Wrong and Right

Click to share this post on Twitter  Click to share this post on Facebook  Share on Tumblr

Strip away all the flourishing rhetoric about evildoers, civilizations, human progress, democracy and people's visions of a better world and you're left with core elements about Iraq that are undeniably true.

At it basic, the arguments against Saddam Hussein and his regime are accurate. Few people deny that he's a bad man with an equally horrible record. He's lead his nation in two disastrous military campaigns: first against the Iranians in the 1980s, then an invasion of Kuwait in the early 1990s that resulted in an ousting at the behest of almost thirty nations. Since the, his country has become internationally isolated, his military weakened and his people's continued suffering. The country itself has become a de facto partitioned land, what with no-fly zones in the north and south, ostensibly to protect the Kurdish and Shia minorities respectively.

That his regime has, more than likely, attempted to revive a military hardware program outside the bounds of what it was allowed following the 1991 Gulf War should be taken seriously. The last UN inspections where in 1998, and no one but the Iraqis themselves know for sure what's been undertaken clandestinely. The world has now turned its attention back on Baghdad, and probably none too soon, since the actual goals of disarmament were never completed. Picking up where they left off has been made easier with the presence of so many American troops in the region: the threat of force has become an effective method of forcing the Iraqis to begin complying.

Few people will argue that the Iraqis don't deserve a better government, or would like some form of Western-inspired democracy. And even fewer people would argue that Western-inspired democracies wouldn't induce more stability in regions of the world notorious for the opposite. And at the core, there is validity to the arguments that Iraq is not complying with UN resolutions; that they are engaging in a political game of cat-and-mouse. That unfriendly regimes might provide some form of cover to terrorist groups, or openly back them, as is the case in Iran, whose religious establishment ultimately wants to export the Islamic revolution across the globe. On the strict criteria of compliance, the Americans can (arguably) demonstrate that the Iraqis are not complying. This is the point, simple and stark, that the Bush Administration has been exhaustively trying to demonstrate to the world. It's repeated by Colin Powell and British foreign secretary Jack Straw. American exasperation with the rest of the world, especially France, is understandable based on that one concept alone.

Yet it can be argued equally, and with just as much force, that the issue of compliance is a complicated one, and that a strict standard should not be an automatic justification of invasion. (Note this because even recalcitrant France has not ruled out force at all.) It's possible to argue that this is core stand of those people and countries not sold on a full-scale invasion. What level of disarmament is acceptable? The case of the As-Samoud 2 missiles is telling, since the UN argued that that they exceeded their limits by up to 15 kilometers, while the Iraqis claimed that tests did not include a payload or guidance system that would have kept the range within the limit proscription. No matter, the UN inspectors demanded their complete destruction, which as of this writing, one-third of which has been carried out by the Iraqis.

Sometimes the core issue of compliance became conflated with other demands. The White House changes its rationale for invasion regularly and deftly, stating one day that Iraq is in abeyance of UN resolutions, and the next that disarmament is not the goal, but regime change. The Iraqis, who know how to exploit a situation when they see one, have indeed been playing games with the United Nations as their willingness to comply is more evident when it's time for inspectors to report to the Security Council than in the preceding weeks. It's curious that this pattern drives the Bush Administration to such apoplexy: we know that they are playing games and appear outraged that it's going on. It's akin to a child stamping his feet that the other boy is not playing fair. Only in this case, the child in question has a dangerous arsenal of weapons at his disposal to make his displeasure known.

The other point of conflation comes with 11 September. In his press conference on 6 March, Mr. Bush elided 11 September and Iraq and terrorism frequently as though there was a causal link between all three. By invoking that disaster (eight times), he perpetuated the idea that the nefarious regime in Baghdad had its hands in the entire affair. It was a blurring of the lines that has helped sell this invasion to Middle America more easily, since tricky questions of shared ideology (there is none between the secular Baathist regime and al-Qaeda) do not concern anyone in the heartland. Guilt by forced association is enough, and suggesting that America would be safer without Saddam Hussein around is enough to garner support for an invasion. Senator John Warner made the same elision a day later by invoking 11 September and Iraq in the same breath. A confusion of enemies and threats is enough to make the case. What's actually been accomplished is putting an Iraqi head on a multi-national snake. Saddam Hussein is an identifiable and easy target, but Al-Qaeda's nebulous existence is not. By conflating the two, the assumption is that striking one deals a decisive blow to the other. It's an unwarranted gamble that make us ask: if Saddam is deposed, who will get the blame for providing cover to the evildoers should there be another terrorist attack somewhere?

It's the vaporous nature of al-Qaeda that makes it so difficult to fight, which is why America has preferred to focus on more identifiable targets. America bombed and invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban, whose intransigence and open link with supporting terrorists in their midst made them beggars to their own demise. Since the same association is being made now with Iraq, one must ask why have we waited so long? We expended little efforts to justify Afghanistan, and we certainly did not wait. But if Iraq poses such a threat to the United States, from everything to weapons of mass destruction to supporting terrorists, why has the Administration gone to such lengths to prove its case? And even then, why has the evidence seemed so dubious? What's become of the much vaunted over flights by U2 planes? Is there any evidence that can be safely shared with the rest of the world to point out the smoking gun of Iraqi duplicity?

There are, indeed, merits to the removal of Saddam Hussein from power, from both a political and moral perspective. But there are equally meritorious and compelling arguments against an invasion. The central problem to balancing these perspectives is that the Administration is not interested in such balance. There is sneaking suspicion that Mr. Bush has already made up his mind, that invasion is inevitable and only a matter of time. You could hardly be faulted by watching cable news outlets, that have trumpeted this invasion with great fanfare and waving flags in the corner of the television screen. As before, the White House is squandering its solid points for regime change with dismissals of global protest against a war, childish bullying of allies and grandiose appeals to the "bigger picture" of democracy blossoming in a post-Saddam Iraq. This position is the "moral clarity" Mr. Bush's supporters like to brag so much about. And it is exactly this self-assured position that is drowning out moderate voices offering a more nuanced approach. In the end, it will lead to much suffering and death caused by the very weapons of mass destruction we claim to want to remove from the region, and very few people will actually be safe.