Richard Reeves

Ten Questions to Ask Before We Go to War

WASHINGTON -- I accept two givens as the debate begins (or ends) over whether the United States should unilaterally go to war against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq: (1) The man is evil and is attempting to build or increase an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction; (2) He is not a great or unique threat to Americans -- we are vulnerable to weapons of terror now from many places and even individuals -- unless we choose to send men there within easy range of whatever deathly power he has.

Then I ask, starting with what seems to me the most obvious question about our national security and the security of our allies, beginning with Turkey and Israel, countries within Saddam's range:

(1) Is Saddam more or less likely to use whatever awful weaponry he has if we go to war against him with the stated goal of "regime change"? In other words, what will the rat do if he is cornered?

(2) Can we afford this war against one 65-year-old man in terms of men and materiel?

(3) Will we have any of our traditional allies with us in this crusade? Except Great Britain, of course. As Simon Jenkins wrote last Wednesday in the Times of London: "Tony Blair has no clue what America intends to do. ... He is like an East European leader in the Soviet era, forced to support anything Moscow does without knowing what it is."

(4) What will be our relations with the Muslim world during and after the war? Is it possible that we are better off with a basically secular tyrant essentially contained in Baghdad than with dedicated Muslim fanatics, homegrown or imported from Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Pakistan?

(5) Will Israel, Saddam's closest and obvious target, be more or less secure during and after the war? How much damage can Israel sustain and survive? What will Turkey do if the Kurds within its borders and the Kurds in Iraq unite and attempt to do what they have always said they would, that is create a country called Kurdistan carved out of Iraq and Turkey?

(6) Is there a chance that the White House knows more than it is saying and believes there is a chance that bluff and a few military moves will trigger an assassination or overthrow of Saddam by his own people?

(7) What is Iraq's actual military capability, not weapons of mass destruction, but men and vehicles and old-fashioned weaponry from rifles to tanks and surface-to-air missilery?

(8) Presuming we prevail and the Saddam regime collapses -- and he is dead or in a cell next to former Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega -- is there an identifiable alternate leader or regime in Baghdad?

(9) Without allies, how many American soldiers will it take to occupy Iraq, and for how long and at what cost? (That, presumably, would involve American bodyguards around whoever we decide should be our new regime leader in Iraq. Perhaps we can reuse the bodyguards now assigned to protect the leader of Afghanistan's new regime.)

(10) Finally, does the United States, by moving into Iraq again, signal that we have indeed accepted (and want to have) the role of policeman of the world? Are we prepared to go anywhere, anytime, to enforce our will on countries and peoples somehow out of step with our marching orders?

These are no easy questions. Neither is going to war. Many people, me among them, were against pursuing the Gulf War to its obvious conclusion, marching to Baghdad and deposing Saddam. We were wrong then, and many of the people who now want to renew the war turned out be right. But that does not necessarily mean they are right now. There are still too many questions left unanswered before we suit up for war one more time.

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