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What Happened To Moral Clarity?
September 18, 2002
By Patrick Ennis

World War II is still, to this day, referred to as "the last good war." Ignoring the obvious oxymoron, WWII attains this status because it was the last time America exercised her awesome firepower for a cause on which nearly all Americans agreed. Having been ruthlessly and unexpectedly attacked, without provocation, every American knew who the evil ones were, and what needed to be the response. There was nothing to debate, no range of options to ponder before deciding on a course of action. Public support for the war effort was unwavering. This is what is known as "moral clarity."

Contrast this with the conflict in Vietnam a generation later. No unprovoked attack, and no serious threat of one by this new "enemy" against the American mainland. The Vietnamese, admittedly, attacked and attempted to overrun a neighboring state the rest of the world considered sovereign, and richly deserved the deluge of angry protest it received from around the world.

America rallied to the defense of South Vietnam, first with equipment and advisors, and later with hundreds of thousands of its own soldiers, 58,000 of whom would die for the cause. But the urgency of this action did not stem from direct attack, as it had after Pearl Harbor, and American participation in that conflict was such a divisive issue, at so many levels, that the divisions are still visible at times a generation later. The Vietnam Conflict was based on anything but moral clarity.

Just over a year ago, thousands of innocents died in synchronized and well-organized terrorist suicide attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. The attacks, we are told, were carried out by radical, militant Islamists who can't stand western-style freedoms, and believe the U.S. is corrupting the world with its decadent, modern culture. They came from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, with support from radical elements in Pakistan and possibly Iran, and from the radical, anachronistic Taliban regime which controlled Afghanistan.

In response, the U.S. engineered the removal of the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, a promising move that so far has done little to improve the daily lives of ordinary Afghanis, and continues to hunt down former Taliban members and members of the al-Qaeda terror network the Taliban had hosted. And we stand on the brink of the next phase of the war on terror, a full scale assault on Iraq, with the ultimate goal of "regime change" the removal of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who is anything but a radical, militant Islamist.

If George W. Bush had been president when Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, he might have ordered a full scale invasion of Russia in response. After all, Russia was both potentially hostile and potentially powerful, more so than modern day Iraq, anyway. And on the issue of moral clarity, does this impending sequel to the 1991 Persian Gulf War more closely resemble World War II, or the Vietnam War?

Iraqi Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz has voiced his government's skepticism of the utility of returning U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq, to find and destroy any remnants of Iraqi chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs that may have survived the first Gulf War, 8 years of U.N. weapons inspections, and a decade of economic sanctions against the country. Aziz says his government believes that the American and British governments, who are girding for war even as they claim to hope it is unnecessary, would not be mollified by reports from weapons inspectors that no traces of such weapons programs could be found, as they can always simply claim that the Iraqis had just moved the weapons around to avoid detection, and that such weapons inspections would therefore be a waste of time.

Given the Bush administration's ridicule of former chief weapons inspector Scott Ritter's claims that Iraq has not rebuilt its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs since the first round of inspections, and the readiness of the administration to believe that last autumn's anthrax mail attacks were perpetrated using Iraqi-made anthrax before any conclusive evidence could be produced - evidence which eventually revealed the deadly microbes to be made in the USA - and not to mention the American dependence on foreign oil and the vast proven reserves underneath the Iraqi desert, said to be the second largest in the world - Aziz is probably right. The Bush administration really does want to go to war, and it refuses to be let a little thing like logic or the lack of international support or desire for peace be an obstacle to war.

In short, the horror of Sept. 11 is merely providing Bush with an excuse to do what he wanted to do anyway, which is to overthrow the Iraqi dictator Hussein and replace him with someone more friendly to American interests (Like Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan), thus finishing what his father started in 1991. Of course, Poppy Bush had an easier time since Iraq made the colossally stupid mistake of invading and annexing a fellow Arab country (Kuwait), making it much easier for that Bush administration to sell that war effort to the world, including other Arab countries, as deterrence of aggression, or as comeuppance for the bully on the block.

It's not that Saddam Hussein isn't as nasty and repressive as everyone says. They don't call him the "Butcher of Baghdad" for nothing. It's just that having been permanently taken down several pegs by the 1991 Gulf War and the subsequent decade of sanctions and years of U.N. weapons inspections, he isn't so dangerous anymore. He can be isolated, contained in his little box. He's an old man, and probably doesn't have too much longer left anyway. And besides, there is no obvious and acceptable candidate to step in and replace him just now.

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 gave Poppy Bush the moral clarity he needed to cobble together an international coalition to oppose Saddam's forces, under the perfectly plausible guise of Kuwaiti liberation. Sept. 11 gives his son the moral clarity he desires to wage war on radical, militant Muslim extremists who despise a western culture they see as destructive and decadent. Iraq is not a country where such extremists hold much power. But, amid the unbridled patriotism, unity, and emotional remembrance of the first anniversary of that awful day, George W. Bush hopes that you won't notice.

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