With 300,000 American soldiers in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. is poised to go to war, alone if necessary, to topple the brutal regime of dictator Saddam Hussein. Since France, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has already signaled that it will veto this week for any resolution sanctioning war, it’s likely the U.S. will face an imminent decision on whether to invade Iraq with only the slimmest of international support.
It is easy to question France’s motives, of course. For all its grandiose posturing, like the U.S. it would like nothing more than to control Iraq’s oil. But it’s possible to be on the right side of an issue for the wrong reasons. This is one of those occasions.
There is no doubt that the Iraqi people would be better off without Hussein. And it’s hard to imagine the Middle East being more unstable than it is at present. But it’s also hard to see how a U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, particularly without UN support, would constitute a move toward stability in the region. Worse still, even if the experts are right and that any war with Iraq would be a short one, it would likely result in the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians. (For them, life under Hussein might just be the better option.)
To date, the Bush administration has made a less than compelling case for war. It has not proven that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, nor has it credibly linked Hussein’s regime to international terror. Meanwhile, North Korea, another nation in the administration’s “axis of evil,” breaks a treaty with the U.S. and flaunts its intention to develop nuclear weapons. The U.S. response to this provocation is essentially to ignore it. Other nations can be forgiven for detecting a lack of consistency here.
The UN is far from a perfect organization, but it’s the best we have at mediating international disputes of this kind. For the world’s only remaining superpower to ignore it now is to effectively consign it to irrelevancy. Do we really want to risk a future in which any strong and bellicose nation can feel unconstrained about forcing its will on another? Do Americans feel comfortable being lumped in with the ranks of international pariahs?
A war with Iraq may indeed one day be necessary. For now, though, the UN’s chief arms inspector, Hans Blix, says Hussein’s regime is beginning to cooperate (no doubt compelled by the buildup of U.S. forces at its border). The U.S. should allow arms inspectors more time. World opinion is right on this and it’s time for the Bush administration to get behind it as well.