AS A proponent of intervention in the Persian Gulf, I am put in a very uncomfortable situation, for there are a multitude of forceful reasons not to go to war against Iraq.
Even a quick war almost certainly means the death of thousands of lives on both sides, skyrocketing oil prices and the high cost of waging war will push our economy even further into recession, and the possibility even exists (in the event that Israel is attacked) that the entire Middle East will be thrust into a no-holds-barred conflagration, including the use of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.
Yet the prospect of Saddam Hussein retaining his vast arsenal and direct access to a majority of the world's oil reserves is fraught with even greater danger, and the consequences of not taking action now will likely be far more catastrophic.
JUST this past Saturday, Congress voted to authorize President Bush to use force against Iraq in accordance with United Nations resolutions that have already been adopted. Certainly, the margins of passage in each house were far from overwhelming. But a majority of representatives understand that sanctions alone will not work. In the absence of abject Iraqi surrender, Iraq's forces must be dislodged from Kuwait by military means and Saddam Hussein's arsenal utterly destroyed.
Sanctions have had an enormously deleterious effect on Iraq, surely; according to most analysts, the Iraqi GNP will be halved by the embargo, and the lack of spare parts will likely ground a part of the country's air force without the United States firing a shot.
Still, sanctions have had very little effect on Iraq's tanks and artillery, the nuts and bolts of the Iraqi force now occupying Kuwait, and they will continue to have a negligible effect for some time to come. In addition, Iraq is a country that absorbed one million casualties in its long war with Iran, so mere commodity shortages will hardly spur the Iraqi populace to revolt against Hussein in the face of a threat from Satan himself.
In all likelihood, war will be necessary to achieve the U.N. goals. But war should not be fought for these goals alone.
Those who question whether vital United States' vital interests are at stake in the Gulf usually have in mind the U.N. objective of liberating Kuwait. And they correctly conclude that freeing a greedy absolutist Arab regime is not a crusade the United States should undertake.
It would be unconscionable to risk so many American lives, and our economy as well, in defense of an emirate that has done nothing to merit the U.S.'s friendship in the past.
But those who are obsessed with the steep price we would pay for liberating Kuwait ignore the real objectives that properly and necessarily justify American intervention: protecting the world's oil supply; preventing Iraqi hegemony over the Middle East; and eliminating Saddam Hussein's ability to produce and deploy biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.
LET THOSE who deny that these aims protect vital U.S. interests imagine what the world will be like if Iraq is not neutralized shortly. Let them imagine a strengthened Saddam Hussein, who could justifiably claim victory for standing up to the United States, with control over 40 percent of the world's oil resources and immediate access to even more. Let them imagine Saddam Hussein as undisputed leader of the Arab world, to whom Saudi Arabia, the Arab emirates, Jordan and Syria are mere subject states.
Most of all, let them imagine what will happen when Hussein feels he is ready to challenge his only match in the region, Israel, and he has the Arab world lined up behind him in pursuit of the only cause that truly unifies it.
Then, what will happen--will Saddam Hussein hesitate to use against Israel the weapons of mass destruction he has already used against fellow Muslims? Don't count on it. Be assured that whatever happens, if the United States leaves the Gulf with Iraqi power intact (even if Iraq withdraws from Kuwait), there will be a Middle East war within a few years--a much more devastating one.
It might be tempting to think that such a scenario is not any worse than what might happen if the United States goes to war soon after January 15. After all, some might think, Israel can take care of itself and better that Israel bear the costs of neutralizing Iraq than American troops.
That the United States could manage to stay out of such a conflict is wishful thinking at best; a general war involving Israel and Iraq would endanger American interests even more than they are now imperiled, and would more likely involve use of chemical and nuclear weapons.
Only now does the United States have the opportunity to defeat Iraq quickly and decisively, ending the dream of an Arab bomb and ending Hussein's ambitions for hegemony over the region.
Make no doubt about it: Next to the integrity of the United States itself, one would be hard pressed to arrive at a more vital interest for the United States than the destruction of Iraq's aggressive military apparatus. The sacrifices for America will be heavy, but recognizing the urgency of the situation and taking action now will prevent greater grief in the future.