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.

Mark Bowden is a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and the author of Black Hawk Down.
I believe we should attack Saddam Hussein as soon as possible. I think we should have done so already. So long as an outlaw regime like his possesses weapons of mass destruction, and terrorist groups like al-Qaida seek to use them, the danger of even more horrendous terrorist attacks is real and present. Many people around the world feel comfortable that Saddam's differences with Muslim fanatics would prevent him from supplying them with such weapons, even though the United States is the sworn enemy of both. Others want to believe that after a decade of defiance, Saddam has suddenly, secretly, complied with U.N. demands that he destroy his arsenals. I don't.

Alan Brinkley is the Allan Nevins professor of history at Columbia University and the author most recently ofLiberalism and Its Discontents.
I oppose an American invasion of Iraq at this time a) because a compelling case has not, to my mind, been made that Iraq is an immediate danger to us or to the world; b) because we have not persuaded the international community to cooperate in this effort and thus risk isolating ourselves from the rest of the world and greatly intensifying anti-American sentiment, which is already dangerously high; and c) because we have seen no credible plan for how the United States—which is currently failing miserably in its efforts to rebuild Afghanistan—will create a stable post-Hussein Iraq once the war is over.

William Broyles is former editor of Texas Monthly and Newsweek, a screenwriter (Apollo 13, Cast Away), and a Marine combat veteran of Vietnam.
An immediate attack on Iraq will not make us safer, will divert us from the real work of rooting out terrorism and its causes, and may have terrible unintended consequences. The idea of pre-emptive war is utterly against every tradition and moral value of our nation. We should never wage war unprovoked or simply because we can. As a combat veteran I know war is never as clean and simple as confident civilian planners in Washington would like to think it is. We have not been prepared for the costs in blood and money of this war or been told convincingly why it is absolutely necessary absolutely now. We could better spend the hundreds of billions of dollars and the dedication of hundreds of thousands of young Americans on preparing our localities for emergencies, protecting our borders, and making us energy independent. We are in a grave period in our history. It requires leadership, humility, and cooperation, not posturing and arrogance. It requires a long struggle against our real enemies in the shadows, not a distracting conventional war against a convenient enemy with no proven ties to Sept. 11.

Gregg Easterbrook is a senior editor of the New Republic, a contributing editor of the Atlantic Monthly, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. His latest book is The Here and Now.
Unless Saddam leaves Iraq, I vote for attack. Between dramatic improvements in U.S. bombing accuracy and tactics since the Gulf War and the disrepair of Iraqi ground forces, fighting should be relatively brief. I realize people have said that on the eves of wars before and been ruinously wrong.

I see the possibilities of a U.S. attack this way:

  • A 25 percent chance of fiasco.
  • A 25 percent chance of inconclusive result—say, Saddam is deposed just as U.S. units cross the border, we withdraw, and the new guy is just as bad.
  • A 25 percent chance of a better world—Iraq disarmed, regional tensions lowered, Iraqi-terrorist connections ended, and a better life for the people of Iraq.
  • A 25 percent chance of a magnificent result—Iraq becomes a democracy and leads the Arab world into freedom, history ultimately viewing this American action as the third great United States liberation after the liberations of Germany and Japan.

That's two positive prospects, one neutral, and one negative, so I think we should try. But of course this is easy for me to say because I will not get shot at, nor run any risk that my family will be hit by a malfunctioning U.S. bomb.

Jason Epstein is former editorial director of Random House, the author of Book Business,and a contributor to the New York Review of Books.
We don't know enough to decide on war now. The risks are vast and unknowable, and the threat to American interests is not yet plain as it was after Pearl Harbor or 9/11. The White House argument for war now is as yet little more convincing than Iraq's claims of innocence. If Blix asks for more time, he should have it. Perhaps the Security Council will decide to install in Iraq a thousand or even two thousand inspectors—entire regiments of them if necessary—more or less permanently or until this abridgement of his sovereignty wears Saddam down. Their presence would be far less costly and damaging than an invasion and likely to immobilize whatever weapons Iraq may have, whereas a war might result in their use. Saddam would of course understand that if he tried as before to remove these inspectors, the result would be war, this time with the full support of the United Nations.

Tom Geoghegan is a labor attorney and the author most recently of In America's Court: How a Civil Lawyer Who Likes To Settle Stumbled Into a Criminal Trial.
I'm against invasion. As Doctor Johnson might say of so rash an act—the expense, damnable (up to $200 billion or more); our strategic posture, ridiculous (as our allies flee us, and North Korea goes nuclear); and any pleasure, even for a hawk, fleeting (since we may be in Iraq a very long time). So count me in with Robert Byrd, the pope, James Baker, and Joschka Fischer. As to the blow-back? Maybe a movement for international law. Bad for the Bush crowd, but good for our country. In the long run, if we're going to survive as a superpower, as I hope we do, we'll need a smidgeon of such law to check and balance us. (I'm cribbing this last point from Stephen Holmes' book Passions and Constraint.)

