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War Watch
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card April 14, 2003

Imperial America?

I thought I was in the wrong century when I heard Sean Hannity babbling away on Fox News about who should get the contracts for Iraq's oil. "What happened to the idea that 'to the victor go the spoils'?" he asked. "Maybe if we get twenty years of royalties on Iraq's oil, it'll pay for the intervention that got them their freedom."

Yeah, right. The freedom to have us treat their oil as if it belonged to us.

There are only two ways to look on this vile proposal: Either we are establishing Iraq as a colony of a new imperial America, or we're demanding the oil revenues as reparations.

Either way would convert the cleanest war ever fought into something dirty after all.

"To the victor go the spoils" was a motto for a different kind of war. When it's a war of liberation, there are no spoils.

If this war was about anything, it was to make the Iraqi people the sovereign rulers of their own country. The only restriction we can or should place on their free government, once it's established, is that they can't have weapons of mass destruction or support terrorism.

Didn't we say, over and over, that the oil reserves of Iraq belong to the Iraqi people?

Not to us! Not to American companies!

Let French and German and Russian companies have the oil contracts. Indeed, the interim government should insist on honoring Saddam's contracts, with the stipulation that those contracts will be valid until a new, elected government comes to power. Then let the Iraqis decide whether they like the deals Saddam struck with the French and Germans and Russians.

Just as we should let the new Iraqi government decide whether to honor the debts Saddam ran up with other countries. Let it be the French and Russians and Germans demanding that the new democratic Iraq pony up and pay them Saddam's blood money.

Keep us out of it. All that matters to us is that a credible, legitimate, elected government take over the burden of leading, protecting, and rebuilding the unified nation of Iraq.

What just kills me about these suggestions of grabbing control of Iraq's resources is that they come from conservatives -- from people who claim to believe in the free market.

Well, as Gomer Pyle used to say, Surprise surprise surprise! Scratch some of these free marketeers, and you find the old imperialism just under the surface.

I say, let France and Germany and Russia be the imperialist exploiters -- they want the role so desperately, let them have it and face the consequences.

We did not enter this war for money, and shame on us if we profit from it financially in any way. It would cheapen the memory of those who died on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan -- and in the World Trade Center.

*

Speaking of amusing hypocrisy, don't you get a kick out of leftwing performers complaining when people talk about boycotting their movies or cds because of their stance on the war?

"I have freedom of speech, don't I?" they say. And, "My political opinions don't have anything to do with my art!"

Here's a clue: Freedom of speech means the government can't restrain you in advance from speaking or publishing your opinion, and can only punish you afterward in certain very limited circumstances.

Freedom of speech does not mean that other people are forbidden to despise you for what you say. Free speech has natural consequences. For instance, speak your mind as a politician, and some people will vote against you.

Can you imagine a politician whining, Why are they voting against me because I said that a black county manager applicant would have to be overly qualified compared to a white? Don't I have freedom of speech?

Celebrities have a right to their opinions, just like everybody else. But imagine what would happen if you sent a notice to the media saying that you were holding a press conference to announce your position on the war. Do you think anyone would show up? I didn't think so. They wouldn't show up for mine, either, believe me. You have to be really famous to get press attention.

And where did their fame come from? From people seeing their movies or buying their cds in very large numbers. No one would care what the Dixie Chicks thought about anything, except that millions of their records have been bought by ordinary people.

So why shouldn't those same ordinary people have a perfect right not to buy the next Dixie Chicks cd because they don't like them any more? After all, the Dixie Chicks didn't check with me, a buyer of their cds, to see if I appreciated what they were going to do with the public attention that came because I -- among millions -- bought their cds.

Of course, I intend to buy their next cd all the same, just as I own and listen to many Streisand albums and still love watching Sarandon and Garofolo perform. But that doesn't mean I disagree with those who want to express their unhappiness by boycotting them.

I guess it all depends on whether you think these people actually have any power to influence people. Personally, I think that all Sarandon, Garofolo, Streisand, and the Dixie Chicks accomplish is to build support for the war and for the Bush administration.

Let 'em keep on talking! They don't convert anybody who doesn't already agree with them, and they galvanize the opposition.

*

We need to remember that there are several separate issues involving the reconstruction of Iraq.

For instance, there are immediate reconstruction projects -- repair of main roads, power stations, water systems, and so on -- that need to begin immediately without the delays caused by a bidding process.

These are projects needed to reestablish law and order, communications, and basic amenities. These are not the longterm reconstruction projects that will undo the damage from the bombing in the 1991 Gulf War. And when these initial contracts are given to American companies that are already accustomed to dealing smoothly with the U.S. military, it does not imply that these same companies will be granted the much bigger contracts later.

When Britain promises that the UN will be vitally involved in Iraq, and the US insists that the UN will not take charge of the interim government of Iraq, they are not contradicting each other.

Providing food, water, and medicine is a humanitarian project, and once order is restored, there is no reason why the UN should not take complete charge of this. They're good at it.

