As President Bush moves the nation closer to a military confrontation to force Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to give up his weapons of mass destruction, an array of domestic opinion-makers have been raising their voices against war.
The past few days alone have seen a spate of critical speeches from politicians of both parties, protests from religious leaders, peace rallies in Washington and other cities, and advertising campaigns attacking the drift to war. A group of 40 American Nobel laureates, including several Pentagon consultants, joined corporate chiefs, academics and former military officials in issuing statements opposing a unilateral attack on Iraq by the United States.
The sound and fury on the streets and op-ed pages reflect deep divisions within the foreign policy establishment over the Bush administration's choice of Iraq as the next target of its war on terrorism. So far, however, there is little sign that the protests will coalesce into a cohesive antiwar movement with sufficient political power to force the administration to reverse or even seriously rethink its Iraq strategy.
One reason for the failure of the antiwar crowd to make a more formidable political impact, say analysts, is its diversity. Critics range from the far right to the far left, encompassing politicians as different as former Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp and Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean. Some administration foes are opposed to war at any time; others belong to what former national security adviser Anthony Lake calls "the not-yet camp."
Another cause for caution, particularly on Capitol Hill, is the memory of what happened to administration critics the last time a Republican president went to war with Iraq. Analysts note that many of the Democratic senators who voted against a resolution authorizing President George H.W. Bush to take military action to reverse the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 were tarred with the charge of being "soft" on national security issues, a serious blow to their presidential ambitions.
"There is no single political figure around whom the antiwar movement can rally," said Gary Schmitt, secretary of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a pro-war lobbying group. Schmitt noted that the Democrats have not yet made "a big issue" of Iraq because "they worry they will be labeled as the party that is not interested in national security."
Despite reservations about challenging a popular president on an issue of war and peace, Democratic leaders have stepped up their criticisms of the administration in recent days. Some presidential candidates, such as Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), have effectively joined the "not-yet" group, arguing that U.N. weapons inspectors should be given more time to complete their work in Iraq and that the Bush administration should coordinate its war strategy much more closely with U.S. allies.
Lake, who was national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, defines the "not-yet" camp as people who are willing to endorse a war with Iraq as soon as they are presented with evidence of "an imminent threat" to U.S. national security. Until now, Lake adds, the administration has not made that case.
"We should allow the inspectors more time to do their work because there is a chance they will succeed [in disarming Iraq]. If they don't, then it will be easier to build [an anti-Hussein] coalition," Lake says. Acting without allies or with very few allies, he says, will cause a political backlash against the United States among Muslim and Arab nations, making it much more difficult to prosecute the war on terrorism.
The "not-yet" camp, according to Lake and others, includes many people from the old foreign policy establishment, which centers on the State Department, the uniformed military and the intelligence agencies. Because nobody in government is willing to challenge the administration in public, the case for patience and restraint has largely been made by proxies, including retired diplomats and soldiers as well as former administration officials, such as retired Gen. Brent Scowcroft, who was national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush.
Leslie H. Gelb, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said there was "much more skepticism than support" for the administration's Iraq policies among the 4,000 or so members of the nation's most elite foreign policy think tank and debating club. He noted that his own views were more pro-administration on Iraq than those of most council members, although he said he thinks the White House needs to do a much more effective job of making the case for war.
According to Gelb, council members are asking such questions as: "Why invade Iraq now?" "What's wrong with containment?" "Where is the hard evidence that Hussein has weapons of mass destruction?" and "What are we doing to plan for the day after an invasion?" He says he is hearing many of the same worries and doubts from Republicans as from Democrats, including many Capitol Hill staffers.
"These people want to be persuaded, because they know that Saddam is a bad guy and they want to go after him," Gelb said.
Elite opinion is far from unanimous on Iraq, and many leading commentators have endorsed the Bush administration approach. The editorial pages of both the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post have argued in favor of an early military showdown with Iraq, on the grounds that it is clearly in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, which gave Iraq "a final opportunity" to comply "immediately" and "unconditionally" with its disarmament obligations.
Conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation have generally supported the administration line, in contrast to the left-of-center Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which last week put out a paper calling for international weapons inspectors to be given more time. The Brookings Institution, which is home to many former Clinton administration officials, is divided, with some experts arguing for war and others skeptical.
Representative of the "not-yet" camp is retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, a former commander of U.S. Central Command, which includes Iraq and the Middle East. Like many military officers, Zinni feels that Hussein is "a long-standing threat to the region and should be dealt with." But he wonders why it is necessary to invade Iraq now, at the risk of alienating many U.S. allies, without waiting for U.N. weapons inspectors to build a much stronger case of Iraqi disarmament violations.
"I don't object to military action against Saddam; in fact, we should have done it a long time ago, but right now there is the potential for us to be distracted from a lot of other things," Zinni said. "Attitudes in the region are frayed, and there are many places that need our attention, like Somalia and Iran. I worry about getting drawn off of that."
Retired Gen. William E. Odom, a former director of the National Security Agency and military aide to President Jimmy Carter, fears that a war with Iraq will only play into the hands of Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders. Paraphrasing the Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz, he said, "War is a gamble, a throw of the dice. You never know how it is going to work out."
"The issue is not whether the Iraqi people will greet U.S. soldiers as their liberators, but what will they do six months after that," he said. "I find it naive and disingenuous to claim that you can create democracy in Iraq anytime soon. There is no historical record of constitutionalism in Iraq. The administration has already assured us that the U.S. will not stay there for very long, and, if that is the case, then the goal of establishing a constitutional system in Iraq is a joke."
One of the main hotbeds of opposition to a war in Iraq is academia. John Mearsheimer, a foreign policy expert at the University of Chicago, said he had "no difficulty" last September gathering 33 signatures for an advertisement in the New York Times declaring that it was against the nation's interest to go to war with Iraq. He said he restricted the petition to academics with a reputation for being "hard-nosed" on defense issues, excluding those who were "axiomatically against the use of force."
Since the ad appeared, Mearsheimer said, he has been "amazed at how much support there is for our position within the military, the intelligence community and the State Department. Most people agree that the war on terrorism is more important than a war with Iraq. In order to win the war on terrorism, we must work hand in glove with our allies, but Iraq is driving us apart."
Opposition to a war with Iraq has also been coordinated by a network of public interest groups under the umbrella organization Win Without War. A spokesman, Alistair Millar, said the organization had raised about $1 million from individual donations and wealthy sponsors, such as Ben & Jerry's co-founder Ben Cohen. The group is led by a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Edward Peck.