Though the very thought of it would probably make him cringe, President George W. Bush does have at least two things in common with Osama bin Laden.
Both men see Iraq as vitally important and both are wielding their political power to affect events in that country.
In fact, after bin Laden’s unexpected statement, released on Al-Jazeera television Tuesday, Iraq and its leader, Saddam Hussein, were lost in the mix. On one side, the United States is battling politically with European allies about whether to attack. Meanwhile, bin Laden is using Iraq as a rallying cry for the Muslim world.
Bin Laden has made it clear that he does not like Hussein. He obviously feels his own goals are more noble than those of the Iraqi president. But, bin Laden sees Iraq as his chance to unite all Muslims in opposition toward the United States.
Half a world away, Secretary of State Colin Powell, upon learning of the bin Laden release, immediately put the administration’s spin on the situation. Powell said bin Laden’s statements prove that Hussein and Iraq have terrorist ties. Such ties would give the administration yet another reason to argue for war.
But Powell and Bush may want to be careful with how they handle this situation. It has been a tough week for the White House since Powell made his presentation before the U.N. Security Council. Despite being widely praised for an impressive and persuasive argument, Powell and the rest of the administration could only watch as key European allies made their stands against war.
The White House, it seems, would be smart to stick with its original arguments. Pointing too many fingers and alleging too many connections may now make the administration look like it’s desperate and reaching.
But, Bush critics argue, that is indeed already the case. The administration, they say, is desperate to improve the economy before the president suffers the fall of his father. Some circles have even argued that raising the terrorist alert status to “orange” is an attempt to energize a stagnant public for war.
The economy does not like this current state of limbo. In fact, if history repeats itself, the moment the first bomb is dropped, the economy will substantially improve. Thus, it would seem, there is a reason for Bush’s haste for war. Re-election time is approaching, and the longer the economy stays poor, the more the public will blame it on the president.
But, the administration must ask, is it worth the risk?
After bin Laden’s comments, a war that once seemed like it would happen in a far-away desert suddenly feels much closer to home. Can Americans bear another Sept. 11-type attack? They may have to find out.
Bin Laden is not the only ones to politically use Iraq’s situation. North Korea is slowly increasing tensions on its peninsula. Leaders of the Communist state seem to think that the United States would be hard pressed to fight two wars at once. In addition, as it was during the Korean War, North Korea is aware of the benefits of its proximity to China. Therefore, as long as the Iraq situation continues, North Korea will continue to be a menace.
But, the United States has problems that extend far beyond enemy nations. France, Germany, Belgium and Russia have all made their thoughts known. American leadership must now tread very carefully. It cannot seem like it is trying to play big brother to European allies.
Already, however, that feeling has come from both government officials and mass media. The “we don’t need you” sentiment seems to be growing. In fact, one news talk show on Monday asked in an audience poll, “Are France and Germany now our enemies?”
The American government now finds itself in a sticky situation. If it moves forward and flies in the face of its allies, NATO will be rendered impotent. Not only that, but the rest of the world may quickly come to consider the United States the true problem nation, alone as the world’s superpower and fighting so that it can continue to operate its enormous, 9 miles-to-the-gallon vehicles.
Many people around the world have called the United States a bully. German officials have been elected on anti-war platforms. War, without what these countries consider a good reason, will only rub salt in the wound.
On the other hand, if Bush and company decide not to fight, or if the United Nations declares Iraq free of weapons of mass destruction, it could mark the beginning of the end for the Bush administration. The economy, without a war, would likely improve, but probably not quickly enough to affect the next election.
In addition, pressure would probably mount for the United States to turn its attention toward the Korean Peninsula, and questions about the apparent sluggishness of the search for bin Laden and other key al-Qaida leaders would come to the forefront.
But, all of the speculation may soon be useless. The United States is now deeply involved. A report emerged Tuesday that said United States leaders plan to occupy Iraq for two years. The nation now seems to be in too deep, sinking in the quicksand that is impending war. Backing out may no longer be possible.
So what will happen when the war begins?
More than likely, the United States will win easily, but not as easily as the last Persian Gulf War. There will be street fighting this time, and a house-to-house search for Hussein could prove to be a casualty mill.
Thousands of Iraqis will die, and Americans will be bombarded with stories of GIs killed in action. A desensitized public that has reacted with only mild interest to such events as the Columbia space shuttle disaster will probably again feel little effect.
And, when the war ends, Iraq will be eased back into the fold, and trade will resume.
But, while the United States will win the war, it could take a much greater loss in world public opinion. Even in the United Kingdom, the United States’ strongest ally, many citizens do not support Prime Minister Tony Blair’s stance on the war.
Most importantly of all, the United States will probably create tension with some of its strongest allies. And the country will be left to ask if that tension could come back to haunt Americans in future conflicts.