OP-EDS

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February 14, 2003

A reluctant justification for war

It's not a matter of if but when we're going to war with Iraq. The Bush administration has made it clear that Iraq's refusal to cooperate makes invasion necessary, and barring a change of heart by Saddam Hussein, the bombs will start falling soon. Obviously this is deeply disturbing to many people. They must remember that this is not a black and white situation. America will not wake up one morning to the headline, "U2 spots Iraqi nukes," and watch Congress declare war that evening. I am uncomfortable about beating the war drums with any vigor. However, since war appears inevitable, I will try to provide a reasonable justification for military action.

An aggressive regime with dangerous weapons threatens our security. We cannot wait for Hussein to launch an attack first or hope he will be cowed by the threat of retaliation. In the face of his unwillingness to cooperate in the removal of his weapons, war is the only way to eliminate the threat he poses.

Demands for further inspections comprise the most morally bankrupt dodge since the insistence on a nuclear freeze in the early 1980s. Then, President Reagan was faced with a movement advocating unilateral disarmament in the face of Soviet expansionism. We all know today, and realistic people predicted then, that the West's show of strength and resolve helped hasten the end of the Cold War and bring about arms reduction treaties. Caving in then would have given the Communists a renewed burst of confidence. Today, backing down on Iraq would have a similarly disastrous effect.

In any case, "inspections" is simply a euphemism for "do nothing." The whole point of the U.N. resolution was to compel Hussein to disclose all the information he had about his weapons programs. Even if there are no weapons of mass destruction left in Iraq, its government has to detail how it got rid of the weapons we know existed before. Hussein has released no practical information and has prevented the U.N. from interviewing people who could provide it. Sending a bunch of small, easily intimidated teams to barnstorm across a country the size of Texas, searching for weapons labs that can fit into garages is tantamount to taking no action. The question is one of deterrence: If we do not attack Iraq, tacitly permitting Hussein to keep his weapons, how likely is he to use them against us?

The answer is too likely for comfort. Hussein's pattern of aggression is well known, and having nuclear weapons would embolden him further. He has supported terrorists in Israel and would give weapons to anti-American terrorists. Deterrence only works if the opponent perceives a cost to his actions. Clearly Hussein could care less about his own people, having killed millions of them already. He would be personally safe from American retaliation in a subterranean bunker in the event of a nuclear attack.

Threatening military action in hopes of modifying Hussein's behavior has not worked. He could eliminate the threat of American invasion by cooperating with the U.N., but instead opts to flout international law. If Hussein doesn't care about the threat of invasion now when all he has to do is give up his weapons, why would he take any more notice of our potential response to a future Iraqi or Iraq-sponsored terrorist attack? People who doubt whether Iraq has prohibited weapons should take note: If Hussein has nothing to hide, why doesn't he make that fact clear?

In any case, the man is clearly far too divorced from reality to perceive the seriousness of the situation. If he thought he could get away with invading Kuwait, that he would defeat us, and that firing nerve-gas missiles at Israel would trigger an Arab uprising, he was wrong. There is no pattern of rational behavior there.

Hussein is not alone in this failing. Just look at France and Germany. By bellowing that they would not support the use of force to back U.N. resolutions and by insisting on years of weapons inspections, they have rendered themselves irrelevant. The moment President Bush realized that these two countries would acquiesce to Iraqi intransigence, resisting out-of-hand military options no matter the circumstances, he had no reason to delay action in hopes of securing their cooperation.

Western Europeans are being contrarian, for trying to influence world events by thwarting American foreign policy. Their attitude shows how little say they deserve in things. Only slightly less petty reasons for their opposition to war include the billions France has invested in Iraq (France built Iraq's nuclear reactor and its military radar network that we destroyed in the Gulf War) and Germany has cooperated with France in order to gain more power within the European Union. Americans who think Western Europe is behaving out of altruism and pacifism are sorely mistaken.

Everyone wants to criticize the Bush administration, but its behavior has been more responsible than anyone else's. Most Americans trust Colin Powell on issues of national security--more than they trust Bush, anyway. Powell has always been extremely reluctant to see American troops committed overseas and opposed the first Gulf War and the interventions in the Balkans. The fact that he is behind the idea of invasion shows how serious this situation truly is. War is frightful to contemplate, but the costs of doing nothing are potentially much higher.