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On a corner of Ninth Avenue in New York City, on a phone booth over an ad for Citibank, the words “The U.S. Commits Genocide in Iraq” are scrawled. Notwithstanding the spelling errors that were contained in the original rendering of this message, it’s amazing how off the mark this is, seeing as how the United States hasn’t exactly gone to war against Iraq just yet.

The foreign policy debate on whether to start bombing Saddam Hussein again has this kind of eerie, shrill way about it. It’s as if both sides of the debate were having a boiling contest to see who can take an incredibly complicated geopolitical situation and reach a conclusion that makes for a good bumper sticker. As a result, you have one group sitting around saying Hussein is bad, and the other side saying war is bad.

Congratulations. The sky is blue, my ass is pink and there’s big piles of crap in the woods that one species of brown bear is creating on a daily basis.

The doves have it bad.

Anyone who thinks that American military efforts smack of imperialism are automatically thrown in Saddam’s corner, even moreso with these rumors of double-agents in peace rallies. But the Bush Administration’s maddeningly off-kilter way of trying to prove, and reprove, that Saddam is a bad guy with special intelligence that it won’t share with others increases the suspicions and only fuels the doves to fight harder.

So rather than sit around and argue against messages scrawled on a damn bus stop, a more productive thing to do would be to figure out the real reasons to *not* go to war against Iraq. There are a few good ones -- just as there are a few good reasons *to* go to war, of which I’ll get into in two weeks.


Clearly, the notion that war is bad is far too simplistic. Saddam is as bad, or worse, than many types of war.

On a more specific level, the fact the government hasn’t been more forthcoming with information is reason enough to protest the war. Our ultimate aims haven’t been adequately explained and presented to the American people for debate. In order for the Americans to be ready to sacrifice something -- that is, more than a vacation, or time at the mall -- we need to be prepared. And we have to be prepared to cause significant short- and medium-term damage to the Middle East, which ain’t no bastion of peace and liberal democracy by any sense to begin with.

That just can’t be justified right now. The Bush Administration hasn’t demonstrated yet that it is willing to make the total sacrifice needed to commit the resources necessary to converting a country that’s known mostly strife and hardship under a dictator into a rocking, free-market place in however many years it takes.

It sure isn’t doing it in Afghanistan, where Hamid Karzai, who, whether you believe him to be a U.S. puppet or not (a knee-jerk response that seems silly, especially considering our lack of influence in the region), is basically the mayor of Kabul, and where bombings and fighting continues. Of course, it’s early to say that the rebuilding of Afghanistan hasn’t worked, but it hasn’t gotten off to a bang-up start.


That’s the kind of problem we’d be facing in Iraq. A fractured country, full of deep religious divisions, that was cobbled together by colonial forces about a century ago. (Yes, yes -- I’m blaming Great Britain in the same way I scold people for blaming the U.S. for everything, but hey. I'm me.)

Saddam Hussein won’t last long in a full-scale assault by the U.S. and the people who he's repressed will be ready to turn as soon as he's vulnerable. Everyone in the world would indeed be grateful -- despite the rhetoric, Saddam doesn’t exactly have lots of friends. But none of them want to clean up our mess.

No, it’s the aftermath that is more of a concern. What is forgotten often in history is just how damned long certain conflicts take to play out before people tire of them.

England and France fought each other for centuries before mutually coexisting and becoming friends. Today, they've developed a rivalry that now is better likened to the annual Army-Navy game. But England and Germany continued to fight each other for years and years before figuring a way not to.

The United States tore itself apart for three decades before having a massive battle in the 1860s, spilling the largest number of casualties in any war, after which we finally settled our asses down.

Somehow, the Middle East, it seems, hasn’t fought all of its wars yet. And while the U.S. had more leeway in 1861 -- international relations being less important, no nuclear weapons -- the chaos that could ensue as a result of our invasion, and the additional vitriol directed against the U.S., would be on a level that’s insurmountable, especially with nuclear weapons in the mix.

That’s not to say this is to advocate leaving Saddam where he is. Crazy as he is, though, there’s a method to his madness. The guy has a location -- and threatening the U.S. through blackmail, or through hijackings, just hasn’t been his motif because he knows he’d be bombed. (Or his two sons, one of the few things he cares about, besides himself.)


Ultimately, if Americans had more confidence that the Bush Administration would handle the aftermath, there’d be more support for a war to get rid of Saddam.

In the meantime, perhaps there’s another solution to getting this guy out of here. The Big Reason: The only thing scarier than a nuclear-armed Iraq with Saddam at the helm is a nuclear-armed Iraq with *nobody* at the helm.


David Gaffen, Mr. Know-It-All, has lived in six New York neighborhoods in six years. During that time, he has never once lost an argument with his television.