Between hearing about the "war on terrorism" and the "axis of evil," many Utah State University students have been left asking, "Why?"
While opinions differ on why the George W. Bush administration has led the nation into military conflict, some people believe it is to curb future terrorist attacks from Arab nations.
"After 9/11 the Bush administration expanded the doctrine of preemptive war to include preventive war," said political science professor Shannon Peterson. "Traditionally, before 9/11, the dominant strategy was deterrence."
Peterson said preemptive war is defined as attacking another state that is poised or ready to attack. Preventive war means attacking a state even though there might not be specific or direct evidence that the state is ready or imminently poised to attack, she said.
Peterson said the United States changed its belief that terrorists could be deterred.
"[The United States] would act proactively to eliminate what we would consider threats to our national interest," she said.
Peterson said the Bush administration felt Iraq's use of chemical weapons in the past and supposed production of weapons of mass destruction was the threat to U.S. interests that prompted military action.
"It's the belief that overall these actors pose a threat to U.S. national security and interests," Peterson said. "The U.S. has been making the argument that Iraq is connected to terrorism and that is the justification for [military action]."
It is not possible to say there is a simple answer for war in Iraq, said political science professor Mike Lyons.
"Anybody who tells you that there are simple answers [is] lying to you," he said.
Lyons said the war is meant to ultimately remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power.
"The primary reason that we want to remove Saddam Hussein from power is that he has simply defied [United Nations] sanctions, and that makes the U.N. appear to be powerless," Lyons said. "We want to support the U.N. and the cause of international law."
The consequences of the war could be good or bad, Lyons said, noting that Bush's decision to go to war was risky.
"I don't think anyone on either side can predict accurately what the consequences will be," he said. "It's a risky condition with unpredictable consequences."
The war could stabilize the Middle East politically and could encourage democratization of the area, Lyons said.
"Saddam Hussein has been an unstabilizing and destabilizing force there. He wants to unite Arab nations in opposition to the United States, in opposition to Israel," Lyons said. "Ultimately for there to be peace in the Middle East, the Palestinians and Israelis and the Arab nations have to find a way to co-exist, and Saddam Hussein doesn't want to coexist.
"He wanted to become the pro-Arab leader of the Arab nations in the region. He wanted to become a nuclear power that would challenge the nuclear power of Israel."
Lyons said another major aspect of the war is oil and the United States economy.
"The Middle East sits on an enormous share of the world's oil reserves," he said. "Peace in the Middle East is very good for our nation's economy."
A peaceful Middle East is not only important to United States national economic interests, Lyons said, it is also the best protection the country has against terrorism.
The current state of world opinion on the United States "in essence could fuel anti-Americanism that underlies terrorism," Peterson said.
With continued military action in Iraq, Lyons said, an increase in terrorist activity might be seen.
"Our military action could, at least in the short term, greatly heighten terrorist acts against the United States," he said. "[The United States] is going to make enemies. There's no question about it, and it's entirely possible that there will be serious, serious terrorist retaliation against the United States and terrorist retaliation against Israel.
"It's possible Saddam Hussein will attack Israel, maybe with biological weapons," Lyons said. "There are many, many things that could go wrong as a result of the war."
Lyons said one major consequence of the war could be Tony Blair being replaced as the prime minister of Great Britain.
"A lot of students say, 'Yeah, so what?'" he said. "He is a brilliant leader for Great Britain. It would be terribly unfortunate for the nation of Britain to lose Tony Blair."
Britain has been a very important ally for the United States and has been integral to trade relationships that support the national economy, Lyons said.
"If the rest of the world is a peaceful place. The United States prospers," he said. "The more conflict there is abroad, the more damaging that is to our national economy in the most subtle ways."
Lyons said students will probably not see the results of war in the next two to five years.
"They may see stability in the Middle East," Lyons said. "There's a tremendous amount of uncertainty here."
Lyons said students and Americans in general will feel the burden of war economically.
"That military operation is going to be very expensive," Lyons said. "It's not $50 billion coming out of thin air."
The cost of the war will come from what would have otherwise been tax cuts, Lyons said.
"We're talking about potentially significant tax cuts that are not going to be implemented," he said. "That's a huge chunk of money that we could be spending on something else like education or health care."
Another way local residents will see the effects of the war is through oil prices.
"If the war goes well, oil prices will settle down to lower prices, and they'll stay there," Lyons said. "If things go bad, oil prices could jump much higher than they are now."
The national economy is not strong right now, Lyons said. If the United States has to spend a great deal of money occupying Iraq, it's going to be a drain on the national economy.
"It may not seem like that much, but if you pull $50 billion out of the United States to spend on the military occupation of Iraq, that really hurts the national economy," he said. "It means people earn less. It could be much worse than that."
By Tyler Riggs; firstname.lastname@example.org