Sneak Attacks and American Aggression

Growing up in the Bronx in the years after the Second World War, there was a game that boys used to play in the schoolyard. One boy would walk up to another (usually smaller) boy and say, "Let's play Pearl Harbor."

Then he'd grab the kid by the crotch and shout, "Sneak attack!"

Make no mistake about it -- if we launch a unilateral attack on Iraq, it would be the moral equivalent of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This time, however, we'd be the "Japs." In the eyes of the world, we'd be the aggressor nation.

To be sure, the idea for such an attack is no longer secret. But that's only because opponents of an attack inside the Bush Administration leaked the plans to the New York Times. Subsequent articles in the Times provoked the current discussion.

If it were up to the Administration, the idea of attacking Iraq would still be a secret. We'd wake up one morning to televised pictures of Baghdad being bombed and anti-American demonstrations throughout the world.

Is an attack on Iraq something we want to be responsible for as a nation? I agree with Texas Republican Dick Armey who, early in August, said,

"If we try to act against Saddam Hussein, as obnoxious as he is, without proper provocation, we will not have the support of other nation states who might do so. I don't believe that America will justifiably make an unprovoked attack on another nation. It would not be consistent with what we have been as a nation or what we should be as a nation."

Armey's historical memory is a little warped, however. The United States has waged unilateral and unprovoked wars a number of times in its history, and American presidents have ordered military action without the approval of Congress. The invasion of Grenada was one such instance. So was the 1961 invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. But the plans for Iraq take brazenness to a dangerous level. A Middle East conflagration is one probable outcome.

We can learn something from the Bay of Pigs debacle. It too was supposed to be secret but, as with Iraq, government critics leaked it to the New York Times. To its confessed regret, the Times sat on the story. As a result, neither the American people nor Congress, in any official capacity, knew that an invasion was pending. Without public discussion, the CIA came to believe its own self-serving propaganda. President Kennedy approved the invasion on the basis of CIA assurances that the Cuban people would welcome the invaders and themselves overthrow the Castro government. Sound familiar? Beware of government intelligence briefings that reinforce government ambitions. The Cuban people never rebelled, and Castro, who knew an invasion was coming, stopped it at the beachhead.

Fidel Castro is no Saddam, despite Bush's nonsensical attempt to tar him as a terrorist. Successive U.S. governments have more or less opposed Castro for ideological reasons, not because he has weapons of mass destruction or threatens Miami. Earlier this year, when the Administration accused Castro of building biological weapons, the accusation went no further than the day's headlines. False accusations and dubbing opponents "evil" do not justify a war of aggression. So far, Bush's argument for "taking out" Saddam consists of ad hominem name-calling. This is schoolyard stuff. Just because Bush can't goose Saddam (and perhaps avenge his father) is no reason to set Iraq afire.

Public pressure has forced Bush to at least promise to go before Congress. I take this with a grain of salt. Remember the Tonkin Resolution? Congress approved an open-ended escalation of the war in Vietnam because the North Vietnamese supposedly attacked American naval ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. We now know that the attacks never happened and that President Johnson knew it was a lie.

A Congressional debate would be useful. I would like to know when Saddam became the modern-day Hitler that Bush says he is. Was it when he used chemical weapons against the Kurds and Iranians with our political support and military assistance? Was it after Senator Bob Dole went to Baghdad to cut a deal for oil and proclaimed Saddam (even after he had used those chemical weapons) "a leader to whom the United States can talk."

Saddam is a brutal dictator, no doubt; and he may or may not be building dangerous weapons. As Noam Chomsky, a leading critic of American foreign policy, says, Saddam "is as evil as they come....No one would want to be within his reach. But fortunately, his reach does not extend very far."

Iraq is not a U.S. problem. His weapons cannot reach America. Nor is there any evidence tying him to Osama bin Laden. Saddam is a problem for the Middle East and for his own people. Bombing people in order to save them, which is how the U.S. proposed to help the people of Vietnam, is not likely to win the support of the Iraqi victims. The United Nations recognizes Saddam as an international outlaw. It's U.N., not American, weapon inspectors we want back in Iraq. It's U.N. resolutions, not American laws, that Saddam is flouting.

Without U.N. backing, without sufficient evidence to win support from our allies, the United States has no right to go to war against Iraq. If Bush starts a war without congressional backing, he ought to be impeached for violating the U.S. Constitution. And any member of Congress who votes for war without U.N. backing ought to be voted out of office, no matter what his or her party.

Marty Jezer's books include "Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel" and "The Dark Ages: Life in the U.S. 1945-1960." He writes from Brattleboro, Vermont and welcomes comments at

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