Snug in Our Living Rooms While the Bombs Drop Afar (Iraq)

by Bob Herbert

New York Times, Monday February 23, 1998


NEW YORK-"War hath no fury like a noncombatant," said C. E. Montague, the writer and veteran of World War I. Nothing has changed, except that now there are more noncombatants than ever.

We can all watch the upcoming war on television. No danger there. If it gets boring, we can switch to "Seinfeld."

Bill Clinton, in charge of whipping up support for the war, has done some of his planning on the golf course. And just the other night he took time out to party with Democratic fat cats in the luxurious enclosed community of Llewellyn Park in West Orange, New Jersey. Twenty-five thousand dollars a couple. "It was lovely," said a Democratic insider. "It didn't even seem like New Jersey."

In the absence of any real sense of danger, any threat to one's personal well-being or way of life, it becomes easier and easier to drop bombs on foreign lands. War becomes a voyeuristic, jingoistic pastime, with the progress discussed at work each day, over coffee.

No clearly articulated goal is needed, no long-term perspective, no serious discussion of the moral or ethical implications of the carnage one is so offhandedly unleashing.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in an appearance on NBC's "Today" show, put the matter as plainly as could be: "If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future."

Has there ever been a better example of the arrogance of power? Americans are becoming drunk with the idea that we are the world's only superpower and therefore can do whatever we want to whomever we want.

The case has been made that Saddam Hussein is a menace. No one who is sane can doubt it. He is a warmonger and mass murderer. It is because of hurt that Iraq is in ruins, and he re mains a deadly threat to any one within his sphere of influence. He has chemical and biological weapons and is mad enough to use them.

So we are sold on the fact that Saddam is a bad guy. The question is what to do about him. The answer, according to the Clinton administration, is to drop bombs on Iraq to teach him a lesson and "seriously diminish" his threat to others.

But said Mr. Clinton, the bombing will neither destroy Saddam's stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons nor prevent him from creating new weapons. So after the bombing, according to the administration's own assessment, Saddam will still be around, he will still have weapons of mass destruction, and he will still be a threat to use them. This is not a well thought out policy.

Mrs. Albright doesn't even think the United States is contemplating war. She told students at Tennessee State University in Nashville: "We are talking about using military force, but we are not talking about a war. That is an important distinction."

That is an amazing distinction. The GIs who have packed their gear, left their families and headed off to the Middle East are fully aware that they might not come back. They think this is war.

The problem in a nutshell is that this war if it happens, will be fought by professionals but is being planned by amateurs. Bill Clinton is no warrior, nor is Madeleine Albright.

That is why there are no clearly stated strategic goals

That is why the country ended up with the pathetic spectacle last Wednesday of the nation's three top foreign policy officials being shouted at by protesters while trying to sell the war Oprah-style.

And that is why we have so few allies in this adventure.

Poverty-stricken and humiliated Iraqis continue to die by the tens of thousands from the combined effects of Saddam's murderous folly and the unsuccessful attempts to stop him. To kill even more Iraqis without any sort of plan to bring the overall bloodshed to an eventual halt cannot possibly be justified.

I don't believe Americans want to take their cue from Curtis LeMay and bomb Iraq into the Stone Age. But we are in danger of doing just that. In our anger at Saddam, we are willing to needlessly sacrifice the lives of thousands of innocent civilians. And leave him standing.

Either bring down Saddam or stop the killing.

Bombing people into oblivion for no good reason is a descent into barbarism. In the fury of our righteousness, and from the safety of our living rooms, we are in danger of becoming a nation without a conscience.

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