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Playing Devil's Advocate

On Howard Rheingold's Brainstorms conference, I recently used a devil's advocate forum to argue against war in Iraq. I strongly believe that one must be able to coherently argue both sides of an issue in order to understand it. I thought it would be interesting to reproduce my post here.

I'd like to argue that we should not go to war with Iraq. Here's why:

International support. Do we have support for military action from at least 20 nations? Yes. But do we have the support of the world's largest economies? No. According to this chart, only two of the world's six largest economies are on record as supporting our stand. Do we have the support of the UN Security Council? No. Three of the five permanent members do not support military action, nor do 11 of the members of the full Council. Do we have the support of the world's most populous countries? No. Of the world's largest countries by population, only one, the US, supports military action. What about by geographic area? Has any country from South America announced its support? Africa? Asia? No matter how you slice it, the world simply isn't with us. And like it or not, we must pay attention to this. It's the flip side of globalization. You're a Republican and want the world's economies integrated so corporations can make the big bucks? Fine. But now you actually have to pay attention to what other countries think. Get used to it. Remember, they sneeze, you catch cold.

More pressing problems. Is Al-Qaida destroyed? Clearly not, as the latest episode of the radio show This Week with Osama bin Laden shows. Is Afghanistan secure and on a path to democracy and rebuilding? Hardly. Have we dealt with North Korea, a state with as tarnished a history as Iraq, longer-range missiles, and probably already possessing nukes -- a state that theoretically has the capability of striking Alaska right now? Not by a long shot. Why not deal with those more pressing problems first? The French and Germans want to triple the inspectors? Fine. Cut a deal with them. Leave our forces in place around Iraq. Send in more inspectors -- whether they're effective or not is irrelevant. Give them six months or a year to do their work. In exchange, get an ironclad resolution from the Security Council: if Blix and ElBaradei fail to certify x, y, and z by a certain date -- and make them highly specific, crystal-clear certifications -- then everyone's going in, no questions asked, no more discussion, no more resolutions. Now take that window of time and deal with the other crises you're facing. Finish off Al-Qaida. Fix the political and security situation in Afghanistan (which will, by the way, come back to bite you if you don't deal with it now). Stare down the North Koreans. When you're done, Iraq will still be there.

In formulating these arguments, it helped that I agree with aspects of them -- that I would like to see us take action with additional support, and that I'm worried that we're taking our eye off of other, more pressing problems. But, to my mind, neither issue leads to the conclusion that we should allow the inspection process to go on indefinitely.

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