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Dubya And Iraq: The Issue Is Consciousness

The Bush Administration has been beating the war drums on Iraq for many months now, as the President's obvious obsession with his father's enemy grows ever more out of control. Yesterday, Vice-President Cheney, in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, outlined the supposed case for pre-emptive action in Iraq: that a nuclear-armed Hussein would "seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world's energy supplies, directly threaten America's friends throughout the region and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail."

The Bush Administration's perspective here is myopic and profoundly dangerous. While the prospect of Hussein having nuclear weapons is worrisome, the prospect of the Arab Street perceiving any pre-emptive military action as confirmation of their worst fears of an imposition of American hegemony over the entire region is far more threatening in the longer-term. For all of his bad qualities, Hussein is a manageable, conventional despot. He seeks, above all, survival, and the continuation of his regime, and therefore can be contained using the principles that worked so well during the Cold War – including the threat of overwhelming nuclear retaliation. What is most troubling about the enemy that emerged on September 11th is that he is not so easily contained by conventional methods – and might actually reap a huge windfall in terms of financial and popular support in the event of an invasion of Iraq that does not enjoy wide support from the nation states of the region, and is not perceived by the Islamic Street as fair and clearly warranted.

The Bush Administration has obviously lost the first phase of the political war on terrorism, as 80% of respondents in a fairly recent poll of Muslims outside of North America and Western Europe refused to believe that there was credible evidence that Osama Bin Laden and al Queda were behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A pre-emptive strike against Iraq at this time, particularly during a period where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to burn out of control, and when Bush is even having trouble gathering enthusiastic support among NATO allies, is likely to only further inflame the hearts and minds of politically and economically disenfranchised Muslims around the world, and eventually lead to a far more dangerous turn of events. Furthermore, there is as great a likelihood that al Queda (or any terrorist organization that might succeed them) could obtain nuclear weapons material, or other weapons of mass destruction, from the stockpiles of the former Soviet Union, China, or the potentially radical Islamic state that might well emerge in Pakistan in the aftermath of a Bush adventure gone wrong, than they might from any weapons program in Iraq. Which is not to suggest that Bush should leave Hussein free to evade the military sanctions imposed in the aftermath of the Gulf War. However, the threat of an invasion by the United States military should be saved for use as a bargaining chip in the event that Hussein refuses the return of United Nations weapons inspectors, and a process of comprehensive removal of any weapons of mass destruction – or in the event of legitimate military provocation. Bush should also consider it his duty to offer aid and support to any forces inside of Iraq, or in exile, that seek the establishment of democracy; and, as a show of generosity and solidarity with its suffering people, work to lift the remaining economic sanctions – that have obviously done nothing to loosen Hussein's grip on power, but much to extend the suffering of the Iraqi people, and, ironically, become a wonderful propaganda and enrollment tool for terrorists like Bin Laden.

George W. Bush has forgotten perhaps the greatest piece of foreign policy advice that any American president ever offered -- Teddy Roosevelt's admonition to “Walk Softly and Carry a Big Stick”. He has instead become the embodiment of “The Ugly American”, painting a vivid picture on the world stage of the United States as a colossus willing and able to impose its will – and at a moment when American military forces are already engaged in Afghanistan and the Balkans, and are significantly weaker than they were during the Gulf War. Perhaps this kind of bravado and mindless posturing sells in Texas, and even parts of the United States, but it is clearly not selling in Western Europe, the Middle East or in Asia. As he swaggers across TV screens around the world, Dubya is squandering the good will, empathy and compassion that was won for this country through the sacrifice of the heroes and victims of September 11th. Rather than making the world a safer place to live, he is potentially setting in motion forces that could one day bring nuclear destruction to a city within the continental United States. He is the living embodiment of why, in the future, a candidate's consciousness and emotional intelligence, and not their likeability, “character”, physical looks or even their position on the "issues", need be the deciding factors when we choose our leaders.

Matthew Carnicelli, © 2002. All rights reserved.
Originally published August 27, 2002.