or show that they are working or can work, then both Governments are denied their ideological cover for going to war. At this point, the U.S. would either have to pull back from the brink, or admit to having other, hitherto secret reasons, for going to war. However, the great majority of the American people would never accept the real reasons for this war, and without their support the American and Israeli Governments could not reap the many economic and political benefits they are hoping for, benefits they can only attain through a full scale war. Well, too bad for them, but not for the hundreds of thousands of people who are certain to die in any war.
Well, what's to be done? Given time considerations, I will summarize most of what I have to offer on this subject by passing on an e-mail I got a couple weeks ago. Apparently, a recent study at the University of Sussex in England showed that demonstrating for a cause in which you believe is not only good for your conscience, it's also good for your health. Really. So, in the interest of good health - yours, the Iraquis', our troops' and the world's - I would like to end by announcing that as part of world wide demonstrations against the war there will be a demonstration in New York this Saturday, beginning at 11 AM at 49th Street and 1st Avenue. See you there.
The author is a professor of political science at New York University. His last remark of course refers to the February 15 demonstration. Unfortunately we were unable to publish this in time for that exhortation to remain timely, for which we apologise.