1) Introductory Comments:
Written by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the article in question --- "Iraq: An Unnecessary War,"
--- has been widely regarded as the most effective criticism to date of the Bush administration's policy toward Iraq . . . . especially its alleged shift away from a containment and deterrence policy of Saddam's regime and his WMD programs as risky and futile and to a goal instead of toppling that dangerous, Islamo-fascist regime, a pre-condition of its complete disarmament. Not surprisingly, the article's argument has not only been seized on by moderate and informed critics of the Bush policy, but touted widely in radical and appeasement circles as evidence that war or even vigorous coercive diplomacy aren't needed for dealing with Saddam and his regime. That seems odd, this enthusiasm in radical and pacifist circles. M&W, as it happens, are well-known realist theorists: they take power politics for granted, believe in active armed balancing as essential for the US, and take essentially a managerial view of dealing with conflicts among states, with war, presumably, not needed except in extreme cases as an instrument for dealing with major security problems
What would justify war these days in W&M's view? It isn't clear in the article. Maybe nothing.
That said, the article's multiple weaknesses lie elsewhere. Above all, as we'll try to show, W&M's chief premise --- a portrait of Saddam Hussein and his regime as cruel but generally conservative, reactive to others, generally defensive, and fully rational; and hence, the payoff, fully susceptible to containment and deterrence even, presumably, for decades into the future --- seems flawed and oddly wrong: idealized, misconceived, and at loggerheads with what far more knowledgeable observers of Iraq with influence in the Bush administration have said far more convincingly. Looming large among these knowledgeable others is Kenneth Pollack, the former CIA analyst specializing on the Iraqi military and the Gulf region for two decades and the chief adviser of the Clinton administration within the National Security Council on these scores. He too once believed that containing and deterring Saddam and his regime were possible. Reluctantly, he has changed his mind; he now favors war and toppling the regime as the only viable solution for US policy in the region.
We will return to Pollack's view in a moment or two.
2) The Article's Misconstrued Premises: Containment and Deterrence vs. Full Disarmament
Note, for the time being --- by way of preliminary clarification; nothing else --- some immediate problems with W&M's major theme about containing and deterring Saddamite Iraq, possibly for decades into the future through his sons and their successors.
, contrary to Walt or Mearsheimer''s views or those of the appeasing movements, UN Security Council Resolution 1441 adopted last November as the official UN policy says nothing about containing or deterring Saddam Hussein's programs of nuclear, chemical, and biological weaponry (WMD: weapons of mass destruction), nor does it refer to what the French foreign minister said yesterday (January 23, 2002) about inspections for the purpose of "largely blocking" or "even freezing" Iraq's WMD programs. It refers specifically, in hard, to-the-point language, to "immediate, unconditional, and active cooperation" by Iraq's government to "disarm", or else face "serious consequences." In short, disarmament --- stripping Iraq of all its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and R&D --- and not containment or deterrence is the clearly stated goal of the resolution, either through active cooperation with the inspectors or through war (or, alternatively, a credible threat of warthat topples the regime from within). Period. The language couldn't be clearer, and it is in line, only with sharper terms, with the previous Security Council resolutions that Saddam has violated, well over a dozen.
the only reason inspectors are back in Iraq anyway derives directly from the policy of coercive diplomacy toward Iraq's brutal, outlaw government that the Bush administration has adopted in the last year.
More generally, to work at all, coercive diplomacy has to meet certain conditions that the Bush policy has so far satisfied.  The coercing state must convey clearly what it wants the target state, Iraq's Saddamite regime, to do.  The target state must be confronted with a clear and credible threat that non-compliance will lead to painful and unacceptable costs by way of retaliation. In principle, the threatened costs could be economic, not just military; so far, though, economic sanctions have been a bust for 12 years in forcing Saddam to disarm or, for that matter, even to let inspectors operate freely on Iraqi soil. Nor is that all.  To make its threat credible, the coercing state --- the US here --- has to demonstrate that its leaders have both the will and military capabilities deployed and ready for punishment. And finally, topping it off,  the coercing state must create an unambiguous sense of urgency: act now, very very soon and in verifiable ways, or face the punishment we have in store for you.
In effect, coercive diplomacy --- or compellence --- is the flip side of deterrence. Both work by means of coercion, both require credible threats and demonstrated will and capabilities that will be used by way of retaliation for non-compliance, but coercion is always more difficult because it requires the target state not just to refrain from aggression as with deterrence, but to take active steps that conflict with the interests of its leaders' policies and goals to change the existing status quo for the benefit of the coercing state itself.
Whether, in the Iraqi case, war will actually be necessary in the event of non-compliance to topple Saddam --- the only way the Bush administration sees as a foolproof chance to disarm the Iraqis --- is, however, not clear. The credibility of promised punishment --- American and British invasion, with the aid of both external and internal Iraqi foes of the regime --- may suffice to lead to a coup or an uprising or some combination that achieves the same end. Or, alternatively, war might actually have to begin to mobilize the internal resistance and Saddam's death or flight into exile.
