Friday, October 11, 2002

Deterrence and Lies

One thing (among many) that has bothered me about those who think Saddam should not be attacked is the argument that we should deter Saddam because he is unlikely to use his chemicals and bio weapons unless we attack. That is, we will provoke the use of weapons we worry about. At least one Congressional critic argued Saddam would not want to use what he has gone to such great lengths to acquire. He said they will be “too dear” to use. The critics say they worry about our troops being exposed to such lethal agents. Some say that given our bellicose words, it is only natural that Saddam seeks such weapons to deter us from attacking him. (They also complain we helped Iraq in the 1980s. But mention that Saddam has been pursuing nukes long before our hostility and you are likely to get sputtered sentence fragments as the speaker tries to reconcile the conflicting data.)

Of course, the Iraqis deny they have any such weapons and claim they are not even pursuing them.

If we can believe the Iraqis, as Representative McDermott would argue, we have no worries about such unconventional munitions should we invade. In that case, we will simply be overthrowing what all agree is a brutal regime. Even opponents of action, now, with military force, almost uniformly preface their statements against war by saying Saddam is a brutal dictatorship.

But what of the argument that he seeks weapons of mass destruction as a legitimate deterrence against us?

Remember, that deterrence is the proposition that you can stop an enemy by threatening damage wholly out of proportion to their potential gains for attacking. This school of thought holds that our invasion will provoke his use of weapons of mass destruction. But deterrence requires the enemy (us) to know he (Saddam) has terrible weapons that he will use if we attack.

Saddam denies he has those weapons.

Most believe he is lying. So Saddam possesses chemical weapons and possibly biological weapons, and seeks nuclear weapons not to deter but for something else. Like what? Perhaps revenge on a scale grander than “merely” trying to assassinate former President Bush. Perhaps out of a hatred for us at thwarting his ambition to dominate the Gulf and the Arab and Moslem worlds. Who knows? But we darn sure know he doesn’t want them for our Western concept of deterrence, based upon our horror for war and death. Saddam has known little but war and death since he came to power. He does not fear it, death is a tool for him and one that he wields freely.

Will Saddam use the weapons he denies having? He certainly will probably order their use. But will they be fired at us? That is unknown and not as sure a thing as his order to do so. If we strike hard enough and fast enough, his subordinates will believe they can outlast Saddam’s regime and actually live in a post-Saddam Iraq. They may refuse to fire. Given the state of communications that will exist after we smart-bomb them into isolated fragments, they may claim not to receive the order, may claim to have fired them without actually doing so, or may just shoot the local Saddam toady and defect. The Germans in 1945 never did use their stockpiles of Mustard and nerve gasses as they went down to defeat. Even in defeat, there is something else to lose—a chance at a real life for yourself, your family, and your people.

If we are lucky, chemical use by the Iraqis will be sporadic and ineffective. One thing for sure, however, it will be preferable to waiting for Saddam to use them in whatever non-deterrence purpose he plans for them.

On to Baghdad.