Avoiding the Unavoidable in Iraq


Wonder what the war debates sound like in Iraq? The majority of people in the United States, even those who feel that war is unavoidable, probably have hopes that somewhere off camera, there is a serious discussion taking place in Iraq. In our heart of hearts, most of us are probably hoping that Saddam Hussein has figured out that it is better to avoid war, and we are hoping that he will do everything possible to prevent a war. Most people in the United States are probably not saying, “make my day” but rather are saying to Iraq, “we can,” and “we must” avoid war. The question facing all of us is “how”? How would we avoid what some are calling the unavoidable war? The answer might be by creating another option. It seems that both U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice is signaling that a new option does in fact exist. The United States might not be any longer determined to replace Saddam, but might actually be willing to co-exist with a rehabilitated Iraqi regime. According to Associated Press writer William C. Mann, Powell said on Sunday, “All we are interested in, is getting rid of those weapons of mass destruction.” Rice seemed to support Powell’s interpretation of the U.S. objective, saying on CNN’s Late Edition that, “the goal here is to disarm Saddam Hussein. And in order to do that, we are going to have to test his willingness to cooperate this time around. Either we disarm him, or he disarms himself by cooperating, or we are going to disarm him.” In a Chicago Tribune article, ” Saddam can stay if he changes completely, Bush says” (October 21,2002), President Bush is quoted as saying, “I believe the free world, if we make up our mind, can disarm this man peacefully. But if not-if not- we will have the will and the desire, as do other nations, to disarm Iraq.”

Iraq has choices, and whether the United Nations Security Council votes for a strong resolution calling for disarmament, giving authorization for military consequences or not, Iraq still has choices and options, and the United States has said that in either case, it reserves the right to disarm Iraq. If Hussein does not comply with the resolutions as presented, there is a good chance that there will be war. To date what we have witnessed from Iraq, rather than recognition of its power to act, and a demonstrated will or desire to avoid the unavoidable war, is a sort of acquiescence to the idea of war that is somewhat disheartening. Rather than choosing to focus on disarmament, the regime seems to have accepted that war is unavoidable, and this is sure to make peace more difficult to attain. This makes statements made recently by the Bush administration very important, not only because they represent perhaps a softening in the U.S. position, but also because they create an opportunity to avoid war. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said as much in a statement about changes in the U.S. Iraq policy. Boucher said,” Diplomacy needs to be backed by force, especially in matters like this. The only way to really plan on getting compliance would be to plan on changing the regime, and that’s something this administration has taken very seriously.”

The United States, having been Iraq’s number one supplier of weapons of mass destruction perhaps has a pretty good idea about Iraq’s capabilities. Along with Iraq’s neighbors, the United States feels very threatened by the possibilities as they presently exist. In such a scenario, it seems that Iraq must ease these apprehensions by allowing inspectors to do their job, thereby satisfying the world community that they are disarmed. This was Powell’s view on Sunday and is pretty much what he said October 2 in a USA Today interview where he said, ” Should Iraq be fully disarmed, then in effect you have a different kind of regime no matter who is in Baghdad.”

The United States might have moved from demanding a regime change, to demanding attitudinal and behavioral changes on behalf of the Iraqi regime, in exchange for what are clearly similar changes on the part of the United States. In presenting Iraq with new options, we have essentially made it easier for war to be avoided, simply because we have changed the demand to one that is both reasonable and doable, when previously we had demands that were doable, but perhaps unreasonable. This pragmatic, rather than the previous emotional approach, changes at least the appearance of the conflict. When the U.S. was threatening to move unilaterally, that conjured up images of an overbearing and overconfident U.S. bully, picking upon a weak and starved Iraq, demanding that it surrender its last bit of sovereignty and honor to a hegemonic U.S. Empire. This imagery was very negative, and potentially harmful to the U.S. Remember the old cartoon images of bad guy bankers demanding the deed for the orphanage so they could turn the place into a gambling casino. This imagery caused us all, as children and of course “good guys” to mentally roll up our sleeves for a fight, and then to jump up and down when the hero finally arrived to beat the devil out of the bad guys. The problem of course, is that in the U.S. vs. Iraq scenario, we were beginning to look like and be cast as the bad guys.

