By David Swanson
A majority of Americans supported attacking Iraq, but now a majority of Americans say it was the wrong thing to do and that they were lied to. If you are among those who supported the attack on Iraq but now believe you were mistaken, then you have one step up on our president – he’s never publicly admitted a mistake in his life. In fact, he once demonstrated the difficulty he has in even imagining being wrong by unsuccessfully attempting to recite the following wise saying: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
In the next month, you may very well have the opportunity to be fooled twice by the same president. And years from now – if we’re all still alive – you may have occasion to face that same difficult conclusion: “Shame on me.” But why let it come to that? Why not get wise to the lies beforehand?
To understand the lies we’re already hearing and the lies we may soon hear about Iran, it’s important to understand just what was wrong with attacking Iraq. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, and the rest of them told us that Iraq was behind the attacks of 9/11/2001 and that Iraq possessed massive amounts of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and the means and intent to use them on the United States. These were lies, but they would not have justified attacking Iraq even if true. The idea that they would have done so is based on more lies.
One of these underlying lies is the idea that the attacks of 9/11 were an act of war. They were a massive crime by a small gang of criminals, one that has grown dramatically as a result of the U.S. attack on Iraq. Had that gang of criminals received assistance from the government of Iraq, then the leaders of that government would have been guilty of those crimes as well. The United States would have been entirely justified in seeking to prosecute them, but steps to make such a prosecution possible would have had to be weighed against the harm done. Killing 600,000 Iraqis, as we have now done, cannot be justified by the need to prosecute someone for assisting in the killing of 3,000 Americans, particularly if we kill another 3,000 Americans in the process.
Another of the underlying lies is the notion that nations should be attacked if they possess dangerous weapons. Of course, Bush is not about to attack any nation that actually possesses dangerous weapons. This is why North Korea has developed nuclear weapons and why Iran wants to: they’d prefer not to be attacked. Iraq was attacked precisely because it did not possess weapons of mass destruction. But if it were acceptable to attack nations that really did possess such weapons, then any nation that chose to could attack any of several nations around the world at any time and be justified in doing so. In fact, attacks on the United States would no longer be criminal, since we possess more WMD than anyone else.
There is a reason why it is illegal to attack another nation: war is worse than anything else. Were Iraq actually attacking the United States, the United States would be justified in defending itself. But nothing else that Saddam Hussein could have done – nothing other than actually attacking our nation – could have justified us in killing 600,000 of the people who already suffered the misfortune of living under his rule and our economic sanctions. The victims of wars are almost entirely not the people who start wars or the people who are blamed for starting wars. That is why starting wars is illegal, no matter how evil you think someone is.
This is the lesson we need to draw from Iraq so that we don’t get fooled again: wars can be based on lies, but whatever those lies may be, if our nation is not being attacked by another nation, the war is still unjustified. Does that sound like the statement of an appeaser of the Nazis? I’m not suggesting that we sit back and wait until we’re about to die before we act. On the contrary, I want to suggest that, unlike what we did to Germany for many years prior to World War II, we should engage in active diplomacy, foreign aide, and friendly relations, so that we do not ever reach the point where war seems a plausible option. What we have been failing to do with North Korea for the past several years is as significant as anything we have done to Iraq. The absence of diplomacy is necessary to make wars possible. The failure to engage in diplomacy is as morally wrong as the initiation of wars.
So, what have we been told about Iran? We’ve been told that Iran has an insane and evil ruler. Yeah, well, frankly, who doesn’t? If he and Dick Cheney want to get in a ring together, I say let them. Do the people who live in our two countries have to die, have to watch their children die, have to see their family members burned to death because our president calls their country an axis of evil member and their president hates Israelis?
We’ve been told that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. But they’re several years away from actually having any; they would still have no way to hit the United States with them; and they would only try to do that if they wanted to immediately die from return strikes.
We have not been told (and what we are not told is just as important) that the U.S. military is drawing up plans for war with Iran and has sent armed ships that are now on their way to Iran. What scattered, but credible and verified, reporting there has been on this is collected here: http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/irannews
But we have also not been told that Iran was behind the attacks of 9-11 or any other attack. So, we have reason to expect that we may soon be told that Iran has attacked one of our ships. If we are told that, it will probably be a lie, but it will not justify a war even if true. This is because we will have sent armed ships into their waters – an unprovoked act of war. We will have acted first, and illegally. Imagine if Iran announced that the United States was part of an axis of evil, and then sent armed ships into the Chesapeake Bay. Then, finally, you would get me to agree that the use of violence was justified. Then, finally, our Department of Defense, would have a purpose related to defense. The United States would be justified in firing on Iranian ships in the Chesapeake Bay. But so will Iran be justified in firing on U.S. ships that threaten Iran.
It comes down to this: our government wants to find a way to attack their country. It is up to us not just to tell pollsters we disagree – as over 90 percent of us do – but to take actions to prevent it. Almost 60,000 of us have already signed a petition at http://www.dontattackiran.org That’s a first step. Contacting your Congress Member and Senators is a second. Calling talk shows and writing letters to the editor is a third. Let’s make next month’s U.S. elections about which candidates for Congress will pledge not to attack Iran. Let’s raise the issue before the White House does. Let’s call this preemptive peacemaking.