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International Watch
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card November 17, 2002

When Is Saddam "On the Verge"?

So I'm watching Hannity and Colmes on Fox, and their guest is noted Know-Nothing Pat Buchanan.

(Note to Guy- Who- Took- His- Wife's- Copy- of- My- Novel- Back- to- the- Library- Because- He- Hated- Me- For- Calling- Jesse- Helms- "Senator Logjam": I'm not calling names. I don't make this stuff up. The Know-Nothings were an isolationist, anti-immigrant political movement back before the Civil War, and Pat Buchanan stands on their platform.)

Buchanan and resident liberal Colmes actually agreed that war with Iraq would be a horrible idea. "If we are ever sure that Saddam is on the verge of getting a nuclear weapon, then we should go in and knock out their nuclear facilities," said Buchanan.

"But right now there are nations like North Korea that pose a much greater threat. Going to war with Iraq risks bringing down friendly governments in the area and uniting all our enemies against us."

I disagree with almost everything Pat Buchanan stands for, but he's not a dumb guy -- neither are a lot of other people who oppose war with Iraq.

Every assumption on which Buchanan's conclusions depend is false.

How can we wait until "Saddam is on the verge" of getting a nuke? What is "the verge"? How will we know when he's reached it? By any rational measure he is already "on the verge."

Indeed, for all we know the only reason he has agreed to the weapons inspections is because he knew he would have a usable nuke in a month, and letting the weapons inspectors come in bought him just enough time to get it out of Iraq and ready to use.

Of course our going to war with Saddam might provoke a revolution that topples one of the shaky governments in the area.

But our not going to war with Saddam would vastly enhance his prestige and strengthen every anti-American revolutionary movement in all those countries, and it is far more likely that those governments would have to turn against us in order to stay in power. So the risk of losing friendly governments is far higher if we don't go to war.

And North Korea may have announced that it has a nuke already -- but we don't know if that's true, and we do know that China, which has enormous influence over North Korea, has no interest at all in letting them do anything insane.

There's nobody looming over Saddam the way China looms over North Korea. Saddam has no restraints except the bounds of his own sanity -- and that has never stopped him from using criminal weapons before.

War is not lightly undertaken -- it's a terrible thing, and a decent nation does not seek out opportunities for war. It regretfully accepts the burden of war when the consequences of inaction are worse than the consequences of war.

To give an obvious (and unfair) example: If America had not supported Britain and Russia in World War II, Russia would not have had the materiele to continue to fight, and Britain would have been starved into irrelevancy. Far fewer people would have died, in total.

But don't we have to count the fact that the dead would have included most of the world's Jews? Don't we have to count the fact that those who lived would have lived in slavery to the German Nazis? How many generations before that evil empire fell, if America had not supported Hitler's enemies long before we actually entered the war?

In history, you never get any do-overs. You can speculate all you want about might-have-beens, but you have to choose one way or the other.

The fact is, Pearl Harbor was not an immoral, sneaky act. Oh, we Americans love to portray it that way. But under international custom, it is an act of war, a casus belli, to embargo or blockade the shipment of vital supplies to another nation.

When we embargoed the shipment of oil and steel to Japan while they were in the midst of war with China, we were morally correct -- but we were also declaring war against Japan.

From the moment that embargo was announced, the United States and Britain were legally at war with Japan, despite the fact that no shots were being fired.

And Japan had no choice but to attack us -- because without imported oil and steel, their military and their economy would have collapsed in short order.

So it was perfectly moral and legal for Japan to make an unannounced attack on Pearl Harbor. It was, in fact, correct military strategy. We should have expected it, and it is a mark of our arrogance and incompetence that we were not prepared and did not react.

But as the old saying goes, God protects fools, drunks, and the United States, and so two of our aircraft carriers were at sea and we had enough fleet left to fight another day.

Another, more recent example. In May 1967, the gung-ho commander of the Egyptian Army in the Sinai exceeded his instructions and sent paratroopers to occupy Sharm al Sheik, overlooking the straits of Tiran. Egypt's ruler, Nasser, had not wanted war; but once his troops were stationed overlooking the strait through which tankers had to pass to bring Iranian oil to Israel, it was politically impossible for him not to announce that the straits were closed to Israeli shipping.

Not a shot was fired, because Israel did not test the blockade by trying to pass a ship through the strait. But from the moment Nasser announced the blockade, a state of war existed between Egypt and Israel.

Israel could not allow the blockade to stand. So when Israel launched its "surprise attack" against Egypt and Syria (which was openly sending terrorists into Israel at that time), it was not Israel that "began the war." It was Israel acting in self-defense.

My point is that we are not initiating war with Iraq. Iraq chose itself as our enemy.

How? First, Iraq has been violating the ceasefire steadily since the end of the Gulf War. Saddam's soldiers fire on the U.S. and British airplanes patrolling the no-fly zone, even though the ceasefire agreement allows our planes to patrol that area. We are complying with the treaty, they have broken it repeatedly.

They expelled the weapons inspectors four years ago, after hampering them and keeping them from visiting the most important sites of weapons development. That is also a material breach, and at that moment, without any further permission from anybody, we had another casus belli.

But in both those cases we chose not to act. This was correctly perceived by Saddam as a sign that we had no intention of upholding our rights under law. He concluded that we were spineless wimps, and under our leadership at the time, he was right.

Still, a state of war already exists between the U.S. and Iraq. He already fires on our military several times a week. We already bomb his anti-aircraft sites whenever they do. He is already in breach of the ban on weapons development.

Furthermore, we know he has trained terrorists for years. Whether those terrorists are Al-Qaeda or Al-Fatah hardly matters; if, instead of nukes in New York, they loose smallpox on Tel Aviv, should we regard it as less necessary to free the world of this menace?

Here is the stupidest thing said by opponents of the war: "We should not attack Saddam until we know he is about to get a nuke."

Well, folks, how will we know that?

The only way we'll know he has a nuke will be the way we found out about India's and Pakistan's nuclear weapons: They tested them.

But do you really think Saddam will test his nuke in deep underground tunnels? Or out in the empty desert? Or at sea?

He'll test his nuke the way he tested his chemical weapons -- on living people he regards as enemies.

We'll find out he has a nuke when it explodes in Tel Aviv or Seattle or Liverpool.

We know this is the kind of thing Saddam does. He has never left a weapon of his unused.

We know he has a far-advanced nuclear program because the former head of his nuclear program has told us how close it was to having a weapon a few years ago.

The risks of open warfare with Saddam are serious.

The risks of postponing war with him, under the present circumstances, should terrify us.

Even as the world applauds President Bush for bowing to the U.N. and giving the weapons inspectors one more try, I tremble.

It is good to show the world that we really did try every possible avenue to avoid war.

But will that demonstration have been worth it, if it provides just enough delay for Saddam or his friends to kill hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, with weapons we might have intercepted if we had admitted we were already at war and launched a serious campaign against him back in August? Or April?

This much-vaunted "try for peace" may end up killing far more people than an immediate attack on Iraq.

I hope not. I hope that this gamble President Bush has taken in order to placate world opinion pays off.

It better. Because he's betting our lives on it.

Copyright © 2002 by Orson Scott Card.


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