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Wednesday, January 22, 2003
The U.S. shouldn’t be preventing Iraq from possessing or developing weapons of mass destruction
Thursday’s announcement that United Nations inspectors in Iraq had found warheads designed to carry chemical weapons that the Iraqi government had not declaredwas welcome news for those who want the escalation of the United States’ war with Iraq. "It's troubling and it's serious," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer on Friday.
Andrew Sullivan was more to the point. "If verified, and if not accounted for in Iraq's declaration," the prominent commentator said shortly after the announcement, "case for war closed."
A more recent report by The Telegraph saying that U.N. weapons inspectors also found a blueprint for an Iraqi nuclear weapons program on Thursday is likely to further the arguments for war.
Any observers unfamiliar with recent political discourse would be excused for wondering why this news bolsters the case for war and does not demonstrate that weapons inspectors are working. Quite simply, the administration of President George W. Bush has been very successful over the last 12 or so months in putting forth the idea that the very possibility of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction amounts to an immediate threat to the U.S. This message came across most clearly in an October 7 speech by Bush in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud,” the President said about Iraq just days before Congress gave him approval for escalating the war.
The message was clear – the administration should not have to prove that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction, let alone intending to use them, and that the mere possibility that Iraq was developing such weapons was cause for a war of “self-defense.” If there is any possibility that Iraq could acquire weapons of mass destruction or is even trying to get them, and deceit by Iraq on this matter is assumed to imply guilt, then a war to remove Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is necessary according to this argument, which I deem to be the Bush Doctrine on Iraq. It is important to note that this doctrine assumes that the U.S. is morally superior to Iraq to the point that the U.S. has the right to prevent Iraq from doing something –possessing weapons of mass destruction- that the U.S. does every single day.
Of course, the fact that a country could be developing weapons is not itself a threat in any meaningful sense. Rather, the weapons themselves, when functional, are what could reasonably constitute a threat. With this in mind, many critics of the administration’s war aims hung their hat on the argument that there was no proof Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or was trying to develop or obtain them. For instance, one of the main points of Milan Rai’s recent, and largely useful, book War Plan Iraq: Ten Reasons Against a War on Iraq was that there was no hard evidence that Iraq had any useable weapons of mass destruction or was trying to acquire such weapons. So long as there was no such evidence, it was easy and fun to ridicule figures in Bush Administration such as Fleischer when they claimed it was a known fact that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction but did not provide any evidence to back up their claim.
This argument was a significant critique of the Bush Doctrine on Iraq in that is said the U.S. should not go to all out war with a country just because the president said the country was an enemy. But it also left open the possibility that the mere possession or development of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq would be enough for escalating war and, in light of recent developments, is therefore no longer an effective critique of the drive to escalating the war with Iraq. Many who demanded proof didn’t think that mere proof was enough –I put myself in that category- but undoubtedly there was also many who used this argument and agree with the sentiments of the popular musician Moby, who pined for peace in a January 5 weblog entry but also said, “…iraq should not be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction.”
Because it now appears likely that Iraq has and/or is developing weapons of mass destruction, or at least that new evidence might be coming forward which indicates this, any arguments against the escalating the war with Iraq have to dispute that Iraq is a threat to the U.S. and/or argue that there is a larger reason to oppose U.S. escalation of war. In the next few paragraphs I will lay out the case for both of these arguments.
Undoubtedly the greatest stated reason for escalating the war with Iraq is the idea that if Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein stays in power and possesses weapons of mass destruction that he will use them. “As the President has said many times, the problem with Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction is that he has used them,” Fleischer said in a press briefing yesterday. “He has used them before to attack his neighbors, to attack his own people, and history shows that if Saddam Hussein has a weapon, he will use it.”
Unfortunately no reporter asked Fleischer why or how President Harry Truman –the first world leader to ever use weapons of mass destruction- had avoided further use of these weapons in the over seven years he was in the Oval Office after dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In short, the Administration appears to be living a fantasy land where the fact that one government leader they don’t like has used weapons of mass destruction in the past means that the same leader is bound to use them in the future.
The best argument I have seen suggesting that Saddam is bound to use weapons of mass destruction again unless stopped comes from Benjamin Kepple. In a December 31 weblog post, Kepple argued that since Saddam has used weapons of mass destruction in the past that he can be expected to use them in the future in the future and that fear of retaliation from the U.S. will have no effect on him. “Iraq has shown a willingness to use weapons of mass destruction in an era when those weapons are universally condemned. Saddam Hussein has used chemical agents against both Iran and Iraq's Kurdish minority with an almost inhuman ruthlessness. There is nothing to suggest he would not use atomic weapons if he had them,” Kepple writes. “That alone makes disarming him not merely a moral imperative, but a practical military necessity.” [Bold text in original.]