What is clear is that the credibility of the US as a global power is now at stake, given the year-old campaign, culminating in the UN Security Council's adoption of language in Resolution 1441 calling for Iraq's immediate, total, and unconditional cooperation to disarm, on pain of war (serious consequences'). Even if deterrence and containment would work, itself doubtful for reasons that will be set out in a moment or two, the ability of the US in the future either to deter aggression in the Gulf area or elsewhere, never mind compel and use coercive diplomacy in the future, will have suffered a jolting blow.
contrary to what Mearsheimer and Walt or most other critics of the Bush policy toward Iraq claim, the previous official policy of the US was not containment and deterrence. Since the winter of 1999, Congress and the Clinton administration signed into law a solemn resolution calling for "regime change" and Congress required the Clinton administration to finance Iraqi opposition forces for the eventual military wherewithal to effect such a change, either through an invasion or a coup in cooperation with existing Iraqi military leaders.
And though that resolution passed by Congress said at the end that it did not require the US to use military force to that end, we know, from what Kenneth Pollack and others in the know have shown ( pollack
), that Clinton was ready to use punitive air strikes and cruise missiles to punish the Saddamite regime in late 1998 --- with presumably no end to the coercion until the regime either cooperated with the UN to disarm or the regime fell one way or another (again, not necessarily because of a US invasion
W&M mention Kenneth Pollack only once --- in passing, and with a dismissal of his argument that Saddam has shown tendencies that suggest he's "suicidal." Nothing else. No analysis of Pollack's detailed, closely reasoned and documented book, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq --- which appeared at the end of last September and was therefore available to them had they wanted to dig deep into his argument for war, if only to refute his case effectively --- appears in their article. Rather, that casual reference to Pollack in passing; then dismissal of his argument as at odds with allegedly known facts.
Observe here, just for now, that Pollack himself reluctantly and only gradually came to adopt a policy of toppling Saddam's regime by force. Until roughly the end of the 1990s, he himself thought containment and deterrence would work. He no longer does because those conditions won't work, not now, and even less in the future when Saddam's WMD programs begin to bear more fruit. The result, he predicts, will be future catastrophe in the Gulf region and elsewhere for US interests . . . not least after 9/11 and the evidence that we are at war with global Islamo-fascist terrorism and terrorist-supporting states. More specifically,
Fifth and finally
- Unlike W&M who seem to know little about Iraq, its history and politics, Saddam's life and personality, or Middle East politics in detail (Walt did write a good article in the past about Arab alliance behavior), Pollack has made a lifetime study of these matters --- plus the Iraqi WMD programs and its military. In 2001, now out of government, he and Daniel Byman (a researcher at the RAND corporation) published a lengthy, well-researched article entitled "Let Us Now Praise Great Men: Bringing the Statesman Back In," International Security (Summer, 2001). It systematically compared the foreign policy behavior of highly risk-taking leaders with more cautious ones of a similar brutality and ilk. Among those Pollack and Byman analyzed at length --- within the scope of a scholarly article --- was Saddam Hussein and his no less brutal counterpart, with the blood of his people equally on his hands, Hafiz al-Assad . . . the dictator of Syria in the period of the early 1970s until his death a couple of years ago; also a clear rival of Saddam, who was threatened by Saddam with war over a water-resource issue, forcing Assad to carefully back down in a crisis during the mid-1970s between those two tyrants. W&M do not mention the article.
- Earlier this fall, about the time his book Threatening Storm appeared, Pollack wrote an op-ed article published in the NY Times entitled "Why Iraq Can't Be Deterred," which the buggy prof will reprint here at the end of his commentary. Except for the reference dismissed, that refers in the article to Saddam's being "unintentionally suicidal" --- an apt description to apply, by the way, to clear and reckless borderline types as analyzed in DSM-IV (see "DSM IV Criteria Borderline Personality Disorder: borderline--- they seem indifferent to Pollack's probably unique knowledge of Saddam, his WMD, and the reasons for his persistent, extravagantly costly WMD programs for over two decades now.
, the terms "Islamo-fascist" and "totalitarian" are not bandied about in this or other commentaries lightly or casually. On the contrary, I have analyzed them at length in a recent commentary posted at my website, TheBuggyProfessor
showing that there are precise meanings to these terms, based on both historical and contemporary tends --- including Syria, Iraq, and Iran, along with militant Islamist fundamentalisms and the terrorist movements, regional and global, connected to them. Essentially, W&M gloss over the domestic nature of a contemporary fascist regime like Saddam's other than to note it is cruel or brutal. In the upshot, they can't draw on the overwhelming historical evidence that shows a close connection between such militarized fascist regimes led by grandiosely ambitious and egomaniacal leaders --- Hitler and Mussolini outrightly and monstrously homicidal megalomaniacs among others --- and reckless militarism and aggression abroad. This is a key point. We'll return to it shortly.
