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It's not the just the readiness of the Iraqis for revolution or its messy aftermath that indisposes critics towards a U.S. invasion of Iraq.

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The baggage of displaced Afghani refugees at an UNHCR center in Pul-i- Charkhi, Afghanistan. Aug. 23, 2002. Kamran Jebreili

Slouching Towards Iraq

by DuWayne Charles

AUGUST 23, 2002. Tuesday's embassy takeover in Berlin by a previously unknown Iraqi dissident group was resolved with a little tear gas, a heart attack, and a singular absence of blood.

The event gives convenient fuel to the hawkish, anti-Saddam Bush administration, while simultaneously tweaking the nose of Germany's unapologetically anti-war Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, who just two days before renewed his opposition to any U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The impeccable staging leaves even the usually rational wondering. Did the warmongers earlier this week in Crawford, Texas dream a limp embassy caper by a suspiciously unknown bunch would magically convince the world that the Iraqi people are ripe for a Bush-led revolution? The agencies that spent decades designing exploding cigars for Castro are, as we know, fond of such inanities.

Unfortunately for Bush, it is not the just the readiness of the Iraqis for revolution and its messy and expensive aftermath that indisposes critics towards a U.S. invasion of Iraq. As the British journal, The Economist, puts it "...conventional European opinion is that the Middle East will never be stable until the Palestinians have their state, and that to attack Iraq before then risks setting the region on fire. The hawks in Washington see things the other way around. They argue that Iraq destabilizes the Middle East because it stokes Palestinian militancy. But talk in Washington of "regime change" in Iraq, Iran or even Saudi Arabia causes huge anxiety in Europe."

And why not? Consider that forgotten little corner north and west of Pakistan, east of Iran — Afghanistan.

While the extent of Saddam's possession or intention to use "weapons of mass destruction" is by no means certain, there's no doubt that the outcome so far in Afghanistan spells disaster for a U.S. invaded Iraq.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban have been routed and scattered, but at a large cost to the civilian population. Instead of the stable, central government they were promised, Afghans watch in despair as warlords divvy up the country, as usual, for their favorite pursuits of arms trading, smuggling, opium dealing, and assassination. U.S. ally and president, Hamid Karzai has been forced to rely on American bodyguards, as members of his government drop like flies. Women have been again pushed back in their place. And food and shelter? Forget about it.

Through it all, we've learned that Bush, even more than Clinton, is a master at presidential hedginess. Neither in nor out, he dabbles belatedly in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, keeps one hand behind the scenes in Afghanistan, without committing to anything, so that with the other hand he can keep a firm grip on that crucial commodity: deniability.

Afghan troops are to blame for the escape of Osama Bin Laden. Faulty Afghan information was responsible for the Pentagon's bombing of civilian installations. Afghan renegades alone are to blame for the torture and mass murders coming to light there, in spite of the American advisors and special forces looking over their shoulders.

Warlord resurgence is entirely the fault of the fractious Afghans. Nothing to do with Bush's refusal to stabilize the country with more U.S. troops, or to allow U.N. peacekeeping forces to do the job. There he goes again, hedging between the realities of war and occupation, and his on-the-stump derision of nation-building and long-term U.S. troop commitments.

But given the desperate realities of Afghanistan today, who will assume the even greater responsibility of Iraq?

Even if an attack were justified, why should anyone anywhere believe this bet-hedging, proxy-happy White House will follow through with the American lives, the billions of tax dollars, and decades-long reconstruction of Iraq? As to the quick and simple partitioning rumored to be Bush's tidiest post-war option, it would open an ethnic and religious hornet's nest and leave unresolved the contentious bone of which partitionee holds Iraq's vast oil deposits for U.S. companies to exploit.

An administration that has acted unilaterally on almost every global issue from the environment to the war on terror, is also unlikely to pull off the high-stakes diplomacy required in the Arab world if the U.S. attacks Iraq.

Which leaves us with the obvious question: if Afghanistan's Taliban provided the breeding ground for 9/11 terrorism, what will be spawned by a chaotic, post-attack Iraq, the new focal point in a furiously, anti-American Middle East?

Related Links

For No Rush to War The Nation's resources to oppose a U.S. war.

For The Economist article, "You can be warriors or wimps; or so say the Americans.

For The Independent's Afghanistan is on the brink of another disaster.

For Newsday's Arab's Fear Post-Saddam Regime.

For Complete Coverage Middle East

For Complete Coverage Asia

For Complete Coverage 9/11 and Aftermath

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