The waiting is about over. President Bush says Saddam Hussein has missed his final opportunity to disarm. So perhaps as early as next week we can expect Bush to act on his pledge to disarm Iraq by force.
That makes me nervous. Not about the military outcome -- that's preordained.
No, I'm nervous about how our pre-war diplomatic failures will affect our standing in the world. About the new wave of terrorism this war could unleash. About the reconstruction of Iraq and the stabilizing of whatever government winds up running it. And about what will happen when the administration gets around to focusing on the far greater potential menace of North Korea. That one makes the back of my neck prickle.
If a war is to be fought, I also hope it can generate some helpful results beyond removing Saddam's weapons. The Iraqi people are almost certain to be better off under any new government than they are now under the iron rule of a tyrant who has plundered his own country and abused its citizens ruthlessly. And a successful new government in Iraq might, as Bush has suggested, lead to a more modern and democratic Mideast.
This is my first weblog, but I bring to it journalistic experience that dates to 1962. There were plenty of crises between then and now, and I covered some of them while living and working in London, Helsinki and Moscow and reporting from another two dozen or so countries, including Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan.
In the days and weeks ahead I will sort through developments in Iraq and elsewhere and locate for you some of the best reporting and opinion on the web from the thousands of compelling postings out there. We'll look for many different points of view. I'll also offer a forum for the voices of people from the Puget Sound region to express their concerns and hopes.
One such voice belongs to a woman named Michelle. She is married to a career soldier and lives on base here in the Northwest. War tends to reduce issues and emotions to black and white. The middle tones, the important ones, get lost. Michelle avoids this trap and writes forthrightly and touchingly about what the war buildup means to her family.
Michelle has no glib answers, just some heartfelt thoughts. It's all too easy to think of an Army as a faceless mass. That is how administrations - all administrations - want you to think about it. In fact, what we have in the Middle East today is some 250,000 individual human beings with a common mission but also each bearing his or her own opinions, hopes and fears. Michelle helps us remember that. Since making this posting late last month, she has learned that her husband will be deployed March 15.
It is, of course, possible that some last-minute breakthrough will avoid a conflict. But most Americans seem to believe war is inevitable. A poll taken just before the president's news conference last Friday showed 68 percent of Americans believed he had already made up his mind to attack Iraq.
Slate.com's Saddameter, which has been attempting to gauge the prospects for war for several months, is locked at a 99 percent likelihood that our troops soon will break out for Baghdad.
It appears that it'll be us and the Brits, going it pretty much alone among major nations, and the British prime minister, Tony Blair, is encountering stiffer opposition on the homefront. There is no indication that the huge rift between the U.S. and some of its oldest allies (France) and some of its most important ones (Germany and Russia) will narrow.
So this is an anxious time for many people, regardless of whether they support or oppose the war. (Another poll shows that support or opposition breaks down pretty much along party lines.)
One particular concern of mine is that the new Bush doctrine of preemptive attack is a radical departure from the traditions of U.S. defense strategy. Our policy since World War II has been containment and deterrence. Now, suddenly, it's preemption. The president says the change is needed because of the altered circumstances brought on by terrorism and ever-proliferating wepons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue governments. He may be right. Nontheless, itís a huge change, with consequences we can only surmise.
The president also says he needs no further UN resolutions to go to war. But if there is no UN approval, many people here and abroad will consider a U.S.-led blitz of Iraq a violation of international law.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a fellow Texas Republican ally of the president, issued just such a warning.
As tensions rise, people are increasingly turning to web sites like this one for breaking news and reliable background information. We'll do our best to bring you the best we can find.
We also welcome your opinions and suggestions for topics. Your taxes will pay for this war, your family members or friends will fight it, and perhaps die in it. We will all pay for the tidying up afterward. Your thoughts on this are important.
A new, free web service called Meetup.com, is promoting face-to-face gatherings of people of all viewpoints to discuss the Iraq crisis in many of the 545 communities it serves around the globe. The Seattle meetings are scheduled for the first Friday of each month. Meetup also helps arrange meetings on just about any other topic you can think of. Check it out here.