FOREIGN EDITORIAL: The rush to war
The Bush administration proved over the weekend that it can plan for war against Iraq and fight international terrorism at the same time. The capture in Pakistan of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a top operative of Al Qaeda who is suspected of planning the Sept. 11 attacks, was the most significant strike against the terror group since the United States dislodged the Osama bin Laden network from Afghanistan. America is safer today because Mr. Mohammed is in custody, and the C.I.A. and F.B.I. should be applauded for their role in his capture.
But a cautionary note is in order. Pakistan’s pivotal role in the seizure of Mr. Mohammed is one more demonstration of the importance of working in concert with other nations in the fight against terrorism. The United States cannot defeat Al Qaeda without the help of dozens of other nations. The same principle applies to Iraq. President Bush may be able to win a military victory against Saddam Hussein without broad international support, but he won’t be able to rebuild Iraq, much less change the political and economic dynamics of the Islamic world, without a great deal of foreign assistance.
After a weekend of fast-moving events, including the destruction by Iraq of some of its illegal Al Samoud 2 missiles, Mr. Bush needs to take a deep breath. The White House seems increasingly intent on attacking Iraq, whether or not Baghdad disarms and whether or not the Security Council endorses a war. Mr. Bush may soon find himself forced to choose between going ahead with an invasion despite marginal international support, or bowing to demands by many allies to give inspectors more time. We believe more time is warranted to determine whether Iraq’s dismantlement of missiles is a signal that Mr. Hussein is reconsidering his stubborn defiance of the United Nations and to see if a solution short of war is still possible.
It was a bad weekend for the war initiative. The Turkish Parliament failed to approve American plans to use Turkish bases as a staging ground for the invasion. Iraq’s willingness to begin destroying its missiles is sure to give invasion opponents a stronger hand during U.N. debates this week. A White House spokesman’s statement late last week that Mr. Bush would be satisfied only with the departure of Mr. Hussein appeared to shift the rationale for war to fit new circumstances.
The Turkish Parliament’s vote, narrow though it was, conveyed an awkward message. Mr. Bush argued last week that invading Iraq would help bring democracy to the Middle East. A few days later, a parliament full of democratically elected Muslims rebuffed Washington’s request to use Turkey as a springboard for an invasion of Iraq.
The missile destruction is important, though not proof that Iraq has changed course. Destruction was the only action possible if Iraq wanted to head off a Security Council resolution supporting invasion. Iraq has about 100 of the missiles, and it has so far destroyed only a few.
We are not under any illusion that Mr. Hussein is disabling his missiles simply because he likes the idea. Iraq would never be making even these grudging concessions if American troops were not massed near Iraq’s border. The U.N. must realize that whatever success it has achieved of late in getting Iraq to abide by its directives has come only because of American military might.
The threat of force, however, should not give way to the use of force until peaceful paths to Iraqi disarmament have been exhausted and the Security Council gives its assent to war. Everything that happened over the weekend underlines the fact that the United States should not invade Iraq without broad international support. Even if there is a quick military triumph, many things could go wrong over the long haul. The Turks could intervene militarily in northern Iraq to assert control over the Kurds there, who have established an autonomous — and democratic — government. The fragile Pakistani government could be toppled in an anti-American reaction, endangering the war on terror. Iraqi biological and chemical weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists. None of these events will necessarily happen, but the odds that they will are as good as the odds that a war will lead to the establishment of a peaceful, democratic state in Iraq. —New York Times, Mar 3