War against Iraq: questions and answers

The Monitor summarizes opposing sides on some of the most frequently asked questions about the US confrontation with Saddam Hussein.

Q: What's the rush? Shouldn't we give inspectors more time?

NO: More time? Twelve years of diplomacy, economic sanctions, and limited military strikes have failed, noted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last Saturday. And we still don't know if Saddam Hussein has destroyed his chemical or biological weapons.

UN inspections have failed to disclose all of Iraq's illegal weapons programs. Aggressive diplomacy, at least, has forced a fuller accounting of Mr. Hussein's human rights record and weapons stockpile. But regime change would eliminate any role Hussein might play as chemical or biological quartermaster for Al Qaeda or any other terrorist group. No president can run the risk of another major US city being attacked. To put this in context, recent history suggests that US military action is often needed to end tyrannical government. As Secretary of State Colin Powell argued last week, the integrity of the UN is at stake. Timing is also critical. The US can't permanently mobilize the troops needed to guarantee victory in combat. Summer temperatures in the region also warrant military engagement sooner, rather than later. And it's likely that as soon as the threat of war is gone, Hussein will freeze the inspectors out again.

YES: The US has convincingly argued that Iraq poses a problem. It has not, however, made clear why war now is the solution.

Over the past 12 years, US and UN actions have forced Iraq out of Kuwait and contained Saddam Hussein with economic sanctions, targeted bombing raids, and high-profile weapons inspections. Since then, Mr. Hussein has not directly threatened the security of any nation. According to former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, Iraq poses "absolutely nothing" in the way of a military threat to the US.

So why invade now? Bush says that 9/11 underscores the willingness of America's enemies to strike hard, without notice. But there's no proven connection between Hussein and 9/11, and evidence linking Iraq with Al Qaeda remains vague. Aggressive new UN inspections and intensified global awareness have led to a fuller accounting of Iraq's weapons programs and Hussein's dismal human rights record. Diplomacy alone may never remove Hussein from power. But it is removing any power he may have to threaten the US.

Q: Doesn't North Korea pose a more immediate threat?

NO: Iraq and North Korea are both threats to world peace, but each should be handled differently.

The military options for dealing with North Korea are fewer and far more complicated than those for Iraq. North Korea's border is only 30 miles from Seoul. The risks of massive casualties are much higher. Yes, North Korea is run by a dictator with a war machine far out of proportion to his country's security needs. And Kim Jong Il may have nuclear weapons. But unlike in the Middle East, powerful countries surrounding North Korea - Russia, China, Japan, and South Korea - have vital interests in defusing this threat. Only the US can lead a credible coalition against Iraq. Israel's security interests, and therefore US involvement, will come into play should Saddam Hussein be left unchecked. Regime change in Iraq would also send a signal to North Korea should it attempt to provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.

YES: Iraq poses a disturbing possible future threat. North Korea poses a current actual threat. Unlike Iraq, North Korea may already have nuclear weapons, and it possesses the materials and know-how needed to make more. Also, the communist North is developing missiles that could strike Alaska, Hawaii, and possibly even the US West Coast. While Iraq has relied heavily on supplies from foreign companies to build its weapons programs, North Korea has been a major exporter of weapons technology. Last November, a CIA report indicated that Pyongyang had passed missile technology to Pakistan - hardly helpful to the nuclear standoff on the Indian subcontinent. US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said that the North Koreans "continue to be the single largest proliferator of ballistic-missile technology on the face of the Earth." Any US invasion of Iraq would only distract from the more urgent threat: North Korea.

Q: Won't war against Iraq inflame terrorism?

NO: Terrorists cannot be appeased. The US is already in a new type of war - it started on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Arab world needs an example of a democratic state respecting the rights of individual citizens. With Saddam Hussein deposed, 20 million Iraqis will lead a better life. There is no groundswell of support for Mr. Hussein. Iraq routinely uses terror against its own people. Helping to create the conditions for a nascent democracy in a major Arab state would begin to address the conditions that foster terrorism. Also, if Hussein were left unchecked, Israel would likely be forced to take action against Iraq. Preventing this course of events is another way to defuse terrorism.

YES: If cornered by US troops, Saddam Hussein might unleash his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in desperation.

A key assumption of the Bush administration is that disarming Iraq will make the world safer from terrorists. Yet in a letter to Congress last October, CIA director George Tenet wrote: "Should Hussein conclude that a US-led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions." Even worse, the CIA concluded that "Saddam might decide ... that assisting Islamic terrorists in conducting a WMD attack against the United States would be his last chance to exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him." Full-scale invasion of Iraq could amplify the same radical Muslim anger that prompted 9/11.

Q: By acting alone, would the US isolate itself in the world?

NO: UN diplomacy won't stop Saddam Hussein - the US must act now, even if alone.

A dictator who has used weapons of mass destruction against his own people continues to amass such weapons. The US is the world's only superpower. Had it not spearheaded UN action in the Balkans, what would the status of Muslims there be now? The UN still is not ready to take action against a ruthless, armed dictator without the policing capabilities and will of the US. Unilateral action may make the US unpopular, but it would reinforce its superpower status. And 18 European nations have signed on, so the US is not really going it alone. The world is still thankful Israel destroyed the core of the nearly complete French-built Osiraq nuclear reactor outside of Baghdad in 1981. If an Iraqi regime change is effected quickly, the US will be thanked. The US, along with the rest of the developed world, has a strategic interest in the continued free flow of Middle East oil, and many will want a seat at the "Rebuilding Iraq" table.

YES: Unilateral action would be a final blow to allied support for US antiterror efforts. International enthusiasm for a US attack has been tepid. When the US pushed ahead, some allies - particularly France, Germany, and Belgium - grumbled about a "go it alone" attitude. The US has opted out of the Kyoto climate treaty, the World Court, and land-mine and chemical-weapons treaties - efforts broadly supported by the UN. Justifying action in Iraq on the basis of UN mandates, only to try to steamroll Security Council opposition to a war, opens the US to charges of hypocrisy and feeds cynicism about US imperialism. It also undermines US moral authority. If the US goes into Iraq without a UN mandate, it would confirm the image of a nation that talks about rule of law but fails to live by it. The US needs the goodwill of other nations; they have played a key role in finding Al Qaeda suspects and crimping the organization's finances.

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