Leading up to President George W. Bush's speech Monday night, I've encountered too many peoplenon-pacifists allwho have harbored doubts about the war with Iraq. Some question why we must be the one to put Saddam down; others question whether we are right in "starting" this war; still others hope against hope for "peace"as if lasting peace with Saddam was something desirable or even possible. The persistence of such doubts leads one to suspect that, by giving Iraq too many opportunities and the U.N. too much credibility, the administration may have inadvertently conceded legitimacy to the war's critics. Here are some responses to a few of those challenges.
Are we right in prosecuting this war?
The 1991 Gulf War started with Iraq invading, conquering, and raping Kuwait and stopped just as the allied coalition led by the U.S. was poised to drive on to Baghdad. The war was halted with an informal "armistice," a cessation of hostilities agreed to by Saddam's regime. As a way to preserve his regime, Saddam agreed to a number of stipulations and conditions, embodied in a series of UN Security Council resolutions. Among these was the requirement that Iraq completely destroy its weapons of mass destruction, including chemical, biological, nuclear weapons and a number of missile programs that could deliver them.
Just prior to the Gulf War, as part of Iraq's obligations in signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspected and declared Iraq free of nuclear weapons. However, inspectors later discovered that Iraq was about 18 months away from obtaining a working nuclear device. The regime had used its international treaty obligations as a cover for lulling other countries to sleep while it scrambled to assemble a bomb.
Though much progress had been made toward fulfilling the terms of the armistice, the inspections were stopped in 1998, with a number of critical questions still unanswered, including the whereabouts of over 600 Kuwaitis captured during the war, and the disposition of thousands of liters of chemical weapons, biological weapons laboratories, and illegal missile production facilities.
While much of this is known, what tends to be forgotten is that the Gulf War did not conclude with a treaty of peace. In fact, it has not been concluded at all. Saddam's continued violation of more than a dozen Security Council resolutions regarding illegal weapons, his attempted murder of a former president, and his support for terrorism, are ample cause for the U.S. to complete that war now by compelling a regime change in Iraq.
The U.S. is not initiating a war but finishing one. Osama Bin Laden has declared it a "religious duty" for his gang of thugs to acquire weapons of mass destruction. It is imperative that Saddam's regime not be allowed to develop these weapons further to give to our enemy, which he surely would do.
Shouldn't we go to war with support of allies?
We are. Two things stand out here. First, this is the third largest coalition of allies in modern history. Only the alliance in World War II and the coalition of the 1991 Gulf War had more allies involved in the respective operations.
Second, as in the 1991 Gulf War, the principal military contribution will be borne by the United States. It is a regrettable fact of international politics that many countries will always prefer to pass the buck and let the heavy lifting to be done by a stronger state.
But another unfortunate fact of international politics is that many states do not have the resolvein President Bush's wordsto confront evil. France and Germany today are contemporary examples of the kind of appeasement found prior to World War II. At that time it was a parliamentary back bencher, Winston Churchill, who was criticized for warmongering by pointing out the ambitions of Germany, just as President Bush is derided for warmongering today. Unlike France in World War II, however, Bush refuses to wait for another surprise attackthis time with nuclear, chemical, or biological weaponsto acquire the resolve to fight back.
Don't we need the support of the U.N.?
We already have it. All the previous U.N. Security Council Resolutions imply or state explicitly the consequences of open defiance by Iraq. The consequences are unmistakably the use of force by a coalition of the willing, just as it was the coalition of the willing that reversed Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in the first place.
In a broader sense, however, the U.N. may have become its own worst enemy. The purpose of the U.N. is to establish and uphold international law. But in international politics, the only way to uphold international law is through the credible use of force when members violate the law. Iraq has violated, among other obligations, the NPT treaty, the sovereignty of Kuwait, the laws of war that regulate how wars are conducted, the ban on chemical weapons, at least 17 Security Council resolutions, and simple human decency by the torture and rape of internal dissidents. By delaying, denying, and ignoring Iraq's systematic violations of these laws, the U.N. either displays its impotence or tacitly acquiesces in Iraqi depredations.
Without strong U.S. leadership, the edifice of international law may crumble. And with it, the U.N. will go the way of the League of Nations, which in its own time refused to resolve to confront the evil of its day. President Bush has declared that evil will not succeed on his watch, with or without the U.N. or appeasement-minded allies.