U.S., Iraq at crossroads
By Herbert Shapiro
Amidst the fervor aroused by the 2004 election, it has become crystal clear that the Iraq War is the crucial issue confronting voters. The outcome of this war has momentous implications for this nation and the world.
Continuation of the present policy is not a viable option. We are at a crossroads, facing a choice between escalating an ever more costly and bloody war, and formulating a new policy that recognizes that American power, while great, is not unlimited, and abandons any aspiration of imposing U.S. control over the Middle East's vast resources.
The U.S., to be sure, has unseated Saddam Hussein but fueled the rise of nationalism that will not accept American hegemony over the Middle East. Such hegemony would encourage the delusion that the United States can impose its will wherever it wishes, a prospect the international community will never accept.
The reality is that the Bush administration's record since deciding to go forward with the invasion does not inspire confidence. As numerous American travelers have learned, the administration's credibility abroad approaches the vanishing point.
One disclosure after another reveals that false information, particularly concerning the presence of weapons of mass destruction (a presence of which there is no evidence even today), was used to mobilize support for war. Without this misinformation there was little chance Congress or public opinion would have accepted turning the power of going to war over to President Bush.
Mr. Bush and Tony Blair claim the war was justified by Saddam's ouster but when the mobilization of support was under way neither the U.S. nor the U.K. governments was willing to rest its case on this argument. As so often has happened in history, the statesmen decided the prudent course was to manipulate the public.
There was also the impact of the relentless campaign to conjure up a link between the Iraqi regime and the "war on terrorism." As late as the Sept. 30 Miami debate President Bush sought to justify the war by asserting that "the enemy attacked us." Repeating the allegation of such a link over and over does not make it so. In fact, there is no credible evidence to back up the allegation. The long-standing enmity between Islamic fundamentalists and Hussein's secular regime further argues against the charge.
Back in 2003 George Bush asserted "mission accomplished" but whatever the accomplishment, it did not include assurance against widespread Iraqi resistance and commitment to initiating the process of bringing our troops home. It was indeed Iraq resistance that set the context for the tortures perpetrated at Abu Ghraib and other locations in Iraq and elsewhere.
There has been no admission that when the administration claimed Iraq was building a nuclear capability (that claim put forward by Secretary Powell at the U.N. in February 2003), it concealed the fact that leading Energy Department and State Department experts very much doubted Iraq was engaged in a nuclear weapons program.
We have been told we must prepare for a never-ending war on terrorism but whether or not there is such a prospect, it is strange the government initiates that war by an invasion that has intensified hostility to the United States. At the U.N. session where Mr. Bush spoke, it was very likely Secretary General Kofi Anan was more in tune with the assembled delegates than was Mr. Bush when he stated the U.S. invasion was illegal.
In the event of President Bush's re-election the administration hypothetically might simply await the collapse of the Iraq adventure, blaming our allies and/or the U.N. for failure, or decide to up the ante. The latter option is more consistent with the administration's vision of itself as arbiter of world affairs. This option would require massing a much larger military force and it is very difficult to see how this could be achieved without reinstitution of the draft.
Such a turn of events would intensify public divisiveness and destabilize our already shaky economy. This is a path that can only end in disaster.
What would Senator Kerry do about the war if he is elected? In the weeks before Election Day, he needs to further clarify his answer to the question. But he has spoken truly when he said that the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld strategy is profoundly wrong. Kerry clearly believes that basing policy on factual evidence is more vital than adherence to doctrinaire ideology. Kerry, furthermore, has made clear his opposition to a unilateral course that alienates most of the world's nations.
Kerry, unlike Bush, does not accept the notion that a policy of "going it alone" is the standard by which courage is to be judged. And unlike George Bush and Dick Cheney, he is most unlikely to seek the stifling of dissent. The election of Kerry and Edwards would signify that the American people reject government by deception.
On Election Day, it will be the voters' turn to speak. All of us have the obligation to carefully weigh the positions taken by the candidates and to encourage a maximum voter turnout. There have been few elections in our history in which the stakes have been so high.
Herbert Shapiro is professor emeritus, History Department, University of Cincinnati
Bush and Co. What an inept mess!