With the apparent trouncing of the Taliban at hand, voices within the Bush administration have already set their sights on expanding the “war on terror” to Iraq.

The American people and Congress cannot allow administration hawks to corral them into a hasty assault that could increase bloodshed and create a diplomatic crisis.

Iraq has not been definitively linked to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and it has fewer ties to Al-Qaeda than nations which are on better terms with the United States, such as Saudi Arabia. By refusing to admit United Nations weapons inspectors, Iraq has simply maintained a policy that has not been considered attack-worthy for the past several years.

The only apparent reason for attacking Iraq now would be because America is on a roll militarily and perhaps because King Bush I leftovers in the Department of Defense are upset that they didn’t oust Saddam Hussein the last time around.

These would be pathetic reasons to make a policy decision as serious as going to war.

The potential gains from any assault on Iraq are hypothetical at best and based on a set of maybes. The costs, however, would be unavoidable.

The Iraqi regime is far more entrenched with its citizens than the Taliban was with the Afghan people. The Iraqi people have suffered miserably under United States-led economic sanctions and is not predisposed to join an effort to overthrow the regime.

In turn, Saddam would almost certainly surround himself with a couple thousand civilians to act as “human shields.” In the eyes of most Iraqis, U.S. attacks would constitute aggression, not liberation.

Striking against Iraq would likely shatter the international coalition that has endorsed the war in Afghanistan.

The extremism and brutality of the Taliban were repulsive to virtually everyone, including most of the Muslim world and other nations that historically have not allied themselves with the West. By attacking Iraq the US could go from having the support of China, Pakistan, and Sudan to losing the support of even France and Germany in a matter of days.

Strong disapproval of US-British policy in Iraq was mounting before Sept. 11. Estimates on the number of Iraqi children who have died as a result of U.N. sanctions since the end of the Gulf War range from 350,000 to 567,000 people.

When asked about these numbers on 60 Minutes, Madeleine Albright summed up the American position ? “The price is worth it.” To other Muslim nations and to most of the developed world that price has not been worth it.

European Union nations have been calling for an overhaul of sanctions for years now, and France and Russia have defied the sanctions by flying needed goods into Iraq. It is unlikely that governments which have viewed UN sanctions as excessive will not consider military attacks even worse.

Much of the world was tiring of American unilateralism before Sept. 11. Many nations have looked past these concerns to support the war in Afghanistan. U.S. action in Iraq without international consensus would constitute a dramatic return to unilateralism, compounding the diplomatic fallout.

Furthermore, expansion of the war in the Middle East ? unless in close concert with the leaders of Muslim countries ? threatens to do exactly what the administration has promised to avoid by moving towards a “clash of civilizations” between the West and Islam. Such a global struggle would satisfy fundamentalists, racists, and right-wingers on all sides.

For Bin Laden, such a massive conflict would be the ultimate jihad. If Islam emerges victorious, he wins. If the Muslim world is martyred, he wins too.

Most leaders agree that Saddam is a menace and that it would be nice to see him go, but nothing has demonstrated that brute military force or economic coercion can do the job.

It would be far better to invest in intelligence gathering and covert operations while trying to raise the standard of living for Iraqis. As wealth increases, people demand freedoms. The dirt poor lack both the willpower and the resources to overthrow governments.

Many veteran defense advisors regret not having “finished the job” during the Gulf War. With thousands of troops already deployed and a degree of pro-United States sentiment in the world, they now see the window of opportunity for a military attack.

Cooler heads in the Bush administration, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, are trying to avoid regrettable military actions by drawing the president’s attention to the aforementioned realities.

Unfortunately, it appears that Bush may not heed these warnings much longer. Recent White House statements suggest that he is prepared to issue a military-backed ultimatum to Iraq.

It is time for Congress, the media and the public to rescind Bush’s post- Sept. 11 carte blanche. Settling scores and utilizing momentum are lousy reasons for a just nation to go to war.

Brach is a senior and can be reached at jbrach@campustimes.org.

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