Jewish World Review August 20, 2002 / 12 Elul, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | President George W. Bush says he hasn't made up his mind about "any of our policies in regard to Iraq." But to not attack after spending months talking about regime change seems inconceivable. Fortunately, war is not likely to be as simple and as certain as he and many others seem to think.
Lots of arguments have been offered on why we need to strike Baghdad. One, for instance, is that Saddam Hussein is an evil man who has brutalized his own people. True, but the world is full of brutal regimes that have murdered their own.
Indeed, Washington's ally Turkey has a policy toward its Kurd population scarcely more gentle than Iraq's Kurd policy.
Slightly more plausible is the contention that a democratic Iraq would provide a model for the rest of the Mideast. But that presupposes democracy can be easily planted and sustained. Professions of unity from an opposition once dismissed by retired Gen. Anthony Zinni as "silk-suited, Rolex-wearing guys in London" offer little comfort and are likely to last no longer than have similar promises in Afghanistan.
Also problematic is Kurdish demands for autonomy and Shiite Muslim resistance to the central government. One defense official told The Washington Post: "I think it is almost a certainty that we'd wind up doing a campaign against the Kurds and Shiites."
Similarly worrisome would be action by Iran, with which Baghdad fought a decade-long war. Tehran might consider intervention against a weakened Iraq as an antidote to serious political unrest at home.
Moreover, while Americans might see America's war on Iraq as a war for democracy, most Arabs would see it as a war for Washington. If the United States deposes Saddam, but leaves in place despotic, pro-American regimes elsewhere -- such as Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia -- few Arabs would take Washington's rhetoric seriously.
Saddam's complicity in Sept. 11 would present a good argument for devastating retaliation, but there's no evidence that he was involved. The best argument for overthrowing Saddam is the prospect of Baghdad developing weapons of mass destruction.
Yet if nonproliferation should be enforced by waging war, Washington will be very busy in the coming years. The problem is not just countries like Iran and North Korea, which seem to have or have had serious interest in developing atomic weapons. It is India, Pakistan and Russia, which contain unpredictable nationalist and theological currents, have governments of varying instability and offer uncertain security over technical know-how, as well as actual weapons.
Potentially most dangerous is Pakistan's arsenal. The government of Pervez Musharraf is none too steady. Islamabad long supported the Taliban. Its military and intelligence forces almost certainly contain al-Qaeda sympathizers. It is easy to imagine Pakistan's nuclear technology falling into terrorist hands.
In contrast, Saddam would not use such weapons against America, since to do so would guarantee his incineration. Israel possesses a similarly overbearing deterrent. Would Baghdad turn atomic weapons over to terrorists? Not likely.
First, to give up a technology developed at such a high price would be extraordinary. Second, Baghdad would be the immediate suspect and likely target of retaliation should any terrorist deploy nuclear weapons. Third, al-Qaeda holds secular Arab dictators in contempt and might target Saddam as well as America.
Of course, the world would be a better place without Saddam's dictatorship. But that's no reason to initiate war against a state which poses no direct, ongoing threat. Especially since war often has unpredictable consequences.
Washington would have to bear most of the burden, a task made more difficult and expensive without European support and Saudi staging grounds.
If Iraq's forces didn't quickly crumble, the United States might find itself involved in urban conflict that would be costly in human and political terms. Saddam would have an incentive to use any weapons of mass destruction that he possesses, since Washington is dedicated to his overthrow.
Further, the United States would be sloshing gasoline over undemocratic Arab regimes stretching from North Africa to Southeast Asia. Riots in Egypt, a fundamentalist rising in Pakistan, a spurt of sectarian violence in Indonesia, and who knows what else could pose a high price for any success against Iraq.
War is serious. Making war on a country which does not threaten the United States is particularly serious.
Even if the optimists who think a campaign against Iraq would be easy are right -- and we can only hope they are -- war should be a last resort. As House Majority Leader Richard Armey warned, an unprovoked attack "would not be consistent with what we have been as a nation or what we should be as a nation."
There are times when Washington has no choice but to fight.
Iraq is not such a place and now is not such a time.
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