It may not be fair to George W. Bush, but the American public and the world community might be more solidly behind a war against Saddam Hussein if the primary advocate was Al Gore or John McCain. The fact that George Bush's father himself fought Saddam twelve years previously puts an image in the back of many people's minds: that George Bush Sr. didn't get the job done in 1991, and George Bush Jr. is out to finish the job.
No, it's not fair, but it's one more reason why perfectly reasonable people are not jumping at the chance to go to war. The majority of the world community lives in some form of democracy, even if they aren't American, and they have rights to their opinions. It is Bush's responsibility to understand these and to answer these concerns, if he really cares about having our support.
For once, I laud Jean Chretien's cautious attitude as he questions the Bush Administration's desire to go to war quickly. Does that put me on Saddam's side? Far from it. I know he is among the worst dictators currently on this planet, and I would not be upset if he was ousted in a democratic uprising. But do I believe that Iraq poses a clear and immediate threat to the stability of the Middle East and the security of the United States and the International Community? Not according to what little evidence has been placed before me.
Bush could call the "optics" of the situation unfair, and I do doubt that he is motivated by a desire to avenge his father or to distract from America's domestic problems, but the best way to address those unfair optics is to show counter evidence, and lots of it. He needs to persuade and consult, not lecture and cajole. If he does not do this, it is his fault that the International Community isn't behind him.
Has the Bush Administration done this? Not so far. They tried to find links between Saddam's regime and the Al Queda terrorist organization, but there wasn't enough convincing evidence to pursue. Then Bush, whose distrust of the UN is well known, tried to make an issue out of Saddam's chemical, biological and nuclear weapon's programs and its failure to abide by UN resolutions. when Saddam stymied this by allowing weapon's inspectors back into Iraq, the Bush Administration stated that it would "thwart" the return of inspectors unless the UN passed a strongly worded resolution promising force unless Iraq surrendered unconditionally.
The evidence has been hard to come by, and the consultation of the International Community has come reluctantly. To the untrained eye, it looks as though the Bush Administration isn't interested in diplomacy and that war is desired.
I have a problem with that, and I'm not the only one. A number of polls in the United States itself show that the American public do not want to speed towards a war. Within the International Community, only Tony Blair of Britain is offering (almost) unconditional support.
We who have doubts are not coddling terrorists; nor are we cowards. We have just not been convinced of the pressing need for an invasion, the lack of alternatives, and if victory is as certain as some people say. We are wary of the United States' willingness to act unilaterally, without consultation with other members of the world community in good standing. This is not a matter internal to the United States; it has the potential to do great harm to millions, and the other nations in the world community deserve to have a say over what happens.
Fortunately, we can take solace in that consultation is happening, however reluctantly. I am happy to see the United Nations pressing Iraq to abide by UN resolutions regarding weapons of mass destruction. I would be happy if the UN passed a resolution requiring the weapons inspectors to have free movement throughout the country, including those sprawling "presidential palaces" (ha!) that are currently off limits. I would be, as Chretien is, willing to back that resolution up with a promise of force. But like Chretien, I want diplomacy to be given a chance to work. And if Bush really wants my support, and the wholehearted support of the American people, he should respect our concerns and try to answer the following questions:
- Have precautions been taken to prevent the fall of the Saud regime in Saudi Arabia if an attack on Iraq destabilizes the region?
- What are those precautions?
- Are plans in place for the installation of a democratic government in Iraq when the current administration falls
- What will the United States government do if the Kurdish majority in northern Iraq takes advantage of the invasion and seeks to establish, by force of arms, an independent state of Kurdistan?
- Is the United States willing to allow Iraq to break up into two or three independent nations?
- What will the United States do to salve the concerns of Turkey and Iran over the prospects of an independent Kurdistan and keep them from invading?
- What precautions have been taken to prevent the war from widening on other fronts -- If Saddam launches missiles on Israel, and Israel retaliates? If Jorden is forced into the war on the side of Iraq?
In short, has the Bush Administration considered all the possible outcomes of committing a force of as many as 25,000 American and U.K. troops to a highly unstable region. Can you show me you know what you are doing?
And then there is the biggest question of all: did diplomacy fail, or was it even given a chance to succeed?