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16 Feb 2003

Source: Los Angeles Times, February 16, 2003


Is a War Necessary? Why Now? Who Agrees?

The risks of an invasion of Iraq seem immense, but the White House says a delay is even more dangerous. Analysts and officials weigh in.

By Doyle McManus and Robin Wright, Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON -- The debate over a war with Iraq has roiled the nation and the world. The stakes are high, and growing. They include not only the lives of Iraqi and American troops and the survival of Saddam Hussein's regime, but also the future of the Middle East, of the U.S. alliance with Europe, and of America's role as a global superpower. The risks of going to war appear immense, but to listen to the Bush administration, so are the risks of delay.

As the debate approaches a critical stage, here are some of the most asked questions.

* Is this war necessary?

President Bush and his allies say yes, unless Iraq abruptly changes course and produces a full accounting of its chemical and biological weapons. In their view, the danger of allowing Hussein to keep even a few weapons of mass destruction -- especially the risk that he might give them to terrorists -- is greater than the risk of going to war.

Most critics of administration policy believe that U.N. inspections can still work. In their view, the costs of a war -- human, financial and political -- are worse than the risks of six more months of delay.

"The danger Saddam Hussein poses reaches across the world," Bush said recently. On "September the 11th, 2001, the American people saw what terrorists could do by turning four airplanes into weapons. We will not wait to see what terrorists or terrorist states could do with chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons."

French President Jacques Chirac countered, "We can disarm Saddam Hussein without going to war. An alternative to war still exists."

* Why now?

Concern over Iraq is not a recent invention. The United States and Britain spent much of the 1990s trying unsuccessfully to impose effective U.N. inspections on Baghdad; then-President Clinton hoped to overthrow Hussein through covert action but failed. After Sept. 11, Bush argued that the danger of leaving Hussein in power was even greater than before.

"Why now?" Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld asked rhetorically. "The answer is that every week that goes by, his weapons of mass destruction programs become more mature, [and] he has relationships with terrorist networks."

Critics charge that the administration is exaggerating both the intensity of the threat and the pressure of time.

"This time issue is really weird," said Jessica Tuchman Matthews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "We can afford to take more time. Nobody would be making the case that we should end inspections after eight weeks if it were not for the problem of the weather [growing too hot for military operations] ... and that's a strange reason to make a decision."

* Does everyone agree that Iraq is a threat?

Most of the world's governments agree that Hussein, who invaded Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990, poses a threat to his neighbors if he is not restrained. The question is whether the threat is serious enough to justify war.

The Bush administration and its allies charge that Iraq has continued to build chemical, biological and nuclear weapons despite its promises to end those programs. Those weapons would make Iraq a greater threat to more countries than before.

The Baghdad government has never fully explained what happened to the huge supplies of chemical and biological toxic substances it admitted holding before 1998. Most analysts believe that Iraq has kept secret stocks of the weapons, but it is not clear how large or how usable they are.

* Is Iraq collaborating with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups?

Of all the charges the United States has made, the most hotly debated are those linking Iraq and the Al Qaeda network. Without such a connection, the logic of invading Iraq as a response to Sept. 11 seems weak to many Americans.

At the United Nations on Feb. 5, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made his case, detailing evidence that he said showed Iraq is harboring a terrorist network headed by a senior Al Qaeda terrorist planner.

But other U.S. officials have said the evidence of the link is largely circumstantial or subject to interpretation. And they say no substantive evidence has emerged to suggest that Iraq had a hand in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Iraq has a history of ties with Palestinian terrorists, and Hussein's intelligence agencies plotted terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in the early 1990s, including an abortive assassination attempt against former President Bush, the current president's father.

* Can a strategy of "containment" keep Iraq at bay?

The Bush administration argues that containment -- restraining Iraq with constant diplomatic and military pressure -- no longer works.

First, U.S. officials argue, the U.N. tried containment for 12 years, and Baghdad repeatedly found ways around both economic sanctions and weapons inspections. Second, the U.S. argues, terrorism means containment is no longer reliable. "We have reached a point in history when the margin for error that we once enjoyed is gone," Rumsfeld said recently. "In the 20th century, we ... were dealing, for the most part, with conventional weapons.... In the 21st century, that's not the case. The cost of underestimating the threat is unthinkable."

But others, including some European governments and some American scholars, believe that containment is still possible -- and indeed is working now.

"Iraq has never gone to war in the face of a clear deterrent threat," John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University wrote recently. "Logic and evidence suggest that Iraq can be contained, even if it possesses weapons of mass destruction."

* Are there alternatives to war?

France has proposed sending U.N. troops to Iraq to engage in what French officials call "disarmament by force without war." The idea is to make the U.N. inspections more effective by increasing the number of inspectors, stationing permanent observers at Iraqi military sites and backing them up with armed forces. Germany and Russia have indicated that they might support this approach.

