Winter break is simultaneously my most and least favorite time of the year. It's nice to be away from school for three weeks, but there's also the impending dread knowing that a long, cold winter quarter awaits you right after the break. This year seems a little colder than years past for a number of reasons: the economy still shows no signs of improving and the weak holiday shopping season provided little hope there, but even more disconcerting is the steady, unrelenting drumbeat leading us towards war in Iraq.
I got a chance to do some thinking over the break as well, and I've come to a conclusion: I don't like the idea of war with Iraq. That being said, I've just about resigned myself to the fact that it's going to happen, and soon, as President Bush has already brought us too far down the path. As linguists pointed out, the phrases "weapons of mass destruction" and "regime change" have been added to our national vocabulary. Bush's administration has invested too much national and international political capital in expounding these concepts and the consequences they entail for Iraq (and potentially the other members of the "axis of evil"). If the Bush administration does not manage to effect change, that capital would be wasted and the United States would lose quite a bit of face with the rest of the world.
Saddam Hussein, for all the things that you may wish to call him, is no fool, and he realizes this. Undoubtedly, as many have speculated, he will throw last minute roadblocks in the face of the U.S. and the U.K. by trying to make concessions or appending his weapons declaration. The Bush administration will recognize such actions for what they are, but Saddam's hope is that it will create enough further doubt in the international community to make an Anglo-American attack extremely costly for the U.S. and Great Britain. In the end, I doubt this gambit will succeed, since Bush and Blair will, by that point and at great expense, have moved too many military resources into the region, which they will either have to use or lose.
But just because this seems to be the course laid out doesn't necessarily mean it is the right course. I'm a lot more frightened of North Korea than I am of Iraq, particularly since South Korea is leaning towards soft-line engagement, which seems to me exactly the wrong track to take. But then again, maybe by making an example of Saddam Hussein, the U.S. will cause Kim Jong Il to think a little more carefully about provoking America. The situation on the Korean peninsula is too uncertain to make any clear judgements about that. But the question to me is whether Saddam, even if he has weapons of mass destruction, would ever be tempted to use them. He has used them in the past, but he is under intense international scrutiny now. For all his rhetoric, I don't think he would be stupid enough to actually give the United States a valid reason to invade his country.
Make no mistake about it, Saddam Hussein is an evil man. We've all heard the long list of his crimes, which I won't bother to repeat here. Furthermore, I think that the international community as a whole has come to realize that efforts to dethrone him peacefully have been abject failures. If anything, Bush might have been more successful in garnering international support for an attack on Saddam by playing the human rights angle. Saddam has continued to abuse his people, and has done nothing to ensure that aid from the U.N. under the oil-for-food program has reached Iraqi civilians. Instead he has remained defiant and continued to build lavish palaces and mosques for himself while his people starve. If Bush had suggested this as a valid reason for destroying his regime, I think that the international community would have been more attentive.
Despite this, what Bush and company don't seem to realize is that another Gulf War will be a scarring experience for the people of Iraq (and there will be civilian casualties, despite the best efforts of our military to avoid them) and the soldiers called to fight it. Already, it seems to me that debate on this campus has become increasingly sharp-edged and less polite. The possibility of war tends to solidify people's existing convictions. I hope that Bush believes his own rhetoric--that it is not too late to avoid a conflict.