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Jewish World Review August 14, 2002 / 6 Elul, 5762

Michael Kelly

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Properly provoked | The emerging core argument against war with Iraq is that such a war would constitute an unprovoked attack against a sovereign state, a conflict that would break with American tradition and ethics and, ultimately, would be illegitimate.

The degree to which this view is gaining ground may be found in the surprising remarks of one of President Bush's own party chiefs, House Majority Leader Dick Armey. "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 want to do so," Armey said last week. "I don't believe 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."

This argument is flat wrong -- logically, factually, historically -- in both of its important aspects.

"Proper provocation." Has Iraq properly provoked the United States -- has it committed acts so hostile as to rise to a cause of war? This question can only be considered in the context of Sept. 11. Before that day, the United States had for many years faced the threat posed by anti-American terrorist groups and the regimes (Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, Cuba, etc.) that supported and in some cases trained and housed them. The policy on this was essentially one of containment -- no administration regarded the crime of harboring the enemy as sufficient provocation to launch a war.

This changed with the murder of more than 3,000 people in America by members of a terrorist organization (al Qaeda) that existed with the crucial support of a sovereign host nation (Afghanistan). It was suddenly inarguable that the United States must wage war against al Qaeda and like groups. It was suddenly obvious that the only effective way to do this was to take the war to the supporting nations: It is the existence of state support, with its tremendous advantages of wealth and sovereign protection, that allows stateless terror groups to persevere in an otherwise hostile world.

So, the largely accepted argument became: Persistent state support for groups bent on waging war against the United States is sufficient provocation for a U.S. attack against that state. Thus, rightly, we attacked the sovereign state of Afghanistan.

Does Iraq fit this bill? It does, and then some. The evidence linking Iraqi state support directly to al Qaeda and the attack of Sept. 11 is not conclusive but strong, in the form of a reported meeting in April 2001 between Sept. 11 ringleader Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi diplomat in the Czech Republic. Iraq has for years reportedly maintained a training camp for anti-American terrorists.

Hussein's regime pays $25,000 per death (a huge sum in context) to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, thus directly bankrolling and fomenting the frequent killing of American allies, sometimes the killing of Americans themselves, and strongly encouraging the conflict that is the prime cause of Middle Eastern enmity toward America.

Moreover, Hussein's regime persists in an aggressive campaign to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This represents much more of a threat in the case of Iraq than it does in the case of, say, India, because Iraq is run by a dictatorial, belligerent lunatic who has, with vast disregard for the lives of his own people, twice started insane wars (Iran, 1980, more than 1 million dead; Kuwait, 1990). Hussein even has used chemical weapons against his own people, slaughtering tens of thousands of Kurds. The fact of Iraq's persistence in its weapons program is alone "proper provocation," as it clearly and massively violates the 1991 cease-fire that Iraq signed to escape destruction in the Persian Gulf War.

"Consistent with what we have been as a nation." Here, Armey argues that an attack against a sovereign state that has not attacked us would constitute a radical departure from American policy. This claim can rest only on ignorance.

The United States has frequently waged war on nations that have not "properly" provoked it. Such conflicts include the War of 1812, the Spanish-American War, arguably World War I, the Vietnam War, the invasions of Grenada and Panama, the Persian Gulf War and the air campaigns in 1996 against the Serbs in Bosnia and in 1999 against Serbia itself over Kosovo. In a number of cases -- including the Spanish-American War and most recently the two Balkan campaigns -- the United States attacked sovereign states that had not taken offensive actions outside their own borders. America brought war in these cases solely because it objected (mostly for moral reasons) to actions taken by states or peoples within their borders.

It looks like casus enough belli to me, and I think it would seem that way also to most Iraqis.

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