American public deserves reasons for war

Before Sept. 11, President George W. Bush’s policy on Iraq was essentially one of “containment.” As a recent New York Times piece points out, before Sept. 11, “Iraq was, frankly, nobody’s high priority (in the administration).” This summer the Bush administration’s official policy on Iraq shifted and regime change became the official mantra. Naturally, it can be assumed that this about-face was related to what happened on Sept. 11. However, after the attacks we were told we were fighting entities that supported terrorists who were targeting U.S. interests, and to this date no serious evidence has been proffered to the public that ties Saddam Hussein to U.S.-targeting terrorists. Therefore, it is natural to search for unarticulated reasons for the imminent war. Is Bush prepared to endanger nearly 100,000 military personal, to severely strain relations with many allies, to dramatically inflame anti-American sentiment on the Arab street and in all likelihood, witness a number of American military deaths not seen since the Vietnam War only because Saddam might have the potential at some point in the future to harm the United States or U.S. interests in the Middle East?

First, the argument that the U.S. government is interested in regime change merely to gain control of Iraq’s oil is unfounded. While it is true that the administration has many close ties to oil, and that the administration has made several major policy decisions that have benefited the oil industry, it appears that before Sept. 11 “liberating” Iraq to gain access to their oil was never considered. Continually rising global oil reserves and falling prices despite severe limits on the amount of oil Iraq can sell has proven that Iraqi oil is not necessary to keep the global oil market humming, and Bush and his advisors know this. While it is true that a regime change in Iraq may open some Iraqi oil fields to U.S. companies, the theory that Bush would sacrifice so much to benefit a few companies is too far-fetched even for an administration keenly aware of oil’s economic impact.

The contention that Bush is manufacturing a crisis to encourage economic growth and government spending is also spurious. After Sept. 11 the Pentagon’s budget exploded. Significant government and military spending to support the war against terrorism will continue unabated for years to come with or without a war in Iraq. The negative economic effects of war also make the economic growth argument dubious: Spending an estimated $150 billion to conduct a war in Iraq, continued nervousness in the stock market and a possible spike in oil prices because of supply problems related to the war are economic costs in a time of budget deficits that the Bush administration would like to avoid.

It is increasingly clear that immediate confrontation with Iraq has become the Bush doctrine for two reasons: the ascendancy in the Bush administration of a world-view personified by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and, one cannot help but suspect, to help Republican Party candidates running for office this fall.

Ever since Sept. 11, and even at points before Sept. 11, Wolfowitz has tirelessly campaigned for an immediate regime change, arguing that Saddam is an urgent threat to stability in Middle East and U.S. security. According to Wolfowitz, the remote possibility Saddam might some day share weapons of mass destruction with terrorists is enough for a pre-emptive war. Evidence of such weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Iraqi connections to terrorists, though, is unnecessary to spur action. Wolfowitz’s viewpoint has finally become the administration’s Iraqi policy.

The timing of this war planning appears not to be accidental. Information leaked from White House meetings this summer has indicated that, in part, war plans were emphasized this fall rather than later in order to give Republican candidates the benefit of a hawkish environment. As Al Gore correctly stated yesterday, the Bush administration is more than willing to focus on war rather than remind the American public of economic sluggishness and the continued existence of al-Qaida.

Hussein is a dangerous despot. In many respects, world security would be improved by his removal. A war with Iraq, however, could have many destabilizing consequences. For example, Arab regimes could topple or weapons of mass destruction could migrate from Iraq into the hands of terrorists during the chaos of a war. Are perceived and probabilistic threats a proper justification for a war with so many unknown consequences? Unfortunately, the administration has not provided the public with enough information to carefully undertake this analysis.

Considering that we live in a democracy and that a war would affect all of us for many years to come, it is not enough for the administration to merely say “trust us, we are the experts, and we can make the best decisions.” As Americans we should challenge the administration to give us all the relevant information regarding a war decision so we, the people, can generate a truly informed opinion. Otherwise the notion that we participate in the governance of this nation and its actions is ridiculous.