Free Riders

Most of us would rather not think our way through the many-sided political and ethical quandary this country now confronts in Iraq. Its elements include, in one subset, large quantities of horrifying weapons under the control of a ruthless and defiant dictator who has held his civilian population hostage to international sanctions. Other components include a divided West, a United States largely alone (of all things) in backing the United Nations, and the unavoidable need for heavy doses of secrecy, ambiguity, and downright bluff in the desperate search for a diplomatic solution.

The task is made doubly hard by the free rider problem. Free riders are people who get the benefit of communal resources without having to pay-the company just beyond the city limits that benefits from the transportation system and schools it doesn’t pay taxes to support, or the woman who sneaks on the bus without paying her fare. When free riders outnumber taxpayers or paying customers, any human enterprise is in danger of collapsing. Something like that seems to be confronting U.S. policy on Iraq.

There are, first, the political free riders: most of Iraq’s neighbors who would be happy to be rid of the threat of Iraq’s military regime, but who are unwilling to force the issue of the UN weapons inspections. Then there are nations like France and Russia, who look forward to a lucrative Iraqi trade, with or without biological and...

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