The President has not made the case for military action against Saddam Hussein, say his critics. Instead of opposing American military action directly, the critics "argue we should argue about it," writes New Republic editor Peter Beinart.
Actually, President Bush has enunciated that case with a great deal of clarity. In his June 1 commencement address at West Point, Bush set forth a new foreign policy doctrine for the post-9/11 world. Deterrence and containment, the twin pillars of American strategic thinking since the end of World War II, are no longer sufficient, said the President: "Deterrence, the promise of massive retaliation against nations, means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend. Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies." Instead, said the President, America must adopt a doctrine of preemption aimed at removing our enemies before they can employ weapons of mass destruction against us.
Preemption, as Henry Kissinger noted recently, represents a sea change in the prevailing doctrines of international relations in place since the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia. Those doctrines sanction military action only in response to aggressive actions by another state. Nevertheless Kissinger concluded, the threat of terrorist groups or rogue nations acquiring weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that "could inflict catastrophic, even irretrievable, damage" necessitates a departure from the old rules. (His conclusion was conveniently ignored by the anti-war New York Times, which listed him among the Republican opponents of military action against Iraq.)
Israelis can readily appreciate the case for preemption under the proper circumstances. Had Israel not destroyed the Egyptian and Syrian air forces still on the ground in 1967, the war would have lasted far longer than 6 days and the outcome might well have been different. (The Israeli air strike that began the Six Day War was arguably not preemptive, as the Egyptian closure of the Straits of Tiran constituted a casus belli under international law.) Israel was widely condemned for destroying the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirik in 1981. Yet if Saddam Hussein had possessed nuclear weapons a decade later, it is questionable whether the world would have had the courage to rescind his brutal seizure of Kuwait or to prevent him from marching into Saudi Arabia, and thereby gaining control of nearly half the world’s underground oil.
On the other hand, the failure to follow the logic of preemption has frequently resulted in carnage far greater than that which the advocates of restraint so feared. Neville Chamberlain reasoned that Czechoslovakia was not worth a second world war. Yet if he had stood up to Hitler at Munich, the anti-Hitler elements in the German general staff might have mutinied and there would have been a greater likelihood of securing "peace in our time."
Some of the arguments recently raised by former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft against American military action against Iraq echo Chamberlain’s thinking. (That America now finds itself contemplating the second Gulf War within little more than a decade owes largely to Scowcroft’s advice to Bush pere
to settle for Saddam’s ouster from Kuwait in 1991.)
Even as he acknowledges the mortal threat Saddam poses to his neighbors by virtue of his WMDs, Scowcroft still argues that there is no evidence that Saddam intends to attack America. That Saddam might hold the entire Gulf hostage, and with it the world’s oil supply, does not strike Scowcroft as a sufficient threat to warrant military action. Chamberlain was similarly hopeful that Hitler would not turn his sites on Great Britain.
In any event, writes Scowcroft, if Hussein proves later to be a direct threat to America, we can always dust off the war option. But war against a nuclear-armed Iraq or one capable of delivering biological and chemical weapons by missile would involve far greater danger to America than war today.
If there were ever a candidate for application of the Bush doctrine of preemption, Saddam is it. He has long earned bragging rights as one of cruelest and most brutal tyrants of our times. Within weeks of seizing power in 1979, he killed 500 potential political rivals. He launched a war against Iran that claimed one million lives over eight years, invaded Kuwait, and murdered, by conservative estimates, close to 100,000 Iraqi Kurds. He rules by terror and does not balk at personally pulling the trigger or torturing anyone who crosses him or arouses his suspicions, including close family members and his most trusted advisors and generals.
Yet it is not Saddam’s unlovely traits that make his elimination so imperative, but rather his possession of an alarming arsenal of WMDs. From Iraqi defectors, former U.N. weapons inspectors, and satellite imaging a truly terrifying picture emerges of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons already, or soon to be, in Saddam’s possession. Khidir Hamza, former director of the Iraqi nuclear program, recently told Congress that Iraq will likely have three nuclear bombs by 2005. When U.N. weapons inspectors were sent packing by Saddam four years ago, they estimated that he had 41 sites capable of producing VX toxin, the most lethal poison known to man. Already then he possessed sufficient material to produce 200 tons of VX, one drop of which is sufficient to kill a person.
According to the Federation of American Scientists, Iraq is capable of producing 350 liters of anthax a week, and we know that prior to the Gulf War, Iraq had manufactured 8,500 liters of anthax. Adnan Sa’ad al-Haidiri, a recent defector who specializes in building sealed rooms to manufacture and store chemical and biological weapons, estimates that 300 production facilities for the production of biological weapons have been reactivated since 1998.
