Since this time last year we have been trying to muster up support for Desert Storm: the Sequel. For months we have been saying that an invasion of Iraq would take place "in a matter of weeks" or "within days." And yet today Hussein remains in power, while our efforts at building an international coalition have yet to yield any significant fruit. France and Germany remain adamantly opposed to a war in Iraq, while Russia and China have offered only lukewarm support. Those who caution against a unilateral attack on Iraq may have their hearts in the right place… but they have missed a few important points.
In the past year, our stock market has lost nearly 30% of its value… a loss which hurts every American who has a 401(k) or pension fund. While not all of this can be blamed on geopolitics, it is clear that most buyers are going to stay on the sidelines until the Iraq crisis is resolved one way or the other. Fear of a war, or an OPEC embargo, has also helped to push oil prices up to around $30 a barrel from under $20, causing higher gas prices and real hardship for anyone who owns a vehicle or uses heating oil and doing further damage to an already fragile economy. The cost of a war will undoubtedly be high: the cost of a protracted stalemate is likely to be far higher.
In 1991 we invaded Iraq during January and February, thereby avoiding the triple-digit temperatures and sandstorms which are common during the Iraqi summer. It is already March: any invasion will take place in April at the earliest, and, if we wait around for the UN to join us we are not likely to be ready until mid-summer. This will mean a battle not only with the Iraqi Army, but with 120° heat… hardly ideal weather for rubberized anti-chemical or anti-biological gear. Napoleon and Hitler were both defeated by Russia's brutal winters: we may well find Iraq's scorching summer to be an equally imposing foe.
The longer we debate about going to war, the more time our foe has to prepare an appropriate defense. A good boxer does not telegraph his punches, and good generals try not to give their enemies any time to come up with counter-offensives. The German blitzkrieg (lightning war) was successful for a reason, and provided us with the model both for Desert Storm and for our successful Afghanistan offensive. At this point Sadaam Hussein has had over a year to prepare himself and his people for a U.S. invasion. He has also had time to strengthen his position in the Arab world and among prospective American allies. In this he has been far more successful than we have. During the past year, we have not succeeded in bringing any major player over to our side, and have only succeeded in further blackening our reputation in the Islamic world.
What's more, it has given the anti-war movement ample time to mobilize, both at home and abroad. Modern history has shown that Americans have little patience with long, drawn-out wars… and a drawn-out and extensively debated prequel will only serve to shorten what little patience we have. Should things in Iraq not go so well as we had hoped, we are likely to find the deep divisions which are already ripping NATO apart played out on our own streets, in a repeat of the protests which plagued our participation in Vietnam.
If building a coalition would show our strength as a world leader, our present efforts are only serving to highlight our weakness. The Iraqi conflict has not brought us all together to rid the world of a dictator. Instead, it has driven a wedge between the United States and Europe, and has highlighted the deep divisions between the various members of NATO. In 1991 the invasion of Kuwait gave us a rallying point. Today we have nothing so substantial and concrete … and George W. Bush isn't even the marginal statesman his father was. The man who led two unprovoked invasions of neighboring countries has succeeded in presenting himself as a victim, while the world increasingly sees George W. Bush as a "fascist," "international terrorist," and "warmongering bully."
The Israelis have long recognized the value of the fait accompli. The 1967 war, the invasion of Lebanon, the 1981 attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor… in each of these situations Israel acted first, and waited for the inevitable world protests later. If the United States had engaged in a unilateral attack on Iraq months ago, we'd be hearing the same complaints we are hearing today, but Hussein would no longer be in power. It is usually easier to seek forgiveness than permission.
This is not a chest-thumping call to military action so much as a call to do something, and quickly. If we are going to make war on Hussein, we should make war: if we believe there can be a peaceful solution, than we should throw our weight behind finding a peaceful solution. Our present course of action - impotent sabre-rattling - serves no purpose at all, save to further weaken our position while strengthening Hussein's grasp on power.