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U.S.-Iraq Policy: Has the Die for War Been Cast?by J. Daryl Byler
This article was written for inclusion in the July-September 2002 issue of the Mennonite Central Committee Peace Office Newsletter, and is used by permission of the author and the Newsletter.
For more than a decade, "smart" bombs, sanctions, and harsh rhetoric marked U.S. policy toward Iraq. After supporting Iraq in its eight-year war against Iran during the 1980s, the United States did an abrupt turnabout when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein sent troops into Kuwait in August 1990.
The U.S.-led Gulf War in 1991 succeeded in driving Iraq from Kuwait. But the war also killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and devastated Iraq's infrastructure. Moreover, broad-based U.N. economic sanctions--originally imposed in 1990 to urge Iraqi withdrawal--have caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children and severely hindered efforts to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure.
Since the Gulf War, U.S. policy has focused on containing Saddam Hussein, fearing that he will again build weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile capabilities that will threaten other countries. Through the United Nations, the U.S. has pushed for weapons inspections and tight economic sanctions. Additionally, the U.S. and Great Britain have patrolled "no-fly" zones over northern and southern Iraq, frequently bombing Iraqi targets.
Expanding Policy Goals
Under both President Clinton and the current President Bush, U.S. policy goals have expanded from simply ridding Iraq of the capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction to include ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein.
These dual objectives offer little incentive for the government of Iraq to cooperate with the new weapons inspection plan currently under discussion at the United Nations. At a State Department meeting this spring, U.S. officials told the MCC Washington Office that, even if Saddam Hussein cooperates with a new weapons inspection regime, the United States will not rule out overthrowing the Iraqi government.
Some analysts suspect that, as a pretext for attacking Iraq, the United States will insist on weapons inspection conditions that are so invasive that Iraq could not possibly agree.
As further justification for ousting Saddam Hussein, President Bush has labeled Iraq as part of a global "axis of evil." Even though the U.S. has established no links between Iraq and the September 11 attacks, President Bush's "war on terrorism" has been broadened from bringing to justice those who planned and supported the attacks to taking preemptive action against those who may pose future threats.
Indeed, for many analysts, the question is no longer if the United States will attack Iraq, but when and how. President Bush has so publicly and repeatedly threatened to overthrow Saddam Hussein that many believe Bush has backed himself in a corner. One Republican member of Congress told the Washington Office, "Don't underestimate the personal dimension of this issue. Saddam Hussein tried to assassinate this president's father."
"An unsuccessful campaign would be simply unacceptable to the Bush administration," according to the Center for Defense Information. "Thus, any offensive would be an all-out, no-holds-barred war that would use overwhelming force and every conventional asset in the U.S. inventory to assure success."
Up to 300,000 U.S. troops would be needed for such an effort. The Bush administration is also studying whether mini-nuclear weapons could be used to penetrate underground bunkers.
The Point of No Return?
But is war against Iraq inevitable? When Iraq policy analysts gathered recently in Washington, D.C., to discuss this question, most agreed that war is "likely but not certain." If it happens, military action seems most likely during the fall of 2002 or spring of 2003. But several factors could make it difficult for President Bush to attack Iraq.
The Church and Change
What can church members do that might make a difference? Already Mennonites in northern Indiana organized a national day of "prayer and faxing" on Palm Sunday. More than 4,000 faxes were sent to Bush and Congress opposing war against Iraq.
Educational events and letters or op ed pieces in newspapers could emphasize:
J. Daryl Byler is director of the MCC Washington (D.C.) office.