March 13, 2003


THE "RUSH TO WAR" THAT SHOULD'VE BEEN: As the Bush Administration's "headlong rush to war" enters its 14th month, it's about time we pondered what, exactly, has been served by keeping the Iraq crisis at a virtual standstill for the last half-year.
It's become very clear now, what with the absurd vote-scrounging, stifling bureaucracy, and unlimited "waived deadlines," that taking the case for war to the United Nations last September was a huge, huge mistake. Hindsight being 20/20, what should have instead happened is this: A coalition of the US, Britain, Spain, and whoever else was interested should have gotten their act together, bypassed the UN, and invaded Iraq in October or November of last year. Just as President Clinton did in the Kosovo crisis, and each of the three times that he bombed Iraq. That way, Saddam would've been either captured or dead by Christmas, and we all could've gotten on with our lives months ago.
Instead, the developments in the US-Iraq crisis in recent months have been almost universally negative: The already weak economy has sunken even further into the toilet due to ever-present "war fears." The long-term credibility of the United Nations, regardless of the outcome of the crisis, is in grave doubt. Saddam has been given six more months to prepare for an invasion (and six more months of advancement in his weapons programs), and Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups have had six more months to plot retaliatory attacks. And perhaps most notably of all, the endless delay has caused opposition to solidify, and has given the previously moribund anti-war movement time to become a powerful, well-organized force. As a result of all of these factors divisions, both within America and worldwide, have widened considerably in the six months. And even if the war in Iraq starts next week and goes off without a hitch, there remains a very strong possibility that we'll all be the worse in the end for the process- and it could even cost Dubya his presidency.
Had Bush gone to war last October, he would have been accused (with some degree of truth) of warmongering, of unilateralism, of ignoring world opinion, of stifling internal dissent, and (of course) of rushing to war. And guess what- six months later, he's still being accused of all those things, even though each of them is less true now than it would've been then. The French would've complained, but they would have gotten over it eventually. Considering the mess that has followed, launching a war last fall would've outweighed all of those negatives. Instead, we've gotten a "rush to war" that has in fact been the longest period of national discussion prior to a foreign military conflict in American history.
Of course, there are quite a few "shouldas," "couldas," and "wouldas" in the last couple of decades of US-Iraq relations. Yes, we now know that going to Baghdad at the end of the first Gulf War would've saved us the entire last year of agitation. Saddam's 1993 assassination attempt on a former president of the United States, if you ask me, should've been cause for regime change right then and there. And, as I've learned from Kenneth Pollack's book "The Threatening Storm" (which I'm trying, in vain, to finish before the war starts), there were many within the foreign policy apparatus of the Clinton Administration (including, of all people, Al Gore) who actively favored regime change as the best solution to the Iraq problem, but didn't dare pursue it since they knew it lacked the will of the American public- a will that would suddenly materialize, as we now know, on September 11.
Regardless of how one feels about the Iraq situation (and by now, I'm sure, everybody's got an opinion), there's little denying that the past six months of stalemate have been an unmitigated disaster. There's still a chance that a war in Iraq could accomplish all of its objectives: the elimination of the threat of Saddam's weapons, the establishment of democracy in that country, and later elsewhere in the Middle East, and perhaps most importantly, an actual bright future for the Iraqi people. But the course taken by the Bush Administration since last fall has not only put the entire world at a standstill, but has sacrificed American credibility both militarily and diplomatically.
To paraphrase the "Clerks" character Randall, "it's time to shit or get off the pot, Mr. President."

Posted by Stephen Silver at March 13, 2003 01:00 AM
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