Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias The question of whether a war in Iraq will actually be worse than the 12 years of continued containment in that country is hard to answer.

It is a horrible thing to advocate a war.

Many people on all sides, but mostly in Iraq, will die or be maimed. The impact is bound to be terrible.

On the other hand, the current reality is already terrible. Saddam Hussein�s regime is the vilest in the region: it mistreats its own 23 million people in the worst ways imaginable.

An Iraqi playwright exile in the Jordanian capital of Amman said in a recent news report about the antiwar protesters: �If you have not lived in the torture chamber you cannot imagine what it is like.�

Ferry Biedermann, a journalist based in Israel, writes that despite the misgivings of several of the United States� allies, a war with Iraq likely would have to be fought some day.

That day, I guess, has arrived.

Biedermann notes there is no indication that Saddam has changed his stripes. In that case, the suffering will only have been extended even further for nothing. In addition, Iraq may be better prepared and the toll may even be higher if war was delayed.

An argument commonly advanced against invading Iraq is that it will increase anti-Americanism in the Arab and Muslim world. But it is hard to see how it could get much worse than it is now. How can groups like al-Qaida �intensify� their efforts to hit American targets?

As far as anybody can tell they have never given up those plans. Fears that the war will serve as a recruiting bonanza for radical Islamist groups are legitimate, but could turn out to be overblown.

Much will depend, of course, on how �clean� and fast the war turns out to be. U.S. commanders are well aware of the importance of avoiding massive civilian casualties.

Even if that happens, though, there will probably still be a reservoir of goodwill toward the Americans among the population, according to Biedermann, many of whom already talk about the impending �liberation.�

The Germans, French, and Russians have warned that war could produce a catastrophe, but they have done little to actually find a solution to the situation. All four countries have done well economically out of the prolonged crisis.

While they took advantage of the absence of American competition in the country, they also profited from the relatively low oil prices that the U.S. managed to obtain as a price for its protection of the Gulf countries. Self-interest is a not unusual guide to countries� behavior and there is no reason to think it doesn�t apply to all sides in this debate.

It is patently in everybody�s interest to stabilize the region where the world gets most of its oil. Indeed, this goal is even more important to Europe and Asia than to the U.S.

The French and the others must also have known that the U.S. and Britain would go ahead with an attack anyway and that their opposition could actually threaten their economic interests in Iraq and other countries in the U.S. orbit, Biedermann writes. But maybe they have discounted that last possibility. The involvement of the U.N. and of European countries, especially in the rebuilding of Iraq, is hugely important.

The opponents of a war may think they can have it both ways: They can play at being the friends of the Arab and Muslim world while being reasonably confident that they will be invited back in by the U.S. because it will not want to shoulder the responsibility of postwar administration and peacekeeping by itself.

In this respect, the remarks by European Union external affairs minister Christopher Patten are remarkable. He recently stated that the E.U. might not help Iraq rebuild after a war. First of all, this punishes Iraq for what some E.U. countries see as American misdeeds.

Secondly, it betrays a worrying desire to see the U.S. actually fail and bury itself in the Middle East. Such an attitude would be enormously harmful, not only to the U.S. but also to the region and to the E.U. itself.

Even though it doesn�t look like it at the moment, Europe and the U.S. share many common interests in the Middle East. All want to safeguard the stable supply of oil, all want to counter fundamentalism and all want to stabilize the region in general.

What�s more, it would not help the E.U. either to see the U.S. provoked or destabilized in any way, either by more 9/11 type attacks or by fanning the flames of anti-Americanism.

It would be a waste of time to try and beg or buy moral approval from France or Russia, their U.N. veto threats largely driven by economic interests in Saddam�s continuance in power.

Supporters of the president�s actions make an argument that�s difficult to refute: we aren�t really starting a new war here. Instead, an old enemy has broken the terms of its surrender 12 years ago.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press recently wrote: Either we will allow him (Saddam) to become capable of inflicting horrendous casualties in our cities tomorrow � or we must inflict and accept far fewer casualties in his cities today.

That�s a Hobson�s choice, which is no choice at all. We will now get on with it.

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