NYT prewar editorials on Iraq

2003-01-22-New-York-Times Lighting the Fuse on Iraq
2003-01-26-New-York-Times * The Race to War
2003-01-29-New-York-Times The Nation, the President, the War [SOTU]

2003-02-02-New-York-Times * An Improvised March to War
2003-02-06-New-York-Times The Case Against Iraq [Powell]
2003-02-15-New-York-Times Disarming Iraq
2003-02-23-New-York-Times *** The Real Meaning of Iraq
2003-02-25-New-York-Times Facing Down Iraq
2003-02-27-New-York-Times President Bush's Nation-Building

2003-03-03-New-York-Times * The Rush to War
2003-03-07-New-York-Times The President Looks Toward War
2003-03-09-New-York-Times * Saying No to War
2003-03-13-New-York-Times Diplomacy's Last Chance
2003-03-16-New-York-Times The Summit of Isolation
2003-03-17-New-York-Times President Bush Prepares for War
2003-03-18-New-York-Times War in the Ruins of Diplomacy
2003-03-20-New-York-Times The War Begins

Lighting the Fuse on Iraq

Copyright New York Times Company Jan 22, 2003

Last September President Bush made the wise decision to work through the United Nations Security Council as the most desirable way to force Iraq to disarm. While marshaling American military forces in the Persian Gulf region, he has given international weapons inspectors time to gear up their investigations, test Iraqi intentions and satisfy other nations that force remains, as Mr. Bush has repeatedly said, a last resort. Now, with that process still incomplete, he seems increasingly impatient to abandon inspections and go to war, even if other Security Council members are not yet ready to do so. That would be a mistake.

Washington is awash with war talk this week, as Mr. Bush and his top aides try to build support for a showdown with Iraq. It would be better to heed the advice of other Security Council members, including France, Russia and China, to allow more time for the inspectors to work. Although Washington clearly has the military means to prevail over Saddam Hussein's weakened forces, war carries enormous risks. Besides the inevitable loss of life, Iraqi as well as American, there is the danger of sowing political instability across the Middle East, thereby threatening international oil supplies and Israel's security. A war waged by America alone would leave Washington bearing the considerable financial and political burdens of reconstructing Iraq as a stable, democratic country.

While Baghdad has allowed inspections to proceed without serious interference, and agreed over the weekend to let its scientists talk to inspectors without Iraqi monitors present, it has not yet provided the full cooperation required by repeated Security Council resolutions. Without this the world can have no confidence in Iraqi claims to have ended all work on unconventional weapons. But with inspection teams only now approaching full strength and beginning to make use of American and other intelligence leads, it is too soon to give up on all possibility of a peaceful solution. Even the most alarming estimates of Iraq's unconventional weapons capabilities indicate that there is no imminent danger. The case for waiting seems even more compelling with numerous regional diplomatic initiatives now under way, including an effort to induce Saddam Hussein and his closest followers to accept exile outside Iraq.

If the Bush administration's aim is to keep military pressure on Mr. Hussein to encourage him to cooperate more fully with the inspectors or accept a diplomatic deal, the results could be constructive. But if Washington is actually planning an early military strike in the weeks just ahead, either on its own or with only British support, it should reconsider. Given the risks of military action and the widespread public opposition in the United States and abroad to acting without Security Council support, Mr. Bush should not be in a rush to go to war.

The Race to War

Copyright New York Times Company Jan 26, 2003

The countdown to war has begun. The United Nations will hear the report of its weapons inspectors this week and begin debating the wisdom of endorsing a war against Iraq. But the Bush administration seems to be operating on a different plane, gearing up for an invasion it appears determined to conduct whether or not its allies approve. At best, it may give the Security Council a few more weeks to consider whether to approve an attack on Iraq.

We urge the administration to brake the momentum toward war.
Saddam Hussein is obviously a brutal dictator who deserves toppling. No one who knows his history can doubt that he is secretly trying to develop weapons of mass destruction.
But this war should be waged only with broad international support. To go it alone, or nearly alone, is to court disaster both domestically and internationally.

Mr. Bush has enough support among American voters to undertake the kind of clean, quickly successful military action his father directed in the Persian Gulf war of 1991. But every poll, every anecdotal reading of the American mood makes it clear that he has not sold the public on anything difficult or drawn out. Iraq is a large and complex Arab nation of 24 million people in the heart of the Middle East. America's overwhelming advantage in firepower might not prevent a prolonged period of street-to-street fighting in Baghdad that would be murderous to Americans and Iraqis alike. A desperate Iraq might try to attack Israel, disable Saudi and Kuwaiti oil fields or even destroy its own oil industry before it fell into American hands. It might fire whatever chemical and biological weapons it has against American troops. These are risks that could be well worth taking, but the American public has not signed on for them. This nation should never begin a fight it is not prepared to carry out to the bitter end, no matter what the cost.

That isn't true of this engagement, and the fault lies mainly with the president himself. Mr. Bush has never been open with the American people about the possible cost of this war. He has not even been clear about exactly why we are preparing to fight. Sometimes his aim appears to be disarming the Iraqis or punishing Baghdad for defying the United Nations; sometimes the goal is nothing short of deposing Mr. Hussein. The first lesson of the Vietnam era was that Americans should not be sent to die for aims the country only vaguely understands and accepts.

The second lesson of Vietnam was that the country should never enter into a conflict without a clear exit strategy. We have nothing close to a plan for how, once in Iraq, we get back out again. Even if Mr. Hussein is easily eliminated, the United States will be left to govern and police Iraq for an extended period. Without clearly acknowledging the possibility to the American public, Washington could easily find itself involved in an open-ended occupation.

These risks would be tolerable if the rest of the world were working alongside the United States, prepared to share the danger of the invasion and -- much more critically -- the responsibility for creating a more humane and progressive Iraqi government in its wake. There are some threats and some causes that require fighting even if America has to fight alone, but this isn't one of them. And the world -- like the American public -- is not yet really convinced that a Hussein-free Middle East is a goal worth fighting a war for.

Britain, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Australia and a number of Persian Gulf states have offered military assistance or access to bases, but there should be no mistaking this ad hoc group for a united international front. France, Germany, Russia, China and even Canada are not on board. They may all have their parochial reasons for not joining the fight, but their resistance to war should be a powerful signal that if anything goes wrong -- and something will go wrong sooner or later -- the United States will bear the responsibility alone.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the Bush administration's campaign to get broader international support is the implication that France or any other nation that fails to get on board now will be cut out of the administration of postwar Iraq and its oil fields. Freeing the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein's brutality and freeing the world from the threat of his belligerence are causes worth fighting for. Winning control of Iraq's oil fields is not, particularly when the attacking nation is a country whose wasteful use of energy is an international scandal.

