Art of War Is Different This Time

By: Dave Astor

Many editorial cartoonists who favored or opposed the first Gulf War have similar pro or con feelings about the current conflict.

One exception is Nick Anderson of The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. He supported the first war but opposes the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. This gives Anderson an interesting perspective on things like reaction from readers, who mostly praised him a dozen years ago but are now on his case.

Anderson received at least a couple dozen e-mails last week, with the comments running about 5 to 1 negative. “People are questioning my patriotism, telling me to move to Baghdad, cursing me, the usual stuff,” he told E&P Online. “I got one letter by snail mail saying ‘This is the most disgraceful political cartoon I’ve ever seen. You make me sick.'”

Anderson who joined The Courier-Journal in early 1991, added: “Before the war actually started, I was getting a lot of response, but it was running about even between positive and negative. With the troops in the field, people have been far less patient with my ‘unpatriotic’ commentary.”

The 36-year-old cartoonist emphasized that he’s not against the troops. “I’m opposed to the war, but I don’t want to see our soldiers killed and I don’t want to see us lose,” he said. “Now that we’re there, we need to win, get rid of this despot, and make sure we follow through on all the incumbent commitments that come with the invasion. I’ve felt some difficulty communicating that ambivalence without feeling like I’m trying to have it both ways. I need to work on some ideas that capture those conflicted feelings.”

Why does Anderson, who also supported every other U.S. military action since the first Gulf War, oppose the current invasion? “The first Gulf War was in response to a provocation — Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait,” he replied. “I think we had clear economic and strategic issues at stake. We assembled a broad coalition, including most of the Persian Gulf countries.

“This time around it’s different. I think this is a massive gamble. If the neoconservatives who dreamed up this invasion are correct — and it’s worth noting they dreamed it up long before Sept. 11 — we will spur a democratic and intellectual renaissance to the Middle East. I must confess that the theory has some appeal to me, but reality always seems to intrude on the best-laid plans in the Middle East.

“I also resent the shifting rationales for the war and the exploitation of Sept. 11 to persuade Americans that Iraq is an imminent threat.” Anderson said Saddam Hussein is a “potential threat,” but a strategy of “aggressive containment” would have been best.

“The cost of failure in rebuilding and democratizing Iraq could be huge,” he continued. “I think we have al-Qaida on the run right now, but a mess in Iraq could reinvigorate them and drive many new, radicalized recruits into their realm. Bush talked about ‘draining the swamp’ of terrorism after Sept. 11. I’m afraid we’re going to refill it.

“I favored other military actions because I felt they advanced our national security goals, and I think I’ve been right. This pre-emptive war in Iraq could dramatically undermine our national interests. I hope I’m wrong.”

Anderson, whose work is syndicated to about 50 newspapers via the Washington Post Writers Group, said The Courier-Journal supports the war. But the cartoonist reported that his opposition to it “hasn’t been much of a problem” because the paper has been “extremely critical of the diplomatic failures of the Bush administration.”

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