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The necessity for war is still in doubt

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Plans to attack Iraq have encountered international resistance. It's not hard to understand why. Throughout history, organized armed aggression has almost always been launched for the purpose of plunder. One would ask, is there anything in Iraq our government might want? Since it's the number two oil field in the world, it's not hard to come up with an answer, especially since the administration has its share of oil men, and woman. Convincing allies that the proposed war is not about oil will not be easy.

The best argument for war (besides oil) involves the bad behavior, and possible future bad behavior, of Saddam Hussein. He is relentlessly pursuing weapons of mass destruction, it is said, and will use them to blackmail his neighbors. Although he has no weapon system to deliver these to the United States, he might give them to some Al Qaeda type who will. And he's been mean, criminally mean, to the people of Iraq. He cannot be contained, so he must be removed (killed). The only answer, according to this argument, is regime change by force.

The United States has facilitated numerous regime changes in the past, but usually through military coups which involved no use of American ground forces. All possibility of a military coup in Iraq has been exhausted. There was usually plunder or geopolitical advantage during the Cold War to be had. Countries on this list include but are not limited to Indonesia, Vietnam, Guatemala, Chile, Panama, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. In several of these cases, the result of the effort was to overturn democratically elected governments, especially in Chile, Guatemala and Iran.

In the case of Iran, a democratically elected government headed by President Mossadegh was faced with the fact that the British were plundering Iran's oil. British taxes on Iranian oil were greater than what Iran was being paid for the oil. Mossadegh moved to fix the problem by nationalizing Iran's oil, undoubtedly in some eyes a terrorist act. British and American intelligence services implemented a coup and put Shah Pahlavi on the throne. He made a great puppet but he was also one of the twentieth century's worst tyrants. His secret police, the SAVAK, tortured and murdered Iranians in a terror campaign of epic proportions. The fact that America and Britain saw no problem with the human rights issues of the Iranians makes the current claim that Hussein is a human rights violator sound a bit hypocritical, especially to Iranians.

In 1979, the Iranians finally overthrew the Shah and brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power. Thus the long-term result of regime change in Iran was to transform a fledgling democracy into the first regressive Islamic state. Talk about unintended consequences.

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Meanwhile, the United States had smiled on an ambitious Ba'athist party official in Iraq who would become the leader there. When the Iranian Revolution produced the embassy takeover and subsequent American outrage, Saddam thought he saw his chance. He launched a totally unprovoked and illegal-under-international-law invasion of Iran's oil fields. Iran drove him back to his own territory where he proceeded to content himself with committing human rights abuses against his own people, but not before committing war crimes, like using poison gas, during the Iraq-Iran War. When Saddam invaded Kuwait, he finally stepped over the line. He had always been a tyrant, but before Kuwait he was OUR tyrant.

It is beyond the scope of a short column to investigate the issue in any depth, but it would be my observation that regime change has rarely served United States interests in the long run. While someone might point to an instance where it worked out, an honest person would need to admit that most times it did not work out. Given that it usually doesn't work, the Bush administration should hold itself to a high standard of proof that the probability of success would be high. To begin with, it should tell us how it would define success in an invasion of Iraq. Is the plan to invade Iraq and occupy the country for decades, carve up the oil resources among American companies and carry out martial law indefinitely? A lot of people in the Arab and Muslim world think that's the plan.

What price is the American people willing to pay for Iraqi oil and imaginary security? The greatest success of the war in Afghanistan, from some points of view, was that of keeping the American news media away from reporting the war except as a propaganda exercise. That worked in Afghanistan because there were relatively few American casualties. But war with Iraq promises to be different, involving 200,000 to 300,000 military personnel in a meteorologically challenged area certain to produce casualties. Every one of those casualties will be a victim of the argument that containment, which has been working pretty well, will not continue to work. Every casualty will be blamed on the Bush administration's lust for Iraqi oil. The total control of the public news media as in the two Bush wars - the Gulf War and Afghanistan - is very unlikely to hold. In a protracted war that produces significant casualties, more Americans will be getting their news on the Internet. Not only will the war be expensive, but also people will find out that it is expensive.

Thus far the administration has not met the burden of proof supporting the necessity of the war given the probable cost. U.S. forces invaded Granada without much provocation, and Panama, but in those cases the war was relatively quick and the cost in American lives (not Panamanian lives) was low. No one doubts American forces will win in Iraq, but Iraq isn't Panama, and it isn't Afghanistan. In late October and into November, support for the idea of the war is evaporating among potential allies even though fear and hatred of Saddam has never been higher. Maybe Mr. Bush should look at alternatives to war.

John C. Mohawk, Ph.D., columnist for Indian Country Today, is an author and professor in the Center for the Americas at the State University of New York at Buffalo.