It seems that each new day brings word of another threat, or leaked war plan of a United States Invasion of Iraq. There have been so many that Anthony H. Cordesman joked that “If you report enough contingency plans, you can drive an adversary mad.” On July 30, 2002 Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld reported in a press conference that al-Quaeda operatives were in Iraq, though he deliberately stopped short of saying al-Quaeda was being sheltered by Saddam. On August 26 White House Lawyers used the 1991 Gulf War Resolution to assert that President George W. Bush had the unilateral right to conduct a war against Iraq. That Same day Vice President Cheney argued that Saddam's removal arguing that “time is not on our side”. On the 27th Rumsfeld argued that it was right for America to take action regardless of what the rest of the world thought. “Doing the right thing will become popular in time.”
September 4: Today I learned the Navy has leased transport ships of type used to in the Gulf War. I predict a September 11 announcement.
That sentiment is not universally shared in America. The military opposes the war, understanding they are the people who will have to fight it. They learned in Vietnam that it makes little sense to make war when the country is not behind the war effort. Pentagon opposition has been pointed, repeatedly asking the President what comes after Saddam is defeated. How much will the war cost? George H.W. Bush’s National Security Adviser Brent Scrowcroft advised against war. So did Dad's Secretary of State. While Congressional Democrats have been cooler to the conflict than Republicans, reiterating the Military’s objections, even extremely conservative Republicans have spoken against the war. It seems that the invasion shall go on. All the signs speak not of an administration not weighing its alternatives, but one whose opinion is fixed in stone, and simply attempting to prepare the ground for an attack it feels necessary.
War seems inevitable, whether it makes sense or not.
Saddam Hussein is clearly one of, if not the, most brutal dictators currently on earth. He has used weapons of mass destruction against his own citizens. He was in power less than six months before invading Iran, and after that war Iraq only enjoyed a few months of peace before he ordered the invasion of Kuwait. The Saddam museum in Baghdad celebrates his early days as an assassin. Practically every atrocity the US accuses him of happened. He has shown a genius for applied paranoia that Adolf Hitler might envy. He is and always will be a threat to his neighbors. He is a mass murderer. Saddam’s removal from this earth would leave it no poorer.
But does that justify his removal by war? I believe it does not. Saddam is a threat to his neighbors, his citizens and his family. But he does not constitute a direct threat to the peace or security of the United States. And while his behavior since Iraq’s defeat in the Gulf War has been obnoxious and embarrassing for Western leaders, that alone does not justify an invasion.
A Brief Look Back
Americans often say “We should have finished Saddam when we had the chance.” In hindsight that seems correct. At the end of the Gulf War, the allied armies lead by the United States, Britain and France had won one of the most one-sided victories in history. The world’s seventh largest army had been reduced to panic and disarray. Iraq agreed to Allied terms because it was helpless.
So why did the US stop? In hindsight we often forget what else was going on at the time. The UN mandate was to liberate Kuwait, and only Kuwait. That had been accomplished in spectacular fashion. It was not to conquer Iraq, and continued combat would have led to problems with our Arab allies. The Arab world would have seen this as new crusade, and it would have caused problems down the road. Arab allies like Syria and Saudi Arabia called for an immediate cease fire. Many of our European allies would have abandoned us. China and Russia demanded an immediate cease fire. To go on would have alienated the US internationally.
Deposing Saddam would have posed other problems. If you conquer a country, you become responsible for governing it, and rebuilding it. That would have cost billions while the Bush Administration was still running immense budget deficits. Leave Saddam in place and the Iraqis have to fund their own reconstruction. And then there was Iran.
Khomeini had died in 1989, but extremist clerics of still retained total control over Iran. The US and Iran had exchanged potshots during the Gulf War as Iran attempted to close the Gulf oil traffic to gain leverage over Iraq. The democratic, secular movement that is growing in Iran was invisible. At the time Iran was rightly, seen as a state supporting terrorism and its native brand of Islamic nationalism seen as a major threat.
Iraq was the only country nearby, with the exception of Turkey, that had sufficient population and resources to match up on Iran. Iraq could not be divided or neutered without leaving Iran the dominant Gulf power. The Republican Guards were left alive in part to leave enough force intact to discourage Iranian adventurism.