We hope that after the chief weapons inspectors present their reports tomorrow, the members of the United Nations Security Council will set aside their preconceptions and evaluate the findings carefully, particularly the level of Iraqi cooperation. The inspectors alone will never disarm Iraq. But they can slow Mr. Hussein's weapons programs, leaving more time for diplomatic efforts to remove him from power and for Washington to mobilize the international support it now lacks.

Forty years ago, the United States entered into a conflict in Southeast Asia with good intentions. When it emerged, it was torn at home and humbled abroad. The men and women now preparing to take the country into war in Iraq are, in the main, products of the Vietnam generation. They should be the first to remember how easy it is for things that begin well to end badly.

The Nation, the President, the War

Copyright New York Times Company Jan 29, 2003

President Bush sought to revive a sense of national resolve last night with a State of the Union address that readied the country for a showdown with Iraq and demanded another huge tax cut for wealthier Americans. No one watching the somber Mr. Bush's delivery could doubt his determination. But the combination created far too mixed a message. It was hard to reconcile the president who vowed not to “pass along our problems to other Congresses, to other presidents and other generations” with the one whose fiscal policies have helped create gigantic deficits for taxpayers of the future.

Still, anyone who had forgotten the president's “compassionate conservative” agenda was reminded last night of his ability to create bold and surprising initiatives that breach the gulf between left and right. There were some of those ideas in his agenda, particularly the most welcome proposal to spend an additional $10 billion over the next five years fighting AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean.

Though Mr. Bush reserved his passion for the topic of Iraq, he opened with his domestic agenda, an attempt to reassure nervous voters that his concentration on foreign affairs has not made him forget the problems back home. The big idea unveiled last night was a much-anticipated plan to begin offering politically popular prescription drug benefits to the elderly. The catch in this proposal is that it would make drug coverage available only through private health plans, not the fee-for-service Medicare, and he will need to make a strong case why drug coverage should not be provided through both systems.

The president reintroduced his $670 billion tax-cut plan, including a proposal to eliminate dividend taxes that even many of his loyal supporters have declared dead on arrival. The plan is tilted toward the wealthiest Americans and has very little that would stimulate the economy. At a time when the country may be taking on the expense of an overseas war and is continuing the fight against domestic terrorism, this is radical right-wing economics, dogma Mr. Bush cannot keep peddling if he hopes to unite the country behind his foreign agenda. He also said nothing about help for the states and localities struggling under the burden of the stagnant economy. For all his talk about the need to cut taxes, the Bush administration seems indifferent to the fact that local property and sales taxes are soaring all around the country -- the very levies most likely to discourage consumer spending.

The possibility of war with Iraq overshadowed the president's other themes. Mr. Bush has always done a good job of arguing that Saddam Hussein is dangerous, and he did so again last night. He methodically recounted all the good, though circumstantial, reasons the administration believes “the dictator of Iraq is not disarming ... he is deceiving,” and the well-documented evidence that Mr. Hussein is a cruel despot who uses torture against his own citizens. “Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country,” he told the Iraqi people.

But the president has never been as effective in making the case for immediate intervention or for going to war absent broad international support. While there is a natural fear that Iraq might give arms or biological weapons to terrorists, the administration has not been able to connect those dots, or even to demonstrate that Iraq has a history of aiding terrorism as clear as that of some American allies in the region. We welcome the president's decision to bring the question of Iraq's conduct back to the United Nations next Wednesday and to provide new intelligence that will bolster the administration's case. More troubling was his threat to attack Iraq even without Security Council support. Mr. Bush's language and his intensity left little doubt that his path was set, no matter what the rest of the international community decides.

Mr. Bush's personal popularity hinges on his obvious sincerity and determination to show leadership in fearsome times. He has lost none of the daring and conviction that got him where he is today -- a man who enjoys political power matched by few presidents in American history. But as he heads into his own re-election cycle with a war plan at the top of his agenda, the state of the union that the president leads is clearly laced with anxiety and doubt.

An Improvised March to War

Copyright New York Times Company Feb 2, 2003

Three days before Secretary of State Colin Powell is due to go before the United Nations Security Council, the Bush administration is still scrambling to provide him with compelling evidence to substantiate its case for war with Iraq. Richard Armitage, the State Department's second in command, reported late last week that his boss was “feverishly” working to get satellite photos and other data declassified in time for his presentation.

The image evokes a college dorm during finals week, rather than the world's most powerful nation as it sets a clear and persuasive course for war. Mr. Powell's assignment should not have caught the administration by surprise. Almost five months have passed since President Bush brought the Iraq problem before the United Nations, and nearly three months since Washington steered a resolution through the Security Council demanding that Iraq disarm or face serious consequences. This moment was clearly coming, and the administration should have prepared for it weeks ago by deciding what to declassify.

Throughout this long crisis there has been an unsettling sense of improvisation to the administration's explanations of its concerns, goals and postwar plans. That is particularly troubling since what is being talked about here is a preventive war, not instant retaliation for some Iraqi attack. Serious and consequential decisions lie ahead. The administration owes the American people and the rest of the world a more careful and consistent approach.

Even the rationale for war seems to change from day to day. Mr. Bush ticked off a litany of accusations against Iraq in his State of the Union address, some more compelling than others. Few Americans would quarrel with Mr. Bush's assertion that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a liar. The question that needs answering is whether he poses such an urgent danger to international peace that an American invasion is required, even without the explicit approval of the Security Council.

Mr. Hussein is a sadistically brutal dictator, but that scarcely justifies an American invasion. He has a history of aggression, to be sure, but his military is now badly degraded. The administration accuses Iraq of links with Al Qaeda, but the connections are indirect and the evidence not definitive. Mr. Bush's best argument is that Iraq most likely possesses biological and chemical weapons, in defiance of U.N. prohibitions and warnings of serious consequences. But even here the case seems largely circumstantial, based on unaccounted-for stocks of anthrax, nerve gas and other ingredients. The United States also says Iraq is trying to build nuclear bombs, a view not shared by U.N. inspectors.

Washington's planning for how to govern Iraq after a war seems equally scattershot. Administration officials have talked about installing Iraqi opposition figures, imposing an American military administration based on the model from postwar Germany or Japan, and naming an official, perhaps from the U.N., to administer civil affairs. Continued haziness on these issues is particularly worrying because stumbles here could negate the value of a military victory. Chaotic postwar conditions could allow terrorists to grab biological or chemical weapons or pave the way for a new strongman who might secretly resume work on unconventional weapons.

