As We See Them
In the infinite array of discussion, charge and counter-charge, one thing is overlooked. America is the only power that can afford to be prudent and wise.
The UN report by Blix, signaling that no weapons of mass destruction could be found is a potential blow to the Bush Administration. They are going to have to bring out intelligence data that substantiates some of the claims about anthrax, botulism, and the other agents or, else, risk being branded an empire in the eyes of the rest of the world. They need to focus, laser-like, on the production of biological and chemical weapons.
Hussein can be contained but then the Bush Administration gives every indication that it is willing and able to, not simply take out Hussein, but to commit American resources for 10 years in that region. There has to be something more. Many raise the specter of oil but I don't think that's the case. It may be a factor but it's not enough to initiate this invasion. Revenge for the attempted assasination of the President's father might be among the true motives. It's something that would weigh-in but wouldn't be the central reason. The central reason to go into Iraq is to set up intelligence operations in that very strategic area and, eventually, restructure the middle-east. From Iraq, intelligence could keep tabs on Iran, Syria, Pakistan, and more importantly, terrorist groups in their recruitment and operational activities. Eventually, the plan would be to restructure the middle-east away from its medievalism and bring it into the West, much as Japan was after World War II. Is it a bad thing? It's a very risky thing that could only be contemplated in a country with too much power and time on its hands. It's something to look at in the aftermath of what is most probably an attack in several weeks.
And, it's doubtful that the American people fully understand that American troops and tax money are going to support Iraq for at least a decade.
The scenario that is brewing could only come out of an intelligence community convinced that unless the US restructures the middle-east, the terrorist threat will grow and grow and pose a grave threat to the future of the United States. The strategy seems to be to force the action and get the networks and their sympathizers tied up with the American military in their own arena. That would be an effective way to keep them from American soil.
Immediately, one distrusts those who don't show any evidence of wrangling with a difficult question. The anti-war groups are full of empty slogans and ignorance. The attack-at-all -cost group is full of frustration at the hatred thrown against the country.
But, the undeniable fact is that the United States is the great power in the world. It can isolate Hussein, monitor him, contain him until he cracks, makes a fatal mistake, or finds himself in a fractured, rebellious government. Kudos go to President Bush for carrying the big stick and forcing the action. The United Nations did not impress Hussein. The military might of the United States, moving toward the Gulf, does impress him. And now U-2's fly over Iraq and the UN inspectors are in the front door. The President exhibited leadership ability in going thus far.
But, when an issue of this complexity comes into being you need to put the good and bad on either side of an equation sign and see if they add up. The negative, seems, at this point to be overwhelming. The blood shed, the spontaneous outbreak of anti-Americanism, the threat to oil through an attack on Ras Al Khafji, possibility of Iranian incursion to regain territory lost in the Iran/Iraq war of the 80's, the permission it gives to Hussein to defend himself and his govt. "by all means necessary," the absolute certainty that the American people will have to re-build Iraq for decades at the cost of billions and billions of dollars, a renewed spirit of American hatred by the Islamic terrorists that would last many years, fractured alliances in Europe, deep division in our own country, among other things that seem likely. And the positive? One, aging tyrant gone from the scene (perhaps) and his ability to develop WMD neutralized. That is, unless Hussein has an escape plan in place and will leave Iraq, along with a good portion of those biological agents.
It could be that the Bush Administration has convinced itself it's the necessary path, after September 11th. The old world has swung a trap door behind him, after he's deployed the troops, but the focus on Hussein is sufficient at this point. It was much more likely Hussein was going to do something crazy before September 11th, 2001. Now that the intense focus in thrown his way he's like a little puppy dog. And that focus will continue until he gives up the ghost one way or the other. America and the allies are not going back to a lacksidaiscal attitude for a long-time; not as long as the ability to manufacture, transport, and deploy some of these weapons still exists. Hussein is counting on it and hopes that the military planners will call off an invasion after April. That may happen but the US and, perhaps, United Nations will deploy a cordon sanitaire around Iraq until the problem is resolved. It's the oldest maneuver in the book; the siege.
