At a reception in Washington a few weeks ago I ran into some comrades from the Iraqi National Congress, which was once accused by its enemies of being a mere pliant tool of American imperialism. They asked to be introduced to a senior Administration official at the event, and I said I’d do my best. When I produced him for my friends, he turned his back and walked away at quite an impressive speed.
Concerning the impending or perhaps imminent intervention in Iraq, we now inhabit a peculiar limbo, where the military options are known while the political and moral options are not. It is very evident that some elements within the Bush Administration are perfectly content to give Saddam Hussein ample time to prepare his defenses, but it is less clear why the same sources become so intensely secretive when asked what they have in mind for the Iraqi and Kurdish peoples. Not that this is anything so new–preparation for the last Gulf War was well in hand before Secretary of State James Baker announced that its principal rationale was "jobs, jobs, jobs."
There are three simultaneous clusters of argument in play. First comes the question of justification. Is Saddam to be removed because he possesses weapons of mass destruction, or because he has used poison gas and chemical weapons in Kurdistan, or because he has had indirect contact with Al Qaeda, or because he poses a menace to his neighbors? Second comes the question of feasibility and, more or less simultaneously, of advisability. Might not a military strike against the Baathists make a bad situation worse, not just in Iraq but in the entire Middle East? Third comes the question of quo warranto: By what right would the United States appoint itself the arbiter of Iraqi and Arab affairs?
Even when disentangled, these threads are tenuous, and tenuous in their relationship to one another. Still, a supporter of intervention might argue as follows: The United States, especially after September 11, has a right or even a duty to act pre-emptively against any regime that even looks at it in the wrong way. And its opportunist handwringing "allies" in Europe and the Arab world would be secretly delighted if Washington did what they cannot do for themselves by doing away with Saddam. The Iraqi people might or might not fill the streets with joyous demonstrations at their own deliverance, but they would have been given a chance to have a democratic life, and they would be free from the sanctions and from other obstacles to civilized normality. (As a beautiful but seldom-mentioned side benefit, the influence of the revolting Saudis, in the region and in America, would be correspondingly reduced.)
An opponent might argue that the inspections offer a better chance of containing the deadly weaponry, and also of observing the rights of sovereign states. Invasion might cause much death and destruction, and exert a destabilizing effect on the region in general. It might also trigger the use of the very weapons whose removal was its ostensible justification. Moreover, the United States cannot just proclaim itself as the forcible maker and unmaker of Arab governments, and this caution would apply with redoubled force to a President who is simultaneously the patron and armorer of General Sharon.