3) The Article's Major Problems Continued: A Preliminary Summary
In addition to misconstruing the Bush policy as novel and unnecessary and dangerous, as well as the UN Security Council resolution about disarmament, several defects mar W&M analysis that we'll list in passing, again with evidence to follow later. In particular, their article
Shows little knowledge of Saddam's personality and his powerful megalomaniac tendencies: instead, an image emerges of a tough, calculating, maybe ruthless leader --- essentially conservative and almost always responding to others' initiatives, threats, or swagger, but almost always too with attention to relative power considerations and knowing when to back off or alternatively to exploit clear weaknesses --- and hence susceptible to continued efforts to contain and deter any dangers in the use of his nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons that Walt and Mearsheimer accept as real dangers.
What follows, even from this preliminary analysis?
o What, contain and deter Saddamite Iraq forever? Not just Saddam, mind you; but as with all Arab despots, for decades as his chosen son becomes his successor (unless killed off by a brother or toppled by a coup instigated by someone else --- the standard Arab technique of political succession), and so on and on for decades or centuries? Walt and Mearsheimer are silent here
Sidesteps his recurring and reckless high-risk urges in policymaking, whether domestic or foreign, to realize his grandiose ambitions as the greatest statesman in Islam since Saladin drove out the crusaders . . . or maybe since Mohammed, all documented at length by numerous observers, above all by Jeffrey Goldberg in his brilliantly documented New Yorker article on Saddam, based on months of dangerous on-the-ground research in Iraq, that appeared last spring: goldberg
Plays down the record of Saddam's diplomacy, almost 3 decades long now, that reveals a leader extravagantly inclined to resort to these gambling, high risk-taking urges even when he's on the defensive and faced with threatening or coercive behavior of others. Specifically:
o The two UN inspection campaigns since 1991, UNSCOM and now under US coercion since November 2001, backed by economic sanctions or the threat now of war.
o The strenuous, systematic endeavor for almost three decades too to build nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and, worse, to use the latter two when it has been convenient for him to do so.
o The continued defiance of the Security Council demands to cooperate immediately, unconditionally, and totally in disarming, and not just in letting inspectors return to his country . . . this, moreover, despite the steady build-up of American and British military power for an invasion.
o The military tactics he chose in pursuing his bloody, decade-long war with the Iranians . . . including the use of poison gas and missile attacks on Iranian cities.
o His blustering rhetoric, marked by apocalyptic symbols, of catastrophe that awaits his enemies --- now or in the past.
o And his long-standing use of Iraq for Arab terrorist leaders on the run, usually notorious Palestinian in nationality, plus his payments of a lavish sort to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers . . . roughly 25 years of annual income at existing Palestinian per capita income. As for Al Qaeda links, Secretary of State Powell went out of his way at a recent forum at Davos, Switzerland to underscore his belief, shared by the rest of the Bush administration, that Saddam Hussein has ties to Al Qaeda terrorists; and though the administration has not offered the public conclusive proof here, why would the most careful and reluctant member of Bush's top team of foreign policy and security advisers to break with a multilateral approach for dealing with Saddamite Iraq --- especially several European allies --- commit himself in public this way if he didn't find the evidence of such ties convincing? Powell
Displays, finally, little grasp of the nature of Iraqi politics and Saddam's ruthless totalitarian state, whose relentless use of cruel terror against all opponents, real or imagined, suggests that he's not just a megalomaniac but a monstrous sociopath who, like the other grotesquely grandiose and paranoid sociopaths in charge of totalitarian states in the 20th century --- Hitler and Mussolini and Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot, for that matter the tin-pot terrorist bin Laden now dead somewhere, it seems, in an Afghan cave.
o Each and every one of these unfettered megalos, you'll note, fully convinced of their destiny-driven mission to cleanse the earth of their demonic and all-powerful enemies . . . a pathological mental trait of on a vast paranoid scale, creating an utter callous indifference to destroying millions or tens of millions of lives, if need be, in the pursuit of their overwrought, hot-wire ambitions that ordinary mortals can't fully grasp.
o All of which --- the payoff that follows from this diagnosis --- makes successful containment and deterrence problematic and doubtful over the long-run, decades or more if need be.
Essentially this: only two sets of conditions emerge for effectively deterring such states like Saddamite Iraq from aggression or using, if they should have them, WMD:  either the destruction of their states' totalitarian regimes from without, the case of Hitler and Mussolini; or  --in the Stalin and Maoist case ---their destruction from within, after the paranoid megalomaniac dies and political reforms take place, resulting in a clear shift in regime-structure to a more collective, conservative form of semi-totalitarian rule that can be effectively subject to containment and deterrence. The latter prospect, unfortunately, doesn't seem in the cards, not as long as Saddam stays in power and then the most ruthless of his sons --- and their son's sons and so on --- maintain power.