Kepple overlooks that when Saddam used weapons of mass destruction in the late 1980s, he did so without any fear that there would be retaliation. The U.S. knew about his use of these weapons and continued to give his government support and assistance, according to a New York Times report from this past August, and there was no other power –not the Soviet Union and certainly not the U.N.- that could be expected to stand up to Iraq’s use of weapons of mass destruction with a response in kind. The situation is much different now. If Iraq were to use or even attempt to use chemical or biological weapons tomorrow anywhere in the world, an embarrassed Bush Administration would reply by pulverizing the Iraqi military and overthrowing Saddam. The U.S. military would kick ass and take names. Mercy would be in short supply.
People who believe that Saddam is itching to use weapons of mass destruction, such as Kepple and the Bush Administration, never seem to explain why Saddam has not used such weapons over the last 149 months (that is, since August 1990 and Operation Desert Shield). During that period that U.S. has always been at war with Iraq in one form or another. It would seem that a ruthless dictator eager to use weapons of mass destruction would have at least tried to do so. And if it is only because of U.S. policy towards Iraq that Saddam has not used weapons of mass destruction over this period, as one could argue, the question becomes, why is any change in policy needed? There is also the unanswered question that I raised in December 10’s “Bush’s Charade” about how the president doesn’t seem to be treating Iraq as the immediate threat he says it is.
None of this is meant to suggest that there is no possible threat coming from Iraq. In fact, it seems beyond arrogant to me for the Americans to think that they can wage war against Iraq for over a decade without Iraq responding with force of some kind. And yet motive for an attack is hardly proof that an attack is coming. Absent a reason to think that Iraq is about attack the U.S., U.S. interests or some other country, it is ridiculous to treat Iraq as if it is a threat.
Two minor arguments about saving face have come up in support of furthering the war. The first, which Bush expressed in a September 12 speech, is that the U.N. will lose credibility if it does not stop Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs since the organization has passed numerous resolutions prohibiting Iraq from developing and possessing such weapons. As I pointed out in my September 12 entry “Was the United States post September 11 just a Dress Rehearsal?," there are several flaws with this argument. Bush has been anything but a consistent been a supporter of international institutions, so self-interest not principle appears to be the motivating the factor. Furthermore, the U.N. can hardly be viewed as a fair international institution as it has never been a force to counterbalance the misdeeds of the U.S. If the U.N. does end up supporting an escalation of the war with Iraq, the organization will not appear credible so much as easily manipulated by the bellicose desires of the U.S.
Then there is the argument that the U.S. needs to war if it is to keep its own credibility. Sean Penn -hardly the most pro-war of fellows- made this point in an interview for the January 11 edition of Larry King Live. “[I]f you're not committed to the game of chicken -- which in this case I don't believe Saddam Hussein is going to roll over -- if you're committed to the game of chicken and you back out of it,” Penn said, “then you're the paper tiger that Osama bin Laden says you are.”
There might be some merit to this if it wasn’t for the little matter of how taking over Iraq is just one step in the Bush Administration’s plans to take over a lot of countries and basically dominate the world in any way it sees as possible and advantageous. In other words, they aren’t going to be backing away after a little war with Iraq. Iran, North Korea and Saudi Arabia appear to be next on the agenda.
Whether you oppose or support this ambitious agenda, it is worth keeping in mind that there are likely to be costs to taking over Iraq and other countries. Resentment against the U.S. certainly isn’t going to diminish because of the operation and the growth of anti-American terrorist groups is likely to follow. Governments that fear being toppled will likely respond by stepping up efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction to serve as a deterrent to the U.S. If you truly believe that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of countries that don’t like the U.S. equals weapons of mass destruction being used, then you should want to avoid this scenario.
There is also a moral argument for escalating the war with Iraq, and in fact for deescalating the war. All countries with any lengthy history have been less than what could reasonably be called democratic and debatably abuse human rights in some manner in the present. By interfering with Iraq merely because its government is deemed to be unacceptable, the U.S. is doing something that most Americans would find abhorrent if done to their country by another. This is unjust in the most basic definition of the word.