Bush needs to clarify Iraq threat

The time of pundits and partisans should now be placed on hold. After months of brinksmanship on Iraq, the specter of conflict is nigh. Last week, the United Nations approved the U.S. resolution on weapons inspections in Iraq with the threat of force if Iraq does not comply. President George W. Bush has evinced willingness, almost eagerness, to enter into an Iraqi conflict. Before the United States finally commits, its citizens should seriously examine what benefits and what costs a full-scale invasion would entail.

In this year’s debates, Iraq has been considered a tripartite threat. Americans fear Iraq will develop nuclear capabilities either with regional or intercontinental capabilities. More immediately, there is the worry Iraq will unleash deadly biological agents on American soil. In addition, and in some respects in concert with the first two, there is the fear Iraq would work with terrorist organizations to endanger American security.

The threat of nuclear proliferation is the most serious but the most distant of the three. During the Cold War, the limited nations that possessed nuclear armaments stood at a Mexican standoff. With no protection against a counterstrike, the knowledge of mutually-assured destruction insured that no nuclear weapon was used militarily after World War II. However, the preventive calculus only works when both parties have something to lose. Because Saddam Hussein has shown a disregard for the lives of the Iraqi people, the only check on his actions would be a concern for his own safety. If he were backed into a corner as he was in 1991, nuclear deployment would be a real concern. The counterweight against this worry is that under the most aggressive estimates, Iraq is a year and a half away from development and likely much longer. Additionally, to base an invasion on this concern alone puts the United States in a difficult position when another rogue nation reaches a similar stage of development. Ultimately, technology becomes diffused. To make this American policy threatens global stability and sovereignty.

The threat of biological agents is a more realistic and pressing concern. It is known that Iraq has researched biological weapons. It is known they possess some. The full extent of their arsenal is not known. Once a disease came under their possession, however, all that would be required would be a human carrier. This would be near impossible to detect until symptoms began appearing in Americans and it would be too late.

Linked with the first two concerns is a worry that Iraq would be willing to work with terrorist organizations to harm the United States. Most of the evidence in this arena, however, is tenuous and often specious. The fact mentioned the most often is Hussein’s willingness to pay a bounty to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. Links to organized terrorism and particularly al-Qaida, however, are that al-Qaida operatives were present in Baghdad within the last several years and did not show coordination. Hussein might be willing to work with terrorists, but as of yet, there is no good evidence that he has.

There are also other theories on why the United States would want to invade Iraq. The United States is interested in Iraqi oil. The United States is looking to rearrange Iraq as a de facto American protectorate and gain a foothold in the Middle East. The United States sees a post-Cold War power vacuum and thinks of this as a chance to assert itself as the lone power broker in international politics. Plausible evidence has been advanced to support each of these.

One of the most difficult features of the situation is that it is unclear which, if any, of these theories the Bush administration is considering. Other than rehearsed speeches, the president has not addressed the issue with the American public. All information has come either through the assistant to the president for press relations Ari Fleischer or via anonymous sources in The New York Times or Washington Post.

All these things should be considered in the shadow of why we are considering them in the first place. Why Iraq and why now? Historically, America has not been an aggressor nation. It puts forth military force only when there is a galvanizing event to which it is responding. In Iraq, however, the only immediacy is that which the United States has generated itself. All the benefits proposed and threats stopped could be just phantasms which we so artfully created. And in truth, many of the worries present in Iraq can be seen in other nations. The United States allowed India and Pakistan to develop nuclear weapons. Biological weapons are widely disseminated. Iraq has by no means a monopoly on terrorists.

Lacking clear necessity, the decision on Iraq must be made on clear policy. American goals should be defined. The liabilities should be known. And then the citizens must tell their representatives their decision. If we do decide to wage war, then let it be at the behest of those whose backs will bear it.