Yale '62 - Between Iraq and a Hard Place - Neil Goodwin

"Between Iraq and a Hard Place"
By Neil Goodwin

(Editor's Note: Any classmate who wishes to share opposing views on the Iraq issue should contact alchambers@comcast.net. Or alternatively, jump right in on the Message Board and tell us what you think.)

Read Richard Davis rebuttal here

I am by no means a full-time activist, but this looming crisis has affected me like no other since Vietnam. No matter what side we come down on, we will all live with this for a long time to come.

Events affecting the issue are developing fast. Support for positions opposing those of the U.S. in the United Nations and around the world surges every day; but there is what seems an irreversible, war-bound momentum in the air.

Not long after this is posted on our class web site, the United States may be at war with Iraq. And the world, I believe, will have changed irrevocably. It will be this war and its aftermath, not the attacks of September 11, 2001 that will have changed the face of the world. 9/11 or something like it was probably inevitable, given the recent history of terrorism.

But war against Iraq was never inevitable in the overall scheme of things.

The idea of war with Iraq has been building in George Bush's mind since early in his campaign for the presidency. When asked during one of the debates what he would do if Saddam Hussein was caught with forbidden weapons, his answer was a bumper sticker delivered with relish: "I'll take him out." - as if that would be the end of it. It was a juvenile, swaggering response then, and his policy seems as one-dimensional now as that remark was two years ago.

Since 9/11 the Bush administration has relentlessly promoted war against Iraq. It has not yet made a convincing case either for an Al Quaeda-Saddam Hussein connection, or for Saddam's imminent threat to the security of the U.S.

An American invasion of Iraq will do nothing to make the world a safer place. Quite the contrary, the world will be immeasurably more dangerous. The scenario the Bush administration seems bent on is a script that might well have been written by Osama bin Laden. It will plunge the Middle East into chaos and serve to enlist a new generation of terrorists and suicide bombers, driving traditional rivals - Al Quaeda fanatics and secular Iraqis - into an anti-American alliance with each other. If Osama's still alive, as he now appears to be, he need hardly lift a finger for his schemes to be realized: the world at war, America besieged by a hydra-headed enemy and a power vacuum in Iraq. A Saddam-less Iraq gives Osama another shot at trying to create a ferocious fundamentalist Islamic state.

Neil GoodwinThe United States may well have the power to "take out" Saddam, but the military power needed to do that, while it is a show of overwhelming force, is not real strength. In the current context it is more a sign of weakness - the weakness of a bully. Evidence of real American strength will lie in our government's ability to rally allies to a common purpose, to build lasting peace and stability in the middle east without recreating it in our own political image. George Bush's great gamble is that "if we win, they will love us". It is the cynical gamble of an imperial power and despite short-term victories, in the end it is bound to fail. We should know: our country was founded on the defiance of an empire.

In Bush's eagerness to go to war he has been all too willing to sidestep the UN and long-standing allies, paying them lip service at best when reined in by cooler heads. As flawed as it may be, the UN should be strengthened and affirmed so that it can lead. If ever the international community needed to act together, this is the time. Instead of tightening, many important alliances are fraying. And the coalition the Bush administration speaks of may be of "the willing" at the moment, but fewer and fewer of them seem to share Bush's zealotry and appetite for this war. And how truly committed will a coalition of the merely "willing" really be in the long run? And it will be a long run.

Unchecked, American unilateralism will only increase our isolation from the rest of the world and its resentment towards us. As Bush himself stated during the presidential campaign, the United States, as the world's sole superpower, should assume its burdens with humility. But he has squandered chances to create partnerships, to gain respect and to reassure the world of the intentions of the United States and thereby earn the stature he so badly needs (and so sorely lacks) as the leader of a great power.

In spite of the fact that some European governments are falling into line behind the United States, when public opinion polls are taken, neither Iraq nor North Korea come up as the world's greatest threat to peace. The United States does. Not because Europeans think there should never be war against Iraq, but because of Bush's perceived reckless pursuit of war. As is all too clear now, the only person hated more than Saddam in the Middle East is George Bush, the man who has nominated himself the liberator of Iraq and the conveyer of American democracy to the countries of the Middle East. It is as naive to think that our kind of democracy will be welcomed there as it has been cynical for us to support one repressive regime after another in the Middle East (among them, Saddam himself not too long ago).

Of course there's still the slim chance that Saddam will disarm, go into exile or get overthrown or otherwise neutralized, and then the massed forces can stand down and go home sooner rather than later. Short of that, the war option has been forced upon on the table so long and so implacably by the Bush administration that almost all other options are gone from the table. War looms and seems unavoidable. And that has made war a trap for President Bush. He has made an almost irreversible commitment to war no later than the end of March. But there is growing support in the U.N. for continuing inspections, and for slowing the rush toward war.

Time may be running out for Saddam, but time is not on Bush's side either. He can't keep military forces deployed indefinitely and he won't suffer the humiliation of backing off. He has created a situation where he may have to go to war more or less alone because of the weather. For this trap, Bush has no one to blame but himself and his forward-leaning advisors.

I have never felt that President Bush truly understands what he intends to get us and the rest of the world into. The very language he uses - he's "sick and tired"; "the clock is running out"; "the game is over", and on and on - seems shallow, adolescent and trite. This language betrays the lack of an intelligent estimation of the stakes; it betrays a failure of imagination and comprehension. The fact that he is surrounded by far brighter warlike counselors is not encouraging.

As Bush masses forces in the Middle East, he does not speak of the truly monumental expenditure of lives, treasure and time that will be needed to invade and then rebuild Iraq, which will be in a state of near-terminal fracture - not to mention the unfinished job in Afghanistan.

If he hasn't the patience or the imagination or the wisdom to find an alternative to war now, where will he find the reserves of patience for nation-building when Iraq is invaded? With Iraq invaded, will the war be over, or just beginning? How will Bush convince the country to stay the course and pay the bills once the country realizes what the true costs and eventual outcome will be?

Although it will be for very different reasons, American military adventurism in the Middle East may turn out to be even more divisive for the United States than the Vietnam debacle.

What's your view?