The more I read about the possibility (probability?) of an attack being launched on Iraq, particularly one that is taken unilaterally and possibly against the wishes of NATO, the UN, and the majority of the Arab states, the more I am convinced that this is a very bad idea. Such an invasion would become a war of conquest, something in which the United States has not engaged since the Spanish-American War a century ago. While I agree that terrorists and their sponsors need to be rooted out and brought to justice, at this time there is little evidence that Saddam Hussein is doing much more than donating money to the families of suicide bombers in Palestine/Israel. Even a resumption of some of the unconventional weapons research would do little to justify such an extraordinary step. Making public solid, concrete evidence of extreme wrong-doing would surely help justify an invasion, but just pointing a finger at him and telling the world what they already know -- that Saddam Hussein is a bad, bad man -- just isn't going to cut it. No matter what the real reasons are, it will forever look like vengeance against an ally that was not adequately vanquished the first time around.
Wars of conquest bring with them international outrage, and have for most of the last century. In World War I, those that began their invasions ultimately were crushed, leading to the renewed invasions of World War II, against which the Allies rallied. The only invader to really win any territory was the Soviet Union, and they bore the brunt of a great deal of international criticism for decades over how they treated the conquered nations of Eastern Europe.
The 1950s saw the invasion of South Korea, which nearly happened but which was ended by some gutsy moves on the part of General MacArthur. Had he not been so brash and over-confident, he may have had a more glorious end than being fired by President Truman. In any case, the invasion was stopped.
The 1960s saw so many conflicts it's hard to keep track of them all. Angola, Cuba, Vietnam, and Cambodia are but a few of the countries who either fell to Communist rebels or invaders or were dropped into decades of civil war. All of them felt international condemnation at it. Most of these continued into the 1970s, and some into the 1980s and even the '90s. Angola still does not have true peace, though they may finally be near.
In any case, attacking Iraq could be tremendously painful. I doubt that an initial attack would go poorly. In fact, many of the units, made up of officers and soldiers skilled or lucky enough to have survived the post-Gulf War purges by Saddam Hussein, may well see their end coming and throw up the white flag at first chance. This will further back the Hussein family -- Qusay and Uday included -- into a corner. If they surrender, they would face humiliation. They would have little choice but to turn their unconventional weapons on the immediate world. I doubt this would cause much in the way of military casualties, but I'm sure Israel wouldn't much appreciate the nerve gasses being spread on its land. Saudi Arabia and Jordan would likely take more than a few hits as well. Deaths would probably not be much higher than a few hundred, but the resulting panic would be enormous. There is no way to estimate the damage that could be caused by an Israeli populace maddened by the loss of hundreds of citizens by an enemy who may well be dead by the time the missiles are launched.
This, of course, speaks nothing of the possibility of Hussein holding nuclear weapons. Even if the yields are only a few kilotons, dropped in the right spot this could make a few hundred to a few thousand people disappear in a millisecond. I doubt he'd throw it at the Saudis, as we probably wouldn't be allowed to launch any attacks from there. Kuwait is a strong possibility -- perhaps the oil fields would be hit. Israel must be towards the top of the list. What about Jordan? Dropped on the capital city, thousands of Palestinians would die, and the rage would be reflected at the United States and then at the proxy for rage against Americans, Israel. More violence, more crackdowns, possibly more incursions into Palestinian territory. The cycle begins anew there.
Or maybe it won't happen. Maybe some enterprising officer will take the clue as the heavy boots of the US Army are crossing the border, and put a bullet in Hussein's head, or else sneak a bomb into the meeting room and take out Qusay and Uday Hussein, as well. We might never even know who did it by that point, because to leave a letter that could be discovered in case of failure would probably mean that the officer's entire family would be brutally executed. The nation would be quietly turned over to the United States, a new administration put in place, and suddenly face angry faces across the Iranian border. Not a pleasant image.
Soon to be covered: Why labeling Libya and Iran as part of the "Axis of Evil" may be a gross oversimplification.