On March 18, 2003, The Spokesman-Review published a lengthy editorial about the approaching U.S. invasion of Iraq. This is an abridged version.
In the impending war between the United States and Iraq, a villain stands out. Saddam Hussein is a wretched leader, capable of startling depravity. He needs to lay down his arms and step aside. That’s the option President Bush spelled out in an ultimatum he delivered Monday evening. Since no one expects Saddam to heed the demand, war and bloodshed are days, perhaps hours, away.
Just because hostilities begin, however, doesn’t mean the debate over the decision has ended, or should. Not because of any dispute over whether Saddam Hussein has brought trouble upon himself, but the questions that were unanswered before the president declared the window for diplomacy shut are unanswered still.
American service men and women will be putting their lives on the line. They need to know that Americans at home honor their valor and respect their dedication to duty. Some of them will die, of course, as will many innocent Iraqis. Those who disagree that war is appropriate can still hope, once it begins, that it is quick, precise and decisive; that casualties are minimized; and that the outcome justifies the cost.
But Americans are far from unified in their beliefs about this conflict. Some agree with the president that Saddam is a cornerstone of world terrorism and must be removed. Others doubt that other viable strategies got a fair trial. The debate transcends simplistic ideological thinking.
President Bush failed to win backing from the U.N. Security Council for a military attack – even though it is the United Nations’ own resolution he says the United States is enforcing. He has said U.S. security is at stake, yet he has not gone to Congress for a constitutional declaration of war. The president has drawn connections between the Saddam regime and the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 – a connection that appeals to Americans’ rage but is doubted by intelligence agencies.
He also told the nation that Baghdad concealed efforts to procure enrichable uranium from Niger, a conclusion that turned out to be based on crudely forged documents.
Meanwhile, there has been little accounting for how much the war will cost. The cost to American taxpayers is only one of numerous significant consequences that will come into focus after the war. Stability in the Middle East depends on how much infighting ensues among nations and among factions after Saddam is gone.
Saddam is not a victim, he is a perpetrator. The threat of military force pushed him into whatever concessions he made during the U.N. inspection process. The breakdown of diplomacy gave him the will to stall. Now the statesmen are giving way to the generals. As patriotic service members carry out their duty in Iraq, equally patriotic Americans will continue to debate at home about the wisdom of the administration’s policies.
That debate, even with the nation at war, is part of freedom’s heritage – as well as its sustenance.
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