To attack Iraq now is unwise

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 17, 2003

An assault on Iraq at this time is authorized legally and militarily expeditious -- but probably unwise politically. At this time, I am reasonably confident; but I fear it is inevitable without having the wisdom to know just when.

It is fully authorized legally, because it has been so for nearly 13 years. The challenge on legal grounds is wrong headed, because Iraq has been in material violation of UN requirements, conditions, and resolutions since it surrendered in Desert Storm and asked for mercy, which it received abundantly and even indulgently. It was -- and remains -- a defeated aggressor nation. It waged war, unprovoked and for blatant self-serving purposes. It attacked and actually occupied neighboring Kuwait and was poised to do the same to Saudi Arabia. I find it amazing how many pundits have forgotten this monstrous reality.

The question is not should we go to war with Iraq, but should we pick up combat where we left off. It is a resumption of military action and, hopefully, the conclusion to a festering international problem that is currently being considered. Moreover, the active hostilities have never actually ended. Iraq has been firing on our reconnaissance planes all these years. It has never stopped fighting; we just haven't fought back in measure.

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A second invalid question being asked raises the non-issue of whether the inspectors have proven Iraq has not destroyed its weapons of mass destruction. The issue is that this nation has not only failed, but continues to refuse proof that it has. The burden of proof is not on the UN weapons inspectors but upon Iraqi weapons personnel and its government. Secretary of State Colin Powell put it pointedly: "The inspectors are inspectors, not detectives."

It is not for the inspectors to prove the weapons are there, but for Iraq to prove they are not. How can a nation prove that something that does not exist does not, in fact, exist? While such is usually impossible, it's simple in this situation. UN inspectors had earlier found, identified, and documented many weapons of mass destruction within Iraq and ordered them destroyed -- in a manner that would document their destruction. Although Iraq claims to have done so (weapons it previously claimed did not exist), it not only did not document but acknowledge it has no documentation. The requirement is to have recorded when, where, how, and by whom the weapons were destroyed. Of course, Iraq did not destroy them or it would be able to produce the documentation.

Assault is now militarily expeditious: not ground forces assault and certainly not occupation, of course, but the initial bombing by planes and missiles, is operationally ready. We have that capability, and it would need to continue for such a period that we could be ready for a ground assault by the time this phase is complete. We are, from a logistic perspective, wasting the time of our already deployed personnel and wasting funds to sustain them while they sit around the Middle East waiting to be fully engaged in their mission. Militarily, we are ready. If military expediency were the only consideration -- and, mind you, it is not -- we should be well into the air preparation for ground assault.

The question remaining, however, is the political wisdom of attacking now. No one thinks there is much advantage in proceeding without specific, narrow UN authorization beyond the backlog of existing resolutions actively being violated. Nor do any of us feel it desirable to attack short of a wide coalition of the sort America enjoyed in Desert Storm. All this, however, is wishful thinking for ideal political conditions, which do not now exist. Nor is it likely they ever will. The time may well come when America -- and such allies we might by then have been able to assemble -- will need to attack without further UN authorization or the support of some of our more squeamish and obdurate "friends," such as Germany and France. Forget Russia and China.

So: Do we have legal authority to attack Iraq now? Yes, I think so. Is it militarily expeditious to begin the attack now? Yes, it is. Is it politically wise, nonetheless? No, I am quite certain it is not. When will it be and how can we know? I don't know.

Dr. Wallace Alcorn’s commentaries appear in the Herald on Mondays