As the Bush administration weighs options for ousting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, U.S. foreign policy experts are considering the impact a possible military campaign against Baghdad could have on the Middle East as a whole.
Some prominent members of President Bush's own Republican Party, including former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, are advocating caution in opting for military action in Iraq.
Mr. Scowcroft outlined his views recently in an opinion article in The Wall Street Journal and in a recent appearance on CBS television. He told CBS that Iraq poses a threat. However, he warned that an attack on Iraq could create an explosion in the Middle East, given the present concern with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Let's suppose, for example, we're all ready, and we launch an attack on Saddam Hussein tomorrow," Mr. Scowcroft said. "It would be tough. It will not be a easy. But, can we take him out? Yes, we can take him out. Now, what would the region look like if we did that, right now? I think we could have an explosion in the Middle East. King Abdullah of Jordan was just here again, and he's obviously intensely concerned because Jordan has the majority population of Palestinians, and to attack Iraq while the Middle East is in the terror that it is right now, and America appears not to be dealing with something, which to every Muslim is a real problem, but instead go over here, I think could turn the whole region into a cauldron."
Mr. Scowcroft said an attack on Iraq at this moment would be counterproductive, and could jeopardize U.S. efforts to maintain international support for its war terrorism. He said the Bush administration must keep trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which, he says, is of greater concern in the region than Iraq.
At the same time, Mr. Scowcroft said, the United States should focus on getting the United Nations to insist on a rigorous weapons inspection program for Iraq. He said, if Iraq continues to refuse to allow the inspections, that could provide cause for taking action against Iraq.
Dennis Ross, a former U.S. envoy to the Middle East, maintains that successfully ousting Saddam Hussein could transform the region.
Mr. Ross, who currently is the director of the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs, told Fox television recently that the Iraqi people have been terrorized by Saddam Hussein, and once he goes, their euphoric reaction would have a pronounced and positive effect on the region. Mr. Ross said what matters is a quick result in removing the Iraqi leader.
"The reality is, you have plenty of Iraqis who know what Saddam Hussein will do to them if they line up on the wrong side. This is a society where no one can talk to anyone else, because they are afraid, if they say something that is misunderstood, they are either imprisoned or they are dead," Mr. Ross said. "There will be an incredible outpouring of emotion if Saddam Hussein is gone - not the process of removing him, but he has to be gone. The critical question, getting back to the Arab allies, is the following: If they know we are going to succeed, it's one thing. If they think it's a long drawn-out process, it's something else, because then they get put into a position where they feel threatened."
President Bush says he is listening carefully to the arguments of Mr. Scowcroft and others, but will base his decision on the latest intelligence reports.