Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Why We Should Fight Iraq: Part Two

So, it should be established the Saddam Hussein's Iraq is a horror show of torture and sheer terror domestically. His regime is aggressive with a record of attacking neighbors and targeting civilians. He has supported terror and instability (I know I failed to mention some specifics like killing dissidents overseas and his attempt to pollute the air and Gulf with burning/gushing oil, but these are just more details of his support of terror). Saddam has also been in single-minded pursuit of nuclear weapons; and has done whatever he has had to do to keep his stocks of germs and poison gas as well as means to deliver them.

His place on the Axis of Evil is secure. Even if Saddam ended all his weapons of mass destruction programs, he would not be demoted to the broader Pantheon of Evil that includes lesser threats who did not quite make the cut. By any measure, the demise of Saddam's regime should be an event to celebrate.

Of course, elevation to the Axis platform means he is a threat to us. And he is. With nukes, his ability to harm us expands exponentially. With every terrorist attack, coup attempt, destabilization, or invasion that he carries out, we will have to decide whether we wish to risk being on the receiving end of a nuclear weapon as the price of responding. Saddam, who has challenged us repeatedly despite our overwhelming conventional and nuclear superiority, clearly believes he can strike us without prompting nuclear retaliation if he keeps his actions under a certain threshold. Nukes in his possession raise that threshold. He could seize Kuwait again, enduring the casualties needed to overwhelm our tripwire force in Kuwait before we can respond (this is pre-2003, of course; and if we do not invade, post-2003). He could try again for Khuzestan in Iran, hoping the lack of Islamic fervor in Iran will this time lead the Iranians to figure losing a province is ok if the cost of retaking it is losing Tehran. He might foment a coup in the United Arab Emirates, or Bahrain, or Oman, or Qatar, or even Saudi Arabia and wangle an immediate "invitation" to defend the country. He might even go after the big prize of Saudi Arabia with conventional invasion if (and he will, because sanctions will weaken even further) he can rebuild his offensive arm. The Saudi military was weak in 1990. It is a joke today despite the money lavished on fancy hardware. Saddam could try to take down Jordan, hoping to use Jordan as a base to attack Israel and until he does so, rally the "street" to his pan-Arab banner. The large number of Palestinians in Jordan might welcome him. Their cheering of SCUDs flying over Jordan on the way to Israel in 1991 is not exactly comforting. Saddam could finally gain Baathist dominance over his Syrian Baath Party competitors and form an alliance with Damascus as the junior partner. Given Saddam's record of aggression, these are not far-fetched scenarios. And while we might tolerate such a madman in the middle of sub-Sahara Africa, one in the middle of the planet's energy storehouse is not something we can shrug off. Yes, of course, he would sell it to us. But at what price? Will our economies, upon which our well being rests, survive? And what will he use his income for? If you don't know, it is pointless to say.

One of the scarier possibilities is that Saddam could embark on a serious campaign of terror against the West, both in the Gulf and in Europe. The goal would be to drive us out of the Gulf, weaken European resolve even further and pry them away from America by showing them the price of siding with us, and raise his prestige to lead the Arab and wider Moslem worlds. He could do this even without resorting to nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. His possession of these would shield him from an effective American response. Would we invade Iraq over even hundreds of deaths over a year, scattered in the West? If we wanted to, who would risk 100,000 dead to avenge a hundred? We would certainly not nuke Iraq. Again, we'd place 100,000 or more at risk. And if we decided to launch cruise missiles, would Saddam care? He would ride it out, with anything valuable buried even deeper underground; and parade real or claimed civilian casualties to enrage the "street" while showing our inability to confront him effectively. Then of course, for sheer madman-level thuggery, he could elevate his spite from assassination attempts and environmental terrorism to real nuclear terrorism. Could he plant a false trail to blame somebody else? Shoot, he might steal somebody else's nuke and use it. Even if we suspected Saddam was behind it, how would we justify a nuclear response when the world won't even admit that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction today? If such a day ever arrives and we fail to respond in kind, deterrence is dead as a defense for us; and we will have declared open season on Americans everywhere.

Such an incitement to haters in the Islamic world is a real threat to us. Our inaction could lead to a clash of civilizations because the Islamists will conclude we are unable to resist. Europe is nearly at that stage already. Although a post-nuclear strike clash of civilizations is certainly not a sure thing, it is the logical--if extreme--conclusion of a trend line that starts with Saddam's mere survival. Has anyone noted that Saddam has for years relied increasingly on Islamic rhetoric to bolster his legitimacy? Has anyone noticed that after Bali, purported al Qaeda statements swore loyalty to Saddam? Even the French are worried that pro-Iraq cells are ready to strike in Europe when we invade? We too prepare to face fanatics who will delight in the death of even our children should we invade Iraq. The Islamists have chosen Saddam as their champion after the defeat and/or dismemberment of bin Laden. Saddam's survival is proof to them of their eventual victory. Destroying Saddam will destroy another champion and far from encouraging terror, will dull the appeal of terrorism to the Islamists and wannabee 9-11 types. It is one thing to die believing you will win in the end; it is another to die with defeat certain. America will build no memorials to terrorists to make their deaths seem heroic.

I suppose if you never thought that Iraq's conquest of Kuwait in 1990 was worth fighting to reverse, no possibility that Saddam will invade or take over another state in the future will convince you that we are right to invade now. What I could write to change your mind about that is beyond me. If you think we can deter Saddam from any adventures by threatening to nuke him and don't believe that instead we would be deterred, what more can I say? You are either far more ruthless than I am in your willingness to lob nukes at mere suspicion or hopelessly naïve. If you think the moral reason for removing a thug like Saddam is insufficient to go to war, who is evil enough? The bottom line is that threats to America take many forms and it has been a long time since we have been threatened with physical invasion and conquest. If that is your only standard for believing war is justified, that won't happen in our lifetimes.

Saddam is a threat to us and our allies, even those who would bury their heads in the sand and refuse to look. Failure to deal with Saddam while we can is a grave error. He will certainly deal with us when he is able. The track record of the international community does not give me hope that that day can be more than delayed. And for those still in doubt about his threat to us, would it actually be wrong to end his horrible regime?

On to Baghdad.

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