Just to clarify in passing: Italy's change of regime in 1943 reflects a combination of both these conditions: Mussolini driven out of power and imprisoned by the new Italian government as US forces converged on Rome, then rescued by German commandos, ferreted out into German-controlled territory in the north, then killed by Italian partisans. As for the destruction of Japanese militarism in 1945 --- a form of collective totalitarian rule with an ultra-nationalist and imperial mission of racially charged nature as its ideology --- it reflects a variant of the destruction through total war and defeat, the case of Nazi Germany too
1) W&M's Views of Deterrence
Oddly, for an article that claims Saddam's Iraq, even when armed with nuclear weapons in the future, can be deterred effectively into some distant and unspecified future --- but presumably decades if need be --- little is said by W&M about the preconditions of stable and effective deterrence itself . . . let alone any effort to determine whether these conditions apply to Saddam's Iraq. Yet we know a lot about these preconditions. Four decades of systematic work --- theoretical and empirical, based on the twists and turns of US and Soviet nuclear competition --- have led to essentially a consensus as to what stable deterrence among competitive states armed with nuclear weapons amounts to. Only one of these pre-conditions is dealt with by W&M: the need for a rational, carefully calculating leadership in the would-be aggressive state, so that it knows what the costs of nuclear war and its probability of occurring are likely to be as balanced against the likely benefits of successful aggression . . . Saddam, it's claimed, satisfying this. That is doubtful, even wrong-headed --- or so we're going to show in a moment or two.
Still, that isn't the issue here. The issue is that W&M make at most only five or six references at all in their article to deterrence, none of them dealing with the other systematic preconditions of its working effectively to prevent not just aggression, but accidental or miscalculated nuclear war between a nuclear-armed deterrer (or more than one) and a nuclear-armed aggressive state. Odder still, nothing is said about the lengthy literature regarding deterrence breakdown --- even when the deterrer has nuclear weapons at its disposal and the challenging state doesn't --- that is several decades old.
What then are these conditions:
1. An invulnerable second-strike retaliatory force, which can absorb a first-strike and be used against an attacker with unacceptable costs. This reduces the incentives to "launch on warning", resulting in a perilous psychology of spiraling belief, not least in a crisis, that war is inevitable and hence pre-emption necessary. When two or more states locked in such a crisis are caught up in such a spiral of rising fear and worry, pre-emption becomes at some point self-fulfilling: get the first blow in and destroy the other side's retaliatory force before your own is.
2. Effective command, control, and communications that centralize direction of nuclear weapons in the hands of a well-informed political and military leaders whose control over deployed nuclear or presumably chemical and biological warheads --- can't be frustrated by local commanders in charge of the missile launchers, acting on their own to start a war . . . a Dr. Strangelove scenarios. A related danger involves the breakdown of communications between the governing leadership and the dispersed military commanders: in a crisis, they may have pre-established rules of launching that could lead to a nuclear strike that the leaders don't want.
3. Good information capabilities satellite reconnaissance and other monitoring devices --- that keep the leadership of a nuclear-armed state aware of what the other side is doing, to the extent that any secretive authoritarian or totalitarian state can be fathomed from the outside. Certainly, it can't easily conceal from good reconnaissance where all or even most of its deployed launchers are, whether on the ground, in the air, or on or below the seas; but as Saddamite Iraq's record shows, mobile Scuds moved around by trucks at night and hidden during the day can be difficult to pin down --- their location, their number, their warheads.
-- Alternatively, effective reconnaissance and radar-warnings need to be subject to various fail-safe conditions, similar, say, to US radar and satellite systems that go through five stages of alert before a decision is reached by the President and his advisers that what looks like missiles or warheads incoming over the North Pole, say, are in fact missiles or warheads, and not geese or stray planes.
4. A jointly shared strategy, backed by capabilities, of Mutual Assured Destruction. And though nuclear targeting and strategy and capabilities can be more ambitious --- in the cold war, witness US efforts to add counter-force and counter-political and counter-command warheads and missile capabilities for purposes of "extended deterrence" to protect West Europe from the early 1960s on --- MAD, a technical condition that was achieved in the cold war once the above conditions were satisfied, tended to encourage both caution and restraint in Moscow and Washington whenever a direct crisis might emerge between them of Cuban-like proportions that brought the world close to possible nuclear war in the fall of 1962.
-- By contrast, the danger inherent in small and likely vulnerable missile forces of the sort that Saddam or his rivals or neighbors would deploy is that they will all use a strategy of launch-on-warning --- the first warning, accurate or otherwise --- drastically compressing, as a result, the time for careful assessment by central military and political command of what their radars are actually reporting.