Various UN agencies are also much better equipped than we are to restore Iraqi schools.

But setting up an interim government that will put Iraqis in charge of their own country, and which will lead to early democratic elections, is a completely separate issue.

France already made sure that the irrevocable decision of the UN was not to act to remove the Iraqi regime. That decision is over. It was made. The UN officially refused to enforce its own resolutions.

We're not punishing the UN or France by keeping them out of setting up the interim government in Iraq and protecting it. We're simply continuing to respect the decision they freely made back when the choice was still available.

The UN has never established a lasting democracy in an undemocratic country. The U.S. has. Britain has also supervised peaceful transitions to democracy in former colonies.

The UN, which is permeated and often dominated at the bureaucratic level by antidemocratic nations, is not a fit body to set up a government anywhere, ever. That has never been its business and it isn't now.

But France should be as free as any other country to offer its goods for sale in Iraq, and the Iraqis, as a sovereign nation and sovereign people with free businesspeople, can decide whether to buy.

One thing is certain. When the Iraqi military is reconstituted, it's doubtful they're going to want to buy Russian or French weapons.

*

A note to the Iraqi exiles: Go home to help, and you'll find yourself part of everything; go home to rule, and you'll only hurt the struggle to establish legitimate government in Iraq.

*

The Kurds earned a great deal of prestige and respect for their role in fighting the Saddam regime. But on the streets of Kirkuk, Kurdish murders of their one-time oppressors only shame and weaken their case for a strong role in the government.

The new government has to look after the interests of all the people. And while it's one thing to seek those who personally did evil acts during Saddam's regime, it's just as vile a crime for Kurds to kill Turkomens for the crime of being Turkomen as it was for Saddam to kill Kurds for the crime of being Kurdish.

*

There have been a lot of complaints about how the US military didn't have a "plan" to forestall the looting that took place in Iraqi cities.

That might be true. But I think it's a great deal more likely that the actual plan counted on looting. Not because it's desirable, but because the worst thing we could have done was to defeat the Iraqi military and then immediately fill the streets with American soldiers giving orders to people and shooting looters.

Then we would have been perceived as jackbooted conquerors.

Instead, the Iraqis saw a couple of days of chaos on their streets, and American troops did not come in to keep order until the Iraqis were already trying to do the job themselves with ad hoc militia.

In other words, it might well be that part of the plan was to show the Iraqi people the monster -- anarchy on the streets -- so that they saw for themselves that someone had to exercise authority in order to create stability.

However, it is essential that we stop being the police force of Iraq as quickly as possible. The trouble is that the existing police force has some very, very bad habits. Like beating people and imprisoning them and harming them in custody.

We can't expect other countries to read the Miranda rights to people they arrest, but we certainly need to insist that the Iraqi police change their rules of engagement.

The worst thing we could do is put brutal police back in charge. Soon enough, the Iraqis would begin to wonder just how much their country had been "liberated."

And this is just a smaller version of the larger problem: Iraq has to have an army. Ours will do the job of protecting them from foreign invaders for the time being, but we don't want to be a permanent occupying force.

I think the pool of candidates for police and army should be that enormous body of draftees who refused to fight for Saddam. They are trained, but they did not seek to be in the military. If they were hired to keep order and enlisted to protect the security of their own people, under a democratic government, I think we would find them both reliable and decent.

Citizen soldiers -- it works for us, and there's no reason it shouldn't work for them.

*

When the British and American governments say there are no plans to invade Syria, they are telling the simple truth.

But when the Bush administration says that Syria's possession of weapons of mass destruction and their continued support of terrorism are intolerable, they are also telling the truth.

There will be no peace between Palestine and Israel while Syria continues to shelter and support terrorists. Period. Nor will America be safe from terrorism.

What Syria's Ba'ath Party government needs to keep in mind, as they shelter runaway war criminals from Iraq, is this: We don't have to invade Syria ourselves.

It might be that all we would have to do is let Syria know, through quiet diplomatic channels, that we intend to stop holding Israel back from entering Syria and Lebanon to eliminate, permanently, the continuous program of murder being conducted from Syrian territory.

This much is certain: If we don't obtain the compliance of Syria, Iran, Libya, and North Korea in our anti-terrorism campaign, then deposing Saddam and the Taliban won't have accomplished very much toward increasing the security of the United States.

Iran shows hopeful signs of internal reform that might accomplish our purposes without military intervention.

Syria shows no such signs; they show the opposite.

And when the Bush administration speaks sharply and firmly to Syria, it is not because our leaders are warmongers. It's because they are pursuing a policy of eliminating terrorist-sponsoring governments one at a time, and Syria, by its behavior, is begging to be next.

But any nation on that list that wishes to be off of it has only to expel the terrorists from their territory and cease to support, supply, or shelter them in any way.

Do that, and we'll leave them alone.

Copyright © 2003 by Orson Scott Card.


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