Iraq decisions cannot be hasty

In 1986, Dick Cheney stubbornly fingered Nelson Mandela as a closet terrorist and refused to join his colleagues in a congressional resolution demanding both the liberation of Nelson Mandela and the recognition of the African National Congress. Having secured the lifetime bragging rights of mistaking a universally respected Nobel Peace Prize recipient for a cold-blooded terrorist, Vice President Cheney now brings his impressive credentials to lead the charge in the War on Terrorism. It is a War on Terror that has now apparently found a call to arms for nothing less than the unilateral and unprovoked invasion of another state in order to perpetuate the administration’s biblical notions of a relentless battle raging between forces of good and evil.

Although the impetus for war has been constructed on many issues, let us first be clear on what it is not. This is not a continuation of the War on Terror. Despite their many efforts, the administration’s attempts to link Iraq with al-Qaida have been rebuffed by both governmental and non-governmental agencies. None of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi, no major figure in al-Qaida is Iraqi, nor has any part of al-Qaida’s money trail been traced to Iraq. It is highly improbable that a secular state such as Iraq, which has a long history of savagely suppressing Islamists within its own borders, would be able to maintain close ties with Osama bin Laden.

As The Nation noted, a former Iraqi intelligence chief described that bin Laden views Saddam Hussein “as an apostate, an infidel, or someone who is not worthy of being a fellow Muslim.” In the State Department’s own annual study, Patterns of Global Terrorism, there was no report of any act of international terrorism linked to Iraq. Despite its bravado, the War on Terror has yet to capture or kill any of the major players in the Sept. 11 attacks, a particularly sore point for the administration, which now wishes to dab its wounds with an ointment in the form of an invasion of another state…oh, say, Iraq. Although al-Qaida indisputably presents a clear and present danger to the United States, the Administration’s embarrassment over their lack of success in quashing the threat has provided an impetus to redirect their precious resources to address a secondary, more ambiguous threat in the Middle East.

Independent of the administration’s hidden political and personal agendas, there is no question that Iraq threatens the interests of the United States. It does. There is no question that without some form of action, Iraq would build a formidable weapons program in the long run. It would. The real question, which has yet to be articulated by the president, is whether the benefits of invading Iraq would outweigh the costs, and whether available alternatives to war are more desirable.

Studies of the tangible costs of war have been exhaustively presented upon deaf ears. It has already been established that the United States will solely bear the burden of inflationary spikes, price shocks in oil and the overwhelming costs required to conduct a war halfway across the world (the cost of waging war on Iraq for one day is more than enough money to buy three computers and new textbooks for every classroom in America) and then rebuild a war-ravaged country halfway across the world into a modern nation-state. As former national security advisor Sandy Berger noted dryly, “if it’s a coalition of one, it’s a bill-payer of one.” Yet the most important costs, which have yet to be discussed by mainstream America, are the intangibles, the truly devastating, yet unapparent costs that lurk beneath the surface.

In releasing its doctrine of pre-emption and defining it with an invasion of Iraq, the United States is both violating and fundamentally redefining international law and the norms that have governed international relations for hundreds of years. States will always look to the hegemony for precedent and justification in action, and a war on Iraq now signals the green light for other countries to take similar action. India now has the moral authority to attack Pakistan, Russia to Chechnya, Egypt to Israel (the president did, after all, stress the significance of the U.N. resolutions that Iraq has repeatedly denied; Israel has ignored more U.N. resolutions than any country in the 20th and 21st century.)

In fact, any country that is so much as vaguely perceived as threatening to another can now be bombed, invaded and toppled for an indefinite period. By setting a precedent of unilateral action with little or no regard to international consensus or law, the United States is undermining global order and essentially signals the lack of value in diplomatic initiatives that offer an alternative to the mayhem that is war.

Ralph Nader and the far left often label Democrats and Republicans as one and the same. The Bush Administration has quickly silenced accusations of homogeneity in its cowboy approach to world politics, and in fulfilling its radically unilateral doctrine of international relations is making the world a much more dangerous place to live.

Scoffing at peaceful, diplomatic initiatives as soft and weak, the Republicans wish to demonstrate and enforce notions of machismo that essentially amount to flexing in front of a mirror after having picked on a weaker kid. The country thus far has been cowed into silence and complicity by the administration, who has ordered us to grant the president unconditional powers based on undisclosed and secretive evidence. It would be both irresponsible and immoral of the American people to allow the radical ideology and political opportunism of so few dictate the course of an entire nation: They must be stopped.