Invading Iraq

Almost immediately after the United States implicated the Taliban in the Sept. 11 attacks, pundits began suggesting the U.S. military should carry its new war beyond Afghanistan and into Iraq. And if it turns out Iraq played any part in either the events of Sept. 11 or the recent biological attacks, such an offensive would surely be inevitable. But Americans must realize an invasion of Iraq now would bear little resemblance to the Gulf War.

In 1991 the international coalition against Iraq allowed a massive campaign involving half a million military troops; we won’t have that again. The region around the Arabian Peninsula has historically been hostile to any U.S. presence. Osama bin Laden repeatedly cited American military presence on Saudi Arabian soil as a reason for his hatred of the United States.

And he is by no means alone. The commander of U.S. military forces in that operational theater is based in Florida because no nation in the region will allow him within their borders. If the United States attempts to invade Iraq, the tenuous coalition recently built by the State Department will crumble.

Unstable as it is, the coalition has remained intact during recent military operations only because of Afghanistan’s outcast status in the Arab world. Iraq and, more specifically, Saddam Hussein draw much more support. Remaining in power through a U.S. attack gave him an almost heroic status among many in the region, and while some recognize the cruelty that has characterized his rule, Hussein serves as an iconic figure in the struggle against the West.

Because of that, no Iraq-bordering nation can openly support a U.S. invasion and expect to avoid revolt. “There’s a reason we stopped where we stopped,” said Gordon Silverstein, University political science professor. Other members of the Desert Storm coalition did not want to deal with the destabilization in Iraq that would follow unseating Hussein.

And without Saudi Arabia allowing itself to be used as a staging ground for 500,000 foreign troops, U.S. forces would have had to be based at sea. It would be akin to planning the Normandy invasion without using the British Isles. Taking over a bordering country first presents the only other alternative.

If the government is committed to its current method of fighting this war, an attack on Iraq seems almost inevitable, especially if investigators link the nation to any domestic terrorism. But with every errant bomb or destroyed Red Cross warehouse, international support for American military activity weakens. And our brittle coalition can barely stay together as it is. Barring radical shifts in military tactics and political structures in the Middle East, it might be now or never for a successful invasion of Iraq.