Thursday, October 17, 2002
War is rather like marriage, in that if one has serious doubts about going into it, the best advice is to steer clear. In the case of the Bush Administration''s virtual war on Iraq, the Democrats are dubious, our NATO allies think we''re nuts, and the administration itself is divided.
The Pentagon is already moving arms and troops to the Persian Gulf. But military leaders are in no hurry to swing into action. They worry about the desert heat of early fall and the bad publicity attendant on fighting during Ramadan in November. The full contingent of aircraft carriers will not be in place, they say, until late December or early January.
Elective war, like elective surgery, offers options with respect to timing. Elective surgery is elective either because it is nonessential or because it is not clear that the potential benefits outweigh the risks. "Pre-emptive" war is elective in that it is undertaken on a gamble-a gamble, in the first place, that the conceived "worst case" will indeed materialize, and that the damages of war, foreseen and unforeseen, will not exceed the damage of failure to exercise the war option.
The most serious of the rationales the Bush Administration has floated for its proposed war on Iraq is that sooner or later Iraq will have the capability of making and using nuclear weapons. Of course, there are other countries having aggressive or unstable governments that already have nuclear capabilities. And it is unlikely that a serious move in the general direction of arms control, not to mention disarmament, can be undertaken until the United States itself shows inclination to participate.
From making nuclear weapons to using them is, to be sure, a major leap. Thus far the United States is the only country to have actually used nuclear weapons against another country. Under what circumstances would a Saddam Hussein, lacking in scruples but not in survival instincts, use the most deadly weapons in his arsenal? The most likely circumstance would be when he was under direct attack, and the most likely target would be Israel. Thus, an attack on Iraq might turn out to be self-fulfilling prophecy with respect to the unleashing of Iraqi weapons.
Even if the upshot of a U.S. attack on Iraq were not immediate region-wide conflagration in the Middle East, it would almost surely include the undermining of regimes friendly to the United States. The replacement of secular regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, for example, by Islamic fundamentalists, might be expected to create new bases for newly enraged or inspired terrorists. At the very least, in the short term, we could count on killing thousands of innocent Iraqis and spending about a billion dollars a day, a cost that unconvinced allies would not likely share.
Suppose that, like elective surgery, elective war is not only exceptionally risky but also nonessential-or even cosmetic. Suppose that the diagnoses and prescriptions in this case are those not of genuine specialists but of spin doctors.
This proposed preemptive war is "elective" in yet another sense. As the Enron story began to break early in the year and the economy began to unravel, Bush political adviser Karl Rove reportedly told the Republican National Committee that this fall''s election would have to be about national security, not about the economy. The war drums, beating now for many weeks, have very effectively driven from the headlines accounts of a stock market sinking under the weight of corporate fraud-fraud linked all too closely to the White House itself -just as the country heads into closely contested mid-term elections. Can it be that our political leadership is more threatened by the prospect of an open discussion of economic issues than by the prospects of undertaking yet another war?
Jan Knippers Black, Professor of International Policy Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, has authored or edited and co-authored 11 books on US foreign policy, international and comparative politics, international development, and globalization, including Inequity in the Global Village (1999).