All Writings
December 14, 2002

Misguided And Perilous Strategy

The disproportionate efforts, resources, and time that the preparation for war with Iraq are exacting from the administration, have undermined other critical issues, such as the war on terrorism, dealing effectively with other rogue nations, and fixing what's wrong with the national economy. Each have the potential of causing severe damage to our nation.

Iraq may or may not be involved with Al Qaeda. Other than repeated speculations about its connection with, and support of, Al Qaeda, thus far no smoking gun has been produced. Although this certainly does not give Iraq a clean bill of health, it does suggest that, given the limits of our resources, other anti-terrorist initiatives may have to suffer. Indeed, while we have been preparing for possible war to oust Saddam Hussein, Al Qaeda has been busy terrorizing Western and Israeli targets from Indonesia to Yemen to Kenya. Hundreds of Al Qaeda cells, scattered in more than 60 countries, are gradually and methodically reorganizing and retooling to strike at targets of their own choosing. And while we have continued to be fixated on Saddam, every day of every week thousands of schools in many Arab and Muslim countries, especially in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan (our so-called friends and allies) produce hundreds if not thousands of future terrorists. Poisoning the minds of the young against the United States is part and parcel of their teaching curriculum. And this hatred is further fanned by what they see and hear from their government- control media, both written and electronic, about the new evil empire–the United States.

What actions has the administration taken to arrest this horrifying trend, whose ramifications are bound to haunt us, for it is only a matter of time before this new generation of young and alienated antagonists join the anti-American terrorist crusade. Oh, yes, the administration has budgeted $25 million to promote democracy in the Arab world. How pathetic. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press of public attitudes toward the United States in 44 nations shows with stark clarity that "discontent with the United States has grown around the world over the past two years." In Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, 7 of 10 people have unfavorable views of us, with more than half, expressing distaste and hatred.

Although Iraq has pursued weapons of mass destruction, by all estimates it is 2 to 3 years away from producing nuclear weapons, even if it is free to do so. North Korea, in contrast, has abrogated a 1994 agreement that prohibits it from pursuing a nuclear weapons program and recently declared its intention to reactivate an idled plant capable of producing such weapons. Whether this declaration is a tactical move to pressure the United States to enter into a dialogue, or a flexing of its aggressive muscles in the region, or a ploy to strengthen its position at the negotiating table with South Korea and Japan or, as the North Korea itself claims, to deter a U. S. attack, the Bush administration appears bent on resolving the conflict peacefully. On the face of it, North Korea is at this moment considerably more dangerous (with two nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them) than Iraq. Why then has the administration chosen a moderate approach toward North Korea while constantly raising the heat with Iraq? It is true the that our allies–Japan and South Korea in particular want a peaceful solution to the North Korean problem and China continues to oppose a military solution. Yet, even so, the administration seems strongly motivated by its unwillingness and inability to militarily confront North Korea regardless of the danger it poses to international peace while war preparations against Iraq are underway.

Surely the fact that North Korea does not have oil plays a role in our strategic calculations. But ridding Iraq of Saddam, which will presumably stabilize supplies and lower the price of oil, giving a boost to our economy, also does. And so does the illusion that the ouster of Saddam, as some administration officials suggest, will usher in a new era of peace throughout the region. By opposing this policy, I am not suggesting, however, that we should leave Saddam Hussein to his own devices. In any case, as long as UN inspectors are roaming the country, there is not much that Saddam can do. We should deal with him on the basis of their final findings. What I am saying is that when North Korea flaunts international agreements, and while Iran, the third member of the "axis of evil" club, is hard at work pursuing a nuclear weapon program, and scud missiles are openly shipped to one of the world's most lawless countries, Yemen, our preoccupation with Saddam prevents us from objectively gauging and judging other dangers which may be greater. We are deliberately and mindlessly subordinating every other danger we face to our obsession with Iraq.

The prospect of war with Iraq also has had some unintended consequences. It has left most American anxious about the future, deeply concerned about the deteriorating economy, and feeling vulnerable about their personal safety. As long as this uncertainty prevails, the economy will continue to suffer. No tax cut, especially not a long-term one that favors the rich, or any other induced economic remedy that fails to create immediately new jobs and encourage consumer spending will make a dent. Proposing such remedies is a cynical joke on the American people. Before the economy can improve, the national psyche must first change. Yet the administration's policies are adding to the frustration and uncertainty rather than easing them. It is estimated that a war against Iraq will cost anywhere between $50 to $100 billion, and even though calculated against our gross national product, we can afford it, most economists predict that it will undermine further our economic health and may even plunge us into a deep recession. Moreover, whether we end up occupying it, billions will be needed to rebuild post-war Iraq, as much of its institutions and infrastructure will have been destroyed. The United States will have to foot most of these bills, because unlike the situation that prevailed in the Gulf War, this time, our allies will be unwilling to pay for a war they had no wish to fight in the first place.

Yes, Saddam Hussein is a problem, a bad one at that, and must be dealt with. The question is how? At whose expense? And by what means? Iraq is only one of many sources of danger for the United States and its allies. Our fixation solely on this nation imperils our national well being because it prevents us from paying adequate attention to other more immediate dangers. The Iraq policy is sapping much of our energy and financial resources, playing havoc with our economy, and alienating most of the international community. It is time to rethink it so that without giving an inch to Saddam Hussein, we give ourselves a real chance to win the war against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Otherwise, we will expose ourselves to new and devastating terrorist assaults which may be nearer that the administration is willing to admit.