Richard Butler, the former head of UNSCOM, the U.N. weapons inspection team established in the wake of the Gulf War, describes Saddam as "addicted to weapons of mass destruction." He views those WMDs as the best guarantor of his safety, as well as the source of his ability to terrorize both his own citizens and neighboring states. He has willingly starved his own people and endured onerous U.N. sanctions for more than a decade rather than give up these weapons.
From the beginning, Saddam showed no inclination to comply with the 1991 Security Council resolution mandating the destruction of his biological and chemical weapons. He proved adept at disguising weapons factories. According to Charles Duelfer, former deputy chairman of the U.N. inspection team, many of those facilities took U.N. inspectors four years to discover, and these inspectors harbored no illusions that they ever uncovered all of them. The technical know-how to produce WMDs was unaffected by the inspections regime, and there can be no doubt that Saddam has continued to produce WMDs in the four years since the departure of the U.N. inspection teams.
Nor are there any grounds to hope that Saddam will prove squeamish about employing his WMDs, for the simple reason that he has already done so, against both Iranian troops and against Kurdish civilians. At least 5,000 of the latter were gassed in forty separate assaults during Saddam’s 1988 campaign to wipe out Kurdish resistance.
Though Saddam is in no hurry to share his WMD technology with terrorist groups, he might find good reason to provide such groups with the weapons themselves. First, he burns with hatred of America and the desire to avenge his Gulf War defeat. Alone among world leaders, he openly celebrated 9/11. And he ordered a 1993 assassination attempt on former president Bush, while the latter was visiting Saudi Arabia.
Terrorism directed at the United States is the natural means for Saddam to wreak his revenge on America, especially if that terrorism cannot be traced back to him. Laurie Mylroie, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has written an entire book to prove that an Iraqi agent plotted the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Mylroie’s theory was recently endorsed by former CIA director James Woolsey.
Certainly Saddam does not lack contacts with terrorist organizations. His even more bloodthirsty son Uday hosted several hundred Al Qaeda operatives in 1998 for terrorist training. More recently, Czech intelligence reported on four meetings in Prague between Mohammed Atta, leader of the 9/11 attacks on America, and an Iraqi intelligence agent. Just this week, the unlamented arch-terrorist Abu Nidal was killed by Iraqi agents, reportedly for refusing to train Al Qaeda representatives located in northern Iraq.
Iraqi scientists are known to be working on aerosol delivery systems of Saddam’s deadly toxins and biological agents. By arming terrorists in America with such weapons, Saddam would have the ideal means to blackmail America into acquiescing to his territorial ambitions in the Gulf.
Clearly Iraq’s expertise in manufacturing a variety of WMDs and its connections to international terrorism give rise to the fear that Iraq will become an emporium for terrorists shopping for the most lethal toys. Any effort to drain the swamp in which terrorism breeds must start with Iraq.
Against all this, opponents of American military action argue first that an American attack against Saddam will prove too costly as American troops are exposed to Saddam’s chemical and biological weapons. Rather than being an argument against military action, however, that is an argument in favor of it, and the sooner the better. If the weapons already at Saddam’s disposal are already deemed to be so intimidating, how much more threatening will Saddam be a few years from now when he has nuclear bombs and has perfected delivery systems for his chemical and biological weapons.
The Iraqi army is currently at only one-third of its pre-Gulf War strength, and has been unable to maintain and upgrade equipment in the face of U.N. arms embargoes. America must strike with sufficient speed and force to rout Iraqi forces. If Iraqi commanders feel that Saddam’s defeat is not only inevitable but imminent, their fear of being tried for war crimes for employing WMDs will outweigh their fear of being shot by Saddam for failing to do so.
Opponents of military intervention further claim that an American show of force will dangerously destabilize the Gulf. To which the redoubtable columnist Mark Steyn responds: If there was ever a region in need of destabilization, it is the Middle East, which lags dangerously behind the rest of the world in every respect. One of the happiest by-products of Saddam’s removal would be the possibility of establishing a functioning democracy in Iraq. The fine infrastructure and educational system pre-Saddam Iraq built with its oil revenues, says Bernard Lewis, the greatest living authority on the Moslem world, has left a large reservoir of citizens capable of developing democratic institutions.
Whether or not Saddam’s removal led to a democratic Iraq, it would at the very least send a potent message to Islamists around the globe: jihad does not pay.
Israelis have a special reason to hope for Saddam’s early removal, despite the danger they face from renewed Scud attacks. Saddam has been one of the prime instigators of Palestinian terrorism against Israel. Every eruption of violence in Israel serves his interests in two ways. First, it distracts attention from his acquisition of WMDs. And second, it provides ammunition to those who claim that resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, via pressure on Israel, must precede American military action against Iraq.
The opposite is, of course, true. An overwhelming demonstration of American resolve can only result in renewed respect for America throughout the Moslem world and provide a healthy dose of reality to those Palestinians who still believe that the road to victory is paved with homicide bombers.
Related Topics: September 11 Attacks
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