This past week confirmed that the American political establishment is not united in support of the Bush Administration’s policy of forcible “regime change” in Iraq. Odd as it may seem, the strongest expression of doubt came from a key member of the GOP’s right wing, House majority leader Dick Armey. Expressing concern that an unprovoked attack on Iraq would violate international law, Armey was quoted as saying that such an attack “would not be consistent with what we have been as a nation or what we should be as a nation.” Meanwhile, Armey’s colleague across the aisle, Carl Levin, voiced the thinking of many of his fellow Democrats when he argued that “containment of Saddam is so far working.”
Armey and Levin are just two of a number of important political actors–including several prominent senators, forces within the military and worried figures on Wall Street–who have recently expressed qualms about the proposed military invasion. These voices need to be amplified and reinforced by others if the United States is to avoid a potentially disastrous intervention in the Middle East.
Arguably the most important doubters, because only Congress is empowered by the Constitution to declare war, are the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. At their July 31-August 1 hearings on Iraq, chairman Joseph Biden Jr. and other committee members–while taking pains to make clear that they, too, think Saddam Hussein must go–emphasized that the aim of the hearings was not to rally support for or against an invasion but rather to raise questions and concerns. “Here we have a situation [about] which, clearly, we need to know much more,” Republican Senator Richard Lugar explained in his opening remarks. Intense questioning of possible US moves is essential, he added, because “the life of the country is at stake.”
Another significant indication of elite concern was articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post reporting serious divisions within the US military and business class over the merits of the proposed invasion. If these articles are accurate–and there is no reason to assume otherwise–many senior military officers fear that US intervention will produce chaos in the Middle East and lead to a costly, dangerous and long-term American occupation of Iraq. Likewise, senior corporate officials are said to fear a drop in consumer spending resulting from rising oil prices, as well as a heightened risk of terrorism.
None of these groups can be described as flat-out opponents of an American invasion. Most would probably support the President–even cheer him wildly–if US intervention was thought certain to result in a speedy, casualty-free occupation of Baghdad and the replacement of Saddam with a democratic, pro-Western, peace-seeking regime. The problem, in their eyes, is that Bush can guarantee none of this. And while readers of The Nation might wish to raise more fundamental issues–such as whether the United States has a legal or moral right to initiate a unilateral assault–the concerns among the country’s elite deserve widespread public attention. They can be compressed into nine critical questions:
1. Why engage in a risky and potentially calamitous invasion of Iraq when the existing strategy of “containment”–entailing no-fly zones, sanctions, technology restraints and the deployment of US forces in surrounding areas–not only has clearly succeeded in deterring Iraqi adventurism for the past ten years but also in weakening Iraq’s military capabilities?
2. Why has the Administration found so little international support for its proposed policy, even among our closest friends and allies (with the possible exception of Britain’s Tony Blair), and what would be the consequences if Washington tried to act without their support and without any international legal authority? Isn’t it dangerous and unwise for the United States to engage in an essentially unilateral attack on Iraq?