Besides, taking Iraq hardly seemed necessary. Saddam was seen as a petty third world dictator, who had managed 12 months of peace in twelve years of rule, and the two wars he had started had both turned into disasters. How many third world dictators have you seen survive that? The feeling was that an angry Iraqi military would kill him for us in a coup d’etat.
That didn’t happen. Saddam is a genius in creating paranoia. He began his career as an assassin for the Ba'ath Party in Iraq, and the Saddam museum in Iraq celebrates both his first assassination, and the time he was nearly assassinated. His rise to power drips with blood. He set up three separate secret police organizations, all charged with spying on each other. To make a coup d’etat, you need conspirators. It’s hard to conspire with anyone, if you can’t be sure if the person telling you Saddam’s an idiot isn't testing your loyalty. An anecdote will serve. At a meeting of his associates in Baghdad, Saddam announced that three people there were traitors. He named them, then handed a pistol to their best friends, ordering them to perform the executions. They shot their friends, knowing their families would die if they did not.
Saddam wasn’t overthrown in a coup because everyone was too frightened to plot against him. When some Kurds rebelled in Northern Iraq before the Gulf War, he used poison gas on them, killing 20,000 civilians. When the southern Shi’ites rebelled in Southern Iraq, his army massacred them with the Allies standing by. America stood by so partly because intervening was not in their mandate, but the main reason was the fear that a Shi’ite victory would really turn into a victory for radical Iran. Bush Sr. wanted revolt, but only from the Iraqi establishment. The massacre of the Shi’ites further discouraged rebellious sentiment in Iraq.
Saddam is a bastard. But does he constitute a real security threat to the United States? The Bush Administration clearly thinks he does, arguing that Saddam is a threat to his neighbors, a supporter of terrorism, and already has weapons of mass destruction. Those weapons he does not now possess he will obtain in time. Rumsfeld asked “Does it make sense to wait, and gain credit for doing nothing, until it is too late?” Saddam has pursued the acquisition of nuclear weapons with single-minded persistence before and after the Gulf War. It is legitimate to ask why when Iraq has so many other pressing needs. It is also legitimate to ask if he constitutes a threat to his neighbors, supports terrorism, and represents a threat to peace in the region.
Saddam certainly would like to be a threat to his neighbors. He was in power less than a year before invading southern Iran. That attack may be seen as an opportunistic attempt to seize Iranian oil fields. Iran had recently purged it’s military leadership of all who were seen as too close to the Shah. Unfortunately, that also purged most professionals in the Iranian military. Iran’s military was also seen as technically weak, as it was dependent almost entirely on US Weapons, spare parts for which had been cut off after Iran seized the US Embassy and took hostages. Saddam must have seen an opportunity.
That war dragged on for years and Iraq was nearly defeated despite overwhelming firepower superiority. Iranian soldiers proved brave and clever, traits noticeably missing from Saddam’s troops. Anthony H. Cordesman wrote that Iraqi infantry would not fight outside their armored vehicles, even though that virtually guaranteed the failure of Iraqi attacks. Iran only agreed to swallow ‘that bitter pill’ as Ayatollah Khomeni called peacemaking after Iraqi chemical attacks decimated the poorly equipped Iranian regiments. The war also proved extremely costly for Iraq, both in lives and funds. Iraq suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties and wasted billions. Yet six months after the cease fire with Iraq, Saddam ordered an invasion of Kuwait.
Why? The simple reason seems money. Iran has a lot of oil, most of it located near southern Iraq. Kuwait has a lot of oil. Some say that Iraq sought that money to fund the Gulf War. Then why invade Iran? Oil represents income, and income allows you buy things, like planes and tanks without taxing your population into discontent. Controlling Kuwait or Iranian oil would have made Iraq a much bigger player in OPEC. Threatening oil cutoffs might be seen as a way to neutralize the West, allowing Saddam a free hand in the region, where he probably strove to become a power. Iran was first because it seeme possible. Kuwait was seen as easy.
