Steps to War and Peace in the Gulf

How the Persian Gulf crisis is resolved will determine the new world order for the post-Cold War era. On this point President Bush is correct. A world torn by conflicts long suppressed or ignored in the Cold War years faces a fundamental choice: to keep the war system or to transcend it.

The danger of war is mounting rapidly. Tanks are massing on both sides of the Kuwaiti border. The cost of the waiting game in the desert exceeds $1 million an hour. The president calls for patience, but the "squeeze" on Saddam Hussein is unlikely to work soon, if ever, and the cries to "get it over with" will become more shrill.

Whether an attack on Iraq or an invasion of Kuwait or both are planned for this fall, the administration, through calculated leaks and interviews, wishes to convince Saddam that this is the case. But the situation is explosive and volatile. There are many players -- Iran, Israel, Arab nations, terrorist organizations -- and the president is not in control.

One provocative incident is all that is needed to trigger a major war. You cannot expect to threaten war on this massive a scale and not have one.

The American people usually support their presidents in the call to war, but throughout our history wars have deeply divided the nation. The recent military interventions -- against Grenada, Libya, and Panama -- were supported by an overwhelming majority of citizens and then quickly forgotten. These were short wars, and the stated objectives were quickly achieved with a minimum loss of American lives. (Most Americans are unaware of the thousands of Panamanian lives lost in the December 1989 invasion.) But the war in the Gulf will not be short, regardless of how the military operation turns out.

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