Paul Glastris is editor in chief of theWashington Monthly.
The case for invading Iraq grows stronger with every day that Saddam defies the U.N., and with each new ally that signs up to challenge him. Presuming that present trends continue—that Saddam does not back down, that Dick Cheney's unilateralist urgings are ignored, and that Colin Powell is allowed to continue to build as much international support as is possible—I favor an invasion sooner rather than later.

Mark Green is president of the New Democracy Project and was the elected citywide public advocate of New York City from 1994-2001 and the Democratic nominee for mayor in 2001.
If conservatives always push for a "cost-benefit" analysis before any regulation is enacted, let's do one before a largely unilateral war is begun, especially as President Bush exaggerates one side of the ledger while ignoring the other.

The benefit is real—the removal of a dangerous dictator and the risk that he'd someday use chemical and biological weapons (the nuclear link being unproven). Here are the costs: the provocation of retaliatory terrorist attacks in the U.S.; an inflamed Muslim world motivated to continue their civilizational Hatfields & McCoys; more dead Americans (servicemen and -women) than we lost on 9/11, as an invasion provokes Hussein to use or lose any weapons of mass destruction; tens of thousands of civilian casualties; an economic cost of $100 billion to a trillion dollars over a decade; an occupation and nation-building effort of the exact sort that candidate Bush denounced; the precedent that a fretful, stronger power can pre-emptively invade a weaker one; and the elevation of Iraq far above more urgent problems like al-Qaida and North Korea.

Conclusion: It's smarter to continue expanded inspections since Saddam is contained and can't do anything aggressive anyway. While an imperfect option, it's a lot less costly to keep 500 inspectors in Iraq than 150,000 troops.

Arianna Huffington is the author of Pigs at the Trough: How Corporate Greed and Political Corruption Are Undermining America.
I'm against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The administration has not proven how Iraq constitutes a clear and present danger or why it presents a graver threat than al-Qaida or indeed North Korea. It's particularly ironic that as we ratchet up the war preparations, the nation's security alert went from yellow to orange, but it's not Iraq that is threatening us.

Ben Karlin is co-executive producer of TheDaily Show With Jon Stewart.
Do I favor a U.S. invasion of Iraq? I am only in favor of war with Iraq if the entire affair takes place between the morning of February 21st and the evening of Sunday March 2nd. This is because TheDaily Show will be on hiatus during this period, and, historically, massive loss of life has proven not conducive to producing a comedy news program. I would remind the president as he and his generals go about their plan that in a war, the first casualty is the ease of my job.

Tony Kushner is the author of Angels in America and Homebody/Kabul.
Rumsfeld has promised hundreds of aerial bombings on the first day of the war. Many, many thousands of Iraqi civilians will be killed, along with Iraqi soldiers and (in far smaller numbers) American soldiers. In the current, intensely fraught, intensely dangerous geopolitical climate, a rapid expansion of Bush's war and the eventual use of nuclear weapons (which no one including the Bush administration is ruling out) are also real, albeit less likely, possibilities. We have neither an ethical nor a legal right to attack Iraq, which has not attacked us and which poses no verifiable immediate threat to the United States. Powell's evidence is simply inadequate, certainly for the purpose of condemning thousands of people to death.

We should pursue the path of inspections and diplomacy, strenuously and for an extensive period. The risks are worth taking; again many lives hang in the balance.  The world's political will, which the US can help sharpen, could help the people of Iraq and disarm Saddam Hussein. Mountains of corpses, the hatred of much of the rest of the planet, the dissolving of important alliances, and increased terror and economic hardship here and abroad are all likely results of this unilateral attack. War is not the solution.

The solution to the threat of further terrorist violence here and abroad, the solution to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, chemical and biological weapons (and don't forget land mines) around the planet, is international cooperation: the signing of meaningful, binding treaties; the strengthening of the United Nations; the creation and support of a real International Criminal Court.

I do not trust George W. Bush to prosecute a war. He holds his office under the most dubious of circumstances; many Americans, myself included, think he is not a legitimate occupant of the White House. He was not, at any rate, popularly elected. Congress, appallingly, has ceded its war powers to Bush, making war against Iraq an executive action. I exercise my right as a citizen to say that I don't trust this executive and unless we are attacked by a foreign power, I don't want my country to be led into war by him. And even if we are attacked, Congress has no business surrendering its constitutional mandate to maintain control of its share of the decision to go to war.

Robert Kuttner is co-editor of the American Prospect.
America's national interest and the world's security are better served by keeping Saddam Hussein bottled up via the current strategy of inspection and containment. I supported the war against the Taliban and al-Qaida. But the risks of invading Iraq—wider destabilization, a double standard for North Korea, global resentment of the Bush administration's swagger, and the arousal of militantly anti-American feelings—far outweigh the benefits. Bush has backed into a sensible policy of tough multilateral containment. He's about to abandon it for a reckless war.

Spike Lee is the director most recently of 25th Hour.
Not in favor of war on Iraq. Bush is hoodwinking and bamboozling the American public.

