PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER
TRIAL BALLOON FOR WAR ON IRAQ
If you were planning a war, would you tell your enemy months in advance when you plan to launch the attack? That is just what the Bush administration did last week. Bush advisors were all over Washington, leaking the new that the drive to oust Saddam Hussein will start in May or June.
They know the advance warning poses no risk. Whatever preparations the Iraqis make, the so-called war will probably be a rout. The Iraqi military turned out to be a pushover in the 1991 Persian Gulf war. After a decade of bombing and sanctions, the Iraqis are now much weaker.
Still, why the advance notice with trumpets blaring? Perhaps the Bushies are just building up public enthusiasm for the next battle. Perhaps they want to distract the public from the embarrassments of Enron. In addition, the stories about war in May or June are certainly trial balloons to test public opinion.
The president's approval ratings remain high, despite a sinking economy and rising scandal. So the Bushies probably figure that the U.S. public will happily enlist in another war against Saddam, the dictator we love to hate. It is foreign opinion, especially in Europe, that they are testing. European leaders are getting pissed off about the U.S. going to war "gung-ho and alone" (as one foreign headline put it).
The Europeans know that the U.S. excuses for war against Iraq are largely bogus. There is no serious evidence to show Iraqi support for Al-Qaida. The so-called evidence came from an Iraqi dissident leader, Ahmed Chalabi, long known for giving U.S. officials false information to promote his own interests. In return, the Bushies have declared Chalabi the figurehead leader of a largely fictional "united" Iraqi opposition.
What about all those weapons of mass destruction, which Iraq supposedly refuses to let us inspect? UN inspectors years ago declared the Iraqi nuclear program at least 90% dismantled. Today, Iraq is cooperating fully with inspections of their nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The head of the IAEA inspection team recently said: ``During our inspection, representatives from the Iraqi Atomic Energy commission were present for the whole time and all help that is necessary to perform the inspections was provided by Iraqi authorities.''
Meanwhile, Iraq has also indicated willingness to plan the return of another set of inspectors from the United Nations. Scott Ritter, who was once a high-ranking UN inspector in Iraq, points out that there is no evidence Iraq is anywhere close to having nuclear weapons. Recently, he explained why the U.S. may not welcome, but fear, UN inspectors going back into Iraq to look for evidence: "The resumption of serious weapons inspections would, by their very nature, open the door for the eventual lifting of the [economic] sanctions," the chief U.S. weapon for keeping Iraq a third-rate power. War could be one way to avoid the embarrassment of a U.S. veto of resuming UN inspections.
Then there is the question of what happens after Saddam is killed. Before the Persian Gulf war, one State Department official said clearly that the goal was to replace Saddam with another dictator, just as ruthless but friendly to the U.S. No suitable candidate was found. The elder George Bush decided he’d rather have Saddam in power than take his chances on the highly fragmented Iraqi opposition groups. U.S. planners have always feared that a power vacuum in Iraq would strengthen the hand of Iraq’s age-old rival, Iran.
Al Hayat, the Arabic newspaper in London, recently reported that Bush the younger will hand over rule in a post-Saddam Iraq to General Nizar Khazraji, who used to be Saddam’s army chief of staff. Or perhaps it will be the self-serving Chalabi.
The administration's trial balloon, even if meant largely for the Europeans, gives us all a chance to see and affect the future. The Bushies have, in effect, asked us to let them know what we think. It is time to tell them that their excuses for war are bogus, that war means only more suffering for the already devastated people of Iraq, and no prospect of genuine democracy to follow. Tell them you agree with the editor of Germany’s top news magazine: in the Middle East, "too many guns are drawn, too many fingers are on the triggers, and some of them could be on nuclear bombs. This should be the hour of forceful diplomacy," not military invasion.
You can call the White House comment line at 202/456-1111, or email email@example.com.
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