Rebuilding Iraq as a nation that is at once freer for its people and less dangerous for its neighbors would require a broad international effort. Before moving toward invasion, the United States needs to win the widest possible Security Council backing. That will require a more consistent -- and convincing -- articulation of the American case. Mr. Powell has his work cut out for him.

The Case Against Iraq

Copyright New York Times Company Feb 6, 2003

Secretary of State Colin Powell presented the United Nations and a global television audience yesterday with the most powerful case to date that Saddam Hussein stands in defiance of Security Council resolutions and has no intention of revealing or surrendering whatever unconventional weapons he may have. In doing so, with the help of spy satellite photos and communications intercepts, Mr. Powell placed squarely before the Security Council the fateful question of how it should respond. As American military forces in the region build toward full strength, President Bush should continue to let diplomacy work. The manner in which the United States wields its great power, and the regard it gives to the views of other nations, are vital matters as a showdown with Iraq draws near. The character of America is at issue as much as its military might.

Mr. Powell's most convincing evidence was of efforts by Iraq to shield chemical or biological weapons programs from United Nations inspectors. The intercepted conversations of Republican Guard officers that he played, in which they urgently seek to hide equipment or to destroy communications in advance of inspections, offered stark evidence that Mr. Hussein has not only failed to cooperate with the inspectors, as Resolution 1441 requires him to, but has actively sought to thwart them. Mr. Powell also offered new evidence that Al Qaeda terrorists have found safe harbor in Iraq, but the links between Baghdad and the terror network seemed more tenuous than his other charges.

Mr. Powell's presentation was all the more convincing because he dispensed with apocalyptic invocations of a struggle of good and evil and focused on shaping a sober, factual case against Mr. Hussein's regime. It may not have produced a “smoking gun,” but it left little question that Mr. Hussein had tried hard to conceal one.

In response to Mr. Powell's presentation, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, China and Russia called for extending and strengthening the inspection program in Iraq. The French minister, Dominique de Villepin, proposed expanding the number of inspectors and increasing the pressure on Iraq to comply. With the senior inspectors due to make their next report to the Security Council next week, Iraq still has a chance to change course.

President Bush's decision to dispatch Mr. Powell to present the administration's case before the Security Council showed a wise concern for international opinion. Since Mr. Bush's own address to the U.N. last September, he has kept faith with his commitment to work through the Security Council. As the crisis builds, he should make every possible effort to let the council take the lead.

The Security Council, the American people and the rest of the world have an obligation to study Mr. Powell's presentation very closely and very seriously. Because the consequences of war are so terrible, and the cost of rebuilding Iraq so great, the United States cannot afford to confront Iraq without broad international support.

Disarming Iraq

Copyright New York Times Company Feb 15, 2003

As much as the feuding members of the United Nations Security Council might like Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei to settle the question of war or peace with Iraq, these two mild-mannered civil servants can't make that fateful judgment. All they can do, which they did again yesterday, is to tell the Council how their inspection efforts are faring. So-so was the answer. It's up to the Council members -- especially the veto-wielding quintet of the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- to decide whether Iraq is disarming.

In our judgment, Iraq is not. The only way short of war to get Saddam Hussein to reverse course at this late hour is to make clear that the Security Council is united in its determination to disarm him and is now ready to call in the cavalry to get the job done. America and Britain are prepared to take that step. The time has come for the others to quit pretending that inspections alone are the solution.

The Security Council, as we said the other day, needs to pass a new resolution that sets a deadline for unconditional Iraqi compliance and authorizes military action if Baghdad falls short. Without that, the French proposal that Mr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei report again in mid-March is the diplomatic equivalent of treading water. It practically invites President Bush to take the undesirable step of going to war without the support of the Security Council.

Just as they did last month, the inspectors offered a mixed picture that allowed all sides to draw sustenance for their arguments. What should not be missed is that the positive aspects of the reports dealt largely with secondary matters like process and access. On the essential issue of active Iraqi cooperation in the disclosure and destruction of prohibited unconventional weapons, the inspectors could find little encouraging to say.

That leaves the fundamental picture about where it was last weekend, except that another week has passed without Iraq doing what it urgently needs to do. It's easy to see where France's wishful thinking leads. Baghdad could continue dribbling out meaningless concessions such as yesterday's laughable decree that the development of weapons of mass destruction is now prohibited in Iraq.

Mr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei cannot be left to play games of hide-and-seek. This is not like Washington's unproved assertions about an alliance between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. There is ample evidence that Iraq has produced highly toxic VX nerve gas and anthrax and has the capacity to produce a lot more. It has concealed these materials, lied about them, and more recently failed to account for them to the current inspectors. The Security Council doesn't need to sit through more months of inconclusive reports. It needs full and immediate Iraqi disarmament. It needs to say so, backed by the threat of military force.

The Real Meaning of Iraq

Copyright New York Times Company Feb 23, 2003

The debate over Iraq has exhausted everybody. Many people now think an American invasion is inevitable; many more are desperate just to get whatever happens over. There's nothing less satisfying than calling for still more discussion.

But that's right where this page is. More discussion is the only road that will get the world to the right outcome -- concerted effort by a wide coalition of nations to force Saddam Hussein to give up his weapons of mass destruction. We need another debate. Another struggle to make this the United Nations' leadership moment.

Right now, things don't look promising for those of us who believe this is a war worth waging, but only with broad international support. The United States has an invasion force in place, and the military's schedule seems to demand that it attack within a few weeks before spring brings on withering desert heat. Washington has some support among other nations, but many of them are newcomers to the world of high-stakes diplomacy and few have much to offer in the way of troops or financial support. Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, America's only strong and consistent ally among the world's other major military powers, is facing fierce opposition at home and ridicule abroad for his allegiance to the Bush administration. Turkey, another important ally, held out for more money as it considered whether to allow American invasion forces on its soil. The size of the Turkish demands made the anti-Iraq forces look less like a serious coalition than a diplomatic version of “Let's Make a Deal.”

Saddam Hussein, meanwhile, has been skillful at providing the pretense of progress to international inspectors without seriously cooperating. Iraq has drawn the United Nations into a game of find the handkerchief, in which the burden is on the inspectors to track down mobile laboratories or sniff out hidden weapons. All this puts an enormous weight on what Iraqi behavior Hans Blix, the chief U.N. inspector, chooses to stress -- whether he dwells on Iraqi resistance or points to areas of cooperation. In the United Nations, the equivalent of a C-minus for effort on a Blix report can be taken as an argument for peace, while a D-plus can be seen as a call to war. The inspectors should never be put in the position of deciding international foreign policy.