Unfortunately for Saddam, Kuwait woke NATO, particularly the United States. Nobody says much about it, but the view inside the US military is that the current sanctions regime is working. US and British jets overfly Iraq at will. They bomb whatever they really want to. Iraqi control is limited to some extent in Northern Iraq.The sanctions have not completely stifled Iraqi re-armament but it is a shadow of what it would have been. And it makes absolutely clear that another ‘adventure’ will lead the US to invade and conquer Iraq, no matter who is President.
With regard to his neighbors, Saddam has, in effect, been neutered by the clear and present threat of overwhelming US power. He probes in small ways, but knows very well that any major move will lead to war with the United States. He is careful to probe slowly, and always retreats when confronted with real force. Everyone in Iraq knows that another fight would be catastrophic.
The question then becomes why the bellicose rhetoric and occasional attempts to shoot down an American plane? The smart thing to do would be to lie low, let the inspectors do their thing. Even America has a hard time sustaining anger and purpose in the absence of provocation. Particularly when a country has money to spend. Had Saddam been cool for the last ten years the US and Britain would have figured he learned his lesson and withdrawn. Oh, the CIA, DIA and MI-6 would be keeping an eye on him, but he’d be back in business.
One answer lies in the culture of political paranoia inside Iraqi politics. If your boss is a thug, giving unwanted advice is a good way to draw the wrong attention to yourself. To survive you anticipate what he wants, then be 10% tougher than the boss. Probably Saddam hears few voices counseling moderation, until he himself brings it up. Bellicose rhetoric keeps him visible in the Arab world, and grants him legitimacy among those who dislike the status quo. Like some other Arab leaders, he may harbor dreams of becoming the next Saladin. And frankly, moderation and passivity does not fit his brutal personality.
Does he support terrorism? The short answer seems to be ‘no’.The Bush Administration searched high and low for a link between al-Quaeda and Iraq and found none. There were some mentions of meetings between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi diplomat. That means nothing by itself. Intelligence officers meet all the time with strange malcontents who might prove useful. Saddam knows the US has him under a microscope, and that any terrorist acts linked to Iraq could prove fatal. To Saddam. Granted such links are difficult to prove, but all it takes is one piece of bad luck to bring the Wrath of God down on him. Saddam wants to live. No doubt he enjoyed September 11, 2001 but had nothing to do with it.
He also seeks weapons of mass destruction, and the Bush Administration has put these deadliest of weapons at the forefront of its campaign against Iraq. The president and others have argued that we cannot wait until it is too late. But does Iraq have weapons of mass destruction? Former UN Weapons Inspector Scott Ridder says no. Anthony H. Cordesman and UN Weapons Inspector Richard Butler disagree.
Saddam probably has chemical weapons. The Bhopal, India disaster in 1984 illustrated that the difference between a chemical weapons plant and a legitimate civilian chemical plant is subtle. Without on-site inspection it is impossible to verify that a plant is being used for legitimate purposes. But chemical weapons are not particularly easy to use, and are easy to trace. Particularly for terrorists. Aum Shinrikyo released nerve gas in a Tokyo Subway and killed eleven, a death toll easily reached with a bomb. While chemical weapons were effective against Iran, they proved a non factor in the Gulf War. US soldiers are trained and equipped to fight in a chemical environment. The US army is very fast and mobile, which makes chemical attacks less effective, even against unprepared troops. Attacking US soldiers is not the same as attacking poorly equipped Iranians. The likely result will simply be to make America really angry. And US military doctrine has always treated all weapons of mass destruction as the same. A chemical attack on the US could trigger a nuclear response.
But what about nuclear weapons? These are easier to use and could prove a devastating terror weapon. Saddam has pursued them with a singlemended determination. Why? One reason may simply be that he wants to be a player. He may see nuclear weapons as a deterrent to Western nations wishing to stop his expansionist plans. Nuclear weapons may represent a spite weapon, to be used in revenge for his fall. They may be used to intimidate his neighbors. Or he could see them as the ultimate terrorist weapon. Most likely, all of the above.
Nuclear weapons would grant Iraq a certain status. Saddam has a thug’s mentality, and acquisition of nuclear weapons he may see as a way of attaining international stature, like the street criminal who wants to show you his piece to gain respect. They might enhance his position in the Islamic world. More likely, Saddam sees a nuclear threat as a deterrent to NATO that might allow him a free hand in the Middle East.