Even the insular Bush Administration must understand how tragic, for all concerned, an attack is at this point in time. We understand the hatred of the world. We understand a good deal of it is orchestrated by tyrants, secular and religious, who use the ancient trick of deflecting attention from themselves by developing a common enemy. We understand these things. But, it doesn't remove the singular fact that we are the power in the world and are the only ones who are capable of acting prudently and wisely.
The American people, as well, need to look at themselves. What fear went through them on the report of a heightened terrorist alert! So, they go out and buy all the duct tape in the world and look like fools in the process.
I think, however, the blame game does no one any good. A real danger exists that in the 21st century, groups and, even, countries who have an animus against the US or wealthier nations or neighbors will acquire these demoralizing, highly disruptive weapons partly rationalized as, "the equalizers." This very dangerous scenario has a lot more chance of being played out than the Armageddon between the Americans and Soviets during the Cold War. So, the President and other powers have to act decisively and put the law down. There's no question, in my mind, that the terrorists have been testing the resolve of the US and west, generally, for a long time. It impressed them when Reagan moved the troops from Beirut. It impressed them when the senior Bush and Clinton viewed the Pam Am attack and the first World Trade Center attacks as law-breaking rather than acts of war. In their own mind, they were at war. They were emboldened by all this.
Invasion, at this point, is not the answer. Isolating Hussein and mandating perpetual inspections and U2 flyovers is a good way to put the law down.
Vigilance is very necessary during these days. There are sound arguments for not invading Iraq at this time. They rely on the notion that we will not get rid of weapons of mass destruction and that we will suffer economically and more hatred will fuel more attacks and innocent blood will be on our hands. These are compelling arguments. A powerful nation like the United States has to take these arguments seriously.
There are sincere people who question the wisdom of the policy. There are are some questions, though, that they need to confront: Is the situation in Iraq going to get better by doing nothing? At what point is it prudent to change the regime by military force? Is it when Hussein violates the UN mandate? Is it when it is discovered he is talking to terrorist groups and financial transactions are taking place? Is it when we wake one day and a dirty bomb has gone off in New York, paralyzing the city and shutting down the economy?
Is Hussein another Hitler type who has used the legitimacy of state to further a mad fantasy for power? And will his "appeasement" lead to the destruction of, perhaps, thousands and thousands of people? These are the difficult questions of our time. Simply spouting "peace" is not enough. Or, for that matter, shouting, "war."
The lack of an easy answer adds to how final and absolute the decision will be. If nothing else, it emphasizes why the President is so significant a figure and, why, ultimately, every vote counts.
We need to think about and address the question of, "what is the responsibility of the only remaining "super power?"
Is it American arrogance or the perception of how fractured and weak the rest of the world truly is? And that most especially includes western Europe. Surely, the old world understands the necessity of engagement and the dangers of isolationism.
President Bush's presidency is hanging in the balance. The Republican domination of government is hanging in the balance. He has been punished by a world community that didn't like his attitude from the beginning of his Presidency. Unless more evidence is mounted against Hussein, Bush will lose a great deal by invading. During Hitler's rise, reporters and observers were alarmed by the re-militarization of Germany. It was self-evident and out in the open. If President Bush is certain that the stores of biological weapons exist, then he will be justified in going in. But, if nothing is discovered? And is the President committed to the reconstruction of Iraq? Is the American people? I don't think so. The Bush Administration has been playing a high stakes game; betting that another horrific attack on US soil will be more damaging to the Administration than the untold difficulties of an invasion into Iraq.
We come back to the one fact: We are the power. Therefore, we can afford to be prudent and wise. If we act like inexperienced, frightened children then that power, eventually, will be taken from us. Each incident, each confrontation with a problem as complex as this one we are dealing with today, reveals whether we are children or citizens of a great power; a great and good power.
I invite comments on this column. Use the convenient form below and thanks!
January 30, 2003