Home  |   Jihad Watch  |   Horowitz  |   Archive  |   Columnists  |     DHFC  |  Store  |   Contact  |   Links  |   Search Wednesday, August 27, 2014
FrontPageMag Article
Write Comment View Comments Printable Article Email Article
Font:
Arguing with an anti-War Conservative about War with Saddam By: Robert Locke
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, January 27, 2003


A Dialogue Concerning War With Iraq

by Robert Locke

Following is the transcript – minimally adapted for intelligibility – of an e-mail dialogue I recently had with an editor at a conservative publication that opposes the contemplated war with Iraq. I am publishing it because I think it makes clear the logic of this dispute among conservatives and because it shows that the anti-war position, though not totally devoid of rational arguments, is still mistaken.

Anti-War Editor:

If we do not aggressively threaten Saddam, there is no reason for him to attack us. His past record shows he is deterrable.

Robert Locke:

1. Saddam's past record provides only probabilistic evidence of his likely future behavior. It does not provide a guarantee. No-one on our side is saying there is proof he will attack America or our allies, only that there is an unacceptable risk that he will.

2. If we delay, he can build up his forces in secret until it is too late. His neighbors will conclude they can't rely on us and had better surrender while there is still a good price available for doing so.

4. May I remind you that if we don't disarm SH and he gets the war he says he really wants, Israel may just nuke him? If we don't keep things in order in the region, someone else may, and it may be a very ugly picture.

4. His repeatedly stated designs to destroy Israel, which follow no realpolitik logic, prove he is not vicious-but-logical as you say.

Anti-War Editor:

But the past is the best indicator we have to go on, and from it we can infer a very high probability that he is deterrable. What makes you think SH has changed his character? Your side has produced no evidence that the risk has become "unacceptable." That is certainly not the opinion of the CIA. For them, the risk only becomes unacceptable if we first attack SH.

Robert Locke:

I do not assign high credibility to the CIA after its string of failures. The objective risk remains as long as the objective WMD capability remains and the regime remains a tyranny.

Anti-War Editor:

If you do not trust the CIA, what reliable source are you getting your information from (Ahmad Chalabi?) or is it all just speculation? For this concrete situation, you have provided zero evidence. It is all just a priori deductive reasoning from disputable premises.

Robert Locke:

The question at hand does not turn on specific details. My premises may be disputable, but all this means is, as I said, that we confront a probabilistic threat and not a certain one. "Deductive" is not a valid pejorative without a demonstration of a flaw in the logic. My reasoning is based on 2,500 years of history concerning the behavior of tyrants, and is therefore not a priori.

Anti-War Editor:

Think also of the unintended consequences throughout the Arab & Muslim worlds, both in terms of numbers of new al-Qaeda recruits and friendly secular governments that could fall.

Robert Locke:

On the contrary: these people respect force, and an ideology of holy war like Nazism or jihad is only attractive as long as people think they are on the winning side.

Anti-War Editor:

Our deterrent threat remains credible. If Saddam had attacked us / supported an attack on us / clearly planned to attack us, there would be unanimity of opinion on the question of whether to strike him. And we would. He knows this.

Robert Locke:

Deterrence only works if the threat is credible. If SH sees our current attempt to discipline him subverted by the American far Left and far Right, we can no longer credibly threaten him.

Anti-War Editor:

As it is, what are we disciplining him for? He had no role in 9/11, has never given weapons to terrorists, and shows no signs of doing so or of using them himself on us unless we first provoke him to the extreme.

Robert Locke:

We are disciplining him for being a tyrant with WMD, and to set an example that will prevent others from trying.

Anti-War Editor:

Why is he even a concern when there are so many obviously greater threats in the world? Is it precisely because he is weaker than they are?

Robert Locke:

I am well aware that the rogue-state WMD disaster we all fear may not come from Iraq and it may not come in 5 years or 10. It may come in 30 years and the perpetrator may be an Islamist Tanzania or a Marxist Venezuela. But if rogue states are not systematically disarmed, it will come one day and

5,000,000 - 50,000,000 people will die. The sooner a rigorous program of forcible disarmament is established, the sooner they all get the message and give it up.

Anti-War Editor:

Starting from your premise, we would be forcing them together by our belligerence toward Saddam Hussein. We would have made ourselves that common enemy. Rather than create a self-fulfilling prophesy, is it not better to stop threatening Iraq, which otherwise would have no reason to attack us or join up with al-Qaeda?

Robert Locke:

Made ourselves their common enemy? We already are.

Anti-War Editor:

By your thinking, Saddam should have given al-Qaeda weapons of mass destruction during the 1990’s. There are good reasons why Saddam wouldn't give al-Qaeda his worst weapons even if they did ally for pragmatic reasons.

Robert Locke:

The argument that SH would never arm al-Q. & Co. because they hate each other is historical puppysh*t. All it takes to get people who hate each other to cooperate is a common enemy. Observe the US-USSR alliance in WWII and many others.

Anti-War Editor:

You assume that Saddam is a would-be aggressor seeking to dominate the region, but the historical evidence does not bear this out, and you have not explained why you think he has changed. Even the Kuwaiti & Iranian invasions were not mindless aggression but were the fruit of realpolitik considerations.