Of course Iraqi nuclear weapons could be used to intimidate Saddam’s neighbors, and conceivably threaten the United States. A nuclear threat by Saddam would be taken seriously, because everyone knows feels no remorse. But the nuclear card must be played carefully, if you don’t want your neighbors to respond in kind. And any overt threat of that type would galvanize world opinion against him. It would push his neighbors closer to the United States, rather than far away. Saddam’s ability to threaten America with nuclear weapons in a crisis is low, because he has no delivery system capable of hitting the United States. And he ought to remember that the United States is a superpower.
It isn’t very smart to play nuclear chicken with a superpower. He may have a bomb or two, but if he uses even one, he is dead. The Ba’ath party is dead, the Republican guards are dead, and very possibly Iraq itself is dead. A single US submarine can carry 192 475 kiloton warheads (the Hiroshima bomb was 20 kilotons). Multiple targeting packages for Iraq have already been prepared, and the software already aboard the subs. If the order is given this second, within thirty minutes mushroom clouds will sprout all over Iraq.
If the Iraqi officials are thinking, that ought to terrify them. A nuclear war with the United States might very well leave everyone dead. That might undermine Saddam’s authority, which is derived from terror. After all, terror is effective only when nothing else scares you more. But Iraqis may not understand the true nature of nuclear war. The capabilities of nuclear forces tend to be wildly exaggerated or underplayed. I grew up watching films shot immediately after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In Pakistan, such information is suppressed. Most Pakistanis think of nukes a simply a bigger bomb, not really understanding how much they change. Even in ruling circles, Iraq’s leadership might not understand what they are getting into.
This is probably the administration’s greatest fear, that a few nukes will make Saddam believe himself invincible, and set of a chain of events that would lead to a nuclear showdown with the United States. During a confrontation, the Iraqis may attempt the nuclear option without really understanding what they are in for. Saddam has shown little restraint when it comes to violence. His calculations of Western morale, determination and power have often proved wildly wrong. Baghdad may begin to believe its own boasts. Nuclear weapons may embolden Iraq to new adventures, and get it into a wider war which could enflame the region.
Bio weapons offer a more believable threat. Saddam Hussein had an active biological weapons program before the Gulf War. Every former weapons inspector believes this, including Scott Ridder, though up to know no conclusive proof has been found. Many specialists believe it still active, but no one knows anything much about. Expert opinion is divided on the subject,. Biological weapons, if contagious enough, can be used as terror weapons. Smallpox could cause casualties worldwide in the millions. Such weapons are also rather difficult to trace, so they might see to offer Iraq an untraceable way to attack America. Clearly the anthrax terrorist who struck in the aftermath of September 11 has not been caught, despite a huge and determined manhunt.
But Bio weapons like smallpox are had to keep in the cage. They can easily spread back to your own people, which is a good reason not to use them. And the US will treat a bio attack exactly as it would a nuclear attack, and might not require a smoking gun to act.
So if Saddam is a threat, he has shown himself not to be suicidal. Using a weapon of mass destruction is tantamount to suicide. He is a threat yes, but a containable threat. America is far older than the Ba’athist regime and will outlive Saddam Hussein. We can afford restraint.
There are other reasons not to attack. First of all, we would have no allies. Absolutely no one in the world, even the Brits, sees Saddam in the same light as George W. Bush. This is particularly true in the Middle East. While most Arabs hate Saddam, there is no way any government can grant the US such support. The Bush administration’s uncritical support for Israel has angered much of the Arab world. The average Arab does see the US as a nation that hates Islam and has it in for the Arab world. They will see an invasion as pure imperialism, and a deliberate attempt to weaken and intimidate the entire Arab World. No PR campaign can change that. To invade Iraq we will need large, heavy ground forces and that means land bases for logistical support. (See The Crusader and the New Army) America will NOT get basing rights for an attack on Iraq, without a prior Iraqi attack. Logistics may force W. to invade a country friendly to the US. Or attempt an amphibious invasion in the 20 miles of coastline Iraq actually controls, with no possibility of surprise whatsoever.
