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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Should Hold His War Horses on Iraq

Last September, President George W. Bush made the wise decision to work through the United Nations Security Council as the most desirable way to force Iraq to disarm. While marshaling U.S. military forces in the Persian Gulf region, he has given international weapons inspectors time to gear up their investigations, test Iraqi intentions and satisfy other nations that force remains, as Bush has repeatedly said, a last resort. Now, with that process still incomplete, he seems increasingly impatient to abandon inspections and go to war, even if other Security Council members are not yet ready to do so. That would be a mistake.

Washington is awash with war talk this week, as Bush and his top aides try to build support for a showdown with Iraq. It would be better to heed the advice of other Security Council members -- including France, Russia and China -- to allow more time for the inspectors to work. Although Washington clearly has the military means to prevail over Saddam Hussein's weakened forces, war carries enormous risks. Besides the inevitable loss of life, Iraqi as well as American, there is the danger of sowing political instability across the Middle East, thereby threatening international oil supplies and Israel's security. A war waged by America alone would leave Washington bearing the considerable financial and political burdens of reconstructing Iraq as a stable, democratic country.

While Baghdad has allowed inspections to proceed without serious interference, and agreed over the weekend to let its scientists talk to inspectors without Iraqi monitors present, it has not yet provided the full cooperation required by repeated Security Council resolutions. Without this the world can have no confidence in Iraqi claims to have ended all work on unconventional weapons. But with inspection teams only now approaching full strength and beginning to make use of U.S. and other intelligence leads, it is too soon to give up on all possibility of a peaceful solution. Even the most alarming estimates of Iraq's unconventional weapons capabilities indicate that there is no imminent danger. The case for waiting seems even more compelling with numerous regional diplomatic initiatives now under way.

If the Bush administration's aim is to keep military pressure on Hussein to encourage him to cooperate more fully with the inspectors or accept a diplomatic deal, the results could be constructive. But if Washington is actually planning an early military strike in the weeks just ahead, either on its own or with only British support, it should reconsider. Given the risks and the widespread public opposition in the United States and abroad to acting without Security Council support, Bush should not be in a rush to go to war.

This comment appeared as an editorial in The New York Times.