Posted 06 February 2003 - 02:51 AM
There are several reasons why now. One is the steady rise recently in Muslim terrorist activity, leading up to and including September Eleventh and a handful of foiled attempts since then. Another is that Iraq's technology has advanced and is on the verge of getting really nasty in new ways, especially nuclear, and meanwhile it's also been increasing its ties to terrorists, which means that before long Iraq will potentially be not only a much more serious threat to all Middle-Easterners but also an assured source of extremely powerful weapons for terrorists. The last time Iraq was thought to be this close on its nuclear program, that facility was bombed; it's now been just about long enough to catch up again starting over, and they've also made comparable advances now in other weapons of mass destruction, and Islamic terrorism has developed a stronger foothold in mainstream Arab and Muslim culture than it had before.
True, this has been the case for a few years; it's not exactly sudden. But the fact that we were too slow to move on it before does not constitute a reason not to fix it now, which is how most people asking this question seem to mean it. Even if you cross the line slowly enough not to be sure exactly when you crossed it, you still have to recognize THAT you have crossed it; sooner or later the frog has to hop out of that pot, even if it hasn't QUITE YET reached a deadly temperature.
The real question isn't "Why now" but "Why not sooner". And this leads to another answer to "why now": Because we DIDN'T do it sooner. And again there are multiple reasons why we didn't.
One is that the American people did not take the threat of terrorist Islam seriously before. They should have, but it took a somewhat bigger (and closer to home) terrorist act than usual to wake them up to reality. Another reason is that in the 12 years before GW Bush was elected, we only had 2 other Presidents; the first one presided longer ago and might not have had much reason to act, and for whatever valid or invalid reasons did not treat the situation seriously (perhaps because of a Cold War perspective on what threats to the USA look like), and the more recent one presided for 8 years without taking the threat of Muslim terrorists seriously (and also never faced a public that took it seriously).
Also, consider the whole "War on Terrorism". Most of the world didn't mind the action against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, because that organization had caused the event that made most Americans (who hadn't already caught on before) see the danger. But terrorism is the real enemy, not Al-Qaeda, and it's much bigger and more widespread. So after that, you have to decide what targets to hit and in what order to hit them, knowing that international support will be less because while these other terrorists are indeed the enemy and a serious threat, they didn't attack us on September 11th. And you have to do it with little clue how to find these targets and do this kind of war against a diffuse enemy instead of a country, largely because your intelligence agencies have been stripped down to nearly nothing over the years by domestic politics. So, given the fact that the overall war on worldwide terrorism has to move on beyond Afghanistan, obviously we have to do SOMETHING next, and it's just a question of WHAT. So the question "Why attack Iraq now" becomes "Of the choices for where to go now, why does Iraq top the list?". And here's why:
1. It's a country, the kind of enemy we can already identify and locate and already know how to fight.
2. We're still trying to put back together the kind of intelligence needed to locate and identify most terrorist targets, and studying what kind of action to take and how to take it when those enemies are identified and located. It's a different kind of war that we need some time to get ready for.
3. Iraq is one of the major powers of that region, and even scarier when you consider the WoMDs. Faced with multiple opponents, picking off the most powerful one first is good basic tactics; it's the most disruptive thing you can do to the whole group and it takes away the possibility of the big tough one getting you while you're distracted with a smaller target.
4. Sort of tied in with #3; in the event that the destruction of one enemy causes "retaliations" from other enemies, those other enemies will not be Iraq (the most powerful one), because that will have been taken care of FIRST.
5. That event is less likely to happen with Iraq as the primary target anyway, because Iraq is the scariest and least popular country in the neighborhood. Their neighbors don't like the idea of Iraq attacking them (especially with WoMDs), and the most religious in the area aren't fond of Iraq's not putting much emphasis on its reiligion. Our elimination of Iraq's current regime makes them safer, and our "freeing" of many devout Muslims of their sect in Iraq demonstrates that we're not crusading against them. Some Middle-Eastern countries have already signed on with the USA in this, and others are putting on a show of objecting but will be happy to sit back and watch it happen, and will subsequently be more amenable to helping us with later phases of the war.