Should we go to war against Iraq? This question is currently dominating conversations around the country, especially among our political leaders in Washington, D.C. As usual, there are those on both sides of the issue who believe that the answer is simple. The answer, of course, is not simple. In fact, I believe we cannot answer the question at all unless we ponder several questions that have not yet been asked and consider an alternative framework for improving the US-Iraq relationship.
Assuming we believe what our government says and what we read in the news, Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons and likely has biological weapons. By all accounts, he is also working to build (or acquire) nuclear weapons. The Bush Administration, and many other Americans, believe that Saddam Hussein cannot be trusted with any weapons of mass destruction because his hatred of the US will spur him to use one of these weapons against the US (or an ally like Turkey or Israel) or provide such weapons to a terrorist organization. These "hawks" want to pre-emptively strike Iraq militarily and eliminate Saddam. Some hawks (and a majority of Americans, according to some polls) believe we should attack only with the support and assistance of our allies and the United Nations, but most hawks in the administraion believe that an attack must be made as soon as possible, regardless of other nations' decisions.
For a variety of reasons, many Americans oppose the idea of attacking Iraq. These "doves" believe that an attack against Iraq would be wrong. Some believe that an attack should not be made unless clear and unequivocal proof exists that Saddam intends to attack us or an ally, or that he has or is on the verge of having, nuclear weapons. In short, they wonder, why must we attack now? What's the rush? Isn't Saddam still several years away from nuclear capabilities? Others believe that we must concentrate solely on diplomatic means to eliminate Saddam's weapons or weapons programs. Let weapons inspectors go in and do their jobs and keep us abreast of developments, they argue.
Recent occurrences in North Korea reveal the potential problems with this line of thinking. Jimmy Carter was just awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, in part due to his efforts in negotiating a non-proliferation agreement with North Korea under Kim Il Sung. Now that same nation, under Kim Jong Il, has announced that they now possess nuclear weapons and has implied that the world must now meet discuss other demands...or else. Clearly the agreements they made with Carter were nothing more than bids to buy time. How can we be sure that Saddam will not do the same? And if he permits weapons inspectors back into Iraq, what should our response be if (when) he obfuscates their efforts?
Some doves argue that an attack against Iraq is wrong simply because there are more important things for our government to be concerned about, like the US economy, jobs, and healthcare. While I believe these other issues are legitimate concerns, I would argue that these doves miss the big picture. Surely the possibility that a homocidal dictator like Saddam Hussein could attack us with nuclear weapons should take precedence.
Many doves oppose the Bush Administration's oft-stated goal of "regime change," arguing that we can't simply topple every leader we don't like. I certainly agree, though Saddam's clear willingness to use weapons of mass destruction and his extreme hatred of the United States place him in a unique category. Also, given Saddam's apparent intransience on the issue of disarmament, it is likely that only a regime change in Iraq would result in any lasting change of relations.
There is a similar dove argument that says we shouldn't attack Iraq simply for possessing weapons of mass destruction. After all, plenty of other countries have weapons of mass destruction and we're not planning to invade them. Again, this is true, but at the present we have no fear that France, India, China, or any of the other nuclear powers are likely to use these weapons against us.
As you can see, I can argue against opposition to an attack on Iraq. This is not the same, however, as arguing for an attack on Iraq. I think there are several key questions that must first be answered--if they can be--if we are to feel confident that any decision we make on this issue is right.