Another Iraqi War?
November 4, 2002
Should we go to war against Iraq? This question is currently dominating conversations around the country, especially among our political leaders in Washington, D.C. As usual, there are those on both sides of the issue who believe that the answer is simple. The answer, of course, is not simple. In fact, I believe we cannot answer the question at all unless we ponder several questions that have not yet been asked and consider an alternative framework for improving the US-Iraq relationship.
Assuming we believe what our government says and what we read in the news, Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons and likely has biological weapons. By all accounts, he is also working to build (or acquire) nuclear weapons. The Bush Administration, and many other Americans, believe that Saddam Hussein cannot be trusted with any weapons of mass destruction because his hatred of the US will spur him to use one of these weapons against the US (or an ally like Turkey or Israel) or provide such weapons to a terrorist organization. These "hawks" want to pre-emptively strike Iraq militarily and eliminate Saddam. Some hawks (and a majority of Americans, according to some polls) believe we should attack only with the support and assistance of our allies and the United Nations, but most hawks in the administraion believe that an attack must be made as soon as possible, regardless of other nations' decisions.
For a variety of reasons, many Americans oppose the idea of attacking Iraq. These "doves" believe that an attack against Iraq would be wrong. Some believe that an attack should not be made unless clear and unequivocal proof exists that Saddam intends to attack us or an ally, or that he has or is on the verge of having, nuclear weapons. In short, they wonder, why must we attack now? What's the rush? Isn't Saddam still several years away from nuclear capabilities? Others believe that we must concentrate solely on diplomatic means to eliminate Saddam's weapons or weapons programs. Let weapons inspectors go in and do their jobs and keep us abreast of developments, they argue.
Recent occurrences in North Korea reveal the potential problems with this line of thinking. Jimmy Carter was just awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, in part due to his efforts in negotiating a non-proliferation agreement with North Korea under Kim Il Sung. Now that same nation, under Kim Jong Il, has announced that they now possess nuclear weapons and has implied that the world must now meet discuss other demands...or else. Clearly the agreements they made with Carter were nothing more than bids to buy time. How can we be sure that Saddam will not do the same? And if he permits weapons inspectors back into Iraq, what should our response be if (when) he obfuscates their efforts?
Some doves argue that an attack against Iraq is wrong simply because there are more important things for our government to be concerned about, like the US economy, jobs, and healthcare. While I believe these other issues are legitimate concerns, I would argue that these doves miss the big picture. Surely the possibility that a homocidal dictator like Saddam Hussein could attack us with nuclear weapons should take precedence.
Many doves oppose the Bush Administration's oft-stated goal of "regime change," arguing that we can't simply topple every leader we don't like. I certainly agree, though Saddam's clear willingness to use weapons of mass destruction and his extreme hatred of the United States place him in a unique category. Also, given Saddam's apparent intransience on the issue of disarmament, it is likely that only a regime change in Iraq would result in any lasting change of relations.
There is a similar dove argument that says we shouldn't attack Iraq simply for possessing weapons of mass destruction. After all, plenty of other countries have weapons of mass destruction and we're not planning to invade them. Again, this is true, but at the present we have no fear that France, India, China, or any of the other nuclear powers are likely to use these weapons against us.
As you can see, I can argue against opposition to an attack on Iraq. This is not the same, however, as arguing for an attack on Iraq. I think there are several key questions that must first be answered--if they can be--if we are to feel confident that any decision we make on this issue is right.
At the moment, I can't answer these questions. So for now, I favor the following:
- What kind of war must we fight to disarm Saddam? If it is a large-scale conflict like the 1991 Gulf War, the US will need to spend huge sums of money. If our armed forces enter Iraq and make a real effort to capture or kill Saddam, the human sacrifices may also be extensive. Should the United States focus our resources on a war that may or may not make us safe? Do we sacrifice, say, 10,000 US soldiers in a war to topple Saddam in order to save the lives of 3,000 civilians who might be killed in a potential terror attack committed by Saddam's regime or a Saddam-supported terrorist cell? What risks are we willing to accept for potential gains? In other words, do we know that inaction will have greater consequences than action?
- What should the United States' policy be towards nations that choose to develop weapons of mass destruction? What if they are purely defensive weapons? After all, it has been argued that Saddam is simply accumulating weapons of mass destruction as an insurance policy, designed to keep him and his chosen successors in power for as long as he (and they) like, without interference from rebel or foreign armies. Saddam may not be so diabolical as to use such weapons against the US or an ally. I would also argue that he might not risk letting such weapons fall into the hands of Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups for fear that these groups may use these weapons against him and his secular regime.
- What are the dangers of a general pre-emptive strike policy? What kind of message do we send the rest of the world, particularly countries like Israel, China, and Russia, who have their own reasons for wanting to invade or attack neighbors?
- Do we have a concrete plan for reconstructing Iraq and are we prepared to carry out the plan, regardless of the time and money it may require?
- Here's a question no one asks: are American lives more valuable than Iraqi lives? Is it acceptable to Americans that thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians die in our fight to protect American lives from possible attack (I highlight the word "possible," because I think it is virtually universally accepted that if we were certain of an attack or imminent attack on the United States by Iraq, Americans would by and large support whatever actions necessary to eliminate the threat)?
- What are some other possible unintended disasters that could result from an attack on Iraq? Might it lead to other nations and peoples hating American hegemony and power? If we topple Saddam and his regime and US-led efforts to reconstruct the nation fail, what happens to the balance of power and relative stability in the Middle East?
- What happens if the US does not attack Iraq and a year from now we or an ally is attacked and it is revealed that Saddam Hussein and Iraq were involved?
If Saddam resists these changes, persists in efforts to create arsenals of devastating weapons, or directly or indirectly attacks the US or our allies, then a US military response may be required.
- Offer Saddam positive reinforcement. Say that if weapons inspectors are offered unfettered access to any site at any time throughout the country, the West will gradually lift economic sanctions. Any impediment of inspections will result in a return of sanctions and (possibly) limited strikes against military targets.
- Indirectly support the Iraqi people's efforts to change the regime from within. Promote democracy and improvement of human rights conditions within Iraq the way we do in China--by advancing the causes of free markets, access to education, and economic liberalism. Work with NGOs and the Iraqi government to create an environment wherein Saddam would gain nothing by destabilizing the region or attacking the West.
- Make it 100% to Saddam clear that any attack against the US or its allies, by his regime or any terrorist organization that can be linked to him and his regime, will be seen as an act of war and will provoke an appropriate response.