Is War on Iraq Inevitable? ; Remaining Scenarios for Avoiding a Violent Conflict in the Persian Gulf

Article excerpt

In Washington, the steady din of the Bush administration's sword- rattling may be obscuring the fact that possibilities remain for the United States and Iraq to settle their differences without going to war.

Some peace scenarios are admittedly far-fetched. Saddam Hussein might jet off to palmy exile on the Riviera, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld suggested Wednesday, but it seems unlikely. President George W. Bush might simply change his mind, and decide to contain Mr. Hussein instead of forcing his disarmament. Given the determination of Mr. Bush's rhetoric, that now seems unlikely, too.

But between these extremes there is a narrow opening - a very narrow opening - through which peace might crawl. Such a solution might depend crucially on two things: Hussein's recognition of the hopelessness of any resistance, and an administration determination that weapons inspectors truly had the run of Iraq.

"I don't think the administration would go to war if Iraq was allowing inspections to proceed rapidly and without constraint," says Stephen Walt, a professor of international politics at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

It's an indication of how far down the road toward armed conflict the current crisis has gone that the question "Can we avoid war?" elicits amused chuckles from some Washington experts.

Such a reaction may reflect how tough the administration's rhetoric has been.

Constant talk of Iraqi "regime change" as official US policy (and it is official policy, according to congressional resolutions that have so ordered it) has made it seem that the administration will accept nothing less than Hussein's removal from power. Considering the administration's depiction of him as evil and ruthless, it seems that they regard Hussein himself as Iraq's most dangerous weapon of mass destruction.

And what kind of dictator decides to just step down and hand the levers of power over to others? It has happened - the Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran fled in the face of domestic revolt. Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier eventually decided that life in France as an ex-strongman might not be so bad after all.

But Hussein is made of ruthless stuff, and does not appear to face internal revolts that threaten his life or power. That makes war seem inevitable.

"I cannot imagine any circumstance under which President Bush will make his State of the Union address in the third week of January, 2003, without having successfully brought about regime change in Baghdad," says Raymond Tanter, a Middle East expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. …