A Time for Debate and Reflection – Letter to the Editor NY Times – with Jules Lobel – PDF (unpublished)

2002 NYT Letter A Time for Debate and Reflection

To the Editor:

The editorial, “A Time for Debate and Reflection” (Oct. 2) recognizes the importance of efforts to obtain U.N. Security Council authority for the use of force against Iraq, but does not state that obtaining such authority is a legal requirement. Without U.N. approval, a country can unilaterally use force against another only in self­ defense, a test not met here. Under our Constitution, the U.N. Charter is the supreme law of the land; its prohibition on aggression constitutes a fundamental norm of international law and can be violated by no nation. If Congress provides President Bush with such authority Congress, too, will be complicit in waging an illegal war.

Michael Ratner, President, Center for Constitutional Rights Jules Lobel, Professor, University of Pittsburgh Law School


Text of Opinion

A Time for Debate and Reflection

OCT. 3, 2002

With the White House and Capitol Hill approaching agreement on the language of a resolution authorizing the use of military force against Iraq, Congress is on the threshold of a solemn and rare occasion — a debate over war and peace. Flag-waving sound bites with an eye to next month’s hotly contested midterm elections will not be enough. There are too many crucial issues that require deeper examination than they have had so far. The debate should be a moment for the American public to take stock, perhaps the country’s last real opportunity for measured deliberation.

No further debate is needed to establish that Saddam Hussein is an evil dictator whose continued effort to build unconventional weapons in defiance of clear United Nations prohibitions threatens the Middle East and beyond. The issue is how Washington and the international community can best eliminate or reduce this danger.

At this point, there remains a possibility that Iraq can be disarmed by voluntary means. Baghdad’s long record of duplicity and defiance leaves ample room for skepticism. But the resolve now being shown by the United States and other members of the Security Council could make a crucial difference. Congress must make clear its expectation that all diplomatic avenues be thoroughly explored. President Bush was right to declare Tuesday that ”the military option is not the first choice.”

The debate must emphasize the need for the broadest possible international unity. Mr. Bush should continue his efforts to win Security Council backing. France, Russia and China should recognize the need for a new resolution reasserting the right of arms investigators to go anywhere without advance notice and setting deadlines for full Iraqi cooperation. If diplomacy fails, war could well follow, and the consequences of this must be fully assessed. A new conflict with Iraq may not resemble the quick and relatively casualty-free expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991. There could be urban clashes like those Americans experienced in Somalia, but on a vastly larger scale. Iraq could direct chemical and biological weapons at Israeli cities or Saudi oil fields. If Baghdad sees war as inevitable, it might launch a pre-emptive attack of its own as American forces are assembling in the region. Israeli retaliation could complicate American military and diplomatic strategy.

Americans must also think more seriously about the shape of postwar Iraq and the regional upheavals that could follow changes in Baghdad. Iraq’s mutually hostile Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish elements were hastily thrown together when Britain and its allies carved up the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Modern Iraq has little experience as a free and stable nation. Reconstituting it as a democracy could take years and a substantial American commitment. At the same time, the neo-colonial nature of such an endeavor could produce a fierce backlash by Iraqis and others in the region.

Political change in Iraq, after all, is likely to have regional consequences, beginning with the substantial Kurdish minorities of Turkey and Iran. Conquering Iraq could send shock waves through the Persian Gulf and North Africa, at least temporarily destabilizing oil markets and distracting support and resources from the larger fight against international terrorism.

The likely consequences of war in Iraq extend far beyond November’s elections. The Congressional debate must be equally farsighted.