Even leaving those tactical difficulties behind, attacking will further isolate the United States in the world. Many Europeans, people who we count on as friends and generally share our world view, have begun calling the US a rogue state. I don’t think that bothers W. A bit. His foreign policy can be accurately described as “I’ll do what I want, and you do what I want too”. The Bush administration has said no on every major international initiative put forward since he took power. He said no to Kyoto global warming treaty, the Nuclear Test Ban treaty, and the ABM treaty He rejected the chemical weapons treaty after September 11. He ordered the US to veto UN peacekeeping resolutions, in order to torpedo a permanent International War Crimes Tribunal. This after the atrocities in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Apparently the court is okay as long as it applies to everyone but the United States, forgetting the hypocracy of that position. The Bush Administration has done almost everything it can to squander the good will won after September 11. Invading Iraq will make America look like a bully.
Second, an Iraqi invasion will be very expensive. Estimates start about $80 billion, which is about the cost of the Gulf War. Most of those costs were borne by allies like Japan, who need Gulf Oil even more than America. No one will help pay for this war, and the Bush administration has in two years moved from surplus to deficits in excess of $200 billion. That’s if the war goes as planned. One war plan that was leaked involved using on three US divisions. Given sufficient air power, that’s probably enough to defeat the Iraqi army. It’s nowhere near enough to occupy Iraq. Thing is, given the cost of war, those are the kind of numbers I expect the administration to commit initially. Overconfident from easy victories in Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia, I think Rumsfeld and Cheney think the US can win on air power alone. If they’re wrong, three divisions will be just the beginning. Yet the Army has only 10 regular divisions. Expect major “mission slippage” as events take their own form. The 80 billion cost estimate will probably prove shockingly low. Expect casualties in the tens of thousands, not the cakewalk that was the Gulf War. After all, we’re coming to take over the country, not eject them from someone else's home.
After victory, the US will have to rebuild Iraq. We will have to re-establish a new government in Iraq, and as the Saudi Ambassador recently pointed out, there aren’t a lot of Jeffersonian Democrats left alive in Iraq to reconstitute a new government. Not even half a Nelson Mandela, because Saddam doesn’t imprison dissidents, he kills them. The Iraqi opposition is useless, fragmented and parochial. There may not be anyone left to form a government. Which means America is in for a long and expensive period of occupation. And, of course, the inevitable guerilla and terrorist casualties during that time. Yet in Afghanistan the Bush Administration showed it has almost zero interest in nation building.
Invading Iraq may also touch off a constitutional crisis. According to the Constitution, War making powers are deliberately divided. The President is Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. This is appropriate. A committee cannot efficiently conduct a battle, or respond quickly to contingencies. But only the Congress may declare war. According to Army Col. Harry Summers (ret.) that is because the framers wanted a declaration of war to be declaration of the entire country. In essence, a Declaration of War commits America as a society to war. It must reflect the will of the people, not simply a narrow strip. To go two war without such a Declaration, is to admit that such support may not exist. Yet according to Summers, that support is essential when matters get tough for the troops in the field. If America cannot decide in unison to go to war, then it has no business sending its sons and daughters to die on the battlefield.
Some commentators have noted that a Declaration of War is outdated, noting that none has been used since World War II. That notion is wrong. A Declaration of War could have been obtained both for the Gulf War, and for the campaign in Afghanistan had the President asked. He did not, and Congress did not push the matter itself.
Part of the problem is that since World War II, a declaration of War has been seen as a matter of total war, requiring an unconditional surrender. But a bigger issue has been one of presidential prerogative. Presidents are loathe to ask for one, fearing that will commit them to total victory. And Congress has not pushed the issue itself, preferring to leave responsibility on the President’s shoulders, so it can assign blame or claim victory as events emerge. That attitude is dead wrong. If you are not willing to accept responsibility for war, then you should not make it. That was the primary lesson of Vietnam.
No example is clearer than that of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which was used by the Johnson Administration to intervene and fight the war in South Vietnam. The resolution itself was passed in the aftermath of a perceived North Vietnamese torpedo boat attack on two US destroyers, the Maddox and Turner Joy. There had been a real attack days earlier, one fatal only to North Vietnamese and a sonarman on the Turner Joy though he heard torpedoes in the water. It later was established that what he had heard was water rushing over his sonar head during a sharp turn, that there had been no attack. But an outraged Congress passed the Resolution, authorizing the Johnson administration to retaliate and protect Americans in Vietnam. Ironically enough, only Al Gore’s father seems to have realized that a vote for the resolution was in fact a vote for War. His warning’s to the Senate proved prescient.
