A Dangerous Game
There are good reasons to argue that the United States should be focusing not on Iraq but on Al Qaeda. There are indications that its main forces are regrouping, especially in South Asia, in the aftermath of the Afghanistan war. There are fresh suggestions that the situation in Afghanistan remains unsettled and requires a major US effort to insure that the country is not challenged anew by Taliban and Al Qaeda forces. This is the time also to address other extremely volatile situations associated with the terrorist danger. Nothing would soften anti-Americanism in the Islamic world more than Washington's clear resolve to find at last a fair and balanced solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict. Far more menacing than Iraq is the danger of a war between India and Pakistan, which could easily be triggered in the aftermath of an attack on Baghdad, with Islamic militants taking power from the West-leaning Gen. Pervez Musharraf and India responding with its own version of pre-emption. The perplexing and nonterritorial character of the Al Qaeda network seems to have baffled the Bush leadership to the point of substituting irrelevant territorial enemies susceptible to the US form of military dominance, which creates an illusion of victory while contributing nothing to the daunting task of reducing the terrorist threat.
The challenge before the American people is the most serious since the rise of Fascism and the long encounter with the Soviet Union. It is a time to reaffirm American faith in the values of law, justice and peace, as well as confidence in the Constitution. Bush has been acting from the outset as if the decision to go to war is his alone, although there is no claim of immediacy that might justify circumventing Congress. The White House seems to believe that consulting Congress is mainly a matter of courtesy and not required by the Constitution, which vests in Congress the power to declare war and appropriate the funds for its conduct.
Similarly, the apparent bipartisan consensus within the Beltway that US foreign policy involving the use of international force is free from the prohibitions of international law is a frightening repudiation of the efforts throughout the past century to make aggressive war a "crime against the peace," and its perpetrators punishable as war criminals. Such was the US stand at Nuremberg and Tokyo after World War II with respect to German and Japanese leaders, with a promise by the victors that they would in the future be held to the same standards of accountability. Instead of passively watching on the sidelines as the government goes down this path to war, citizens urgently need to resist. A first symbolic step would be the immediate formation of a panel of inquiry consisting of figures of moral authority from here and abroad that would address issues of law, morality and security in the context of US foreign policy toward Iraq.
The Bush Administration has painted itself into a dark corner, especially given its Texan pride in making words serve as prelude to action. The Iraqi acceptance of the inspections demands offers the Administration a graceful way to defuse the crisis and move on, but is it flexible enough to seize the opportunity? It is likely that Baghdad, having swallowed its sovereign pride by accepting what most observers thought impossible, has also decided to give up its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. If the weapons' purpose was to deter an attack on Iraq, then the Bush strategy succeeded in showing the Iraqis that having them was more dangerous than giving them up.
To make White House accusations of Iraqi noncompliance with burdensome UN resolutions imposed a decade ago a casus belli would be to make a mockery of UN authority. It would discredit the UN in a fundamental way, given its abject refusal thirty-five years ago to implement far clearer Security Council resolutions ordering Israel to withdraw from occupied Palestinian territory, to uphold international humanitarian law in its administration of the West Bank and Gaza and to desist from the construction of illegal settlements.
The world community and the American people need to recover their focus, especially on the moral and legal importance of pursuing national goals as peacefully as possible. We should realize that we reached this present posture of the US-Iraq encounter by stages: irresponsible and clumsy war threats by the United States; guidance from establishment pragmatists that there is a better road map for war; the Bush UN approach incorporating that advice with immediate results in the form of assurances of multilateral support for pressure on Baghdad; and then the Iraqi acceptance of the unacceptable demand for unrestricted inspections. Ironically, this cynical interplay of forces may yet, one hopes, produce a result with respect to Iraq that seemed virtually impossible days ago--a hypocritical sequence of moves that quite remarkably ends in peace rather than war.