Robert Locke:

The fact that he may try to take over the Middle East in a rigorously logical way does not make this OK. You are making him out to be Bismarck, which is ridiculous.

Anti-War Editor:

He has never started an open war with Israel, which he knows he would lose. That is evidence of rational calculation. He launched Scuds during the Gulf War in the hope of encouraging a response and breaking the coalition against him. This also shows realistic thinking.

I do not doubt the neocons perceive an Iraqi threat to Israel, and SH has expressed a desire to destroy her, but Israeli & American deterrence has contained that threat. That is realism. In the rational / irrational equation, having the desire to destroy Israel is not as significant as his failure to act on it.

Robert Locke:

Then why do certain elements constantly say and imply that Jewish neocons are trying to drag us into a war for the benefit of Israel, if this war is of no benefit to her because aimed at an enemy she has well in hand?

Anti-War Editor:

This is just a canard. When people say neocons, they mean neocons, not Jews. Of course Israel would benefit from an American victory over Iraq. I do not dispute Israel's nervousness about Iraq and that she would feel more comfortable without this enemy there (deterrence is naturally tense and never foolproof), especially if we did the fighting. Life was easier for us after the Soviet Union went down, even though we had deterred each other.

Now look – North Korea has already beaten us at the game you want to play: forcible disarming of rogue states. How do you propose to disarm her? Whatever we do with Iraq, North Korea will always provide a counter-example to small rogue states. Our double standard between Iraq, which is weak, and North Korea, which is strong, is obvious. Others will do as she did, not disarm themselves out of fear, but on the contrary: ramp up production and perhaps even ally with others so as to provide a deterrent to an American attack.

Robert Locke:

Let's debate North Korean policy some other time. We’ve essentially handed it over to South Korea because South Korea is a reputable democratic country now and if they have a certain way they want to do it, we may think it unwise but it’s their problem. Their "sunshine policy" of appeasement is stupid but if Koreans want to toy with the fate of their nation and possibly get nuked by appeasing a mad Marxist dictator, it’s their nation to toy with. They’re either going to be very lucky or learn a very hard lesson.

Anti-War Editor:

By your criterion, we also need to disarm China, another tyranny with WMD, and Pakistan.

Robert Locke:

As I explained in my article Conservative Doubts About Star Wars which came out before 9/11 by the way – China is susceptible to classic Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) deterrence in a way Iraq is not. If Pakistan ever turns against the US, I would favor her forcible disarmament should circumstances permit. I believe plans are already in place.

Anti-War Editor:

Rogue states do respect force, but not in the way you suggest. At best, rogue states will take away from our differing treatment of Iraq and North Korea the message that America only disarms very weak states while letting stronger ones get away with it. What do you think they will do in consequence? We can't disarm everyone at once.

Robert Locke:

This undercuts your own deterrence argument. If we leave them alone, they arm because we do nothing. If we pressure them, they arm to escape our pressure. Therefore deterrence won't work, because it is always either too strong or too weak. From this it follows the only policy we can use is forcible disarmament.

Anti-War Editor:

Even if one accepts that rogue states will arm themselves with weapons of mass destruction just as quickly absent pressure from America, my deterrence argument is not undercut. Strictly speaking, deterrence applies to use, not possession.

Robert Locke:

What on earth do they want to "possess" them for, other than to use them? If they possess them, it’s a threat, which as I said creates a risk, which we cannot accept. It’s still all about risk.

Anti-War Editor:

If we corner Saddam Hussein by invading Iraq, he would have nothing to lose by going out with a bang and unleashing biological or other weapons on us: either against our forces in Iraq or against the US domestically.

Robert Locke:

If your thesis is true, then the United States, and indeed all great powers, have no choice but to tolerate any threatening nation prepared to mouth the magic words:

"If you bring us down, we will unleash biological weapons."

This would prevent us from taking any measures to forestall adversaries before they become powerful enough to impose their will on us. It is a license for permanent international chaos that will only get worse as more thugs figure out how to play the game. It means we’ve already lost and might as well just give them whatever they want. This is precisely why we must pre-empt these capabilities.

End of e-mail exchange.

The fundamental problem with the conservative case against the war is that deterrence, while not a completely empty concept, is not enough when dealing with an iterative threat. It would be one thing to reduce the threat of an attack by Iraq to trivially-low levels by means of deterrence, but Iraq isn’t the only case affected by what we do to Iraq. If we let Iraq pass, this means failing to establish the ironclad precedent that the United States will not allow rogue states to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This means that they will do so, over and over again into the future. And if the dice are rolled an indefinite number of times, sooner or later they will come up snake-eyes and 5,000,000 people will die in an afternoon.




We have implemented a new commenting system. To use it you must login/register with disqus. Registering is simple and can be done while posting this comment itself. Please contact gzenone [at] horowitzfreedomcenter.org if you have any difficulties.
blog comments powered by Disqus




Home | Blog | Horowitz | Archives | Columnists | Search | Store | Links | CSPC | Contact | Advertise with Us | Privacy Policy

Copyright©2007 FrontPageMagazine.com