In America, a military attack against Iraq to remove President Saddam Hussein from power seems to be a foregone conclusion. U.S. newspaper reports have been rife with various battle plans proposed by the generals.
However, U.S. President George W. Bush’s single-minded pursuit of victory against the “terrorists” who perpetrated the infamous Sept. 11 attacks has its dangers. It would be particularly risky if top priority is given to attacking Iraq while more urgent problems, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the recovery of U.S. economic vigor and the precarious state of Latin American economies, are put aside. Bush would be better advised to spend the rest of this year attending to these more urgent issues.
The world is more interdependent than Americans are prepared to accept. Any immediate attack would undermine innumerable delicate balances that exist among divergent forces and interests in the world. It is good, therefore, that the decision to go ahead seems to have temporarily been postponed until some time next year. Taking advantage of this respite, it would be worthwhile to tell our American friends how the average Japanese views a prospective U.S. military strike against Hussein.
First, most Japanese are not convinced that Iraq is providing direct support to the al-Qaeda terrorist group. So far, the Japanese government seems to be giving Bush the benefit of the doubt. But when the attack comes and begins to directly affect Japan — for example, in the form of a U.S. request for Japanese financial or military support — crucial differences in opinion between Japan and America will come to the fore. In Japan, war on Iraq will not be considered in the same light as the Persian Gulf War. The Japanese government will find itself unable to persuade the nation to support unilateral American action against Iraq.
Second, even if Hussein is removed one way or another, the postwar rebuilding of a peaceful Iraq will not be easy. Many Japanese are reminded of what the Americans did to Japan during the Occupation after Japan’s defeat in 1945. A considerable number of Japanese, both young and old, still resent the systematic demolition of old Japanese values and the planting of American systems under the Occupation.
Nonetheless, systemic reform of Japan succeeded because much of what the Americans brought to Japan after the war was progressive in nature and not incongruous with Japan’s own history of wholesale Westernization following the Meiji Restoration. More importantly, Japan had the Emperor, a figure of authority who commanded the respect of his people.
In the case of Iraq, however, it would require a superhuman effort on the part of the occupying force to establish a credible regime there. The creation of an acceptable government in Iraq must start from scratch amid a hostile indigenous population where no alternative authority exists. Iraq is many times more intractable than Afghanistan, where the local populace did not object to seeing foreign al-Qaeda elements ousted.
Third, if the Americans unfortunately chose to use nuclear weapons in their pre-emptive military strike against Iraq, the vehemence of Japanese anger would be far greater than any American could imagine, as it would touch a raw nerve of Japanese sensitivity. I would hate to see all the postwar good will the Japanese had shown America — despite the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — evaporate overnight and be replaced by a deep-rooted distrust and even hatred of the Americans.
Lastly, the Japanese are seriously concerned about the probable consequences the attack would have on the Middle East. If the attack takes place and the U.S. fails to allay Arab suspicion that the destruction of Iraq is aimed at supporting Israel against the Palestinians, it is much feared that the delicate balance that currently exists in the Middle East — both regionally and nationally — will be irrevocably lost.
Although there would be no love lost between most Arab nations and Iraq, a “Western” attack on Iraq would be considered a war waged by the Jewish-Christian world against the Islamic world. The war would inevitably force even moderate Arabs and regimes friendly to the West to close ranks with radical Islamic forces in a division of civilizations. And should moderate Arabs resist doing so, they will be washed away from power by a powerful anti-Western tidal wave that will arise in the Islamic world. For the Japanese, too, a Middle East composed of regimes hostile to the West would not be in their interest.
If the U.S. expects Japan to overcome these qualms and go along with the attack, it must provide conclusive and overwhelming evidence that Iraq has been supporting terrorists in such a way that only a systemic change in its regime can stop it. Otherwise, a U.S. war on Iraq will be seen in this part of the world as a pursuit of its own national interests, perhaps based on some hidden agenda.
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