Between Iraq and a Hard Place

Michael H. Glantz
18 February 2003

Between Iraq and a Hard Place

The US government wants to take out Saddam Hussein. It has wanted to do so for a long time. Talk of the possibility of a unilateral military action by the US heightened by mid-2002. Allies and potential allies of the US alike sought more evidence about the immediacy of the threat that Saddam posed to the region and the rest of the world. The Bush administration delayed immediate military action for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that its military was not positioned for a war on the other side of the globe, its NATO allies were not thoroughly convinced of the threat and not all of Bush's advisors agreed that the threat to the US was near and real. Although it delayed taking action, it did not hold back on the war-like rhetoric of several of its high-ranking members. The hawks in the government seemed to believe that a coalition, such as the one put together for the first Bush war in 1991, could be re-formed. But, alas, a coalition was not forthcoming. As time passed, diplomatic opposition to a second Bush-led war grew: France, Germany and Belgium, NATO members, refused to march to the beat of the war drum coming out of Washington, DC. They were joined by the Russians, the Chinese and the Mexicans, further isolating the US, the UK and 16 other NATO members who favored military action, sooner rather than later.

Opposition to what increasingly seemed to be a US-inspired war (for reasons related to oil or revenge) spread from the halls of NATO and the UN Security Council to the streets, with millions of people chanting anti-war and anti-Bush slogans in the streets of Rome, London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Madrid, Amman, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and in the US - Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City, among others. Such demonstrations must have generated problems within Bush's inner circle.

At the same time that people were marching in the streets, that diplomats were debating in the UN, and that the Bush people were thinking about how to proceed, well over 150,000 troops and all kinds of military equipment have been mobilized to the Middle East and more call-ups are planned. [I wonder if the government has already made medals for the future combatants in the upcoming Iraqi campaign].


Photo by John Hopewell. Anti-war Protest in Amsterdam, Netherlands on Saturday, February 15, 2003.

So, what is the present-day situation? A mini-coalition has been formed and troops are lined up to participate in a war to topple Saddam. Popular and diplomatic opposition is rising rapidly and becoming increasingly public and vocal. This puts the Bush administration in an awkward place, as the title suggests: between Iraq and a hard place. Enter into an unpopular military action (even for the right reasons) or have the coalition troops stand down as they say in the military: that is the choice facing the President. But, can Bush back away from his stated policy, put a stop to the hawkish rhetoric of his Secretary of Defense {America can fight a two-front war; America will not rule out the first use of nukes, etc.) as well as others who advise him on matters of war and peace, bring the troops back home without a fight? How can the US back off without losing face domestically as well as internationally and without giving bragging rights to Saddam and to the anti-war folks?

It seems that the only way out for Bush without losing face would be to remobilize coalition troops elsewhere to cover a more ominous threat. Enter North Korea. Is that the role that North Korea might play, as far as Bush is concerned? Time will tell… but not very much time remains. Something has to happen soon.

Having constructed such a dismal scenario, I still think that there may be a peaceful way to end these potential confrontations. It will require that the anti-war people, those inside the Bush administration along with those outside it, develop a way to get the hawks who have painted themselves into a corner, a way to gracefully get out of that proverbial corner. Not an easy task but a necessary one.

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