26 September, 2002
Point/Counterpoint: War on Iraq
k a t i e w i l s o n
In the past six months, the Bush administration has attempted to drum up support for a preemptive strike against, and pursuant "regime change" in, Iraq as phase two in the war on terrorism. A close analysis of the likely consequences of this attack raises some doubts as to its effectiveness.
The public dialogue has not included much discussion of the "end-game" after invasion of Iraq occurs. This was precisely the point on which Bush No. 1 floundered. Barring political assassination, the options for removal of Saddam Hussein and far-reaching change in the governance of Iraq are limited, and the available ones are complicated.
Some speculators have pointed to Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Accord, a businessman and former member of the Ba'ath Party favored by Western leaders. Others pick Hussein's own sons or generals in Saddam's inner circle. The former means choosing an expatriate with limited support from the Iraqi people, and the latter means driving a wedge in the heart of current Iraqi leadership. Either choice would not really bring about democratization, simply a substitution of one military dictator for another, and would probably entail brutal suppression of political opposition forces.
A major reason that true regime change would prove so difficult is the notoriously fractious nature of Iraq itself. The modern-day state is, thanks to the British, a piecemeal conglomeration of three peoples: the Kurds in the north, the Shi'i Arabs in the South, and the Sunni Arabs, comprising only seventeen percent of the overall population, but from whom the ruling Ba'ath Party is drawn. The ideological lines between Shi'i and Sunni combined with the violent oppression of the Kurds by the Ba'ath Party make the hopes for cooperation seem unrealistic. A coalition government would get grid locked, and yet, if population numbers predicted democratic elections, Iraq might just end up with a Shi'i cleric as its president. Or, taken from historical experience, the country might devolve into a series of military coups in which the major ethnic groups attempt to balance their power. None of these scenarios seems like what the United States would choose, which is a good reason why we shouldn't be the ones doing the choosing.
But let's suspend reality, or at least judgment, for a moment and assume our enlightened leadership has a logic behind all its posturing. If it truly wanted to eliminate weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the administration should accept Iraq's admittedly recent but unconditional welcoming of UN weapons inspectors. If the objective were to take away a terrorists' safe haven, this military action with its huge risk of creating a chaotic, impoverished state would not be the rational response. If Bush and his advisors are trying to help their party maintain a congressional majority by means of distraction, then they're inflicting a huge cost on both the American and the Iraqi people for a very slim benefit.
The United States weakens the authority of its voice in the international community when it seeks to punish one state for invading another by using precisely the same forceful means. And perhaps more importantly, the current administration loses all credibility when it clamors for "democracy," with the probable outcome of destruction, against the democratic will of the people it represents.