The risk of not going to war
by Jonathan Rosenblum
March 14, 2003
On the eve of war in Iraq, it is worthwhile to review the major arguments in favor of military action to remove Saddam Hussein. First and foremost is the certainty that left to his own devices Saddam will continue his efforts to obtain the most frightening battery of weapons of mass destruction available. By Iraq’s own admission, it was within months of obtaining nuclear weapons in the early ‘90s, and previous U.N. inspection regimes uncovered vast stores of chemical and biological weapons for which Iraq has still failed to account. Saddam is in open defiance of 17 U.N. Security Council Resolutions, dating back to the end of the Gulf War, requiring his disarmament.
The point is not just Saddam’s possession of these weapons but his proven willingness to use them. Iraqi troops relied heavily on poison gas in the eight-year war Saddam initiated against Iran, at the cost of a million lives on both side. His lack of compunction about using biological and chemical weapons to kill tens of thousands of his own citizens – primarily Kurds in the north and marsh Arabs in the south -- is even more frightening. (Of course, Saddam has murdered even more of his own people using the old-fashioned methods of torture that have kept his prisons filled with broken corpses throughout his regime of terror.)
Saddam does not yet possess weapons sufficient to deter the United States from acting to defend its vital interests in the Persian Gulf or elsewhere, such as North Korea does on the Korean peninsula. The North Korean example, however, provides one of the strongest arguments for removing Saddam while he is still only a menace but not yet a deterrent.
An argument rages about the extent of Iraqi ties with Al Qaeda, but no one doubts Iraq’s sponsorship of numerous international terrorist organizations. And while it is not proven that Saddam has ever shared his stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons with international terrorist organizations, no moral scruples will restrain him if he perceives it to his advantage to do so. (We are, after all, speaking of a man who educated his sons by having them watch the proceedings in his torture chambers.) Thus any serious effort to limit the international terrorist threat requires destroying the stockpiles of WMD’s in Saddam’s possession.
The United States is not about to invade every non-democratic country in the world, whose ranks include the vast majority of voting members of the U.N., in order to install an American-style constitutional regime. But the potential benefits of bringing democracy to Iraq buttress the security arguments in favor of regime change in Iraq.
A democratic Iraq would dispel the notion that Arabs are incapable of democracy, and a flourishing and free Iraq would prove a powerful stimulant for other democratic forces in the Moslem world, including neighboring Iran, whose population has long since had its fill of Islamic rule.
Of all Arab nations, Iraq is perhaps the ripest for democracy. Democratic institutions have already developed in semi-independent Kurdistan. Iraq possesses an educated middle-class. Hundreds of thousands of exiles likely to return home after liberation have experienced the benefits of Western freedoms. And perhaps the only benefit of decades of Baathist rule is the lack of a strong Islamist movement in Iraq.
Just as the United States will not impose democracy by force around the globe neither will it rescue every people subject to a brutal dictator. Yet even in the pantheon of ruthless dictators, the demonic Saddam occupies a special place for cruelty. Liberating 24 million Iraqis, whose hopes for freedom the United States first aroused and then callously betrayed in 1991, will be another positive outcome of Saddam’s termination.
Finally, the United States has no choice at this point but to remove Saddam by military force or the threat thereof. Having vowed to do so, an American failure would expose the world’s most powerful nation as a paper tiger. American power cannot entirely eliminate the terrorist cells that have proliferated in every Western nation. But the projection of American will and determination remains central to any hope of eventually defeating radical Islam.
That requires drying up the swamps in which terrorists breed. Iraq is one of a handful of states that provides the sanctuary that terrorist organizations require. The liberation of Afghanistan from the Taliban removed one such sanctuary. Saddam’s removal is the next step. Other state sponsors of terrorism, such as Syria and Iran, will take note.
American military strength occasions awe, but only if supported by resolve and the willingness to employ it. If Islamist fanatics perceive American policy as shaped by the desire to avoid treading on their notoriously touching sensibilities or by fear of terrorist attacks, their appetite to humiliate the West will only be whetted. In this vein, it is worth recalling that Bin-Laden’s call to arms prior to September 11 was based on the assumption that America would flee in the face of large-scale casualties, as it fled from Somalia.