A Case for Action
While the possibility of Mr. Hussein experiencing a last-minute conversion seems minuscule, there is one quick way to test whether it's possible. Iraq has Al Samoud 2 missiles, weapons it built at great expense and effort. Mr. Blix has already stated that they are too powerful, able to travel too far to fit under the limits set by the United Nations after the Persian Gulf war. On Friday, Mr. Blix told the Iraqis to start destroying them by March 1.

This week the Security Council should reaffirm Mr. Blix's order and tell Mr. Hussein he must get rid of his missiles immediately, or outside forces will do it for him, with the support of the international community. That clear message would resolve the most frustrating problem for those who want the United Nations to nail down its position as the arbiter of world crises -- how to get France and its supporters to define their own bottom line rather than simply criticizing Washington's.

Saddam Hussein is nobody's hero in this story. Although many Americans are puzzled about why the Bush administration chose to pick this fight now, it's not surprising that in the wake of Sept. 11, the president would want to make the world safer, and that one of his top priorities would be eliminating Iraq's ability to create biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Of all the military powers in the world, Iraq is the one that has twice invaded its neighbors without provocation and that has used chemical weapons both on its military foes and some of its own restive people. North Korea may be a greater danger, but North Korea has not been told by the United Nations to disarm and stay disarmed. And, although the administration is careful to steer clear of this argument, the very fact that North Korea has the international community in a bind is a cautionary tale for making sure that no other despotic governments run by irrational adventurers get hold of nuclear arms.

A Game of Chance
Many foreigners, and large numbers of Americans, wonder whether this administration is capable of dispassionate judgment as it relentlessly pushes for war. All too often, American officials have undermined their own case by demonstrating reckless enthusiasm for a brawl, denigrating allies who fail to fall in line or overstating their case against Iraq, particularly when it comes to a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. But to his credit, President Bush worked hard to achieve the unanimous support of the Security Council for Resolution 1441, and more broadly to make his case before the United Nations and the world. This may be an administration intent on making war, but so far it has also shown itself willing to give the United Nations both time and space to make up its mind.

It seems clear to us that the United Nations should enforce its own orders and make Iraq disarm, even if that requires force. But in the end, sometime in March, the United States may have to decide whether it should do the job on its own.

When that happens, the arguments on both sides are sure to be couched in the highest moral principles. But the real calculations will be entirely about the odds of succeeding. If military victory over Iraq is swift, and if it can be accomplished without extensive casualties to American soldiers or Iraqi civilians or damage to neighboring countries or the area's oil fields, Mr. Bush's popularity will soar. If occupation forces unearth proof of a large nuclear program, stockpiles of terrifying biological weapons and real evidence of serious collusion between Saddam Hussein and international terrorists, many of the international leaders who are riding the crest of anti-Americanism now will start looking very foolish.

But things could go terribly wrong, very quickly. The war could be brutal and protracted, especially if Mr. Hussein unleashes biological or chemical weapons against Israel or American troops. He may also succeed in setting fire to his oil wells, or disabling those in neighboring countries, crippling the world economy. And if he is destroyed, there is every possibility of a vicious struggle for the lucrative spoils among the disparate clans and ethnic groups in Iraq, drawing in Turkey, Iran and others. In the chaos, the weapons of mass destruction Americans went to war to eliminate could wind up being ferried out of Iraq and sold to the highest terrorist bidder. And just as the American military's presence in Saudi Arabia during the gulf war precipitated the growth of Al Qaeda and Sept. 11, the long-term occupation of Iraq will create resentment in the Muslim world that could lead to more, not less, terrorism.

The Long Haul
All those risks, we repeat, are worth taking in the context of a broad international coalition, and some might even be diminished if the world acts together. The country is still traumatized by the discovery on Sept. 11, 2001, that we live in a world of unimaginable danger. Some of our traditional allies knew that already, from long and terrible experience. Some are still trying to face up to it. But the rational response is to work together to make the world safer, not to ignore obvious dangers in hope that the likely will not become inevitable.

Our own guess, when we calculate the odds in Iraq, is that the war is likely to go well in the short run, but that the long run will be messy, difficult and dangerous. If America acts virtually on its own, it is hard to imagine either the Bush administration or the American people having the staying power to make things right. Washington may be counting on Iraq's oil revenue to pay for rebuilding the country after the war, but the oil wells could be damaged in the fighting. It seems certain that an administration that will not give up tax cuts to pay for the war itself is not going to inflict economic pain at home to pay for the cleanup. And while Americans have always shown themselves willing to risk anything, even their own children, for a critical cause of high purpose, their support for this particular fight is thin as a wafer and based on misapprehension that Iraq is clearly linked to terrorism.

Our Bottom Line
When all the odds are calculated, people will have their own particular critical concerns that add weight to one side of the scale or the other. For some, it is the belief that rogue nations can be deterred -- a certainty that if they use their worst weapons, the United States and its allies will pay them back, double. While the evidence that Saddam Hussein has used chemical weapons in battle with Iran, and against his own Kurdish population, is strong, the fact that he has not used similar weapons in other situations, including the gulf war, suggests that deterrence should not be dismissed.

For others, the bottom line will come down to saving face. The United States has assembled its forces for invasion, and to back down now, many argue, will be to show a weakness that will encourage our enemies. We don't think the world's only surviving superpower should be making war to avoid embarrassment.

Our own overriding concern runs in the other direction. The United States is, and seems likely to remain, a nation whose military might and economic power so outstrip any other country that much of the world has begun comparing it to ancient Rome. The test now is whether we will find a new way to exercise our power in which leadership, self-discipline and concern for the common good will outweigh our smaller impulses. An invasion of Iraq that is not supported by many traditional allies, or those powers that we need to be allied with in the best possible future, will send a message that we can do whatever we want. But it is not going to make the rest of the world want to root for us to succeed. The real test of American leadership is only incidentally about Iraq. It is whether we will further split the world into squabbling camps, united only by their jealousy of our power, or use our influence to unite it around a shared vision of progress, human rights and mutual responsibility.

Facing Down Iraq

Copyright New York Times Company Feb 25, 2003

Any lingering confusion about the fault line in the United Nations Security Council was erased yesterday by new American and French initiatives on Iraq. The United States wants a new resolution reaffirming the conclusion that Iraq has failed to disarm, effectively opening the way to a war sanctioned by the U.N. France, supported by Germany and Russia, prefers to give Hans Blix and his inspectors more time to see if they can disarm Iraq. The American resolution, introduced by Britain, deserves the Security Council's support.

A Council visibly moving toward authorizing force is the last remote hope of getting Iraq to disarm peacefully. Saddam Hussein reinforced that point himself yesterday by telling Dan Rather of CBS News that Iraqi missiles do not violate U.N. restrictions. That suggests he does not plan to carry out Mr. Blix's order to destroy missiles that exceed performance limits set by the U.N.

