Iraq: In all but name, the war's on
August 18, 2002 8:44 PM   Subscribe

Iraq: In all but name, the war's on How do you tell a war has begun? This is not the 17th or 18th century. There are no highfalutin' declarations. Troops don't line up in eyesight of each other. There are no drum rolls and bugle calls, no calls of "Chaaa...rge!". When did the Vietnam War begin? When, for that matter, World War I? When mobilizations were ordered setting in motion irreversible chains of events or at the time of the formal declarations of war?
posted by bas67 (24 comments total)
I see your point, but isn't what is true for the Vietnam war and WWI, to a lesser extent, also true for wars in 17th and 18th century? Rarely, if ever, has there been a war that really did begin with just a declaration.
posted by aznblader at 9:11 PM on August 18, 2002

With US and British troops throughout the region its worth noting that Iran and Bahrain oppose an attack on Iraq and Russia and Iraq are planning to sign an economic co-operation deal worth up to $60bn.
posted by Stuart_R at 9:11 PM on August 18, 2002

russia denies any knowledge of that $60bn deal, can't find the article that I read that in but I'm certain of it (if that's worth anything).
posted by Mick at 9:19 PM on August 18, 2002

This phenomenon reminds me of another one, described by Walter Lippman in his brilliant Public Opinion. (warning: it has been a number of years since I've read the book. I might be getting some details wrong, but the general sentiment should remain unchanged.). At the time of writing (1920's), the communication options were few and limited. Lippman describes a group of farmers living on a remote island, and having only an occasional mail contact with outside world. When the news of World War I starting reached them, the entire island found itself an unwilling participant literally overnight, as citizens of both sides of war's participants lived there. The war of course, has gone on for a number of months before they knew anything about it, but that did not change the fact that the war did not in fact exist until they were told it did; but once the news was received, they were retroactive to the date on which the war has begun. Lippman used this example to expand on the ease of swaying public opinion by simply having official government sources inform citizens of not only the news (presumably affecting their future), but also their past. This is the same idea that Orwell had so much fun with in 1984.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 9:23 PM on August 18, 2002

FOXNews has the story on the alleged Russia-Iraq deal (they say $40 bil).

Friday I heard (off the Web, that is) the National Guard has been mobilized bigtime. Local TV says they're going to be doing Homeland Security ops, but the scuttlebutt is they'll be heading to the Persian Gulf.
posted by StOne at 9:25 PM on August 18, 2002

Just for the record, WWI is generally accepted as starting with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 10:09 PM on August 18, 2002

I wish Congress would take back some of the authority of deciding when to go to war. At least then the public would have access to the debates and justifications pertainig to the decision. I don't like this wacky-style "we'll justify attacking Iraq as soon as we've attacked Iraq" nonsense.
posted by mogwai at 11:40 PM on August 18, 2002

With a profound sense of the solemn and even tragical character of the step I am taking and of the grave responsibilities which it involves, but in unhesitating obedience to what I deem my constitutional duty, I advise that the Congress declare the recent course of the Imperial German Government to be in fact nothing less than war against the Government and people of the United States; that it formally accept the status of belligerent which has thus been thrust upon it, and that it take immediate steps not only to put the country in a more thorough state of defense but also to exert all its power and employ all its resources to bring the Government of the German Empire to terms and end the war.

president wilson asks congress for a declaration of war. (1917)
posted by lescour at 11:42 PM on August 18, 2002

No worries. War doesn't start until Matthew Broderick hacks into the military's top-secret computer gaming system. But we'll just have the computer play tic-tac-toe against itself and in a few minutes time everyone will realize how futile war is and we'll all be happy...and Matthew Broderick will get the girl.
posted by fatbobsmith at 11:49 PM on August 18, 2002

These guys reported last week that the US Air Force has been regularly flying over Baghdad, apparently testing air defences.

A lot of information in the Asia Times article - covert buildup in particular - was on Debka last week.

I don't subscribe and this story has moved on, but one of their leads (right column) now reports that Saddam will shortly launch pre-emptive WMD attacks on the US and Israel in an attempt to ward off military action.
posted by Mutant at 2:41 AM on August 19, 2002

It would seem to me that we find out that a war has "started" the same way that we find out that there's now Vanilla Coke (Do yourself a favor, drink water instead).
A few press releases get issued. You see the story on CNN (assuming that you watch CNN). Then the television commercials start up. You see people wearing the t-shirts. The stickers go up all over the place. Then the supporting human interest stories begin. That's how the common person finds out about it here.

