Saying No to War
Within days, barring a diplomatic breakthrough, President Bush will decide whether to send American troops into Iraq in the face of United Nations
opposition. We believe there is a better option involving long-running, stepped-up weapons inspections. But like everyone else in America, we feel the
window closing. If it comes down to a question of yes or no to invasion without broad international support, our answer is no.
Even though Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, said that Saddam Hussein was not in complete compliance with United Nations orders to disarm, the
report of the inspectors on Friday was generally devastating to the American position. They not only argued that progress was being made, they also
discounted the idea that Iraq was actively attempting to manufacture nuclear weapons. History shows that inspectors can be misled, and that Mr.
Hussein can never be trusted to disarm and stay disarmed on his own accord. But a far larger and more aggressive inspection program, backed by a firm
and united Security Council, could keep a permanent lid on Iraq's weapons program.
By adding hundreds of additional inspectors, using the threat of force to give them a free hand and maintaining the option of attacking Iraq if it
tries to shake free of a smothering inspection program, the United States could obtain much of what it was originally hoping to achieve. Mr. Hussein
would now be likely to accept such an intrusive U.N. operation. Had Mr. Bush managed the showdown with Iraq in a more measured manner, he would now be
in a position to rally the U.N. behind that bigger, tougher inspection program, declare victory and take most of the troops home.
Unfortunately, by demanding regime change, Mr. Bush has made it much harder for Washington to embrace this kind of long-term strategy. He has talked
himself into a corner where war or an unthinkable American retreat seem to be the only alternatives visible to the administration. Every signal from
the White House is that the diplomatic negotiations will be over in days, not weeks. Every signal from the United Nations is that when that day
arrives, the United States will not have Security Council sanction to attack.
There are circumstances under which the president would have to act militarily no matter what the Security Council said. If America was attacked, we
would have to respond swiftly and fiercely. But despite endless efforts by the Bush administration to connect Iraq to Sept. 11, the evidence simply
isn't there. The administration has demonstrated that Iraq had members of Al Qaeda living within its borders, but that same accusation could be
lodged against any number of American allies in the region. It is natural to suspect that one of America's enemies might be actively aiding another,
but nations are not supposed to launch military invasions based on hunches and fragmentary intelligence.
The second argument the Bush administration cites for invading Iraq is its refusal to obey U.N. orders that it disarm. That's a good reason, but not
when the U.N. itself believes disarmament is occurring and the weapons inspections can be made to work. If the United States ignores the Security
Council and attacks on its own, the first victim in the conflict will be the United Nations itself. The whole scenario calls to mind that Vietnam-era
catch phrase about how we had to destroy a village in order to save it.
President Bush has switched his own rationale for the invasion several times. Right now, the underlying theory seems to be that the United States can
transform the Middle East by toppling Saddam Hussein, turning Iraq into a showplace democracy and inspiring the rest of the region to follow suit.
That's another fine goal that seems impossible to accomplish outside the context of broad international agreement. The idea that the resolution to
all the longstanding, complicated problems of that area begins with a quick military action is both seductive and extremely dangerous. The Bush
administration has not been willing to risk any political capital in attempting to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, but now
the president is theorizing that invading Iraq will do the trick.
Given the corner Mr. Bush has painted himself in, withdrawing troops ó even if a considerable slice remains behind ó would be an admission of failure.
He obviously intends to go ahead, and bet on the very good chance that the Iraqi army will fall quickly. The fact that the United Nations might be
irreparably weakened would not much bother his conservative political base at home, nor would the outcry abroad. But in the long run, this country
needs a strong international body to keep the peace and defuse tension in a dozen different potential crisis points around the world. It needs the
support of its allies, particularly embattled states like Pakistan, to fight the war on terror. And it needs to demonstrate by example that there are
certain rules that everybody has to follow, one of the most important of which is that you do not invade another country for any but the most
compelling of reasons. When the purpose is fuzzy, or based on questionable propositions, it's time to stop and look for other, less extreme means to
achieve your goals.