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COLUMN LEFT : A Week Into War, It Still Looks Wrong : The government has not justified it, so we're not obliged to support it.

January 23, 1991|ERWIN KNOLL | Erwin Knoll is the editor of the Progressive magazine, published in Madison, Wis

The word from President Bush and his aides, from congressional leaders and media pundits, is that now that war is under way in the Persian Gulf, we're all obliged to rally 'round the flag, support our President, back our brave men and women in uniform.

Count me out.

There was no good reason to go to war on Jan. 15. There is no good reason to be at war today.

Whether the war lasts a few weeks or a few months, whether the human toll is kept mercifully small or becomes monstrously huge, our government has put forward no satisfactory reason for resorting to instruments of death and devastation in the Middle East.

Back in August, President Bush told us that he had dispatched a U.S. expeditionary force to the gulf to prevent an Iraqi invasion of Saudi Arabia. That threat, if it ever existed, was then blocked, so it wasn't the reason we sent our bombers against Iraqi targets last Wednesday.

We were also told last summer that we had to free the American hostages held in Iraq and occupied Kuwait. But all of the hostages were released, so their plight wasn't the reason for going to war.

The Bush Administration warned that the world could not leave the control of precious oil in the hands of Iraq's Saddam Hussein. But the West survived for more than five months without oil from Iraq or Kuwait. If anything threatened the supply of oil, it was a war that could devastate oil extraction, refining and shipping in the Middle East. So protecting the oil wasn't the reason for going to war.

Saddam Hussein, the Administration made clear, is a brutal dictator at home and an aggressor against his neighbors. True enough, but what else is new? He was the same brutal dictator when the United States adopted him as its client and friend--and such neighbors as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Syria (all of them our friends and clients today) are brutal dictatorships in their own right. So it wasn't a noble crusade for democracy that propelled us into war.

Is Hussein a "new Hitler"? My own judgment is that such careless analogies trivialize the Holocaust. But if he is, there are, after all, new Hitlers in place around the world--and most of them enjoy the full faith and confidence of the United States. There are half a dozen of them, at least, in Africa, and another handful in Latin America and still others in the Middle East. Must we go to war against all of them once we've disposed of Hussein?

We have a way of demonizing our enemies-of-the-moment--the Ayatollah Khomeini, Manuel Noriega, Moammar Kadafi, now Saddam Hussein. Each was presented in turn as the source of most of the evil in the world. Is it the task of young Americans in uniform to rid the planet of these villains wherever they occur?

Maybe I've missed something, but has George Bush ever said a word about the China's seizure and brutal occupation of Tibet? Has he proposed going to war against the Chinese so that there would be "no reward for aggression"? Has he ever expressed a view on Indonesia's murderous occupation of East Timor or Morocco's brutal occupation of the Western Sahara--both instances where the aggressors, not their victims, are beneficiaries of U.S. aid?

But Iraq, after all, stands in defiance of a dozen United Nations resolutions. Come to think of it, so does Israel. Why must one set of resolutions be enforced by war while another has been ignored for decades?

Could we trust Iraq with the nuclear weapons it might have acquired in two years, or five or 10 or 20? Certainly not. Which nations can we trust with such horrible instruments of death? Eight or 10 countries already possess nuclear capability, and many more may have atomic weapons by the end of this century. Are we to go to war against all of them when we've finished in the Persian Gulf?

Why didn't George Bush make a better case for going to war? Because there was no case to be made. The "new world order" that the President has proclaimed will be the same old world order--one in which might makes right and whoever can muster the most bombs is the winner.

So I won't rally 'round the flag out of some misplaced sense of patriotism now that the fighting has begun. What's wrong is wrong--and this war is wrong.

I'll honor the flag by protesting the violence committed in its name. I'll support our troops by demanding that they be brought home from an unjustifiable mission. I'll back our President by doing my best to summon him to a sense of decency and justice.

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