Bush has yet to answer fundamental questions regarding Iraq

First, why the rush? The intelligence reports released by the Bush administration stated that Saddam would be unable to develop nuclear weapons within five years, so why are we bent on deposing Saddam by the second fiscal quarter? Bush’s standing threat of military action has won the U.N. inspectors increasing levels of cooperation from the Iraqi government. Though various degrees of trickiness have been ascribed to Iraqi military officials and smokiness to fire that is Iraq’s weapons program, the inspectors remain undeterred and insist that determining Iraq’s compliance with previous Security Council resolutions will take months if not years to settle. Much has been made of the dangers of “inaction,” but this language falsely forecloses the possibility of waiting and continuing to pursue a peaceful diplomatic resolution. Even if it does come to war, waiting until the Security Council is satisfied that all diplomatic options have been exhausted and willing to approve a U.S. attack is in our interests. Any go-it-alone U.S. military intervention in Iraq will merely solidify our image as imperialist aggressors in the Muslim world. Attacking Islamic nation-states does not intimidate the nebulous terrorist networks that asymmetrically threaten the United States. It does, however, embolden them, win them new benefactors, and prevent U.S.-friendly Islamic states from making sustained efforts to root out terrorist cells within their borders for fear of popular outcry.

Which brings me to another, more basic question: why Iraq? (Or, who’s next?) Say what you will about Saddam, but his government does not fund scores of fundamentalist, anti-American, violence-inspiring schools (unlike Saudi Arabia), or have numerous terrorist training camps within its borders (unlike Pakistan). And let’s not forget about the two other major points on the Axis of Evil. Iran could have nuclear weapons in five years. North Korea has ballistic missiles, and will, within a couple of years, have the Bomb if their stridently aggressive statements toward the U.S. over the past few weeks are to be believed. As the Bush administration has tacitly admitted by quietly saying that they hope for a diplomatic solution with North Korea, attacking every country led by someone in monochromatic clothes that wants to enter the nuclear club is not a viable option. When one also considers the tales of unaccounted-for ex-Soviet nuclear scientists and warheads, it seems that ousting Saddam will do little to change the supply of weapons of mass destruction on whatever terrorist black market exists out there. Such action likely will, however, upwardly adjust the amount of money-chasing weapons of mass destruction for use against American cities.

Bush’s undecipherable application of his doctrine of preemptively striking countries stockpiling weapons of mass destruction will, if anything, encourage countries to quickly and quietly develop them. With a U.S. military regime charging its way across the Third World, nervous dictators may be understandably confused by Bush’s words and look to his actions for guidance. The primary lesson to be drawn from the Bush administration’s selection of enemies since Sept. 11 seems to be: if you have nuclear weapons, you are an ally or bystander in the war on terror; if you don’t, you are the war’s target.

Finally, to use Bush’s language, what’s our exit strategy? The longer sizable numbers of U.S. troops remain in Iraq, the more likely it will appear to the Islamic world that all along we were simply interested in tapping Iraq’s oil reserves and handpicking a compliant provisional government to replace Saddam. Is Iraq to become a U.S. colony and “modernized”? A forgotten ward of the U.N. Security Council and its oil-hungry permanent members? It would be nice of Mr. Bush to inform the people he is liberating what he has planned for them. Sure, you say, I can snort at the cultural imperialism or whatever is implicit in the determination that we can liberate and pro-Westernize Iraq, but isn’t it true that the Iraqi people will be better off without Saddam? What’s my plan? If I had my way, we’d call off the war and remove economic sanctions against Iraq in exchange for strict limits on their military expansion and unfettered access for U.N. weapons inspectors.

Maybe I’m such a liberal, dovish wimp that I wouldn’t have the swaggering negotiating strength to force Saddam to accept a bargain like that. But Bush isn’t. Everyone knows he means business. Even at this eleventh hour Bush could halt our march to war and still save face with a stern threat and finger stab at Saddam.