All around the world people ask: what is the real motive for the Bush Administration's threatened war with Iraq? Is it to curb weapons of mass destruction? Is it more personal, an act of vengeance by a son against the man who attempted to assassinate his father? Is it to defend Israel? Is it to reinvent the Middle East as a more democratic region, as many of the Bush Administration's leading voices insist? Or is it, as some suspect, so that America can get its hands on Iraqi oil?
The Bush administration has offered a range of justifications for its plans, although with a fairly consistent emphasis on weapons of mass destruction. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz talks about making Iraq the "first Arab democracy." Many in the Bush Administration argue that aggressive policies toward Iraq can ultimately bring down autocratic governments in the Middle East the same way that the Reagan Administration supposedly brought down the "evil" Soviet empire.
Outside of America, almost nobody buys these arguments. Most believe that oil ranks at the top of America's list of motives. Short of the US national security archives suddenly falling open, we are unlikely to find a definitive account of the President's innermost thoughts. Moreover, different US officials certainly have different priorities. President Bush may focus on weapons of mass destruction; Mr. Wolfowitz may target democracy. Others may have their eyes firmly on the prize of Iraqi oil.
A more fruitful question than an inquiry into America's motives is how the US will act once war comes. Here we don't have to rely on second-guessing individuals. We can examine America's behavior in recent history.