Winning majority support for this resolution and avoiding a veto will take deft diplomacy. Among the Security Council's 15 members, only the United States, Britain, Spain and Bulgaria have so far indicated their support. Wisely, Washington and London have decided not to push for a quick decision. Instead they are aiming for a vote by the second week in March. That will give hesitant Council members a further chance to gauge Iraqi conduct on core issues, starting with Baghdad's response to Mr. Blix's unambiguous instruction to begin destroying its illegal missiles by the end of this week.

The Security Council's previous resolution, last fall, opened two possible paths to disarming Iraq. One was peaceful, the other military. Regrettably, Iraq has let three crucial months go by without grasping what is clearly its last chance for peaceful disarmament. Instead of showing the inspectors its illegal weapons material and projects and cooperating in their destruction, as required, Baghdad has offered no meaningful cooperation.

It seems inconceivable that without the pressure of this latest resolution, Iraq will reverse itself and disarm. Yet that is the underlying assumption of the latest proposal by France, Russia and Germany. In the face of Baghdad's stonewalling, the Council needs to reunite and stand behind its firm warnings of last fall. What's needed is not more time but an entirely different attitude from Iraq.

President Bush's Nation-Building

Copyright New York Times Company Feb 27, 2003

President Bush sketched an expansive vision last night of what he expects to accomplish by a war in Iraq. Instead of focusing on eliminating weapons of mass destruction, or reducing the threat of terror to the United States, Mr. Bush talked about establishing a “free and peaceful Iraq” that would serve as a “dramatic and inspiring example” to the entire Arab and Muslim world, provide a stabilizing influence in the Middle East and even help end the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The idea of turning Iraq into a model democracy in the Arab world is one some members of the administration have been discussing for a long time. But it is not one that Mr. Bush has devoted much effort to selling to the American people. Most Americans would certainly rally around the idea of a strong, stable and open government in Iraq. But they haven't been prepared for the cost of such an undertaking. For most people, the vision of a new gulf war is one of relatively quick victory, not years of American occupation.

In a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, the president described an undertaking that resembled American efforts in post-World-War-II Japan and Germany. This week Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, said he believed that hundreds of thousands of soldiers would have to remain on Iraqi soil to create a stable environment for democratic change. Mr. Bush, a man who ran for office scoffing at the idea of “nation-building,” is now betting his presidency on that idea.

In his eagerness to get both American and international support for an invasion of Iraq, Mr. Bush seemed to be piling everything onto this single cart. While many Europeans and Arabs have urged that the president make solving the Arab-Israeli conflict his first priority for the region, Mr. Bush said last night that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the key to peace between Israel and its neighbors.

The United States is supposed to be working with the United Nations, the European Union and Russia on a “road map” toward a comprehensive settlement that would lead to creation of a separate Palestinian state by 2005. Britain's embattled prime minister, Tony Blair, has been urging Mr. Bush to talk more about that map, and last night the president said that he remained committed to it. But it seemed little more than lip service. Instead the president put Iraq in the center of the picture, arguing that success there would deprive Palestinian terrorists of critical support and provide the Palestinian people with an inspiration for establishing their own democratic institutions.

It is true that Saddam Hussein has encouraged terrorism in Israel by paying rewards to the families of suicide bombers. But neither Mr. Hussein's political nor financial support has been the critical factor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It would have been more useful last night if the president had fleshed out his vision of a new Middle East by describing that “road map” in detail and committing the administration to work on it now. Even under the best of circumstances, the situation in Iraq is likely to be chaotic for years to come. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians should have to wait for peace until it is settled.

The Rush to War

Copyright New York Times Company Mar 3, 2003

The Bush administration proved over the weekend that it can plan for war against Iraq and fight international terrorism at the same time. The capture in Pakistan of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a top operative of Al Qaeda who is suspected of planning the Sept. 11 attacks, was the most significant strike against the terror group since the United States dislodged the Osama bin Laden network from Afghanistan. America is safer today because Mr. Mohammed is in custody, and the C.I.A. and F.B.I. should be applauded for their role in his capture.

But a cautionary note is in order. Pakistan's pivotal role in the seizure of Mr. Mohammed is one more demonstration of the importance of working in concert with other nations in the fight against terrorism. The United States cannot defeat Al Qaeda without the help of dozens of other nations. The same principle applies to Iraq. President Bush may be able to win a military victory against Saddam Hussein without broad international support, but he won't be able to rebuild Iraq, much less change the political and economic dynamics of the Islamic world, without a great deal of foreign assistance.

After a weekend of fast-moving events, including the destruction by Iraq of some of its illegal Al Samoud 2 missiles, Mr. Bush needs to take a deep breath. The White House seems increasingly intent on attacking Iraq, whether or not Baghdad disarms and whether or not the Security Council endorses a war. Mr. Bush may soon find himself forced to choose between going ahead with an invasion despite marginal international support, or bowing to demands by many allies to give inspectors more time. We believe more time is warranted to determine whether Iraq's dismantlement of missiles is a signal that Mr. Hussein is reconsidering his stubborn defiance of the United Nations and to see if a solution short of war is still possible.

It was a bad weekend for the war initiative. The Turkish Parliament failed to approve American plans to use Turkish bases as a staging ground for the invasion. Iraq's willingness to begin destroying its missiles is sure to give invasion opponents a stronger hand during U.N. debates this week. A White House spokesman's statement late last week that Mr. Bush would be satisfied only with the departure of Mr. Hussein appeared to shift the rationale for war to fit new circumstances.

The Turkish Parliament's vote, narrow though it was, conveyed an awkward message. Mr. Bush argued last week that invading Iraq would help bring democracy to the Middle East. A few days later, a parliament full of democratically elected Muslims rebuffed Washington's request to use Turkey as a springboard for an invasion of Iraq.

The missile destruction is important, though not proof that Iraq has changed course. Destruction was the only action possible if Iraq wanted to head off a Security Council resolution supporting invasion. Iraq has about 100 of the missiles, and it has so far destroyed only a few.

We are not under any illusion that Mr. Hussein is disabling his missiles simply because he likes the idea. Iraq would never be making even these grudging concessions if American troops were not massed near Iraq's border. The U.N. must realize that whatever success it has achieved of late in getting Iraq to abide by its directives has come only because of American military might.

