The wrong war at the wrong time

After President George W. Bush’s address last week, it appears our nation will soon be at war. The United States has proposed a resolution at the United Nations allowing for a pre-emptive military strike on Iraq if it does not meet certain disarmament requirements by March 17. Despite broad opposition on the Security Council, the United States has made clear it is willing to go to war “with or without” its approval. As the world approaches this crucial decision, many problems remain with the stated reasons for war and, at this time, it should not be supported.

To start, a war with Iraq will not assist the “War on Terror.” In fact, it could prolong and intensify that battle. A second gulf war would also exacerbate the already substantial and deep-rooted grievances Arab citizens have toward the United States. While a U.S. effort to liberate Iraq might benefit the country in the long run, a sincere nation-building effort by the United States would tie the U.S. government to Iraq – financially and militarily – long after the war’s end. Without international support, there are legitimate questions about the feasibility of building a stable, democratizing regime. Moreover, a prolonged presence, even if relatively merciful and beneficial for Iraq, could be perceived by many Arabs as an unacceptable American intrusion in the region. Just as al-Qaida cited U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia as a justification to attack the United States, a prolonged U.S. presence in Iraq could induce further terrorist repercussions.

A second problem is consistency. Throughout the world, authoritarian regimes exist and people are oppressed. The people of North Korea, Sudan and possibly even Saudi Arabia, to name a few, are arguably in need of “liberation” just as much as the people of Iraq. If the United States is going to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to “liberate” the people of Iraq, will they do so with the other dictatorships of the world? It appears unlikely. Selective nation-building compromises our moral integrity in the eyes of the rest of the world, and although perhaps unfounded, this moral relativity nonetheless raises serious questions about U.S. motivations.

Although sluggish, inspectors are making progress. In recent weeks, illegal missiles have been destroyed; some scientists have been cajoled into talking; and sites have been examined. Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, has given mixed reports about the success of the U.N. disarmament process. He outlined that Iraqi cooperation has left much to be desired, but has been improving. Inspectors should be allowed to continue their work. With inspectors in Iraq, Hussein has little capacity to develop or hide weapons of mass destruction. He is also prevented from making any significant push for nuclear weapon development.

Finally, a war backed by merely a “coalition of the willing” will strain the future efficacy of the United Nations and the concept of global compromise. Bush has said he wants the United Nations to be “effective.” However, it appears in this case effectiveness means unequivocal support for the U.S. position. If the United States abandons its role as a leader willing to find the middle ground by dismissing the U.N. and world opinion, how will the rest of the world react? From Napoleon to both world wars, history suggests that the less the strongest nation heeds the voices of the rest of the world, the shorter its duration as the strongest nation.

For these reasons, for the time being, the U.S. administration and the United Nations should work together to push for more stringent U.N. inspections in Iraq. The Security Council members should also agree on a firm date for Iraqi “compliance.” But as it stands, the Bush administration has not made a convincing case that a pre-emptive war, fought by a “coalition of the willing,” would make the world a safer place.