- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 29, 2002

In the past few weeks, we have been treated to the start of an engrossing national debate over whether to attack Iraq. Intellectual heavyweights like former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Bush 41's National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft have weighed-in on opposing sides, setting fault lines for what promises to be a contentious exchange. Vice President Dick Cheney and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein have even traded broadsides, with both parry and thrusts covering the front pages of every major newspaper from New York to New Delhi.

The debate, however, seems to lack an air of reality, almost as if it was conducted by the gods of Greek mythology as they lounge on clouds and offer great thoughts on subjects too beautiful for us to comprehend. The time is fast approaching, however, when the debate must be embraced by those who will execute or pay for U.S. strategy. Mailmen, market analysts and car mechanics must soon ask themselves if U.S. national interests with regard to Iraq are worth dying for.

The question is entirely personal. Would you give your life to force a regime change in Iraq? Would you spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair to further U.S. national interests? If you are not of military age, are you willing to send your precious sons and daughters into battle? And are you willing to bear the financial burden necessary to ensure that U.S. war aims are consolidated in the post-war phase?

Truth be told, U.S. war aims may encompass a grand strategy that goes well beyond Iraq and stretches to crushing the center of gravity of militant Islam. Perhaps Iraq is just a campaign in what will eventually encompass diplomatic, economic, military and informational efforts to change the nature of both the Middle East and Europe. With the ante thus upped, would war with Iraq be worth economic and physical hardship?

Whether this is just war with Iraq or perhaps a defining moment in Western culture (I believe it is that latter) there are bound to be numerous calculable effects and second and third order effects that lay well beyond our ken. Lengthy casualty lists may result from decisive battle or the release of a weapon of mass destruction (WMD). Oil prices may rise temporarily, despite the release of U.S. strategic reserves onto a jittery market and the promise of unleashed Iraqi oil. Short-term turmoil in Iraq can be expected as it undergoes the chaos that results when any country undergoes democratization. And the Middle East may experience certain forms of upheaval, as the House of Saud struggles to maintain its tenuous grip on power in Saudi Arabia.

Additionally, hard-fought campaigns may not yield immediate results. Who will manage the public's short-term perceptions while striving for long-term national objectives? Do we have leaders capable of offering incremental dividends to an impatient American citizenry? Are you willing to open your strategic eyes and look for the long-term gain? Will you stand strong months or years after a loved one has been lost during the initial phases of a war against Iraq?

I have answered these questions for myself and have come to the clear conclusion that a war with Iraq is worth my life. Further, I believe that a strategic campaign to ensure American hegemony is worth my best efforts. In short, I trust the promotion of American values and those of our European and Middle Eastern allies and I trust a national security strategy that has for years strived to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Succinctly put, what is my life when weighed against the lives that would be lost in a nuclear attack or by the release of a WMD like smallpox? Based on my rational calculus, I would gladly spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair after battle in Iraq then to place my daughter in one after a future attack on the American homeland.

In the end, the debate that matters is not the one that takes place on the national stage, but rather the one that takes place in your own mind. The ancient war philosopher Sun Tzu challenges us to "know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril." The time to accept Sun Tzu's challenge is now.

Roger D. Carstens is a member of the Council for Emerging National Security Affairs (CENSA). He can be reached at [email protected]

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