-- And it gets worse. Since Iraq's WMD programs, if not destroyed, will almost certainly accelerate the similar programs of Syria and Iran --- rival states after all --- and lead other Arab states to initiate their own programs, the Gulf region, probably at some point much of the entire Middle East, will have small, fairly vulnerable missile launchers armed with nuclear, chemical, or biological warheads, all primed to operate on a launch-on-warming mode. Amid such perilous circumstances --- a launch-on-warning posture; tempting exposed missile- targets in a crisis that encourage all sides to pre-empt, on a use-them or lose-them premise; the short distances that warheads will have to travel in the Gulf region or wider Middle East to strike their targets; the severely compressed time for careful, prudent decisions by military and political leaders how to act as their options rapidly dwindle when nuclear or bio-chemical warfare can erupt on their cities in minutes at most; to say nothing about unstable states that might fall into civil war, with terrorists or desperate political rivals seizing WMD and using them against their opponents or any nearby state supporting them --- what will happen to crisis stability in the region?
-- The answer: kiss it good-by.
5. Arms control, adopted as official US policy beginning in the 1970s --- and preceded by confidence-building measures like the hot-line (first teletype, later direct telephone communications) --- to stabilize nuclear competition and reduce incentives to pre-emption. Better still, stability in arms-racing and in crisis circumstances --- think of the Cuban missile crisis. Crisis-control centers, with exchanged military personnel and common access to computer information, to reinforce stability in crisis conditions: for instance, reassuring Washington or Moscow that the political and military leadership of the two super-powers wasn't abandoning their normal habitats and offices and heading for underground shelters.
6. To these pre-conditions must be added, of course, the only one that W&M deal with in their article: that the political leadership of a state must be free of dominance by a charismatic, grandiose, risk-taking despot whose decisions to go to war and use WMD --- or to supply terrorist groups on the sly with them --- aren't reducible to the arbitrary calculations of a one-man solo leader free of collective restraint at the leadership top and in control of effective military and relevant civilian bureaucracies. I
--- Ideally, you'd want a system of built-in leadership restraint: democratic and constitutional if possible, and if not, at least a leadership that is collectively institutionalized and cautious or conservative in its calculations. Authoritarian or even semi-totalitarian systems can satisfy this condition. Think of the Soviet Union after Stalin . . . with Khruschev ousted in 1964 in large part for his reckless behavior in the Cuban crisis. Or post-Maoist China from the late 1970s on. By contrast, not necessarily North Korea's totalitarian dynastic rule of Kim Jong Il ---to the extent outsiders can fathom anything about the policymaking and behavior of that ultra-Orwellian state; and and not Saddamite Iraq either.
2) The Upshot?
The overall result of these problems hardly supports the W&M views that Saddamite Iraq, now and for presumably decades into the future, can be reliably deterred and contained --- far from it. The hard fact is, none of the first conditions prevail in the Iraqi Saddamite case, even if we were to agree for the sake of argument with the implausible and unconvincing portrait of Saddam as brutal but nonetheless conservative, rationally calculating, and usually reactive in his behavior.
Nor is that all. As it happens, the problems marring their views about deterrence and containment shoot up and multiply in several directions.
For a start, W&M assume throughout the article that Saddam has been effectively contained and deterred since 1991. Huh?
Does the fact that Saddam hasn't used WMD since the Iranian war or against his Kurdish citizens in the late 1980s --- or invaded another country since the end of the Gulf War in March 1991 --- mean he's been deterred? The statement is meaningless. Only someone with direct access to Saddam's thinking could say that: he wanted, concretely, and hoped or planned to seize Kuwait again, he wanted to attack Iran and destroy it again, he was willing to consider the pros and cons of such attacks, but realized that the costs were too great. According to Kenneth Pollack, these aren't just fantasized and feckless ambitions, they are Saddam's goals --- but he's sufficiently intelligent to await the moment when he has nuclear weapons for such adventures, precisely in order, he apparently believes, to deter a new American effort to oust him from Kuwait, the other Gulf states, and whatever other states in the oil-rich region he hopes to dominate directly or indirectly.
More generally, as we'll note later, Saddam Hussein far from being a careful, reactive leader, usually exploiting the initiatives of others or responding to their provocations --- is as close to an overwrought megalomaniac full of both vengeful urges and hot-wire ambitions to establish himself as the greatest statesman in his narrow mental world since Saladin, and maybe Mohammed himself; and there is every likelihood that if he finally had deployed nuclear missiles and warheads aimed at either US allies or friendly states in the area --- or US bases in the region, alternatively, had warheads delivered furtively into American cities by terrorists carrying suitcase bombs or on cargo ships that would be publicly declared after the event --- he will likely act on those urges and ambitions and seek to revise the outcome of the first Gulf war, seeking to dominate the Gulf region and its vast oil resources and wealth. (On Saddam's pulsating megalomaniac ambitions, see the highly informed and fascinating article by Mark Bowden, "Tales of a Tyrant" in the Atlantic (May 2002) bowden Based on months of risky interviewing in Iraq, Bowden unfurls a detailed, documented profile of Saddam Hussein's mental aberrations that hardly match the image of him that W&M sketch in for us, based, presumably, on no first-hand knowledge of Iraq or Saddam equal to Bowden's or Jeffrey Goldberg's investigations, or for that matter decades of study by Kenneth Pollack).
