Who's for war, who's against it, and why.

Who's for war, who's against it, and why.

Who's for war, who's against it, and why.

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Feb. 19 2003 7:13 PM

Roll Call

Who's for war, who's against it, and why.

With war in the offing, Slate asked prominent people in politics, the arts, entertainment, business, and other fields to answer the following question: Do you favor a U.S. invasion of Iraq? The respondents run the gamut, from those who believe war is a bad idea (Spike Lee says we're being "hoodwinked" by the Bush administration) to those (like Mark Bowden) who think we should have invaded already.


Henry J. Aaron is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
I believe that a war on Iraq is now justified, provided that the United States follows up what we all hope would be a quick victory with the determination to help stabilize the resulting political situation and support a transition to a representative government. Failure to follow up a military victory with patience and tenacity could easily convert a short-term success into a long-term calamity. I have come to the view that military action is justified with great hesitancy because plausible chains of events following even what appears to be a military, diplomatic, and political success include frightening and catastrophic outcomes—but so too does inaction.

Jonathan Alter is a senior editor and columnist at Newsweek.
President Bush's tone has been destructive to American interests; he should have done more proving (with real, not trumped-up information) and less asserting in making his case. But I now support military action for four basic reasons:

  1. Collective Security: Under U.N. Resolution 1441, which has been clearly violated by Saddam Hussein, military action would be in the context of nearly 90 years of collective security—an essential prerequisite for intervention in today's world.
  2. Nuclear Security: The national security policy of the United States should be encapsulated in four words: "The club is closed." While little can be done about those countries that already have nuclear weapons, we should focus great energy and attention on limiting entrance to the nuclear club, especially among rogue states. Colin Powell was not convincing on al-Qaida/Iraq connections, but he was persuasive on Iraq's efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. We cannot afford to wait until Iraq obtains such weapons and blackmails the region—as North Korea is doing now.
  3. September 11: While war against Iraq may increase terrorism in the short run, it is, on balance, more likely to decrease it in the long run. Even if al-Qaida is not operating in Iraq right now, Iraq has been friendly with terrorists. Generally speaking, the fewer rogue states, the fewer places for terrorists to hide. Until 9/11, stability was preferable to upheaval in the Middle East. Now, change is the best option. War is always a leap in the dark, but even the chance of greater regional democracy—and thus less of the displaced anger that fuels terrorism—makes the risks worth taking.
  4. Credibility: If Saddam disarms now, war should be avoided. But if he continues to cheat and retreat in the next few weeks, a decision by the United States to back off and delay would be interpreted as weakness in the Middle East. Osama Bin Laden hit us on 9/11 because he thought we were soft and would not respond. Weakness now would further embolden Saddam Hussein.

Eric Alterman is a columnist for TheNation and authors a Weblog for MSNBC.com.
I admit that the beefed-up containment policy vis-à-vis Iraq, driven exclusively by the Bush administration's obsession with the issue, has been a smashing success. But rather than declare victory and stay in Iraq—with inspectors and the threat of force if they are resisted—the administration insists on embarking on an unnecessary and potentially ruinous war. While I will support it once it begins, as a patriot, and in the belief that a quick victory will result in the most minimal loss of life, I continue to oppose its commencement for the following reasons. Any one of them strikes me as sufficient, but the combination strikes me as overwhelming:

  1. The war against al-Qaida is not yet won, and this war will shift resources away from it.
  2. We remain enormously vulnerable to another terrorist attack, and this war will shift resources away from securing the "homeland."
  3. The war will cause the very problem it is alleged to address: anti-American terrorism.
  4. Pakistan is far more likely to give a nuclear weapon to terrorists; North Korea is a greater danger to world peace. We should address those problems immediately, rather than hope they will solve themselves while we are preoccupied with Iraq.
  5. The war will place Israel in mortal danger of a gas attack and rally both sides in the Palestinian conflict in ways that can only be counterproductive to peace.
  6. George Bush was right in the first place: "The United States must be proud and confident of our values, but humble in how we treat nations that are figuring out how to chart their own course." We should not be in the business of "nation building," something at which, as evidenced by Afghanistan, we suck.
  7. George Bush and the men surrounding him—Colin Powell excepted—are not honest men any more than Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, or Ronald Reagan were. The nation is still paying the price for its misplaced trust in those leaders in matters of war and peace.
  8. Much of the uniformed military, including Maj. Gen. Anthony Zinni, who served as the head of the U.S. Central Command as well as George W. Bush's representative to the Middle East peace negotiations, remain unconvinced that this war is necessary at this time. Read a talk he gave on the topic recently here. If Gen. Zinni is unconvinced, I'm unconvinced.

Roger Altman is former deputy treasury secretary and a founder of Evercore Partners Inc.
Absent abdication by Hussein, I favor a forced disarmament of Iraq. I do not agree, however, with the president's apparent timetable, i.e., 2-3 weeks. I would put weather and other tactical military considerations aside. If waiting 6-8 weeks, for example, would produce considerably wider U.N. support, let that be the timetable.

Eli Attie is the former chief speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore and a co-producer of TheWest Wing.
We can all agree that Saddam Hussein's a bad guy. But last time I checked the U.N. charter, invasion of sovereign nations wasn't a popularity contest. There's a dangerous precedent here, and an even more dangerous distraction: Osama Bin Laden's still at large. The Taliban's back in Afghanistan. North Korea's openly threatening total war. Is Iraq really the biggest threat we face? Is it really worth enraging our allies, committing billions of dollars and thousands of lives? Saddam's villainy isn't enough. If there's a broader case to be made, this administration has yet to make it.

Nicholson Baker is the author most recently of A Box of Matches.
Slate says, as many do, "There's a war coming." There is no such inevitability. We can keep it from happening. What slowed the bombing in Vietnam? The shouts of the protesters in front of the White House, disturbing Nixon's tranquility. Public embarrassment stopped it. Heap shame and opprobrium on Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Powell, and Bush. They are foolish, small-minded, cowardly men who will not hesitate to order the bombing of civilians from several miles in the air in order to squash a dictator that they helped bring to power.

Paul Berman is the author of Terror and Liberalism, to be published in March.
I do not favor an invasion of Iraq solely for the purpose of disarming the regime. If disarmament is the goal, there is no reason we shouldn't keep up a pressure short of invasion. I would favor an invasion for a larger purpose, though, which is this: to begin a roll-back of the several tendencies and political movements that add up to Muslim totalitarianism. I would favor an invasion whose purpose was to foment a liberal revolution in the Middle East. Unfortunately, Bush has not spoken of such a thing. He has not tried to summon the support of liberal revolutionaries from the Muslim world, or from any other part of the world. He will probably stage his invasion, anyway. I will protest against it, but not because I want him to withdraw the troops or to do less. I will protest because I want him to do more. In our present terrible predicament, a liberal revolution is our best hope—the best hope for ourselves, and the best hope for the Arab world.