Heather Mac Donald is a fellow at the ManhattanInstitute and the author of Are Cops Racist? How theWar on the Police Harms Black Americans.
The war on Iraq is a dangerous diversion from the war on al-Qaida. Indeed, an Iraq invasion is likely to inspire retaliatory terrorism from Islamists everywhere. I would prefer to see America's resources—money, manpower, intelligence services, military might—devoted to crushing the al-Qaida infrastructure, tracking down its operatives and protecting the American homeland from terror assault. Our current anti-terror efforts are pathetically inadequate, as I fear we shall soon see.

John H. McWhorter is an associate professor of linguistics at Berkeley and the author most recently of Authentically Black: Essays for the Black Silent Majority.
The question of invading Iraq is a tough one, but I have come to feel that it is urgent for various reasons. One is that it's clear that Saddam has lethal weapons, and presumably either wants to or could use them for some purpose. Obviously he would not attack the U.S. directly, but there is no reason that he would not sell weapons to people intending to use them against us. The ties to al-Qaida that Powell's speech made clear only underscore this point. Second, with Saddam's regime out of the way, there would be less reason for the U.S. to maintain a military presence in Saudi Arabia, which would then obviate our need to curry favor with that regime, which also supports terrorism against us; this would also remove one of Bin Laden's motivations for calling his minions to arms against us. Third, Saddam obviously has the capability to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth; humanitarian concerns alone motivate removing him. Finally, if the Bush administration can by chance follow through and rebuild Iraq as a peaceable, modern democracy, then Iraq could serve as a model for other Arab countries and lessen the chance of their breeding or tolerating future cells of anti-Western terrorists.

Certainly there are other countries that pose a danger to the United States, but Iraq would seem to be an especially dangerous case, and our chances of suffering another catastrophe like 9/11 would be significantly lessened by our eliminating this threat.

Charles Murray is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
I'm in favor, for the reasons that the administration argues.

Peggy Noonan is the author of When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan.
Yes. Ultimately it's all a big gut call. We probably have as much information and data as we're going to get, and after more than a year of thought and argument and pondering and judging, it's decision time, and a lot of us will go with our guts. Because I do not trust Saddam, because I believe he is keeping and developing weapons of mass destruction for a reason, because I feel they will ultimately be used in a way that expresses Saddam's nihilism and sadism, I have come to the conclusion that we must move. I do not imagine an invasion will be swift and produce minimal losses. But I believe not stepping in is, at this point, more dangerous than stepping in.

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly.
No. This country has been conned by Karl Rove and the superhawks. They've succeeded in changing the subject from George W. Bush's failures and embarrassments, making Iraq number one on the national agenda for nearly six months at the expense of more important matters—like finding Osama Bin Laden, securing peace between Israel and Palestine, drastically improving the FBI's and CIA's ability to deal with terrorism, keeping nuclear weapons from being used by the nations that already have them, including North Korea, and engineering economic recovery here at home. If we end up paying practically all the bill for the war with Iraq and the subsequent military occupation, that money won't be there for badly needed health and education programs.

Thinking about Iraq alone—which is what the administration has tried to get us to do—it's not hard to get fired up about teaching Saddam a lesson. But once you think about these other higher priorities, the danger from Iraq just isn't imminent enough to justify war. War, however, does offer the probability of a quick and dramatic victory, and that, I fear, is why it has such enormous appeal for Bush and his colleagues.

Steven Rattner is a founder of the Quadrangle Group.
President Bush has done a terrible job working with our European allies—just the opposite of the "humble" foreign policy that he promised us. But if the question is whether we should attack Saddam now or never, I say now. Colin Powell convinced me that we cannot allow tyrants like Saddam to flaunt international rules and United Nations mandates. If we deal with Saddam effectively—which I believe is possible—it will send an important message to Saddam wannabes.

Robert Reich is university professor of social and economic policy at Brandeis University and a national editor of the American Prospect. He was secretary of labor during the Clinton administration from 1993-97. He is also the author of several books, including, most recently, The Future of Success.
No. The costs are much higher than the benefits. On the cost side, an invasion will further radicalize the Arab world, thereby playing into the hands of Islamic extremists. It will divert American attention from two more important goals—achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians and reducing the likelihood that North Korea will make and then sell nuclear bombs. And an invasion of Iraq will result in a long, expensive, difficult occupation. The benefits of invading Iraq are far smaller; Saddam Hussein is a vicious tyrant but has shown himself to be a rational one, and his tyranny could otherwise be contained and his aggression deterred. Given that he is a secular head of state who has spent much of his tenure warring against Islamic extremists, he has less interest selling or giving weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaida than, say, extremists in Pakistan or even North Korea.

Sarah Vowell is a contributing editor for public radio'sThis American Life and the author of The Partly Cloudy Patriot.
I reminded myself to answer this question by writing it in my to-do list, just below "buy duct tape and plastic sheeting." The reason I would rather not rush off to war in Iraq is also a to-do list issue. The first thing on my foreign affairs post-it note is obliterating Bin Laden and the rest of al-Qaida, followed by giving North Korea the attention they apparently crave. Then, the U.S. might consider Colombia and/or Zimbabwe, after which it could indulge in a wistful moment pondering the legacy of Havel and how he was the only world leader who knew who Moe Tucker is. Finally, America could polish off the list by ganging up with the U.N. and deciding what we are all going to do about Saddam and how France is getting on our nerves.

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