Vice President Cheney received an earful of warnings against a US attack on Iraq during his Mid East tour, the same thing the administration has already heard from Europe. Yet there remains of speculation that European governments and Arab allies have given up on influencing Washington and resigned themselves to an American military campaign against Saddam. For its part, the administration has made gestures gestures to accommodate global opinion. The President isn't speaking about the "axis of evil" any more and the author of the phrase is no longer in White House employ; Bush has made some measured criticisms of Ariel Sharon's assaults on Palestinian towns, and (as of this writing) General Zinni is pressing for a Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire and meaningful political negotiations. Even the hawk's hawk, deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, acknowledged last week the truth that most laptop warriors desperately deny: that there is a powerful connection between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the general difficulties the United States faces in the Muslim world, including terrorism. It's an obvious point, however unlikely one is to read it in National Review or the Wall Street Journal's editorial page. The logical reason for Bush's shifts is that the administration is still intent on attacking Iraq, and is trying to prepare the way by showing a more reasonable face to the world. It's enough almost to tempt people like myself – incorrigible seekers of common ground – to say "Let them have their war against Saddam – at least they're not going to start wars all over the place, and they're finally trying to do something about the Israel-Palestinian question." But the fact is that an American military move against Iraq would be a mistake, probably a grievous one. It would not be a prelude to a new era of stability but the stage-setter for a more vicious and more anarchical international system. The United States has had a remarkable degree of international sympathy and support for its campaign against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Its action sent to the world a clear message: if a government shelters people who attack American civilians on American soil, America will destroy it. Plain and simple, something that everyone can understand. But Iraq is another matter. There is no credible evidence of an Iraqi link to the 9/11 attacks, despite extensive efforts to find one. There is of course a thuggish regime in Baghdad that the Bush administration has called "evil." But it is one thing to strike at regimes which have been involved in attacks on your citizens, another to order preemptive attacks on a government you don't like, one that has never attacked or even threatened Americans in their homeland. Most foreign states and many Americans would see such a move as a reckless, aggressive, and lawless act. The attack would spur a frantic push by more nations to develop nuclear weapons, or any weapons which would deter unilateral American military action. International diplomatic and police cooperation against Al-Qaeda – that is, against the terrorists who really are trying to kill us – would be adversely affected or dry up entirely. And the actual fighting would be problematic, even if the logistical problems could be solved. Either the US bombed extensively, causing massive widely reported Iraqi civilian casualties in a highly ambiguous cause; or it would send in troops who would face far stiffer resistance than in Afghanistan. Either course would be morally dubious, generate rage against the United States and its citizens all around the world – undermining the war on terror rather than bolstering it. Perhaps because they lack good answers to arguments like these, neoconservative pundits have begun to spin their push for war against Iraq in a new way – as a war for democracy, a war to save the long suffering Iraqi citizenry from Saddam's tyranny. The quality of Iraqi civic life has never been much of a concern for them before – even when there were widespread reports (affirmed by Madeleine Albright) that United Nations sanctions had killed half a million Iraqi children. Now all of a sudden, the Iraqi yearning to cast free ballots is up there with family values and apple pie. On "Meet the Press" Sunday, The Weekly Standard's William Kristol made the Iraq campaign sound as if it was a proposal for liberation of the European captive nations, circa 1956. There are many reasons why it would be difficult for the United States to impose democracy on Iraq through military occupation – on the model of post-war Germany and Japan. But what if it could be done? Most War Party pundits would, if pressed, acknowledge that their real problem with Iraq is not its lack of democracy but the Saddam regime's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. How would a democratic Iraq solve that? Answer: it wouldn't. The current nuclear balance in the Mid East is: Israel has lots of nuclear weapons; the Arabs and Iran have none. This may be a good thing, but it is inevitably something that several Middle Eastern governments hope to change over the next generation, either through a serious United Nations sponsored nuclear disarmament program (which Israel would never agree to) or by acquiring nuclear weapons of their own. Try as I might, I can't envision the Iraqi presidential candidate (or the Iranian one) who will campaign for continuance of Israel's regional nuclear monopoly, or acquiesce to it. In short, we have heard war against Iraq advocated because of Saddam's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, then because of Iraq's fanciful link to 9-11, finally because the Iraqi people are crying out for democracy. Under scrutiny, the reasons all collapse. Starting such a war is against America's interest.
In a weary world of endless US military interventions, sanctions, trade tariffs and chaos, let’s pause and take stock of the shining house on the hill