Almost every politician I've spoken with—Democrat and Republican—has grave doubts about at least some of the details of the operation that we seem to be hurtling toward. After all, for the past 20 years it has been America's tacit but obvious policy to keep Saddam Hussein in power, weapons of mass destruction and all, because his removal was likely to destabilize the region. There are Kurds in the north of Iraq, Shiites (a majority of the population) in the south, Sunnis in between; their postwar loyalties and configurations are unpredictable. It is also quite probable that the next government in Iraq will not be perceived by its neighbors as the avatar of democracy and religious tolerance in the region, but as an American client state. The notion that the incipient pummeling of Baghdad will usher in an Islamic Enlightenment is laughable.
Furthermore, as the American military pieces are slowly wheeled into place for the campaign, Saddam's chemical and biological labs are likely to be shut down, the germs and gases that are transportable put in suitcases—and then sold or given away to the very people we fear.
And these are only the most obvious questions. Perhaps the president and his advisers have planned for all this and for the dozens of other profound issues raised by this proposed course of action. Perhaps they have devised the strategies that will assure the results we want. Perhaps they have answers that they can't share with us now.
But the recent history of American foreign policy—not just in this administration, but in the previous one as well—has not been marked by careful planning, long-range thinking, or attention to detail. The Clinton White House was plagued by intermittent focus on overseas issues, indecisiveness, and an inability to know when and how to use force. The Bush administration has pursued international policies that are at once cynical, ideological, and dangerously simplistic. The rush to open a new front in a complicated war, the tendency of conservatives (and their propagandists) to go berserk whenever legitimate questions are raised, the giddy moral certainty in the air, the fact that we are not talking about one quick war against an obvious psychopath but about actions—and a fundamental shift in American policy—that may well echo and shape the world for the next 50 years—all this should cause us to pause, slow down, talk this over.
Al Gore's speech was a good start. And more, it was a gauntlet wisely thrown. Those politicians—Democrat and Republican—who neglect these crucial issues now, for whatever reasons, should be taken at face value: Apparently, they have nothing of interest to say. We should remember their silence the next time they ask for our votes.