Magazine article New York Times Upfront

War in Iraq: America's Second Major Military Action since 9/11 Could Reshape U.S. Foreign Policy and the Middle East. U.S. Officials Hope the Risks of Going to War Pay off. (America at War)

Magazine article New York Times Upfront

War in Iraq: America's Second Major Military Action since 9/11 Could Reshape U.S. Foreign Policy and the Middle East. U.S. Officials Hope the Risks of Going to War Pay off. (America at War)

Article excerpt

In the end, neither the United States nor Iraq could back down.

After months of diplomatic effort warning Saddam Hussein of "serious consequences" if Iraq did not give up its weapons of mass destruction, a U.S.-led coalition unleashed intense airstrikes and ground offensives to disarm the country.

The invasion was the first test of the Bush administration's new national security strategy of pre-emptive war. The doctrine asserts that the U.S. has a fight to take the offensive against potential enemies amassing weapons of mass destruction, without international approval.

The war, America's second major military action since the September 11 attacks, took the nation into unknown territory, with risks and possibilities not only for the U.S. and Iraq, but for the rest of the Middle East and perhaps the world balance of power.

At home, the war heightened fears of terrorist attacks and steep increases in oil prices that could further damage the nation's economy, and that of the world. Internationally, the war promised to open a new epoch of U.S. influence in the Middle East. The war also threatened to reshape relations between Washington and its key allies, unchallenged since World War II.

In a televised address to the nation, President George W. Bush cautioned that the Iraq campaign "could be longer and more difficult than some predict," but he added, "we will accept no outcome but victory."


For months if not years to come, the U.S. military's task in Iraq may be among the most complex in the history of war.

Besides defeating the Iraqi military, American troops are to act as weapons specialists, expected to find and destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. They have a police function as well, to protect the oil fields that are Iraq's hope for economic recovery, and to prevent the outbreak of civil war. They also have a humanitarian mission to prevent a massive refugee crisis if millions of people flee the fighting or attempt to make their way to homes they were forced to leave under Saddam's regime.

Bush administration officials want to avoid a repeat of the U.S. occupation of Japan after World War II, which lasted seven years. The general in charge of the attack on Iraq, Tommy R. Franks, carries the additional duty of overseeing its military occupation.

His troops will see to the removal of the top leadership of Saddam's Baath Party, which had controlled Iraq since 1968. Establishment of a temporary government, in which power would be shared among the country's many religious and ethnic groups, was also Franks's responsibility.

Bush made clear that he believes a stable, democratic Iraq could bring greater democracy to the Middle East and act as a first step toward solving the bitter fight between Israelis and Palestinians that has been going on for more than 50 years.

Yet many students of Iraqi history, as well as governments in the region, see the President's hopes for a quick transformation to representative government as unrealistic, given Iraq's lack of democratic traditions and the intense distrust among rival groups. Others in the Mideast say the presence of a large U.S. force in the region will only fuel the call of radicals to battle the U.S. under the banner of Islam.

"The extent of destabilization in the region and uncertainty in Iraq in the case of a war may go far beyond our imagination today," said Javad Zarif, Iran's envoy to the United Nations.

The Iraq war could reshape international relations far beyond the Middle East. Bush's decision to go to war revealed a deep diplomatic schism about U.S. leadership and power in the world (See "How Diplomacy Failed," page 13).


France, Germany, Russia, and China were key opponents of the attack on Iraq. The United Nations Security Council, made up of 5 permanent members with veto power, and 11 rotating members from countries without veto power, refused to back war plans offered by the United States and Britain. …

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