Related to this problem is another defect in the W&M view of deterrence. It fails to mention to the lengthy scholarship going back to the pioneer work of Richard Smoke and Alexander George in the 1970s and since --- along with that of Robert Jervis and a dozen other good specialists --- of deterrence failures, and the ways in which outgunned and outmanned small states (not to mention large ones) can frustrate would-be deterring states . . . even when the latter have nuclear weapons and they don't. Such breakdowns aren't unusual. Far from it, they seem to mark the record of the cold war and the post-cold war period, right through the failures of UN peacekeepers to stop Milosevik's Yugoslavian regime from supplying Serb forces in Bosnia before 1995, or to force him into concessions through negotiations over Kosovo in the winter and early spring of 1999.
Only the use of force itself --- war, led by the US in both instances --- brought the conflicts to an end, and in the aftermath of the Kosovo war, the end too of Balkan instability by unleashing political change in Yugoslavia that toppled the demagogue's decade-long butchery in the region.
1) Where Are We Then?
Well, one thing for sure: far from the sanitized view of Saddam's statesmanship, mental state, and susceptibility to deterrence that informs W&M's article, even though they grant he's cruel.1
Above all else W&M fail to place the threats to US security and interests posed by Iraq's regime and its WMD programs --- as well as its support for Islamic terrorism --- in its wider context, any more than they try to see what lessons we can derive from the use of force in Bosnia in 1995 and then over Kosovo in 1999 did to bring peace to the ravages of war-torn Yugoslavia . . . thanks, eventually, as a direct series of repercussions following the Yugoslav defeat in Kosovo, to the internal toppling of the demagogic, ultra-nationalist Milosevik regime. Not surprisingly, then, W&M also fail to see that the current coercive diplomacy directed at Iraq and backed by a clear credible threat of war is part and parcel of the much more far-reaching menace that this country and others now face after the disaster of 9/1l:. That wider menace, as it turns out, is a composite of three interlaced, mutually aggravating threats:
1. The war on Islamo-fascist terrorism, operating globally and drawing recruit from large numbers of alienated, angry, largely unemployed Arab and other Muslim men living in failed states and bankrupt economies --- including even rich oil-producing Arab states where, as in Saudi Arabia, unemployment for men is 25% (and probably higher).
2. The widespread evocative appeal of militant Islamist fundamentalism to such psychologically unhinged, frustrated men --- many university students, like alienated European intellectuals in the early 20th century attracted to Communism and Fascism --- who find the conspiratorial and paranoid explanations of their societies' and their own multitudinous problems appealing, the outcome of foreign and diabolical machinations aimed at destroying Islam and its divine destiny to be dominant throughout the world: these foreign devils, the US and Jews and Israel (all in cahoots, Jews dominating both countries), or the West in general and at times Hindu India and Russia.
3. And the existence of four rogue states, anti-western and ruled by totalitarian or semi-totalitarian regimes (Iran) that are simultaneously pursuing WMD eagerly and either actively or indirectly support anti-western terrorisms, all of the Islamo-fascist sort for the three Middle East rogues: Syria, Iraq, and Iran, with North Korea's links to non-state terrorists harder to pin down and document, of course, despite the active arms deliveries to other rogue states and to Pakistan --- now an ally of the US under President Musharraf.
As the president has repeated noted, that multi-sided menace won't be defeated this year or next or for many years into the future. That said, to ignore how the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein and his WMD programs and defiance of the UN Security Council for 12 years fits into this wider intertwined complex of threats is to miss the very rationale for the existing Bush policy.
2) Enough general observations. What Are the More Concrete Weaknesses That Recur Throughout the W&M Argument?
Time now for more detailed, down-to-earth dissection of W&M defense of the misconstrued support for a policy of deterrence and containment as opposed to the coercive diplomacy of the Bush administration. At least eight noticeable problems emerge in their analysis of Saddam's diplomacy and mental make-up as part of that defense:
--1. W&M never actually grapple with the writings of Kenneth Pollack and others that find how much Saddam fits the profile of a high-risk, grandiosely ambitious dictator who has ruthlessly quashed all opposition to his views and aims, ignores contrary information that might still reach him at odds with those vies and aims, and simply asserts that this overall portrait of Saddam is wrong. What do they do? Essentially, reinterpret at a fast, top-skimming pace three key decisions of Saddam in past foreign policy adventures that others see as rashly and recklessly undertaken: the long and bloody war with Iran in the 1980s that Saddam started, the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and the use of chemical weapons by Saddam against the Kurds and Iran. Actually, they deal with two decisions related to the Kuwait crisis: the reasons and calculations behind the Iraqi invasion in August, then Saddam's ignoring the warnings of President Bush Sr. in the fall and early winter that the US would retaliate against Saddam if he didn't withdraw his troops and rescind the decision to annex Kuwait --- a sovereign member-state of the UN, and the only one whose sovereignty has been erased in the post-WWII era by an invading country. (Tibet, invaded and colonized and its people brutalized by the Chinese communists since 1949, with around a million of these peaceful Buddhists killed by the Beijing regime, wasn't a member of the UN at the time.)
