Tricky Iraq situation calls for consideration

    As many American citizens prepare to grab the best deals at department stores and dig out Christmas decorations from the garage, the nation readies itself for what may be an inevitable conflict with Iraq. After months filled with rhetoric from Washington, wavering support from the United Nations, and unsteady opinion at home and abroad, the time is fast approaching when a decisive event can and perhaps will occur. The course of events took a reasonable turn and elicited a collective sigh of relief when Saddam Hussein allowed U.N. inspectors to enter his country.

    Now, in the midst of the inspections, we ask ourselves, what do we do next? Hopefully, we will consider it carefully before jumping into a certainly perilous conflict.

    U.N. Resolution 1441, which paved the way for an inspections-or-else scenario, was a much needed step to both breathe down the neck of Hussein and provide a temporary block to George W. Bush’s raging war train. However, as the Sunday deadline approaches for Hussein and the Iraqi government to list all weapon build-ups, or lack thereof, the course of action is becoming both increasingly narrow and complicated. President Bush should consider his options even more carefully in this incredibly critical time.

    President Bush has already mired the nation in a do-or-die situation. At this point, the question “”Is going into Iraq a good idea or not?”” is irrelevant; what matters is a careful but firm consideration of and decision about what is to be done next. What the president does from the end of this year to the dawn of the next will very likely determine a sizeable part of his political legacy and will push him from — or toward — the fate of his father in 1992.

    Even more important than that, the far-from-solid support of other world powers and wavering opinion at home has signaled a need to tread cautiously. Then again, this runs contrary to Bush’s zero-tolerance, now-or-never, aggressive stance. His current position was clearly delineated when his administration considered a pre-emptive strike and strongly clung to its notion that Hussein is still stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. However, a unilateral decision to plow into Iraq, especially after the compromise of the United Nations, is now, more than ever, a controversial option.

    Inspections have just commenced, and so far, chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix and his crew have been treated with adequate compliance, if not hospitality. While Blix is a far cry from the hard-line war hawks in Washington, he is still there to painstakingly look for any signs of biological, chemical or nuclear arsenals.

    The deal is, if the Iraqi government decides to stall or block the inspections, then they have grounds for a possible military action and opening of more options — most of which are in favor of what U.S. hard-liners are looking for. That direction is relatively clear-cut in comparison to what happens if Hussein does allow the U.N. inspectors to make a broad yet in-depth search of his country’s suspect hot spots.

    It may be absurd to ask that question, since it seems as if Bush and those who support him are going to find a way to attempt to topple Hussein’s regime and rid the United States of any Iraq-related bothers. However, the fact that Hussein gave way and allowed the U.N. inspectors in what may have hardly been a conciliatory gesture should be taken at face value, nonetheless. This means that the Bush administration, with this concession by Hussein, needs to think twice before initiating and committing to what will likely be a costly and complicated conflict.

    In an already troubled economic atmosphere, Iraq has continually shown that it will not be unequivocal if it bites at all. Even if the United States and its limited number of allies succeed in ending Hussein’s reign, they face a disorganized Iraq that will require Western aid and occupation, which will amount to a lot of time and money.

    What this ultimately amounts to is a need for Bush to take stock of the developments instead of forging ahead with his usual characteristic rhetoric.

    If, in fact, Hussein continues to be compliant with U.N. demands and does relinquish whatever stockpiles of deadly weapons or contagions he has, Bush should give credibility to Hussein’s actions instead of plugging his ears and going ahead with military action anyway — a scenario that may prove to be likely, since Bush seems very intent on moving in on Hussein. While the fact is that Hussein has a long history of dodging and cheating out of obligations, it is now more important for Bush to evaluate instead of jumping in.

    Especially in the midst of a still-unstable atmosphere with an arguably still-strong terrorist threat (as proven in last week’s Kenya attacks), Bush should rethink any belligerent gesture before embarking on it; this is his last chance.

    The next week and coming month are crucial for Bush and his agenda on Iraq. Between now and then, Bush should take one hard, last look at what may work best for all interests.

    Afterward, whether the decision is to back up his previous stance or back away, he must be resolute in his final decision. After dragging the issue back to the table, he cannot afford to scream a few condemnations and finish it off.

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