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Observations on the Iraq War Debate By: Michael Radu
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, August 21, 2002


Brent Scowcroft, Presidents Ford and George Bush senior's national security adviser ("Don't attack Saddam," Wall Street Journal, August 15), and then Zbigniew Brzezinski, Scowcroft's counterpart in President Carter's administration ("If we must fight . . . ," Washington Post, August 18), have both questioned the very idea of attacking Saddam Hussein's Iraq. No one questions that the Baghdad regime is indeed threatening, and both authors agree that the world would be better off without Saddam. But are they advocating caution more than inaction, or are they making the dividing line between them so thin as to be invisible? Both either state or imply that the Bush administration has not yet made the case for war; and that a war on Iraq will not be an easy war. So the questions are narrowed to three: when to start the war, how to conduct it, and "What next?"

Scowcroft argues that any war against Saddam must come after the war on terrorism has been concluded and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolved. Only then "it may at some point be wise to remove [Saddam] from power." There are major problems with Scowcroft's argument, however. First, by its very nature, the war on terrorism is a very long, perhaps generations long, protracted conflict. For how long should we allow Saddam, and perhaps also his son and/or successor, to continue in power in Iraq, threatening regional stability and amassing weapons of mass destruction? Second, Scowcroft's distinction between Saddam and terrorism is artificial. He seems to disregard the fact that, whether or not Iraq supports terrorist groups elsewhere (and he does openly do so, at least in the cases of Israel and Lebanon), the Saddam regime itself is a terrorist organization.

As for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Scowcroft makes two dubious assumptions: (l) that the Arab states now opposed to the removal of Saddam are serious (or correct) in believing that they cannot survive the continuation of the Al Aksa intifada simultaneous with a U.S. attack on Iraq, and (2) that there is a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the foreseeable future. But Arab regimes may well be less vulnerable than is assumed by both Scowcroft and his opponents among the supporters of war with Iraq in the Bush administration. But what better encouragement for the growing number of Palestinian terrorists and their supporters, prominent among them Saddam himself, to do everything in their power to sabotage any and all attempts to find a solution to their conflict with Israel ? And what if, as many observers have noticed and many Israelis and Palestinians believe, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is indeed an existential one, a zero-sum struggle to death between two peoples, rather than a conventional struggle over land, water, borders, and the like ? If that is so, no solution can be possible in the foreseeable future.

The "how" of the war is a serious issue indeed, and caution is needed, as Brzezinski and Scowcroft both argue. The Gulf War is an imperfect model in every respect. To begin with, in 1991 Saddam knew that his removal from power was unlikely. In 2002 he knows the opposite. This should have a very concentrating effect on minds in Baghdad. The predictable result is some very strong resistance from those-mostly the Sunni Arab minority in power now-who have benefited from the regime.

It may well be, as Scowcroft points out, that Saddam will decide to drag Israel down with him-a very real possibility. However, it is equally plausible that, left unchecked, Saddam will try to destroy Israel anyway. Indeed, if Saddam thirsts for weapons of mass destruction as a deterrent, they can only be meant to deter both those who threaten his regime and those opposing his regional goals-one of which is the destruction of Israel.

Then there is the issue of allies. Militarily speaking, the U.S. only needs the significant support of a handful of countries: the UK for its forces, Turkey and some smaller Gulf states for basing rights. It has no particular need for Syria, Argentina, or some of the other dozens of members of the 1991 alliance-nor even for its NATO allies, whose capabilities are minimal against their extensive claims to a right to participate in decision making.

On the other side of the argument, the war advocates' claims will soon have to be lucidly examined, both with respect to the questions "How?" and (especially) "What next?". It is unlikely that some serious, organized, and capable internal Iraqi force will assist, let alone be assisted by, the U.S. forces. The Kurds are, as always, divided and unreliable; the Shias are divided and unarmed; and the rest is largely in London. We can expect only tacit or post facto support from most Iraqis. At least in the important early stages, it would be our war alone. This brings us directly to the matter of "What next?"

In Iraq, the only lid on internal strife and protection from division is Saddam. Once he and his Baath party apparatus are removed, some external force will have to keep the country together. It would have to be an international force, perhaps along the lines of Bosnia-with the UN's blessings, a de facto (Muslim) administrator with extensive powers and, yes, some U.S. forces in the (deep) background. The difference, pace Brzezinski, is that Iraq's extensive oil resources would pay for most of this. The notion that the "Iraqi people" want "democracy" is unrealistic-and against the traditions of Iraq and every other Arab country. The advocates of war need to offer us much better arguments in support of this notion than they have offered so far. The experience of Afghanistan since October should remind us to have extremely modest expectations from a post-Saddam Iraq.

Nor is the issue of Iraq's neighbors an easy one to deal with. For instance, Turkey, the irreplaceable ally for military action, is at one with Iran and Syria in opposing the creation of a Kurdish state, de facto or otherwise, in northern Iraq. If Saddam is to be removed, the Kurds' desire for independence would have to go unfulfilled. The Kurds best chances are with the present de facto Turkish zone of influence in northern Iraq.

All of this said, the removal of Saddam is a necessity, and time is short. The war opponents have no case. The postponement advocates risk making Saddam more, not less, of a threat. But the war advocates must soon make a clear-visioned, well-argued case.


Michael Radu is Senior Fellow and Co - Chair, Center on Terrorism and Counterterrorism, at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.


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