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>From today's Guardian (firstname.lastname@example.org): Saddam's destruction is now a matter of honour America's resolve is hardening against the Iraqi regime Martin Woollacott Friday February 15, 2002 The Guardian One year ago to the day the sirens sounded and anti-aircraft fire ripped through the sky over Baghdad as American and British planes struck Iraqi command and control centres. The raid, less than a month after George Bush's inauguration, was intended to blunt Iraq's growing capacity to threaten Anglo-American air patrols over the Kurdish areas in the north of the country and the Shi'ite region in the south. But it was also a signal that the Bush administration had come into office with unfinished business to settle with Saddam Hussein. At a moment when there seems to be a hardening resolve in Washington to destroy the Iraqi regime come what may, it is worth recalling that every element of American - and British - policy on Iraq was already in place then, long before the September attacks. The American desire to dismantle that regime is not really a part of the campaign against terrorism, but represents instead an understandable wish to write the final chapter in an interrupted war against a dangerous state. The policy in February last year already included the idea of moderating and repackaging sanctions in such a way as to regain international support. The idea was also, as it is today, to create the basis for a demand, again with international support, that effective inspections be resumed. The possibility existed then, as now, of a confrontation with Iraq over inspections that might then be settled militarily. After all, President Bush had already said that if Saddam was discovered to be producing weapons of mass destruction he "would take him out", and Dick Cheney had added that if there were such evidence: "We would have to give very serious consideration to military action to stop that activity." Bush had also approved the release of US funds to the Iraqi opposition for various purposes in Iraq, although these did not include money for arms, largely because the Iraqi National Congress was deemed unready for armed conflict. But it is true that this time round the project seems far more serious. Indeed the Bush administration is close to the point where a failure to bring down Saddam would damage its credibility. It has let slip so many hints that America will, if necessary, go to war to achieve "regime change" in Iraq that it can be argued that Saddam's survival beyond a certain point would now be humiliating, rather than merely embarrassing, to the US. Conversely, there is always the possibility that the threat itself will induce a change in Iraq. In any case, America's allies are likely soon to be faced with the choice between supporting and opposing preparations for an Iraq campaign. Merely expressing disquiet over Iraq may not much longer serve as a policy and staying on the fence may prevent the European allies, in particular, from having influence over the way in which action against Iraq might fit into the broader approach to the Middle East and the problem of terrorism. There was only one moment in his fluent exposition of how the job of bringing down Saddam Hussein would be relatively easy when Richard Perle looked troubled. Asked whether Saddam might use weapons of mass destruction against the American and other troops invading Iraq, or against Israel, he said quietly: "That's a very real danger." But, in an interview earlier this year, he made it clear that it was nevertheless a risk worth taking. Perle may be unusual in his tireless advocacy of military action against Iraq, but he is not alone, in the circles that weigh American policy, in being ready to consider such risks. There is no horrified intake of breath when the question of war against Iraq comes up in the Washington thinktanks that both service and criticise American administrations. Some are against, some in favour, and some in favour only if certain conditions are met. But the mere idea of military act ion does not cause fainting fits on Massachusetts Avenue or in the other places where these policy intellectuals are based. Some Europeans would charge that this is the morally blunted response of men and women mentally corrupted by America's great power. But it may be that beneath the persistent transatlantic clashes over such issues, beneath the accusations and counter accusations of "cowboys" and "appeasers", there are deeper differences that should be brought to the surface. One American analyst, himself of European birth, suggested that Europeans had ceased to think of war as acceptable under almost any circumstances except in the constrained form of humanitarian intervention. Europeans have historically been much more ready to make war than the US, which has been a relatively reluctant warrior. Now the pendulum has swung some distance the other way, helped by America's possession of large military means and of techniques limiting her own casualties - although they would not do so in the scenario that worried Perle. Then there is the contrast between European pessimism and American optimism. Europeans considering war in Iraq instantly focus on the dangers that such a conflict would spread, that there might be use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, that there would be an irreversible shift in Arab opinion against the west, and that the world might be in a far worse state at the end of such a conflict than before it, whatever happened in the meantime to Saddam Hussein. Some Americans, at least, focus on the likelihood that the conflict would be contained, that Arabs would not only accept but be inspired by an Iraqi liberation, that there would be no use of weapons of mass destruction, and that the world would be a greatly improved place after a democratic government replaced Saddam in Baghdad. Most Europeans, feeling their way cautiously into the future, prefer to bet on a certainty, that of human mortality, which means that one day, perhaps quite soon, Saddam will be dead of natural causes and replaced by a son without his charisma or ability and therefore unlikely to last long. Americans in general may not have the same inclination to let things take their course, wishing to act now before Iraq, and some other countries, have a firmer hold on weapons of mass destruction. Who can deny the daunting nature of that prospect? A little modesty on both sides of this transatlantic debate would be in order. European and Russian caution is not appeasement, nor is it primarily the result of economic interests in Saddam's Iraq, although these exist. European fearfulness is justified. Yet American readiness to consider military action against the dismal prison house that is Iraq today is not proof of madness. If it is to be done, however, it must be done well and it must be part of a convincing overall policy toward the region, something which the axis of evil speech suggests the US has not yet achieved. There are dangers in doing and dangers, too, in doing nothing. What America and Europe should agree on is that the most rigorous assessment of relative risks - and there is still time for such an assessment - is the only foundation for wise decision-making. email@example.com -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email firstname.lastname@example.org CASI's website - www.casi.org.uk - includes an archive of all postings.