Whose War Is It, Anyway?

THE military outcome of the war against Iraq will be the defeat of Saddam Hussein's forces. That much seems clear. As the campaign moves from air strikes to the dislodging of Saddam's ground forces from Kuwait, the timing and cost are uncertain. Iraqi chemical and nuclear facilities will have been decimated, Baghdad crippled, and Saddam stripped of his boasts.

But whose war is it, anyway?

First, it is Saddam Hussein's war, and George Bush's. We may argue that historical, economic, and political conditions have prepared the way. Saddam may label Israel and her big ally, the United States, the primary aggressors, to unravel Arab opposition. George Bush may have arrayed United Nations, Egyptian, and Syrian support for his Kuwaiti mission. Congress, along with public opinion, may have swung in behind the President. But the two men, Saddam and Bush, made the decision to engage in war. It is important to remember, when newscasts and print reports of battle are relayed, that wars do not just start. There is no process of spontaneous combustion for wars. They represent a collision of wills. They end by mutual exhaustion or defeat of one of the parties. The initial US purpose was to stop Saddam at the Saudi border, then to expel him from Kuwait; now, analysts say, Saddam's military force must be crippled - but without creating a vacuum in Iraq that could invite Syrian or Iranian aggression. It is hard to see how Kuwait can be liberated from Iraq's forces without liberating Iraq from Saddam.

Once started, it becomes the people's war, and primarily the young people who must fight it. America's high-tech aircraft - recording their own strikes with on-board video equipment - make for remarkable newscast footage. But it is still the human capital on the war table that should most concern us. At this level the notion of ``enemy'' becomes artificial, and war saddens us.

It is a diplomats' and analysts' war. Outcomes are explored for what comes next in the region. Winning the peace is at least as important as winning the war. Why should the United States think it can have a more enduring influence in the region than have the British and French? An Arab or United Nations peacekeeping force should be subsequently deployed in Kuwait, with US might stationed mostly offshore.

This is not Israel's war. The US could attempt to broker an Israeli-Palestinian agreement as an alternative to the multilateral peace conference sought by Europeans and others. But how to go to peace over the Palestine issue is harder to outline than how to go to war with Iraq. Washington's deployment of Patriot anti-missile facilities in Israel to intercept Iraqi missile attacks, some argue, should make US ``guarantees'' of protection for Israel's security more credible. Sooner would seem better than later. But Israel will want to make its own decisions about the risks of a settlement with the Palestinians.

It is too bad Saddam could not see where his and Iraq's real self-interest lay.

The United States and its allies, ``new world order'' or not, will turn back a certain number of aggressions over time. Here is where the war decision moves away from Mr. Bush. Economic interests, the need for regional stability, and the irrepressible US impulse to influence outcomes, combined to lead the US into war.

It is not CNN's war, or ABC's, brought to our attention in micro-newsbursts, with on-air reporters dashing for cover, however this may appear to be the case. Under censorship, the war story retreats into statistics, charts, and briefings, into the jargon of ``sorties'' and ``hits.''

It is not the military-industrial complex's war, although an awful lot of sophisticated equipment and materiel is being deployed - and tested live. We will no doubt hear a lot of silly talk about the wisdom of the past decade's defense spending, in the next budget round, from those so inclined.

Philosophically speaking, War seems to rouse itself every now and then to sport and try its newest weapons, as if the means of war have an existence apart from the aims of war.

War drafts its combatants, who then think they are making their own decisions.

It is War's war.

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