Events proved Al Gore Sr. right. Vietnam had grown far beyond what they had anticipated, becoming the ultimate example of “mission slippage” Congress passed the War Powers Act in an attempt to prevent that from happening again. Unfortunately, the Act has no teeth and is probably unconstitutional. It simply states that the President can use the military as he sees fit, but must report to Congress and seek authorization after thirty days. After sixty days the troops must be withdrawn unless Congress authorizes them to stay longer.
The War Powers Act, in essence, gives the President a free hand for sixty days. More than enough time to conquer Grenada. Congress did not cede that to weaken itself, but rather in respect for the fact that America could find itself in an unexpected crisis that required an immediate response. Representative Dante Fascelli (D-Fla) recalled that the Congress was very concerned about tying the President’s hand in a crisis. After all, everyone in the Congress at that time was alive on December 7, 1941. Yet the Congress sought to make sure that it would be consulted, and be a part of a long war.
Since the passage of the Act, both Presidents and Congress have complied in ways that did not push the other to the wall. Both the Executive and Legislative Branches realized that a constitutional challenge could bring the house down, and neither might like the results. But the Bush administration has insisted that it has the right to act on its own, without consulting Congress. The administration has made the argument on two points, the President’s role as Commander in Chief, and because the original Gulf War Resolution still applies. This view is wrong. The Gulf War resolution was fulfilled the moment Iraq was driven from Kuwait. Nowhere does it mention the removal of any Iraqi government, including Saddam Hussein’s.
Technically, as Commander-in-Chief the President can use his authority to send the military where he wants. Teddy Roosevelt used that power to dispatch the Great White Fleet on it’s around the world cruise to let the rest of the world know that America had arrived and needed to be taken seriously. But a cruise is one thing, "regime change" another. If the Bush Administration’s optimistic plans come to pass, and a quick nearly bloodless victory is won, the point will probably be moot. Congress and the people will rally round the flag, regardless of political stripe. While support for deposing Saddam Hussein is widespread, I do not think it strong enough for a protracted expensive conflict and a resolution.
But if that plan goes sour, or takes longer than expected, and leads to a long term and expensive American commitment both Congress and the President will have to settle accounts. Bush will have to answer to the American people and a skeptical Congress. The War Powers Act will face its constitutional test. If so, the outcome may be to tie the hands of all Presidents from then on. America will be further divided. Arab anger at the US will grow, increasing rather than decreasing the likelihood of terrorist strikes. In fact, many more neutral and reasonable nations may come to feel that the need nuclear arms to defend themselves from the United States. Europe and America will find itself further estranged. America may come to be seen as not a powerful force for good, but it’s greatest threat to peace.
Given all the reasons for avoiding war, and the weak reasons for entering it the decision to make peace seems obvious. Yet I believe the Administration made up its mind long ago, and is simply trying to convince the rest of us to go along. The Bush Administration came to power already fascinated with Iraq. To be sure, Saddam will represent an irritant to any American President, and will expose him or her to criticism. But that does not explain the Bush Administration’s single-minded focus on Iraq. After the September 11, every attempt was made to tie Saddam to the attacks, almost as if that tragic day was seen as an excuse to do something the Bush Administration wanted to do all along. To clear the biggest mistake on his Father’s name.
I believe the campaign has less to do with security than erasing a Bush family mistake. With the benefit of hindsight, we should have taken him out. But the mistake was neither stupid nor venal, but rather required the George H.W. Bush to peer into a future that no one else correctly saw. The future I clearly see is an expensive and unnecessary war to eliminate a marginal threat that will further isolate America in the world. I see a war against Iraq as a giant mistake. And if that is a mistake, then I prefer to err on the side of peace. If it is not, then there will be no doubt when America acts, and when she acts, it will not be alone.
America is a superpower, but it is not alone in this world. We have friends and allies as well as adversaries. If our case for war is so weak that we dare not approach the Congress, and cannot count on the support of our friends, then America has no business making war. I can only hope that in the end, George W. Bush realizes this as well. I fear he does not.