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Iraq: the Logic of Withdrawal

The following article is reprinted from the Chicago Tribunes.The copy of the article serves as a "fair use" for educational purposes. This website has no authority to grant permission to reprint this article. We reformat onto a separate web page because links to newspapers are unstable as stories are moved into the paper's archives.

Defining the threat from Iraq
Published August 23, 2002
Saddam Hussein is an evil and dangerous man. He has invaded Iran and Kuwait, exposing territorial expansionist designs that threatened the region. He has lobbed ballistic missiles into Israel, risking a nuclear response in a bid to turn the battle over Kuwait into a regional war. He has brutally suppressed his own people and murdered political dissenters.

The world--particularly Iraq--would be a far better place without him. On that everyone in Washington and around most of the planet can agree. It's over the inevitable corollary--what the U.S. and its allies should do to push him from power--that agreement vanishes.

There has been intense discussion around the world about the wisdom of U.S. military action in Iraq. And though President Bush this week dismissed such talk as "speculation," his words rang hollow. It seems clear the administration is preparing for a way to oust Hussein.

The administration pushes ahead despite opposition from European and Arab allies, open dissent from some senior Republicans and, less surprisingly, many Democrats in Congress.

There is little doubt that the U.S. has the military capability to overrun Iraq, whether or not U.S. allies choose to participate in the effort. The question is whether a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq is truly in the best interests of the U.S. at this time.

If Hussein poses a grave and imminent threat to the U.S., the answer is clear: Take him out. But the magnitude of that threat is not clear, at least, not by the evidence the administration has offered to the public.

Until that case is made, the U.S. should not go to war to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

In the 1991 Persian Gulf War, American troops all but wiped out Iraq's army yet stopped short of toppling Hussein. The UN resolution that justified the war allowed for the expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait but not the taking of Baghdad. After such a crushing defeat, Western analysts figured, an internal revolt would likely finish off Hussein. That was a miscalculation.

So, a decade later, Hussein is alive and remains a regional menace. He is presumed to have biological and chemical weapons that he may be willing to use just as readily as he did against Iraq's Kurdish minorities and during the war with Iran., which killed some 1 million people.

The administration believes Iraq is attempting to develop nuclear weapons, which could be used for blackmail purposes or could inflict horrendous losses on Iraq's enemies, a list that includes practically everyone in the Middle East but most notably Israel. It would be hard to imagine a more dangerous arsenal in the hands of a more dangerous madman.

Whether containment--economic sanctions and military restrictions such as no-fly zones over large parts of Iraq--has worked is debatable. Iraq hasn't launched a military assault on another nation since the Gulf War, though Hussein openly provides financial support for Palestinian terrorism. The porous sanctions regimen has likely slowed, but not stopped, Hussein's ambitions to develop a rich arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

Hussein poses a clear threat to the region, a less-than-clear threat to the U.S. In evaluating the prospects for war, it is critical to consider that military action itself poses risk to the U.S.

Unlike the Gulf War or Afghanistan, on this one there would be no global coalition on the U.S. side. With the notable exception of Britain's Tony Blair, European leaders have explicitly warned the U.S. that it would be on its own.

>Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser to Bush's father during the Gulf War, has persuasively argued that unilateral U.S. action would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the campaign against terrorism that President Bush has so capably assembled. The U.S. may have reason now to be skeptical about the depth of support of some of its Arab allies in the war on terror, but an invasion of Iraq would almost certainly end their cooperation.

The quick military success and limited number of casualties in the Gulf War might give confidence that Hussein will turn out to be a paper tiger. Indeed, a military assault in all likelihood would have fairly swift success. The question is whether the confrontation would end there.

Hussein will lose, but he might also attempt to enlist Arab allies in a wider war by firing weapons at Israeli civilian centers. The Israelis showed extraordinary, admirable restraint by not responding when Hussein sent missiles into Tel Aviv during the Gulf War. But Israel has vowed that this time, if it is attacked by Iraq, it will respond with force. The prospect of a wider war might be slim, but can't be discounted. And such a war could carry a massive human and economic toll.

There is, as well, the question of what happens after Hussein's demise. Can the U.S. prevent a post-Hussein Iraq from exploding into a free-for-all of clashing ethnic and religious factions? Can the U.S.--already committed to an almost open-ended process of nation-building in Afghanistan--muster the tens of billions of dollars necessary to rebuild Iraq? How would Iran respond to such a strong U.S. presence in its neighbors to the east and west? Can the U.S. economy withstand the pressure of Mideast war?

It must be said, though, that those European and Arab nations that take a sanguine approach to Iraq are deluding themselves--or attempting to delude the U.S. Russia, which is proceeding with a $40 billion economic agreement with Iraq, has made a deal with the devil.

The decade-long policy of containment, pressure, and on-again, off-again monitoring of Iraq--backed up by the guarantee of massive retaliation by American forces in the region should Hussein attempt any aggressive move--has achieved one goal: It has prevented Hussein from preying on his neighbors. It has not necessarily prevented him from building his arsenal of mass destruction or moving closer to nuclear capability. A caged Hussein is not necessarily a less dangerous Hussein.

From what is public knowledge today, an attack carries more risk to U.S. interests than reward. That is not to rule out that the time will come--if, for example, there is convincing evidence that Hussein is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weaponry--when that calculation changes. When the Bush administration makes a convincing and public case that Iraq is an imminent threat to the U.S. or its allies, it will be time to go to war.
Copyright © 2002, Chicago Tribune