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?
3. Is the United States prepared to accept significant losses of American lives–a strong possibility in the projected intense ground fighting around Baghdad and other urban areas?
4. Is the United States prepared to inflict heavy losses on Iraq’s civilian population if, as expected, Saddam concentrates his military assets in urban areas? Would this not make the United States a moral pariah in the eyes of much of the world?
5. Wouldn’t an invasion of Iraq aimed at the removal of Saddam Hussein remove any inhibitions he might have regarding the use of chemical and biological (and possibly nuclear) weapons, making their use more rather than less likely?
6. Are we prepared to cope with the outbreaks of anti-American protest and violence that, in the event of a US attack on Iraq, are sure to erupt throughout the Muslim world, jeopardizing the survival of pro-US governments in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia and further inflaming the Israeli-Palestinian crisis?
7. Can the fragile American economy withstand a sharp rise in oil prices, another decline in air travel, a bulging federal deficit, a drop in consumer confidence and other negative economic effects that can be expected from a major war in the Middle East? And what would an invasion mean for an even more fragile world economy and for those emerging markets that depend on selling their exports to the United States and that are vulnerable to rising oil prices?
8. Even if we are successful in toppling Saddam, who will govern Iraq afterward? Will we leave the country in chaos (as we have done in Afghanistan)? Or will we try to impose a government in the face of the inevitable Iraqi hostility if US forces destroy what remains of Iraq’s infrastructure and kill many of its civilians?
9. Are we willing to deploy 100,000 or more American soldiers in Iraq for ten or twenty years (at a cost of tens of billions of dollars a year) to defend a US-imposed government and prevent the breakup of the country into unstable Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite mini-states?
So far, the Bush Administration has not provided honest or convincing answers to any of these questions. It is essential, then, that concerned Americans ask their Congressional representatives to demand answers to these (and related) questions from the White House and hold further hearings to weigh the credibility of the Administration’s answers. It is vital that our representatives play their rightful constitutional role in this fateful decision. The American public clearly would welcome such moves: A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that while a majority support the President at this point, they want him to seek authorization from Congress and approval of America’s allies before going ahead. And when asked whether they would favor a ground war if it were to produce “significant” US casualties, support plummeted to 40 percent and opposition rose to 51 percent. If you worry about the future of America, clip or copy these nine questions and include them in letters to your senators and representative. In addition, get involved locally: Help organize a teach-in, write a letter to your newspaper, raise the subject at civic meetings.