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  deep qt dossier 9: Gassing Off On Iraq
Several months ago Carl Strock, a columnist who writes for the Schenectady Gazette in upstate New York, did a piece about why he continued to concentrate on local issues rather than join the national debate about invading Iraq. Paraphrasing, he basically acknowledged doubts about the policy, but also acknowledged doubts about his own knowledge of foreign policy and military matters. His area of expertise lay closer to home and therefore he chose not to gas off. Whatever was the man thinking?

Thank God our laptop bombardiers, with their inch deep grasp of military strategy and of the history, politics and cultures of the myriad countries that fall under the loose category "Muslim", have felt no such restraint. Islamo Fascists here we come! Or more accurately, there other people go. Kudos also to those on the left who are dead cert that "it's all about oil". And who, after a visit to Iraq, opine "the people of Iraq are among the friendliest in the world and have no hatred for the American people, just their insane government". Not only am I awed by this ability to read the hearts and minds of millions of individuals in a foreign country where freedom of speech is not encouraged, but I'm humbled by the graciousness of the Iraqis. I mean, considering that the "average" American is a "gun toting White Conservative". The above quotes, complete with capitals, aren't taken from a comic book but a local alternative newspaper. No need to read it-- if you picked up a copy of the genre circa 1972, you already have. Just change a few names and nations.

But though I lack the knowledge possessed by both right and left, I believe invading Iraq is a bad idea. Not because I think the United States is the scourge of the earth. Nor am I a pacifist. I believe that war, unfortunately, sometimes IS the answer. But one which inevitably produces more questions and plenty of unforeseen consequences. Hence, it should rarely be launched and only with great convincing reason. The fact that various mass conflagrations of the 20th century started small gives me pause. As does the knowledge of what awful changes war rings on the oft characterized, average person's life. Aka the majority of people on all sides, who care most about their individual lives and immediate family. My father, thanks to bad timing, ended up serving in both World Wars. Aside from that anomaly, he was pretty average. At least by alternative newspaper standards. Though definitely not Conservative, he was White and when in combat toted a gun. He had the average war experiences of starving in trenches, being wounded and seeing friends killed. Since he was an immigrant he also had the average experience of having family members back in the old country firebombed into oblivion by the side he was fighting on. After his last military stint my father heaved a sigh of relief and returned to an average life where all he toted was a paycheck home to my mother. A paycheck that managed to support his family. Which leads to the money thing.

Being a self centered American of the sort British playwright Harold Pinter recently castigated in his own contribution to the Great Gas Off, I worry first about the people in this country. In this, I know I fall short of those in other nations who feel the pain of everyone in the world as fully as they do their own. But like Popeye, that average American spinach toting sailor, I yam what I yam. The financial cost of exercises in empire building concern me. Even with Afghanistan, I figured we'd raze the place, then stay around for the next millennium revitalizing the wreckage and propping up some corrupt, unreliable puppet government. And as dreams of multi regime changes grow, so does the roster of potential client states. First we conquer at immense cost, then we cough up ad infinitum. Some call it nation building-- I call it maze. The taxpayer is already paying for much they shouldn't be. Such as corporate welfare and HUD bucked real estate speculation. How many more locations locations locations can they carry? Even with the now de rigueur two paychecks, families commonly have heavy debt loads and little if any savings. The economy is not in good shape. Is this any time to launch a Crusade?

Risks would have to be born if the case for war with Iraq were great and convincing. I, personally, have not found that to be so. And the way the case has been presented also makes me doubt. One small example: a few months back the Bush administration implied Osama Bin Laden was ultimately unimportant. But recently, a supposed relationship between Osama and Saddam was posited as rationale for war. Osama is the clearly identifiable cause behind mass murder yet his importance has waxed and waned as expedience demanded. Some say cynically that if he were caught and executed, public support for conventional war would lessen. Maybe. Maybe not. Because I also think it possible that part of the drive for war, even within the Bush administration, grows out of the inability to acknowledge that so much damage and pain could be caused by relatively small groups of people. Ones who function in a landscape of globalism and whose motives, transnational connections and methods were not well understood prior to 9/11 and which still seem insufficient and inexplicable in relation to that tragedy. Those who hammer home oil as the sole reason for war are tone deaf to how 9/11 remains, unassimilated and stark, in the hearts of many. Yes, oil is part of the equation. But it is not the total picture of why some Americans want a conventional, understandable war.

The national Iraq debate has not been our finest discussion as citizens. As war uncertainty dragged on, post 9/11 togetherness collapsed into "which side are you on" truculence. Each side almost immediately characterized the other as not just mistaken, but evil. The social atmosphere amongst those who talk ideas became highly politicized. Words are sniffed suspiciously for hints of Wrong Thought. Friendships go on the rocks as previously tolerated political differences become beams in the eye. Both sides tell wild tales about the other. Such as: the entire anti war movement, nationwide, is being mind controlled by a small Marxist cult who worship dear dead Uncle Joe and take marching orders from North Korea. The Bush family has Hitler's brain in their linen closet and is following a long term Nazi agenda. Colin Powell is being blackmailed by Bush to support a pro war stance. Scott Ritter was blackmailed by Saddam to oppose it. And then there are the fevered dreams. While some on the right believe now is the time to conquer the entire Islamic world, some on the left hear the old siren song of world revolution. Both know the god of history is on their side. Meanwhile Saddam, the man in the middle, is planning to slip out the back Jack and move to New Jersey. This according to the Weekly World News which is right at home in the current climate, confidant that Nostradamus whispers in their ear. Actually, the idea of Saddam moving to Jersey makes some sense. I can think of a few political circles where he'd fit right in. And mustaches have never gone out with crooked pols. Perhaps a nostalgic fashion nod to the 70's, the decade when most of the current crop cut their teeth on that first bribe.

But seriously folks, not since the halcyon days of hot damn Vietnam have the cliché's and dehumanizing impulses flowed so fast and furious. Many on both sides are in hog heaven as the world returns to comfortable equations. Conventional war and conventional enemies. Over There-- the noble/evil dark skinned paragons/infidels must live in communal peace/be liberated into consumer heaven. On the home front, it's average gun toting Conservative White Americans vs. brainwashed Commie Effete Zombies. Pardon me if I find both left and right scary when they cast people as symbols in a political passion play. Which doesn't mean I don't think there's a right side vis a vis the question of war with Iraq. I just wish the atmosphere of the national debate were less poisonous and less predictable. Like the Pope says, pray for peace. But afterwards, pass the Beano.

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

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Copyright (c) 2002 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.

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