The French initiative is similar to proposals that have been made by several American foreign policy experts, including the Carnegie Endowment's Matthews and former Clinton administration official Morton Halperin. Matthews has called for "muscular inspections," Halperin for a policy of "containment plus."

Bush administration officials say these proposals won't work without more cooperation than Iraq has provided so far.

"The issue is not more inspectors, the issue is compliance on the part of Saddam Hussein," Powell said. "If he is not complying, tripling the numbers of inspectors doesn't deal with the issue."

* Can the world afford six months to see if beefed-up inspections would work?

Bush administration officials say no.

First, they say, a six-month delay could undermine the precarious coalition of support the United States has assembled among Iraq's neighbors: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan. If Hussein is seen as "winning" the current faceoff, even temporarily, one or more of those governments could be shaken, officials say.

Second, they worry that France and other countries would eventually lose interest in maintaining a lengthy -- and costly -- inspection operation. "Can you keep inspections and containment going indefinitely? I don't think you can. The experience of the last 12 years demonstrates that," said Terry L. Deibel of the National War College.

Matthews and other proponents disagree. "If the question is, can this Iraqi deception be defeated? Are we tough enough, determined enough and technically able to defeat Iraq's effort to control the outcome? The answer is yes," she said.

* How long would a war last and what would it cost?

No one can say. "What's remarkable about this situation is that the range of plausible outcomes, both military and political, is so great," Deibel said. "On the military side, you could see anything from a sudden, swift victory to a use of chemical weapons or hand-to-hand combat in the streets of Baghdad."

Bush administration officials have carefully avoided any projections of casualties, American or Iraqi. But military officials have said that if they bomb Iraqi cities, they will use precision munitions that would minimize civilian deaths. They have offered widely varying cost estimates, from $40 billion to $200 billion.

* Would a war backfire against the United States?

Administration officials worry that a war could prompt a surge in terrorism aimed at American targets, but they say that should not affect the decision about whether war is necessary.

"The short answer is that it doesn't take an attack on Iraq to unleash attacks, terrorist attacks, on the United States," Rumsfeld said. "They've already done it."

But some fear that a U.S. invasion could deepen hostility toward the United States among young Arabs and lead to more terrorism over a long period.

"A war in Iraq would serve as a recruiting ground for Al Qaeda," warned Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA counter-terrorism chief.

There is also concern that a long war in Iraq would divert U.S. attention -- and military and intelligence assets -- from other terrorist worries such as Al Qaeda.

More immediately, some experts worry that a war could create the very danger the Bush administration says it fears most: a move by Hussein to give chemical or biological weapons to terrorists.

Last fall, the CIA reported to Congress: "Should Saddam conclude that a U.S.-led attack could no longer be deterred, he ... might decide that the extreme step of assisting Islamist terrorists in conducting an attack with weapons of mass destruction against the United States would be his last chance to exact vengeance."

During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Hussein fired Scud missiles at both Saudi Arabia and Israel; he could attempt a similar gambit again.

Elsewhere in the region, a long and deadly war could endanger regimes friendly to the United States. One vulnerable U.S. ally is Jordan, Iraq's western neighbor.

"The one I worry about most is Pakistan," Deibel said. "The nightmare scenario is if the Pakistani government falls and the bad guys get nuclear weapons."

* How long would the United States need to remain in Iraq after a war?

A long time, most experts believe -- or else the U.S. could win the war only to lose the peace.

Iraq will need humanitarian aid, economic rebuilding and political restructuring -- especially if it is to turn into a model of democracy for the Arab world, as some officials have proposed. That will require not only money but also people from the United States, over a long period of time.

U.S. officials have said they would probably place Iraq under U.S. military administration in the immediate aftermath of a war, but shift responsibility to an international civilian administration as soon as possible. At the same time, the U.S. hopes to convene Iraqi factions to write a new constitution and eventually hold elections.

* Would a war transform Iraq into a stable pro-Western democracy?

If the United States goes to war, this may be the barometer by which history judges the decision.

Iraq, a nation descended from some of humanity's oldest civilizations, has no tradition of democracy, but a very long tradition of autocratic rule, from Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar to Hussein. Forging a stable democracy from Iraq's deeply-fragmented society could require a long, deep U.S. commitment.

Some Bush administration officials argue that the risks of entanglement in a postwar Iraq have been exaggerated.

"Americans don't have pixie dust," Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton said recently. "Iraq is fundamentally where the Iraqis live, and they ought to assume responsibility for the government as soon as they can.... American politicians have to put up with American complaints. Let Iraqi politicians put up with Iraqi complaints."

But the rest of the Arab and Islamic world will be watching closely to see whether the United States keeps its promise to leave Iraq a better place.