War in Iraq should be the last option, not the first

United Nations weapons inspectors, who have requested additional time for their so-far fruitless search of Iraq, may soon find themselves surrounded by a huge cache of military hardware. Just one problem: It will bear the legend “Property of the U.S. Army.”

With Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s announcement that a further 62,000 troops are to be dispatched to the Persian Gulf region and Bush declaring that “time is running out” for Saddam Hussein, snooping around Iraqi presidential palaces suddenly doesn’t seem so attractive.

The inspection process is scheduled to continue until at least Jan. 27 when the U.N. chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei will likely report finding no evidence of weapons of mass destruction to the U.N. Security Council. The Bush Administration, whose conviction that Iraq is harboring such weapons remains unaltered, will then be faced with the dilemma of whether to go it alone against the Iraqi regime.

Seeking U.N. support, State Department spokesmen, such as Richard Boucher, have seized upon Blix’s comments on Iraq withholding information from their weapons declarations as proof of Iraqi non-cooperation. U.N. Security Council members from Syria and France, however, greeted Blix’s, “No smoking gun” statement as an indication that a military campaign is unnecessary. Without hard evidence of an Iraqi weapons program in direct violation of one or more of the U.N. resolutions passed against Iraq, U.N. sanctions for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein seem unlikely.

Instead of pressing on alone, the United States, which forcibly cajoled the United Nations into sending a weapons inspection team into Iraq, should surely grant Blix and El Baradei the additional time they need. If the inspection is not to be completed, then why send inspectors to Iraq at all?

But the troop movements and the rhetoric currently emanating from the Bush Administration point to conflict in Iraq as a fait acompli. Even a Blix report stating that Hussein’s chemical arsenal consists of nothing more potent than a cracked test-tube and some bicarbonate of soda, would not deter the Bush Administration from its stated intention of ousting the Iraqi regime.

War should be a last resort, and it should be with a heavy heart that the leader of a nation commits his country to conflict. The unedifying spectacle of President Bush champing at the bit to invade Iraq sits uneasily with the high office he holds and lends credence to those who cite Iraq’s oil as his principal motive for intervention.

Such an intervention, and its consequent marginalization of the U.N., is unnecessary. Since this summer, when Saddam Hussein ousted Osama bin Laden as Bush’s enemy No. 1, the mustachioed despot has been forced to bend so far backward his spine must now resemble a croquet hoop. Having been forced to swallow weapons inspections, it is clear the Iraqi leader can be pressured into compliance.

Aside from the risk to U.S. servicemen and women, the consequences of war with Iraq are far from clear. Figures from Watchlist, an advocacy group for the protection of children during conflict, estimate that up to 48.5 percent of the Iraqi population, some 11.1 million, are aged 18 or under. The United Kingdom Save the Children Fund reports that large numbers of these children are dependent on imported food for survival. A conflict that entails border closures and blockage of transportation routes will severely impact Iraq’s vulnerable and neglected civilian population.

With so many lives at stake, to embark upon a unilateral invasion of Iraq would not be prudent. The U.N. weapons inspection team should be given as long as they deem necessary to confirm or deny the existence of an illicit weapons program. Long term regular weapons inspections, satellite surveillance and the threat of U.N.-sanctioned military action can be used to keep Hussein in check.

Chris O’Donnell is a sophomore majoring in mass communications.