Alternatives to the Bush plan, anyone?
By Jennifer Hewett
September 26 2002
There are no good options when it comes to Iraq. But can we at least avoid the sanctimonious pretence that doing nothing is so morally superior? All the anti-US, anti-war sentiment tends to neglect one crucial point. It would be better for everyone - but most particularly the people of Iraq - if there were the "regime change" the Bush Administration is demanding.
The real arguments are whether to try to achieve that - in particular, whether even a short war is worth the risk to Iraqi civilian lives and the world's fragile grip on a stability of sorts. Despite the recent enthusiasm for the complicated politics of the United Nations and Security Council, it is evident that the UN has failed to counter reinvigorated Iraqi weapons programs over the past several years. Whether readmitted weapons inspectors can be any more effective now is still dubious.
But it should be acknowledged that the only reason the UN is even making an attempt at this is precisely because of US belligerence and the threat to take military action alone if the Security Council does not. Otherwise, everyone would just conveniently ignore the whole thing. Again.
When the Clinton administration faced a similar impasse, it bellowed loudly and repeatedly, threatened huge military retaliation and - in the end - backed right off. Its apocalyptic warnings were reduced to supporting a continuation of the increasingly porous oil embargo and a brief bombing assault, followed up by regular but limited raids against military targets in the no-fly zones.
The power reality was that Saddam Hussein had called the Americans' bluff and everyone knew it. This was much easier to gloss over in the pre-September 11 era when the main US military preoccupation was ensuring that not a single soldier's life was lost.
The Bush Administration now has a completely different view of the world, of course, and is formalising it in its new doctrine of pre-emptive action. That's a strategy that terrifies many other countries - and many Americans - a feeling not eased by the new Bush manifesto unveiled last weekend which basically argued that the old concepts of deterrence no longer work.
Instead, this doctrine maintains that the sort of states which sponsor terrorism are more dangerous than their Cold War predecessors and are more likely to use weapons of mass destruction to try to destroy the US. That may be true but it is unprovable until it is too late.
Also unprovable so far - despite the best efforts of the US Administration and the dossier of the Blair Government - is any direct link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. The head of Saddam Hussein can be no convenient replacement for that of Osama bin Laden.
That leaves the argument that Saddam is still an "imminent" threat to US security courtesy of his weapons of mass destruction and his consistently hostile behaviour.
Now it is also consistent to insist that any tyrant - no matter how bad - is a problem for that country alone unless he is just such a threat to others. It's one reason why the Labor Party is insisting that there must be greater evidence to justify any military action. But in the end, these "facts" always come down to interpretations and judgements about credibility and intent.
It's also true that all such tests are selective. Pick your despot. The regime in North Korea, for example, is obviously a potential danger to the world, particularly given its obvious interest in building its weapons of mass destruction. Yet in the decades since the Korean War, the US has pursued diplomacy as its only option even if Bush now describes the country as part of the "axis of evil".
Double standards have always been the standard fare of international behaviour. Already, the new war on terrorism - as opposed to the old war on communism - means the US is again more willing to overlook any little problems with democratic values among its potential allies, for example. It is also even less likely to punish Israel for its self-declared "war on terror" despite the collateral damage the Israeli actions are causing the US.
But it is no longer willing to overlook a particularly vicious and unpredictable regime in Iraq. That means war remains more likely than not - and quite possibly without the backing of the Security Council. It's easy to criticise the likely results and the dangers involved. Finding an acceptable alternative - that will work - is much harder.