Dire warnings always issue of the Moslem street rising up in protest against the exercise of American power. Yet again and again, we have seen the opposite. As long as American resolve remains in doubt there are rumblings in the Moslem street. But as soon as the full force of American power is brought to bear, the rumblings quiet down. We witnessed that after the Gulf War and again after the liberation of Afghanistan.
The great historian of Islam Bernard Lewis describes how officials of the Ottoman Empire began to take note of Western political institutions only after suffering a series of military defeats at the hands of those previously dismissed as ``barbarians." Today the richest, most powerful nation on the face of the earth is also the most free. The constant reinforcement of that equation in the minds of Moslems around the globe is the most powerful antidote to Islamist delusions.
AS POWERFUL AS THE arguments for military action are, none of the desired outcomes are guaranteed. As much as the Iraqi people crave liberation, American and British forces will not simply stroll into Bagdhad to be showered with flowers and chocolates. Not a few potential disasters still lurk on the way to Bagdhad.
Iraq’s armed forces are hopelessly overmatched and unlikely, in any event, to prove enthusiastic about laying down their lives for the greater glory of Saddam Hussein. That does not mean, however, that Saddam cannot inflict great damage even with the Republican Guard troops loyal to him. Prior to retreating from Kuwait, Saddam ordered Kuwaiti oil wells blown up. It took months to recap those wells, and only after huge environmental damage and the loss of vast amounts of oil.
Saddam has likely wired his own oil wells, and no matter how rapidly American and British forces are able to capture those sites, it will be very difficult to prevent Saddam from detonating his charges.
Most experts now expect Saddam to make his last stand in Baghdad. He may hold the city’s population hostage and threaten to gas them if American forces draw nearer. Or, as Newsweek suggests this week, he may dress his own troops in American and British uniforms and claim that it is was the allied forces who employed chemical and biological weapons against civilians. Coming from Saddam such a threat cannot be dismissed out of hand. He has for years been starving his own people and denying them basic medical care by using oil revenues designated for humanitarian purposes to purchase new weapons
It is taken for granted that no matter how rapid and surgical the American victory is that there will be civilian casualties. No doubt the Iraqi people themselves would rise up in rebellion if they thought victory could be purchased at the cost of 10,000 lives. Over the course of his rule, Saddam has caused an average of that number of deaths every month or two. Iraqis would be prepared to pay a high price to be freed from the prospect of decades of rule by Saddam and his equally sadistic and bloodthirsty sons, Udi and Quday.
But if the price of ridding the country of Saddam and his progeny is hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, the calculus changes, and the United States could find itself facing a hostile and bitter population after the war.
Another great fear is that Saddam has shared from his stores of biological and chemical weapons with a wide variety of terror groups, including Al Qaeda, and perhaps the Palestinians. If he sees his time as up, Saddam will undoubtedly try to take as many of his enemies with him as possible, and various terror groups may see the time as auspicious to try to repeat their success of September 11 by different means. Those groups could include Palestinian terrorists operating in Israel as well, though the fear of a drastic Israeli retaliation to the employment of biological or chemical weapons will hopefully serve as a deterrent.
The fear of terrorist cells being activated is real, but the threat posed by those cells will not be ended by refraining from action. Iraq is at the most a pretext. Al Qaeda cells would not pack up and go home if Saddam were spared. In case anyone has forgotten, September 11 preceded American plans to remove Saddam.
Even if the military campaign goes smoothly, winning the peace may prove more difficult. Given the fractious state of the Iraqi opposition and the welter of religious and ethnic tensions, creating a viable democracy will require a long-term American commitment and much wisdom.
If Turkey invades Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, on the pretext of protecting the Turkoman minority, and attempts to seize the valuable oil fields now in Kurdish control, all bets are off. In that case, the United States would find itself caught between two warring allies. War between Turks and Kurds will not only distract from the war effort against Saddam, it may end the dream of establishing a democratic federated state after the War.
Even those who anticipate a safer world, a more secure Israel, and an Iraq with hope for the future as a result of Saddam’s exile must still concede that of perils there are plenty. The perils of not going to war, however, are even greater.
Related Topics: Peace Process
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