Of course if you're the common person there, you find out about it when the state run television (as opposed to our four corporations and the FCC) tells you that it's time to die for your country/leader/god (as opposed to us, we've got cooler weapons, so all we need to do is "god bless em," dying isn't really a concern). However, the difference between "war" and "not war" aren't incredibly apparent, as when you look around you see a noticeable lack of bridges, infrastructure, factories, etc.

Naturally, if you're the policy maker for either side, you know when the "war is on", in much the same way that children playing street hockey know that the "game is on" when the car has finished passing.

These examples only apply to the idea of what we loosely think of as being conventional warfare. It becomes a bit more nebulous when you think in terms of other wars, for example the "war on drugs."

These "wars" happen whether we know about their details or not (or whether we care or not). I think there might be a more fruitful question to ask other than "Has a war begun." It should be pretty obvious to all concerned, regardless of what authority declares.

The question that one might want to consider asking is, who benefits from these "wars?" Who benefits from conventional war? Who benefits from the war on drugs?
posted by severed at 2:49 AM on August 19, 2002

C'mon, Vanilla coke? It's great I tell you. Well, I like it at least.

The war on drugs is more of a continuous police action that sporadically acts. But the word 'war' used against something is some dang powerful (see War against Hunger, War against Poverty, and so on).

Well, we aren't in the 17th century anymore, and declaring war is declaring total war. That means every mean necessary is mustered and used, like information. Why announce it when it work better not too? (I'll tell ya why; cause it says so in our constitution but no one listens to me) And war starts when people start dying. I don't have much chance of it since a submarine hasn't been sunk since USS Scorpion, and even that wasn't due to enemy fire, but ground troops do die, so I would see them as a rough indicator as the condition of war.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 3:07 AM on August 19, 2002

Just for the record, WWI is generally accepted as starting with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.

Well, yeah. But ask yourself: why does a Serbian shooting a member of the Austrian royal family necessitate war between England and Turkey? That may have been the efficient cause of the war, but it does a lousy job of explaining why the entire continent started shooting at each other.

Twenty years of military buildup and sabre rattling and crises which threatened to start big wars before someone backed down from the brink had conditioned the leaders of the various nations to believe that war was not only inevitable but potentially beneficial.

Stripped of the historical context of national hatreds and national war-mobilization plans which were (literally) on rails and military usurpation of civilian government in the months and years before the summer of '14, the chain of events which leads from a tragic but fairly minor event in Sarajevo to a global war in a couple of months seems weird and unreal.

The parallel is pretty clear: those concerned about the wisdom of an attack on Iraq should be speaking up now, because whatever event triggers actual conflict will be the final link in a chain of events which are already happening, and it will be far too late to stop the process once things get overt.
posted by sexualchocolate at 3:58 AM on August 19, 2002

those concerned about the wisdom of an attack on Iraq should be speaking up now

It is wise. Hussein's own people are sick of his brutality.





// END ACT //


(not my caps)

And pro-Arab policy is to give Iraq a new regime.

Naysayers might be surprised to find that the time-frame allotted to ousting Hussein is about the same as the time frame alloted for routing out the Taliban: about five minutes.
posted by hama7 at 5:07 AM on August 19, 2002

Sounds kind of like North Korea, Doesn't it?

"Axis of Evil", anyone?
posted by hama7 at 5:11 AM on August 19, 2002

hama7: Yes, the Taliban is routed, and now Afghanistan is all fine and we don't have to worry about it, right?