The threat of force, however, should not give way to the use of force until peaceful paths to Iraqi disarmament have been exhausted and the Security Council gives its assent to war. Everything that happened over the weekend underlines the fact that the United States should not invade Iraq without broad international support. Even if there is a quick military triumph, many things could go wrong over the long haul. The Turks could intervene militarily in northern Iraq to assert control over the Kurds there, who have established an autonomous -- and democratic -- government. The fragile Pakistani government could be toppled in an anti-American reaction, endangering the war on terror. Iraqi biological and chemical weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists. None of these events will necessarily happen, but the odds that they will are as good as the odds that a war will lead to the establishment of a peaceful, democratic state in Iraq.

The President Looks Toward War

Copyright New York Times Company Mar 7, 2003

President Bush did not sound like a man searching for a diplomatic compromise last night at his press conference on Iraq. He brushed aside any signs of possible progress that weapons inspectors may have made, and repeated his oft-stated conviction that Saddam Hussein would never disarm on his own. More significantly, he seemed to throw cold water on the British government's frantic attempts to come up with a resolution that might bring more nations behind an eventual invasion.

The Security Council is likely to vote next week on a resolution pressed by the United States that would essentially trigger a military assault. The chances that it will pass seem dim right now. The British have proposed amending the resolution to give Baghdad some additional time to disarm before military action commenced. But Mr. Bush said again and again last night that when it came to Mr. Hussein, diplomacy never worked.

“I meant what I said -- this is the last phase of diplomacy,” the president said. “A little bit more time -- he has had 12 years to disarm.”

The president's remarks seemed to make the work of Tony Blair's envoys an even longer shot than they were before the press conference.

We can only hope Mr. Bush was simply trying to apply pressure on wavering Security Council members to induce them to line up behind the British initiative. It is the best hope right now of repairing divisions in the Security Council that benefit only Mr. Hussein.

Although Mr. Bush has never cared for prime-time news conferences, he was right to give a worried nation the opportunity to hear him answer questions. But anyone who had been hoping for reassurance that war was not at hand could not have been reassured.

The somber president offered little indication that he saw any real way to avoid military conflict. The only diplomatic initiative he described was a firm intention to have the Security Council vote on a resolution authorizing action, even if the United States was destined to be rebuffed. It was, he said, “time for people to show their cards.”

That was a stalwart position, but the spectacle of a Security Council rejection, broadcast around the globe, would not be a promising way to begin an assault that would need all the international support possible. The United States may be able to beat the Iraqi army and overthrow Mr. Hussein on its own, with a scattering of mainly powerless supporters cheering the effort from the sidelines. But it is highly unlikely that it can run Iraq after the assault and control the inevitable show of anger in the rest of the Arab world on its own.

The differences over Iraq may be too deep to be papered over. But diplomacy should be given a chance to rescue the Security Council from damaging paralysis, and to present Baghdad with one last opportunity to change course.

Saying No to War

Copyright New York Times Company Mar 9, 2003

Within days, barring a diplomatic breakthrough, President Bush will decide whether to send American troops into Iraq in the face of United Nations opposition. We believe there is a better option involving long-running, stepped-up weapons inspections. But like everyone else in America, we feel the window closing. If it comes down to a question of yes or no to invasion without broad international support, our answer is no.

Even though Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, said that Saddam Hussein was not in complete compliance with United Nations orders to disarm, the report of the inspectors on Friday was generally devastating to the American position. They not only argued that progress was being made, they also discounted the idea that Iraq was actively attempting to manufacture nuclear weapons. History shows that inspectors can be misled, and that Mr. Hussein can never be trusted to disarm and stay disarmed on his own accord. But a far larger and more aggressive inspection program, backed by a firm and united Security Council, could keep a permanent lid on Iraq's weapons program.

By adding hundreds of additional inspectors, using the threat of force to give them a free hand and maintaining the option of attacking Iraq if it tries to shake free of a smothering inspection program, the United States could obtain much of what it was originally hoping to achieve. Mr. Hussein would now be likely to accept such an intrusive U.N. operation. Had Mr. Bush managed the showdown with Iraq in a more measured manner, he would now be in a position to rally the U.N. behind that bigger, tougher inspection program, declare victory and take most of the troops home.

Unfortunately, by demanding regime change, Mr. Bush has made it much harder for Washington to embrace this kind of long-term strategy. He has talked himself into a corner where war or an unthinkable American retreat seem to be the only alternatives visible to the administration. Every signal from the White House is that the diplomatic negotiations will be over in days, not weeks. Every signal from the United Nations is that when that day arrives, the United States will not have Security Council sanction to attack.

There are circumstances under which the president would have to act militarily no matter what the Security Council said. If America was attacked, we would have to respond swiftly and fiercely. But despite endless efforts by the Bush administration to connect Iraq to Sept. 11, the evidence simply isn't there. The administration has demonstrated that Iraq had members of Al Qaeda living within its borders, but that same accusation could be lodged against any number of American allies in the region. It is natural to suspect that one of America's enemies might be actively aiding another, but nations are not supposed to launch military invasions based on hunches and fragmentary intelligence.

The second argument the Bush administration cites for invading Iraq is its refusal to obey U.N. orders that it disarm. That's a good reason, but not when the U.N. itself believes disarmament is occurring and the weapons inspections can be made to work. If the United States ignores the Security Council and attacks on its own, the first victim in the conflict will be the United Nations itself. The whole scenario calls to mind that Vietnam-era catch phrase about how we had to destroy a village in order to save it.

President Bush has switched his own rationale for the invasion several times. Right now, the underlying theory seems to be that the United States can transform the Middle East by toppling Saddam Hussein, turning Iraq into a showplace democracy and inspiring the rest of the region to follow suit. That's another fine goal that seems impossible to accomplish outside the context of broad international agreement. The idea that the resolution to all the longstanding, complicated problems of that area begins with a quick military action is both seductive and extremely dangerous. The Bush administration has not been willing to risk any political capital in attempting to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, but now the president is theorizing that invading Iraq will do the trick.

Given the corner Mr. Bush has painted himself in, withdrawing troops -- even if a considerable slice remains behind -- would be an admission of failure. He obviously intends to go ahead, and bet on the very good chance that the Iraqi army will fall quickly. The fact that the United Nations might be irreparably weakened would not much bother his conservative political base at home, nor would the outcry abroad. But in the long run, this country needs a strong international body to keep the peace and defuse tension in a dozen different potential crisis points around the world. It needs the support of its allies, particularly embattled states like Pakistan, to fight the war on terror. And it needs to demonstrate by example that there are certain rules that everybody has to follow, one of the most important of which is that you do not invade another country for any but the most compelling of reasons. When the purpose is fuzzy, or based on questionable propositions, it's time to stop and look for other, less extreme means to achieve your goals.

