Is it necessary to go to war with Iraq? That's the question being debated heatedly not just in the halls of the United Nations and the U.S. Congress, but in living rooms and dorm rooms across America.
Any fully reasoned argument for or against launching a military strike against Iraq must take into account not just the politics of the Middle East and those of the entire planet, but they must also factor in the economic fallout of going to war with one of the world's biggest oil-producing nations.
Still, the fundamental questions that define the debate more or less boil down to the following: Does Iraq pose an immediate and grave danger to its neighboring countries, to Europe and to the rest of the world?
Those who support military action tend to argue that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is a ruthless tyrant who possesses nuclear, chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction and is just crazy enough to use them. Those who favor a more cautious approach tend to acknowledge that Hussein is dangerous and unpredictable, but doubt he can or will launch an attack in the near future. In the middle are those who say the U.S. should make every diplomatic effort via the United Nations to determine whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction before using military action.
Research conducted by MTV News suggests that 63 percent of people between the ages of 14 and 24 support military action against Iraq, though 67 percent think such action will increase the threat of terrorism in the U.S.
In his State of the Union speech in January, President Bush identified Iraq as one of three nations — Iran and North Korea are the other two — that he said pose the greatest threat to U.S. and global security. Iraq, he said, is part of "an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world." The president and his advisors have made it clear for several months now that they wish to see Hussein leave power.
The Bush administration has pressured the United Nations to pass a resolution that would acknowledge the right of the U.S. and its allies to use military force against Iraq should it fail to completely disclose its weapons capabilities. They have argued also that Hussein is harboring terrorists with connections to al Qaeda.
Garnering support for military strikes against Iraq proved to be a challenge for the White House at first. In published articles and in public comments, a slew of foreign policy experts with strong ties to the first President Bush expressed strong reservations.
People such as former Secretary of State James Baker and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft worried an invasion would destabilize the entire Middle East region and turn world public opinion against the U.S. Moreover, they said, they were unconvinced that Hussein is on the verge of possessing nuclear arms. They suggested the U.S. should push for the return of United Nations inspectors to Iraq before undertaking war, a view that was even echoed by the administration's foreign policy point man, Secretary of State Colin Powell. Members of Congress from both parties were also initially reluctant to support the president, claiming that the administration hadn't produced sufficient evidence of Iraq's nuclear capabilities.
But in recent weeks the administration has successfully convinced much of the Washington establishment that it is time to get tough with Iraq. The president recently won strong approval for a resolution authorizing him to use force against Hussein if he deems it necessary. Many Democrats sided with Republicans to support the measure.
Finding support from abroad has proven considerably more difficult. Saudi Arabia, Iraq's neighbor to the south, has said it will not allow the U.S. to launch strikes from within its borders. In Europe, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder flaunted his disagreement with Bush over Iraq to score points in his recent successful re-election campaign.
Perhaps most importantly, the U.S. has had trouble convincing Russia and France, two members of the United Nations Security Council with veto power, to support a tough resolution that would support military strikes against Iraq if it refused to give weapons inspectors complete access. As of Monday, the administration was circulating a new draft of the resolution that it hoped all the Security Council members would approve.
For weeks, the president and his advisors have made it clear that the U.S. desires to see a regime change in Iraq. But in a sudden and somewhat surprising turn, the president announced on Monday that he was making one more attempt to reach a diplomatic solution with Iraq.
"We've tried diplomacy. We're trying it one more time. I believe the free world, if we make up our mind to, can disarm this man peacefully," Bush said. "But if not, we have the will and the desire, as do other nations, to disarm Saddam."
Will the U.N. sign off on a tough anti-Iraq resolution? How will Hussein react to the president's latest overture? Stay tuned ...