Think about this. Two months ago, you had no idea that war with Iraq was necessary. Now, combat seems to be just around the corner. As Washington debates military action, do you know where you stand? One man who has clearly made up his mind is George W. Bush. The President has been masterful at speeding events over and around hurdles toward the point of no return; he massaged a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq just enough to win bipartisan support inthe House of Representatives last week. The Senate, where many lawmakers harbor misgivings about Bush's drive to overthrow Saddam Hussein, has begun to give the arguments their most thorough airing yet. But by the time the debate's up and votes are cast, the Senators too are likely to grant the President approval to fight. Simultaneously, at the United Nations, other countries are wrestling with their roles, under intense U.S. pressure to underwrite a rapid go-ahead. Yet for the rest of us, the how-far-should-we-go-in-curbing-Saddam debate is just beginning to percolate. The choice isn't clean: questioning Bush's plans is not the same as calling for the continued survival of an odious regime. The President this week intends to dwell in ever more demonizing detail on "Saddam's evil bag of tricks," as an adviser put it. But most Americans already get that. What sometimes is lost in the debate is a clear-eyed analysis of the risks and benefits of going after Saddam. Here are seven questions worth considering in the days ahead.
1 COULD INSPECTIONS ALONE DO THE TRICK?
The White House is certain that re-newed U.N. inspections won't end the threat of Saddam continuing to accumulate weapons of mass destruction and that only his demise will do the trick. Former U.N. inspectors tend to agree. In eight years of policing the country, they found and destroyed sizable quantities of his weapons of mass destruction, but not all of the ones he was known to have. Since inspections broke off in 1998, Saddam is widely believed to have retooled and restocked chemical and biological agents and brought his nuclear program back into high gear, while vastly improving his capacity to hide it all. His history of deception and game playing makes a fresh attempt to root out the arsenal in this way difficult. Saddam, says former inspector David Kay, "will always defeat a U.N.-type of inspection made up of 100 to 300 people in a country as large as Iraq."
Nevertheless, almost everyone outside the most committed hard-liner thinks inspections should be given one last chance. Bowing to that reality, the Administration's fallback is to demand that the U.N. prescribe a new regime for unfettered inspections that is so in Iraq's face that it might work. And if it doesn't, as the Administration frankly would prefer, it would give the U.S. a legitimate pretext for war. In its view, either inspectors would find something that would trigger action, or they would be blocked by Saddam: either would be cause for green-lighting the bombers.