Diplomacy's Last Chance

Copyright New York Times Company Mar 13, 2003

With his political fortunes sinking at home, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain is doing his best to reunite the United Nations Security Council on Iraq. His efforts, though in need of some refinement, deserve strong American support because they appear to offer the last hope of forcing Saddam Hussein to disarm voluntarily and, failing that, to ensure that any war with Iraq is sanctioned by the Council. President Bush worked the phones yesterday to lobby other leaders to support a new resolution, but Washington did not seem fully sold on the British plan. It should get squarely behind the proposal and give Britain more leeway to adjust crucial details. In its present form, the British proposal is not likely to win a Security Council majority of nine votes, let alone deflect the vetoes of France, Russia and maybe China.

Britain's proposal would establish six disarmament benchmarks and a tightly limited time frame for achieving them. The benchmarks are generally right, but the time frames under discussion yesterday were unrealistically short, and the mechanisms for determining compliance need some modification.

These defects reflect the conditional nature of Washington's assent to the exercise so far. Britain cannot plausibly offer more time or flexibility than it thinks it can sell to the White House. Unless Washington is willing to engage in serious diplomatic bargaining, the British attempt is doomed to failure. Only by negotiating crucial details are the hesitations of several of the six currently undecided countries likely to be overcome. And only with the support of all or most of these six can serious efforts be made to win over China, Russia and France.

According to U.N. weapons inspectors, even if Baghdad offered full cooperation, complete disarmament of Iraq could take months. But the six tests Britain proposes could be completed much more quickly. Mr. Hussein would have to acknowledge that he has hidden unconventional weapons and pledge to stop producing or concealing such weapons. He would have to let at least 30 scientists, and their families, leave Iraq for interviews. He would also have to turn over all mobile biological and chemical weapons facilities, surrender anthrax stockpiles or demonstrate that they had been destroyed, finish eliminating illegal missiles and account for all unmanned aerial drones.

Timing is a critical issue. U.N. diplomats believe that Washington will not agree to a compliance deadline beyond March 24. That clearly is not enough for France and Russia and probably not enough for several of the undecideds. The possibility of broader international support, if attainable, is worth waiting for. How to determine Iraqi compliance is also an issue. That is not a judgment that should be left to the United States to make alone. If a consensus can be reached on benchmarks and dates, it may be easier to agree on a mechanism for judging compliance.

The ultimate goal should not be a symbolic Security Council majority of nine, but passage of a resolution without a disabling veto. That might still be possible. Washington will find out only if it makes the new British proposal the basis for serious negotiations.

The Summit of Isolation

Copyright New York Times Company Mar 16, 2003

Three men meeting on an Atlantic island seems an apt symbol for the failure of the Bush administration to draw the world around its Iraq policy. That's not the intended message of President Bush's meeting today in the Azores with Prime Ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Jose Maria Aznar of Spain, but it's hard to avoid that impression. In what appears to be the final days before an American invasion of Iraq, Mr. Bush is taking time to consult with two loyal allies and, ostensibly, to decide if any realistic chance remains for a new United Nations Security Council resolution on Iraq. But the underlying diplomatic reality is bleak. Only a little more than four months since a unanimous Security Council backed American demands for disarming Saddam Hussein, Washington's only sure council supporters are Britain, Spain and Bulgaria.

President Bush was dealt a bad hand by others. Baghdad refused to provide the active cooperation that alone could have brought inspections to a swift and successful conclusion. France has created enormous problems through its unwillingness to back up inspections with tight deadlines and a credible threat of force.

But the Bush administration's erratic and often inept diplomacy has made matters immeasurably worse. By repeatedly switching its goals from disarmament to regime change to broadly transforming the Middle East, and its arguments from weapons to Al Qaeda to human rights, the White House made many countries more worried about America's motives than Iraq's weapons. Public arm-twisting of allies like Turkey and Mexico backfired, as did repeated sniping at Hans Blix, one of the U.N.'s two chief arms inspectors.

Just this past week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld damagingly suggested that Washington didn't really need British military help, administration diplomats unhelpfully hedged their support for a British compromise proposal and Secretary of State Colin Powell further undercut London's efforts to win over undecided Security Council members by suggesting that Washington might soon withdraw the pending resolution without a vote.

Even now, diplomacy might be resuscitated if the administration made an all-out effort to seek broad consensus around the British concept of disarmament benchmarks and specific, achievable deadlines. Such an effort would require much greater American willingness to negotiate realistic deadlines and credible mechanisms for measuring Iraqi compliance than has yet been evident.

Instead, the Bush administration now gives every appearance of going through the motions of diplomacy as a favor to Mr. Blair without really believing in it. By allowing that perception to grow, Mr. Bush finds himself about to embark on an uncertain course of war and nation-building in one of the world's most dangerous and complex regions, with an alliance far too narrow for comfort.

President Bush Prepares for War

Copyright New York Times Company Mar 17, 2003

The United States, nearly isolated, is about to wage a war in the name of the world community that opposes it. The meeting that President Bush held yesterday in the Azores with the prime ministers of Britain and Spain made clear that within a day or so, the president is expected to announce that he is sending troops into Iraq. He declared that today would be the last chance for any other solution. If so, let the day not be wasted.

This page remains persuaded of the vital need to disarm Iraq. But it is a process that should go through the United Nations. That is in the best interest both of the United States and of the U.N. With so few of the 14 other members of the Security Council convinced that war is the best immediate option, Washington would be wise to drop the talk of imminent hostilities and come up with a resolution that leads to disarmament and consensus. The current path is reckless.

Mr. Bush said he would spend today pursuing one last opportunity for diplomacy. Given the administration's bellicose rhetoric over the weekend, it is hard not to suspect that the president is simply going through the motions. But he should be held to his word. Last week, the British put forth a useful resolution that called on Iraq to take a number of specific steps, like letting 30 scientists and their families out of the country for interviews and turning over all mobile chemical and biological weapons facilities. But when the French said they would veto the resolution and Washington seemed unenthusiastic anyway, it died. Both should reconsider and the resolution should be revived with a longer timetable.

President Jacques Chirac of France now says that he could accept a disarmament deadline of 30 days if the weapons inspectors agreed. That is progress, but he needs to be more forthcoming and place a resolution on the table that contains clear, tight deadlines, a direct threat of force and a reasonable mechanism for judging compliance. The French must find a role for themselves in ending the Iraqi threat that goes beyond threatening a veto.

Mr. Bush is right to insist that the choice between war and peace has been in the hands of Saddam Hussein. But it makes no sense to assert, as Vice President Dick Cheney did in television interviews yesterday, that there is really nothing Saddam Hussein can do short of resigning that would stave off attack. This is the kind of talk that has made so many so skeptical of this administration.

