On the war path

To war or not against Iraq? When? How? Above all: Why? These questions have dominated U.S. foreign policy and the headlines for the past three months. President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and other administration officials have given speeches, offered retorts to their critics, and tried to force world leaders and the U.S. Congress into agreeing to a military attack. Iraq has replaced Al Qaeda as the front line in the war against terrorism and Saddam Hussein has replaced Osama bin Laden as enemy number one. The administration’s bellicose claims notwithstanding, we know little more about the Iraqi threat today than we did in July. The British government’s September 24 white paper compiled with the aid of the United States contains the best information we are likely to have about Iraqi weapons systems. Except for greater detail on matters already public, there is no information that would compel agreement with the president’s press for an imminent military attack. At the moment, we still have no convincing answers-certainly not to the all-important: "Why war?" "Why now?"

No doubt, complex calculations are involved in the administration’s strategy: The threat of war can be diplomacy by other means. After Bush’s sobering speech to the UN on September 12, it seemed that the administration’s saber rattling might be directed less to military action than to fortifying UN resolve in insisting on...

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