Time frame for ousting Hussein: about five minutes.
Time frame for pacifying Iraq: about five decades.
posted by languagehat at 5:13 AM on August 19, 2002

Time frame for protecting American citizens and citizens of all Western countries including Israel: Yesterday.
posted by hama7 at 5:37 AM on August 19, 2002

If protecting America was a Bush priority (as opposed to preemptively heading off a drop in the polls) we would be taking care of the al Qaeda members in Pakistan.
posted by owillis at 6:42 AM on August 19, 2002

Severed: "as opposed to us, we've got cooler weapons, so all we need to do is "god bless em," dying isn't really a concern"

Never underestimate your enemy.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:54 AM on August 19, 2002

Oh, and about WWI, the death of Ferdinand was the spark of the war, but the animosity started long before that with deals behind closed doors and secret agreements between countries that had been transpiring for years. History is 20/20 hindsight. At the time it was a shock, because the pacts between gov'ts were not widely advertised. Some could argue that the assassination was merely the straw that broke the camel's back. There was a sort of "cold war" in Europe long before any official proclamation was made.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:03 AM on August 19, 2002

Already, 1,800 US troops (mostly Special Forces) are inside Iraq, at least since the end of March and, in fact, units there were visited two months ago by CIA director George Tenet during a side trip from Israel and Palestine.
While I'm sure there are people operating in Iraq right now, I would think that 1800 troops (not all Special Forces) would be big news, and hard to hide. And why would the director of the CIA visit a covert operation in Iraq? The reporting seems a bit weak here, even if the premise is sound.
posted by cardboard at 7:17 AM on August 19, 2002

The beginning of WWI was not the assassination on June 28, but the declaration of war against Russia by Germany on August 1. That's when "almost inevitable" became "too late -- it's already happening", and all those alliance triggers fell into place (well, invading Belgium triggered several more).

As for Debka, what they say must be taken with a grain of salt. They made a big deal about a Turkish "seizure" of an Iraqi "airbase", but if you google around a little you find they set up operations there in 1998 when they worked with the Iraqi Kurds to pacify the PKK cross-border operations, and at that time the "airbase" was a disused, decrepit "airport" that hadn't seen service in years. Certainly there is an effort to return American supply depots to full strength, and place more men and materiel in the region. But we already have a full armored division sitting in ships anchored off Diego Garcia, and have since the Clinton years (when we bought a new fleet of ROROs). It demonstrates noose-tightening, but only slightly above the policing we've already been doing of Iraqi shipping and no-fly zones. Yeah, we creamed a radar installation this month; we did the same thing in June, and March, and half-a-dozen times last year.

And Russia's game is playing both sides against the middle, as it has been for a decade; they're just getting more subtle. Or out in the open, depending on how you look at it. This deal is the contemporary equivalent of getting into Pristina before NATO -- and something of a poisoned nickel for Russia's agreeing not to supply the Persians with more reactor technology. But notice how it's rarely we oppose an attack on Iraq but we oppose a unilateral attack on Iraq, which is an important word which says they may be bought (a crude word for persuaded). In the end the Gulf States aren't going to kick us out over this, though they do recognize that their influence would wane in a pacified Middle East; their value to us is as oases hard up against more hostile territories.
posted by dhartung at 7:19 AM on August 19, 2002

The beautiful part of american foreign policy (and possibly that of many nations) is that the main thrust of it could just as easily be determined by a 10 year old. It looks to me like the way I would be thinking if I were playing a video game...where nothing is real. There are no real people involved, and no real guns. No real hunger, or sickness, or death. No real young men being sent to fight and die.

The only thing that matters in a video game is that my cash hoard continues to grow, my enemies get crushed (allowing me to take their stuff and grow my cash hoard, and crush more enemies), and that I eventually do this enough to win the high score on the Top 10 screen.

The constitution no longer places effective checks on the power of the president. In theory, the checks are still there, but in reality they are not used. If whomever wins the presidency is inclined to treat it like sitting in front of a computer game, then that's the way we will be governed.

I'd rather have a president who had an orgy in the oval office every night (involving his interns, several members of congress, the pizza delivery guy, and the family pet) but who still managed, during the day, to take into account that every one of his decisions involved real people all over the world...and who did his level best to govern them wisely, and for everyone's mutual benefit (as much as possible). Right now we have the opposite...and so does Iraq.
posted by ruggles at 8:08 AM on August 19, 2002

Finish Him.
Flawless victory!

"The greatest happiness is
to vanquish your enemies,
to chase them before you,
to rob them of their wealth,
to see those dear to them
bathed in tears, to clasp to
your bosom their wives
and daughters"
posted by euphorb at 12:28 PM on August 19, 2002

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