Americans are much more adept at, and really enjoy being the hero. We do not like to be the bad guy, and so the change in tone, is not only a more honest depiction of whom we are as a people, but also feels better. It will also allow the world to see more clearly, which Iraq is. Are they a people who want peace, or will they take us all to war?

In a published study done by social pychologists Cappricio and Crites on attitude change and new attitude formation, these men argue that there are only two ways to achieve conformity in a generally disagreeable group. One is by brute force and the other is through attitude change. It seems that the wise men of Washington have decided that we should pursue and hope for such real and significant changes in Saddam Hussein, while continuing to keep open the possibility, and remain prepared for war. In such a scenario, the supposed victim dictates his or her own fate, through his or her own choice.

In the article, “Inspections are the Key” director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El Baradei wrote that this is a critical and defining moment. El Baraei notes that what is most important in today’s UN/Iraq conflict is that there be inspections, and he encouraged Saddam Hussein to comply with the world’s demand that he disarm. El Barei says, ” I would make a twofold appeal: to the government of Iraq to provide the absolute proof that the world is demanding; and to the international community, to give inspections a chance before resorting to violence.” Washington seems willing to give peace a chance, while Hussein is still a mystery. El Baredi says that his agency neutralized Iraq’s nuclear program. Confiscated its weapons usable material, destroyed, removed or rendered harmless all its facilities and equipment relevant to weapons mass production. “And while we did not claim absolute certainty,” says El Baradei, we were convinced that we had not missed any significant component of Iraq’s nuclear program.” He added “success of inspections in Iraq, in eliminating weapons, but also biological and chemical ones, will depend upon five prerequisites.” Among these prerequisites, according to El Baradei are 1. Full and explicit authority for inspection, which means immediate unfettered location in Iraq-including presidential sites.2. Ready access to all sources of information, including the freedom to interview personnel without intimidation or threat of retribution. 3. Unified and robust support from the United Nations Security Council. 4. Preservation of integrity and objectivity in the inspection process. There must be an impartial inspection regime, free of outside interference, to ensure that all parties accept our conclusions as credible. 5. Active cooperation by Iraq, including sustained demonstration by the governments stated willingness to be transparent and to allow inspectors full access to carry out inspections. El Baradei concludes his list saying that Iraq should both passively and actively comply with resolutions. He defines Iraqi active cooperation as ” coming forward with a full and “final” declaration of its weapons related activities.” (For the complete El Baradei list see the Washington Post, “Inspections are the Key,” October 21, 2002).

The bottom line is that if we are to avoid the unavoidable in Iraq, we need the help of Saddam Hussein. Message to President Saddam Hussein: ” Make peace the priority. ” Once we have achieved inspections, and God willing, this present crisis has been resolved, perhaps we can move to the next stage in international cooperation between East and West. We need to figure out a way to get the Iraqi sanctions lifted, and to bring Iraq back into the circle and embrace of the international community, East and West. We need to get Iraq’s markets opened, get the price of oil down, and to heal the psychological and physical wounds of the Iraqi people, get the medicine they need, the books, the paper, pencils, schools,jobs, etc. so they can get back on their feet and become contributors to their own and the world’s progress. We need to resurrect hope, and America needs to shed its wolf clothing, and be a sheep, albeit a sheep with a big stick. There are major challenges facing the world, only one of which is the need to continue modernizing and developing the Muslim world. That is the answer to extremism, development. We need peace to progress, and we need one another. Saddam can be histories hero, or hellion, it’s his choice. I’m betting and praying that he will choose to be a hero.

The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women.