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The real question – by Steve Russell


War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of a moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight—nothing he cares about more than his own safety—is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. – John Stuart Mill

Should we be in Iraq? This is perhaps the most contentious question of our day. But the real question is not whether we should be engaged in a war on Iraq. The real question is whether Iraq presented a threat to the United States of America, and if so, then was our response appropriate? Will we have the national will to face down these threats now that we have committed to overthrowing Saddam’s regime?

Some have argued passionately that we were not justified in attacking Iraq. Further, they contend that not only was the war a mistake, but that it resulted from carefully planned lies that hid secret motives. When viewed from this filter, all policy and decisions to support this war are for naught, given the belief that it is useless to pursue an unjust cause to begin with. Still, none of this addresses the real question. Did Iraq present a major threat to the security of the United States of America and her interests?

Iraq under Saddam Hussein defied the world for over 20 years. During that period, Saddam’s Iraq was responsible for the murder of an estimated 350,000 Kurds and Shias. Saddam also likely murdered as many as 30,000 political opponents without respect to their ethnicity. The majority of these were Sunni. He ordered the use of cruel, chemical weapons to murder thousands of Iraqi citizens in their village in response to an attempt on his life. The resulting slaughter was one of the worst attacks on innocents using chemical weapons in the history of mankind.

If internal repression and murder were not enough, Saddam attacked every single neighboring country, save Syria, during his reign. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives during Iraq’s ten-year war with Iran. Iraq’s border incursions into Turkey threatened the stability of a NATO ally. Saddam’s surprise assault on Kuwait was a raw act of aggression that threatened not only the region, but also the global economies of most civilized nations. His blatant violation of Jordanian sovereignty while attacking Israel with Scud missiles proved that he would disregard even like-minded, albeit peaceful, Arabs. His launch of attacks into Saudi Arabia further confirmed his commitment to no one but himself.

Internationally, Saddam’s Iraq made a joke out of the most serious global diplomatic efforts to persuade him to be a responsible player in the community of nations. Instead, Saddam defied the world for over ten years when ordered to comply with binding United Nations’ resolutions. Saddam also obtained a Zippe centrifuge, recovered by our troops in 2003. It is the most sophisticated device used to enrich Uranium into weapons grade material. Every other nation that has smuggled Zippe centrifuge technology has developed nuclear weapons. It is what Iran is using now to enrich Uranium, causing major global anxiety. Had Saddam not been checked, all we would have had to rely on for our safety and security of our interests is his track record.

Iraqis under Saddam lost their lives every month at nearly double the rate we see now—even while Iraq is fully engaged in their own war on terror. If you throw in Iraq’s war dead under Saddam, the figures are staggering. Yet opponents of the war scarcely understand the longsuffering of the Iraqi people. Nor do they care. The stock market is good. And it is only the Army that is at war. The nation is at peace. So flourish the misconceived ideas about our involvement in Iraq. The notion that Iraq was better off with Saddam defies human reason. The notion that the Middle East was better off with Saddam defies regional understanding and ignores the opinions of 26 million Iraqis. The notion that Saddam did not present a very major threat to the world community of nations also defies history.

The threat was real. The danger was clear and present to those responsible for defending our nation. Most all of the national leadership of all stripes saw this clarity at the point of decision. They understood the threat and its potential. If their view of the threat has changed, it is not due to an absence of that same threat, it is due to an absence of moral clarity and conviction. Every soldier certainly understood it. And they still understand it. The very ones that face the greatest danger are unified when it comes to the real question of threats to our national security. Yet, the soldier’s voice is all but muted. Our soldiers know the threat must be met or it will manifest itself within the borders of the very nation they protect. Will we have the national will to support them? Will history view our generation and the soldiers that defend it as one of the greatest? Or will it be only the soldier that earns that title while the generation he sacrificed for is written down as lacking moral clarity, perhaps becoming known in history as ‘the pathetic generation?’

Steve Russell is a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq. He commanded a battalion that was central to the hunt and capture of Saddam Hussein. He now serves as chairman and founder of Vets4Victory.


Used with permission of Center for a Just Society, Copyright © 2006 All rights reserved.

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