We'll return to these 4 decisions in a moment or two. All that we need say here is that the W&M reinterpretations don't rest on any new evidence or even any close and sustained analysis of the secondary literature --- rather, a set of assertions and some passing references to this or that author in support of their views.
--2. No sustained analysis is undertaken --- in fact scarcely a mention --- regarding Saddam's overwrought grandiose ambitions, never minced by him and fully broadcast repeatedly, and more to the point, richly documented in the remarkable study most recently by Mark Bowden, "Tales of a Tyrant," Atlantic Monthly, May 2 (based on dangerous month of on-the-ground interviews in Iraq). For Bowden, Saddam sees himself as the successor of the Egyptian military dictator, Gamal Nasser, from the early 1950s until the early 1970s during which he emerged as the pre-eminent Pan-Arab leader of the Middle East; and worse, a self-view tippling over into megalomanical fantasies, as the "greatest statesman" in the last 1000 years who will lead the Arab peoples to a renewed position of global supremacy and rank with Saladin ---(the Muslim leader who destroyed the Crusaders' rule in Palestine --- just below Mohammed in the hierarchy of inspired Muslim greats. (Besides the remarkable study by Bowden, see the numerous he references and footnote sources in Pollack and Byman's International Security article mentioned earlier (especially p. 129).
--3. Downplaying and skating by Saddam's overall megalomaniac ambitions, W&M can't account for his single-minded pursuit of WMD for over 25 years now at an estimated cost of well over $100 billion. Come to that, they don't mention this single-minded obsession at all --- a strange one anyway for a statesman who is supposedly carefully calculating, seldom rash, and usually reactive or defense to others' initiatives. Nor do they make much of Saddam's repeated defiance of over 20 UN Security Council resolutions --- all passed under chapter 7 and hence legally binding as opposed to all those dealing with Israel save for resolutions 242 and 338 about trading land for peace that have been passed under chapter 6 and are essentially recommendations --- with most of these resolutions concerned with the WMD and inspections, but some dealing with human rights violations, failure to compensate Kuwait for war damage, and failure to repatriate captured Kuwaiti and other military and civilian personnel. Even odder is the omission in their article to UN Security Council resolution 1441 that calls explicitly for Saddam's regime to cooperate fully, immediately, and unconditionally with the inspectors for the purpose of full disarmament of his WMD, including R&D efforts to that end. It's as those 12 years of steady defiance of the UN, the US, and others are somehow not germane to making sense of Saddam's overall mental make-up --- his obsessive preoccupations, his overwrought ambitions, his megalomaniac self-image and sense of glorious destiny, his callous indifference to human life, even that of his citizens, his related indifference to the economic costs of his weapons programs, directly or indirectly . . . the latter in the form of 12 years now of burdensome sanctions.
--4. Nor, to go on in this connection, do W&M refer to the fact that Saddam ignored UN efforts from mid-1991 until 1996, to let the Baath Party regime sell oil abroad in order to ease the sanctions' economic burdens on the Iraqi people. Saddam refused to negotiate with the UN for 5 years here, claiming that the offer violated Iraqi sovereignty anyway. Then, when he did relent and oil-for-food and medical supplies were negotiated in 1996, Saddam siphoned off a large part of the oil revenue -- around $50 billion (about as much as the international oil market could absorb) --- for his weapons programs . . . not to mention the oil that was and is sold illegally through Turkey and Jordan and elsewhere. Add up these huge costs --- the $100 billion spent on WMD, the costs of war with Iran, the refusal to negotiate with the UN for 5 years, and the siphoning of oil revenue since 1996 for weapons purposes --- and you have a portrait of someone who, in the pursuit of his megalo ambitions, has been callously and monstrously indifferent to the economic devastation his behavior has entailed for the Iraqi people (about 25 million).
--5. Back to the crucial decisions that W&M briefly analyze, in ways that bring out in their view Saddam's inherent careful calculations and rationality, along with defensive motives in starting the Iranian war and the Kuwaiti invasion that don't fit a portrait of a reckless risk-taking aggressor. They ignore an important contrast that Pollack makes between two ruthless, Baath party dictators of a fascist bent who murdered large numbers of their citizens: Asad of Syria and Saddam. In the mid-1970s, Asad moved to dam the Euphrates River, and Saddam mobilized his forces and threatened to attack Syria: only Asad's much more cautious nature, for all his cruelty, prevented a war from occurring, by his taking measures to back off and defuse the crisis. They also ignore something that not just Pollack but others have noted: to wit, as this example and the war with Iran showed, Saddam --- even when his motives might be defensive --- resorts to a "course of action that is offensive." In particular, "whenever he has confronted a difficult situation, Saddam has frequently chosen the MOST RECKLESS of all available actions" (Pollack-Byman, p. 129, and the references there and on the next page).
