Continue the Offensive


PRESIDENT Bush has made a tragic mistake. Now that he has initiated hostilities against Iraq, the world will never know whether economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure could have prevented a devastating conflict in the Persian Gulf. The world will never know whether war was a necessary response to Saddam Hussein's aggression.

Last week, The Crimson called on Bush to give the U.N.'s economic embargo of Iraq a chance to cripple Saddam's war machine. We agreed that the worldwide coalition could not tolerate the ruthless dictator's occupation of Kuwait indefinitely, but we believed (and still do believe) that the military force should be used only as a last resort.

Wednesday night, the sanction-based strategy was unfortunately discarded. Now that this mistake has been made, we can only hope against hope for as quick and bloodless a victory as possible. An indefinite suspension of the offensive or the withdrawal of American troops from the region would undermine the legitimate objectives of the U.S.-led coalition and would likely lead to greater instability and bloodshed in the Gulf.

The U.S. should make certain goals painstakingly clear: reversing the aggression of Saddam Hussein and preventing further aggression; deterring other countries in the Middle East from encroaching on the sovereignty of their neighbors; promoting peace and stability in the region; and removing Hussein's threat to the world economy. As long as military action remains consistent with all of these objectives, the offensive should continue.

WE FEEL trapped into taking this position. The president has thrown caution to the winds, dragging the country into combat without adequate consideration of alternatives. He took advantage of the trust of many members of Congress who voted to authorize force under the assumption that it would strengthen Bush's leverage in seeking a peaceful solution. Earlier this week, we argued that those who supported giving Bush a "credible threat" in the form of a use-of-force resolution would be taken for suckers. They have been.


We cannot express strongly enough our dissatisfaction and our anger with the president for initiating the war, or with the Congress for letting the situation get this far in the first place.

And we cannot express strongly enough our anger at Washington's treatment of the press in this crisis. We know precious little about what has actually happened in the last two days, and it seems like the Pentagon is bent on keeping the press out of the war. Unfortunately, without sufficient information it will be impossible for anybody to make intelligent decisions about the future of U.S. policy.

But since the shooting has started, we must go on the information we have. And that information suggests that the answer is not to oppose the president's every move, but to explore how best to end the conflict quickly and achieve a lasting, just peace in the Middle East.

Calling off the shooting for the time being--or worse yet, pulling out of the Gulf, as some peace activists are demanding--would be counterproductive and self-defeating. It would hand a victory to Saddam Hussein, giving him both the resolve to continue the war and the breathing space he needs to retrench. Both Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), who led the fight against the use-of-force resolutions, and U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, who made a last ditch appeal for peace, have spoken out against a unilateral cease-fire. One doesn't throw the first punch and then try to reason with the person thus provoked.

Now that war is a fait accompli, we must continue to fight in accordance with two principles: Minimize casualties, and maintain open diplomatic channels that might allow an early end to the conflict. The congressional resolution for force was not a carte blanche authorization for unnecessary brutality and indefinite prolonging of the conflict. Although there has to date been no evidence that the invasion has violated the resolution's intent, the U.S. must be sure to stay within these bounds.

IN HIS speech to the American people, the president said he had learned the lesson of Vietnam, that a half-hearted military effort is doomed to fail. But Bush forgot some of the other lessons of Vietnam: don't fight for ill-defined goals; don't obscure your war aims just to maintain public support; don't confuse public support for the troops with support for the war. Unfortunately, Bush has already made all of these mistakes.

In particular, he has thrown a confusing array of justifications at the American people--some of which do justify the U.S. presence in the region, and some of which do not. He should clarify these aims to make sure American blood is not spilled in vain.

"The liberation of Kuwait." Restoring oppressive feudal monarchies should not be a top priority of U.S. foreign policy. In effect, Bush has confused liberty with sovereignty. It is important--particularly after the rigid bipolarity of the Cold War has ended--to discourage nations from invading one another at will. This goal, and not any overly idealistic vision of international comity, should be substance of any "New World Order."

"Peace and stability in the region."In the short term, there can be little doubt that Hussein's humiliation and Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait are preconditions for Middle East peace. But merely punishing Hussein could lead to the ascendency of Syria or lran to an equally threatening position. The United States should follow military action with diplomacy to set up stable deterrence to ward off potential Saddams. An important part of this objective would include elemination of chemical and potential nuclear arsenals in Iraq and other Middle East countries. And, as Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush have lasting peace can be established in the region.

"Preserving the American Way of Life." There is no doubt that America's energy profligacy and addiction to Gulf oil are at the root of Bush's new-found concern for sovereignty and human rights. But "no blood for oil" chants dismiss too glibly the real pain that Iraqi control of oil reserves would exert. For example, doctors report increased malnutrition among Boston children, as their parents must use more of their disposable income to heat their homes. The tradeoff between oil and food is even more acute in the Third World. War is always more palatable when we are fighting for higher principles, not "vital interests." But in this war, higher principles and vital interests are largely--though by no means perfectly--in harmony, and the interests we are protecting are not just America's, but the world's.

WE believe all of these goals, properly understood, could best have been achieved through a genuine commitment to economic sanctions. Thanks to President Bush's itchy trigger finger, that avenue exists no longer. Now, the die is cast, and military action offers the best opportunity to achieve vital objectives.

Debate over the war will continue at The Crimson, in dorms and across the country. We urge the war's opponents to limit their attacks to military decision-makers, and not the men and women who are risking their lives in the Gulf. We also urge the war's supporters to respect the free speech rights of protestors. There is no time to "close ranks" in a democracy; only by debate and discussion can the people's will be expressed.

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