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Gulf War Opposition Vindicated by Results
By Mark Fife
More than a year has passed since the Persian Gulf War began. The majority of Americans appeared to support that operation. After hostilities began, the nation lost itself in flag-waving, yellow-ribbon euphoria. I, for one, could only stare in disbelief at what I considered a society that had lost its ability to reason. For those of us who opposed the war, it is as difficult to forget as it is memorable for those who supported it. The only difference between us now is the flavor of our memories. My initial reaction to the news of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was similar to most. I saw a small nation overpowered and brutalized by a larger foe, one whose reputation for violence was well known. But as the days and events unfolded, I very slowly, but continuously, found reason to suspect our government's motives for involvement. The message to the Iraqi government prior to its invasion, sent via Ambassador April Glaspie, with its hands-off and conciliatory tone, exacerbated that suspicion. President Bush's personalization of the conflict, coupled with his reference to our demands as 'negotiations' clearly pointed to his inclination toward war.
Along with several other Western nations, the United States had armed Saddam Hussein to fight the current enemy, Iran. Suddenly our erstwhile ally became an enemy, with the fourth largest army in the world (although certainly not the fourth most formidable). It became clear to me that most aspects of this crisis were the residues of meddling by the U.S. government. It was the product of an incredibly inconsistent foreign policy: a Middle Eastern revolving door of ever-fluid good-guy/bad-guy confusion. And it was most assuredly the product of our society; ourselves; our refusal to deal realistically and holistically with our addiction to oil. We have continued to allow our leaders to lead without vision and without a comprehensive national energy policy.
Opinion was mixed and deeply divided as events developed in the summer and fall of 1990. Some believed Saddam Hussein to be Hitler reincarnate and capable of destroying the world if not stopped in Kuwait. Others agreed that oil was indeed the main motive for war but felt that to be sufficiently just cause in itself. Still others found the situation far too muddied by our history of meddling in the internal affairs of those nations to justify the costs, the lives and dollars, of another war.
Congress was just as divided and eventually boiled it down to a two-sided debate: sanctions or war. Both houses voted in favor of going to war, but neither vote was an overwhelming majority. Public opinion polls varied geographically but were generally 60 to 40 in favor. Prior to Jan. 16, 1991, the leaders of the United States were far from consensus on this issue.
In the final days prior to the start of U. S. involvement in the hostilities, 30,000 people marched in Seattle to protest impending military action. Some 10,000 demonstrators gathered in downtown Tacoma to do the same. But once the war began, most of the demonstrators disappeared. What happened to those thousands who spoke out against warfare? What changed? The common theme was "I don't want war, but we have to support the troops now that it's started," or "We donít want another Vietnam." The notion that an event becomes justified merely because it has commenced defies logic. But those who fell silent after the war began did exactly what the Bush administration expected them to do: They became awash in the feel-good, emotional, patriotic swell to "support the troops."
Support of the troops was the cause of great inner debate for me. As a former military officer, I had many friends and acquaintances involved in Operation Desert Storm. I thought of them as I considered my options and duties as a citizen. My conclusion was that responsibility for the morale of the troops lies with their commanders and not with the civilian populace. Nor is the popularity of a war the responsibility of the troops. They are an arm of the government and their job is to implement policy as directed. When I was commissioned an officer in the Air Force, I took an oath of office that mentioned nothing of public opinion. Though it would make their jobs easier to bear, soldiers do not go into service with a guarantee of popular support for their mission. My overt dissension during this period brought various reactions from my friends and family as well as my former military colleagues. Not all were pleasant and some relationships remain strained to a point that recovery may never happen. But our Constitution begins with the words "We the people of the United States..." When the people feel the government is not acting on their behalf or its actions are immoral, it is their right and duty to speak out. I find it truly disturbing that any soldier or fellow citizen might chastise or threaten another for exercising that right.
I feel more vindicated every day for opposing the Persian Gulf War, but I do not wish to admonish the troops for their actions. I will not deny or overlook the discipline and courage with which many of them preformed their duties. These criticisms are directed at those who, through greed and/or lack of foresight, created the stage for this play of folly.
The public, and President Bush's political opponents, have recently been pointing out what little was accomplished by Operation Desert Storm. However, the viewpoint that Hussein should be removed from power or killed is still missing what I consider to be the crux of the issue. As long as the United States' policy in the Middle East stays one of interference and manipulation, there will always be Saddam Husseins to deal with.
--Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 16, 1992.
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Last updated: January 3, 2003