As we verge upon war in Iraq, can anyone make sense of what the Bush administration is doing? It increasingly seems as if the foolish pride of a cornered dictator and the obsession of an imprudent president are driving us into a costly war that will make America less secure. Has reason given way to mad passion even before the fog of war descends?
North Korea boots out international inspectors, revs up its nuclear plants and begins cranking out nuclear weapons. The regime--which has missiles that can reach parts of the United States--lobs one into the Sea of Japan. It puts its soldiers on alert and promises to eradicate Seoul if the United States attacks. It ships nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan, where the intelligence service is connected to al-Qaida.
No problem, says the president. Not a crisis, says Secretary of State Colin Powell. The president will show his displeasure by sending less food aid than previously. Say what?
Iraq has given UN inspectors untrammeled access, even to Saddam's palaces. The suspicious places the United States fingered have been or are being inspected. Saddam, who has no missiles that can reach the United States, begrudgingly and belatedly and unwillingly is dismantling the missiles that exceed the UN's 90-mile limit by a few miles.
Saddam, with self-destructive hubris, is less than cooperative. But the United States and Britain occupy two-thirds of Iraq by air, bombing targets at will. The embargo on Iraq continues. All agree that the Iraqi military is far less potent than it was a decade ago.
The only threat the administration can summon up about Saddam is that he might give weapons to al-Qaida. But the secular Saddam despises the fundamentalist terrorists, and the CIA's own intelligence says he's likely to give them chemical or biological weapons only in the event of a U.S. invasion, as a final act of revenge. Yet Iraq, the president says, poses an unacceptable threat, so he gears up to fight a war supported by Britain's prime minister (but not the British people), Spain and Bulgaria. Say what?
We spend $18 billion a year in Afghanistan, where warlords are back and terrorist violence is on the rise. How much will it cost to occupy Iraq, where civil war has already begun, with neighboring Turkey and Iran already carving out pieces, and President Bush saying that we are intent on creating a new democracy?
The administration's budget already calls for a $300 billion deficit next year, without counting the war in Iraq or Afghanistan. States and localities are slashing school budgets, shutting down health care clinics, raising university tuitions. Few would argue about the cost of a war if we faced an immediate threat to our country. But why launch an expensive war against a weakened foe that is already under air occupation and international inspection?
Last week, a veteran career diplomat, J. Brady Kiesling, resigned because of Bush's ''fervent pursuit of war with Iraq.'' His resignation letter warned Powell that Bush's policies ''are driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America's most potent weapon'' for the past century.
Kiesling, who had postings throughout the Middle East and southern Europe, merely expressed publicly what legions of career diplomats, national security experts and military leaders are saying privately: They believe the push for war is eroding U.S. credibility and goodwill, even among our closest allies. They think the costs and risks are far greater than the supposed threat or benefits.
And, as even Powell seemed to admit last week, the war on Iraq and subsequent occupation will only fuel hatred for America among a billion Muslims across the world. The greater the violence, the longer the occupation, and the more recruits for al-Qaida, the more terrorist attacks are likely to come here.
The president promised that victory in Iraq will pave the way to peace in the Middle East, an argument that few experts support. But the real question is: Will war and occupation in Iraq pave the way to security in the United States? It seems increasingly clear that we're about to spend $100 billion on a war that will lead to more terrorism targeted on U.S. citizens at home and abroad.
With 200,000 troops in the region, the war plans done and the bombers in place, the White House is showing the UN Security Council that war is inevitable. Inevitable perhaps, but not sensible. The administration is headed into a ''war of choice'' that no one would choose.
Copyright 2003, Digital Chicago Inc.