As Mr. Bush stood with the prime ministers of Spain, Britain and Portugal yesterday in the Azores, there was much talk of a strong Atlantic alliance. But overstating threats and dismissing the concerns of friends does not build a strong alliance. No matter what happens today, that is exactly what we will need tomorrow.

War in the Ruins of Diplomacy

Copyright New York Times Company Mar 18, 2003

America is on its way to war. President Bush has told Saddam Hussein to depart or face attack. For Mr. Hussein, getting rid of weapons of mass destruction is no longer an option. Diplomacy has been dismissed. Arms inspectors, journalists and other civilians have been advised to leave Iraq.

The country now stands at a decisive turning point, not just in regard to the Iraq crisis, but in how it means to define its role in the post-cold-war world. President Bush's father and then Bill Clinton worked hard to infuse that role with America's traditions of idealism, internationalism and multilateralism. Under George W. Bush, however, Washington has charted a very different course. Allies have been devalued and military force overvalued.

Now that logic is playing out in a war waged without the compulsion of necessity, the endorsement of the United Nations or the company of traditional allies. This page has never wavered in the belief that Mr. Hussein must be disarmed. Our problem is with the wrongheaded way this administration has gone about it.

Once the fighting begins, every American will be thinking primarily of the safety of our troops, the success of their mission and the minimization of Iraqi civilian casualties. It will not feel like the right time for complaints about how America got to this point.

Today is the right time. This war crowns a period of terrible diplomatic failure, Washington's worst in at least a generation. The Bush administration now presides over unprecedented American military might. What it risks squandering is not America's power, but an essential part of its glory.

When this administration took office just over two years ago, expectations were different. President Bush was a novice in international affairs, while his father had been a master practitioner. But the new president looked to have assembled an experienced national security team. It included Colin Powell and Dick Cheney, who had helped build the multinational coalition that fought the first Persian Gulf war. Condoleezza Rice had helped manage a peaceful end for Europe's cold war divisions. Donald Rumsfeld brought government and international experience stretching back to the Ford administration. This seasoned team was led by a man who had spoken forcefully as a presidential candidate about the need for the United States to wear its power with humility, to reach out to its allies and not be perceived as a bully.

But this did not turn out to be a team of steady veterans. The hubris and mistakes that contributed to America's current isolation began long before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. From the administration's first days, it turned away from internationalism and the concerns of its European allies by abandoning the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and withdrawing America's signature from the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court. Russia was bluntly told to accept America's withdrawal from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty and the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into the territory of the former Soviet Union. In the Middle East, Washington shortsightedly stepped backed from the worsening spiral of violence between Israel and the Palestinians, ignoring the pleas of Arab, Muslim and European countries. If other nations resist American leadership today, part of the reason lies in this unhappy history.

The Atlantic alliance is now more deeply riven than at any time since its creation more than a half-century ago. A promising new era of cooperation with a democratizing Russia has been put at risk. China, whose constructive incorporation into global affairs is crucial to the peace of this century, has been needlessly estranged. Governments across the Muslim world, whose cooperation is so vital to the war against terrorism, are now warily navigating between popular anger and American power.

The American-sponsored Security Council resolution that was withdrawn yesterday had firm support from only four of the council's 15 members and was opposed by major European powers like France, Germany and Russia. Even the few leaders who have stuck with the Bush administration, like Tony Blair of Britain and Jose Maria Aznar of Spain, have done so in the face of broad domestic opposition, which has left them and their parties politically damaged.

There is no ignoring the role of Baghdad's game of cooperation without content in this diplomatic debacle. And France, in its zest for standing up to Washington, succeeded mainly in sending all the wrong signals to Baghdad. But Washington's own destructive contributions were enormous: its shifting goals and rationales, its increasingly arbitrary timetables, its distaste for diplomatic give and take, its public arm-twisting and its failure to convince most of the world of any imminent danger.

The result is a war for a legitimate international goal against an execrable tyranny, but one fought almost alone. At a time when America most needs the world to see its actions in the best possible light, they will probably be seen in the worst. This result was neither foreordained nor inevitable.

The War Begins

Copyright New York Times Company Mar 20, 2003

From here, the sound of the war that began last night is inaudible. As veterans realize and almost every writer on the subject of war has reminded us, the experience of this new, unwanted war will be unknowable except among those who will be there for the fighting. The job of the soldiers, men and women alike, is transcendently clear. No one who knows the American military doubts that it will do its job to the best of its ability and with an unswerving consciousness of the balance between opportunity and risk. The lives wagered in this operation belong to young Americans and to Iraqis of all ages. Perhaps no military has ever known as well as this one how important it is to have a care for those lives.

Many Americans remember the first gulf war all too vividly, and the temptation will be to read this war against the backdrop of that one. The terrain is the same, but everything else has changed. A military that, even a dozen years ago, still found itself shuttling paper battle orders back and forth is now electronically linked and coordinated in ways that would have seemed unimaginable then. There is no strategic exit in the offing, as there was when the coalition forces stopped well short of Baghdad in 1991. Now it is Saddam or nothing. There is no sense of international coalescence, a mission that bound disparate nations together. This mission has unbound the world.

Our job here is not as transcendently clear as the soldiers' job. Now that the first strikes have begun, even those who vehemently opposed this war will find themselves in the strange position of hoping for just what the president they have opposed is himself hoping for: a quick, conclusive resolution fought as bloodlessly as possible. People who have supported Mr. Bush all along may feel tempted to try to silence those who voice dissent. It will be necessary to remind them that we are in this fight to bring freedom of speech to Iraq, not to smother it back home.

It would take a very set mind to judge what comes next on any ground but the success of the effort. If things go as well as we hope, even those who sharply disagree with the logic behind this war are likely to end up feeling reassured, almost against their will, by the successful projection of American power. Whether they felt the idea of war in Iraq was a bad one from the beginning, or -- like us -- they felt it should be undertaken only with broad international support, the yearning to go back to a time when we felt in control of our own destiny still runs strong. Of all the reasons for this mission, the unspoken one, deepest and most hopeless, is to erase Sept. 11 from our hearts.

This is now, as Mr. Bush has said repeatedly, a war with two missions: disarming Iraq and then transforming it into a free and hopeful society. That second goal is also an end everyone would like to see. Yet as a nation we have scarcely begun to talk about how it should be accomplished. Even as we sit here at home, worrying about the outcome of the fighting, we must start to debate what comes next.

That public discussion has to start soon, even tomorrow. But for now, all our other thoughts have come to rest. We simply hope for the welfare of those men and women -- sons and daughters -- who will be flinging themselves into the Iraqi desert.

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