Should the U.S. Invade Iraq? Week 2

Why Process Matters
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Oct. 2 2002 10:56 AM

Should the U.S. Invade Iraq? Week 2

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Anne Applebaum makes a distinction, in her post, between what she calls "the central issue"—should we go to war or not—and the, presumably, side issue of how the administration has made its case for doing so. Jacob Weisberg similarly distinguishes between what he calls "process questions" and, presumably, substance questions. For most of us in this discussion, though, with the possible exception of Steve Chapman, whether we support going to war depends on whether we think these are actually separable issues. I do not.

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To start with, there is the simple issue of having enough information to answer the "substance" questions. Anne says she thinks we should be prepared to go to war, but she also confesses that she's mystified by the administration's reticence ("If they don't really have a case for intervention, then I don't know what all the fuss is about"). Jacob claims to be able to weigh the substance issues without help from the administration, but when faced with what is for him the crucial question—do we attack Saddam now or later?—he decides that he'd best leave that to Donald Rumsfeld. So in this sense, the substance and process questions are not separable: As Michael Kinsley pointed out, the administration hasn't made enough information available to us.

Or maybe they have. Maybe the picture we're getting—yes, Saddam is a dangerous nut, but he's not yet an imminent threat—is pretty much accurate, despite Rumsfeld's and Ari Fleischer's efforts. In that case, then even if we could separate out the substance question (if, say, all of Europe were behind us in invading), there would still be a strong argument against risking American lives to confront an as yet uncertain threat.

Most crucially, however, the major process question—do we take action with allies or alone?—determines what risks we're taking. And risks are a very substantial matter.

First, in attacking Iraq at all, we would destabilize the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and say goodbye to any intelligence and policing cooperation we've been getting from other Arab countries. (Timothy Noah lays this out here.) These risks are much greater if we go it alone.

Second, by supplying Al Jazeera with footage of American troops killing Iraqi civilians, we would inspire and inflame thousands of new al-Qaida recruits. The presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia after Gulf War I made Osama Bin Laden determined to destroy us, and a lengthy American occupation of Baghdad (which will be necessary) will generate a few more Bin Ladens. As Robert Wright argues, if we take all the responsibility for doing the world's dirty work, we also take all the blame.

Third, when you're the most powerful country in the world, it's possible to think that international law is just something you pay lip service to, a moral nicety that only eggheaded philosophers care about. But, again as Robert Wright has argued, in Slate and elsewhere, there is little reason to believe, and much historical reason to doubt, that we will maintain our supremacy forever. We, too, will come to appreciate how respect for international law has made the world a safer place. We should not be the ones to destroy that respect.

Yes, we do need to worry about the possibility of terrorists acquiring unconventional weapons, but the best way to prevent that is with international weapons control, for which the Bush administration has little enthusiasm. Will, in his post, introduced the funny idea that supporting gun control has something to do with supporting a war on Iraq. I wouldn't belabor any analogy, but a more appropriate one would align supporting gun control with supporting international nonproliferation agreements. In this, then, the Bush administration is at least consistent.

Kate Taylor is the arts reporter at the New York Sun and the editor of an anthology of essays about anorexia, Going Hungry, which will be published next spring.

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