To be more specific: whereas W&M refer to the initiated attack on Iran in September 1980 with Iran as a "limited war" --- Saddam seeking only to thwart Iranian Shia fervor and a revolutionary mission to spread its extremist views into the Gulf region --- they ignore the larger ambitions of Saddam to achieve regional dominance as well against a now weakened Iran in the post-Shah days, to say nothing of Saddam's miscalculations about Iranian strength. Nor do they say anything about the ruthless and rash escalation of the weaponry used by Iraq as the war dragged on, save a passing mention in a clause that Saddam used chemical weapons against both the Iraqi Kurds and against Iran. What about the missile attacks on Iranian cities that started in the late 1980s?
--6. As for the invasion of Kuwait, the actual origins of the decision and Saddam's belief the US wouldn't respond to his invasion aren't clear, though W&M rightly note that some American policymaking statements could have misled him into thinking that the Bush-Sr. administration wouldn't object, let alone retaliate militarily. We just don't know, given the paucity of information on the Iraqi side. What we do know is then altogether jumbled by W&M: Saddam's refusal to back down even with a 39 member coalition was built by the US and clear warnings were given, backed by military commitments and deployments, to withdraw from Iraq.
Their judgment: Saddam had "good reasons to believe hanging tough might work?" The two authors agree that this was a miscalculation on Saddam's part, but they say that the US initially could appear as not wanting to fight. What? After Bush-Sr immediately deployed a couple of hundred thousand troops, ships, and planes to the Gulf region as a deterrent first against a further expansion of Saddam into other Gulf States, followed by another 300,000 troops and arms that were available within weeks --- clearly an offensive force, not to mention the presence of British and French forces in the tens of thousands. No mention is made that Bush Sr went to the UN Security Council and got it to condemn the invasion of Kuwait, along with a specific demand by the UN that Saddam withdraw his forces by January 15th, 1991 or else. Nor do they refer to Bush's repeated warnings that he wasn't bluffing. Instead, we get a bland one-sentence statement that Saddam might have believed that his forces could defeat the US if Bush did go to war with his allies
exactly what international law required on January 16th: the punishment by force of a law-breaking state.
The treatment of the Kurds by W&M, as we noted earlier, is in line with their efforts to play down Saddam's homicidal pathology. True, they call it brutal, but the gist of their complaints is with the current Bush administration's stress on that brutality, something they see as hypocritical or worse. No need to say much more, other than to note that the assaults on the Kurds in the late 1980s by chemical and conventional weapons, spun out over a year, also included biological attacks with anthrax and apparently entailed the destruction of tens of thousands of Kurdish villages, with the dead --- according to Jeffrey Goldberg found to be the case, hundreds of thousands of Kurdish victims that amounted to a genocidal campaign (For the New Yorker article, "The Great Terror," go to Goldberg )
A much different kind of figure a moral monster of Hitlerian and Mussolini proportions --- emerges when the Kurdish exterminations are gone into; and for that matter, W&M say nothing about the large numbers of Shia Iraqis who were killed in the ruthless suppression of the Shia rebellion immediately started in the aftermath of the Gulf War. Nor is anything said, to boot, about the helicopter gunship attacks by the Saddamite regime against Kurdish refugees trying to flee his vengeance by taking refugee in Turkey --- mass murdering assaults that led the US and the British to set up no-fly zones in the northern Kurdish areas and the southern Shia areas, with large amounts of foreign aid and relief given to the Kurds (whose area is essentially quasi-independent today, and enjoys a flourishing economy despite the oil sanctions and Saddam's misuse of oil revenue since 1996).
--7. W&M don't mention the raging impulses in Saddam's make-up that appear repeatedly in numerous other ways: among them, the fires set to Kuwait oil fields as Iraqi forces fled back to Iraq (a huge ecological disaster), the attempted assassination of ex-President Bush when he visited Kuwait in April 1993 . . . followed by Clinton's futile retaliation the day after against Saddam with limited air attacks, the secret WMD programs that the initial UN inspections did uncover that looked like pure instruments of future revenge in war (see Pollack's article for the details), the revelations of biological and chemical weapons programs that the inspectors didn't know existed until two of Saddam's sons-in-law defected. Nor do they mention here the views of other Iraqi refugees, like Efraim Karsh, the US-trained Ph.D. physicist who once headed Saddam's nuclear program and finds him dangerously inclined to use the weapons when he gets them.
What kind of megalomaniac dictator of a mass-murdering sort emerges from these considerations (which are only highlighted here): In Pollack's words in his NY Times September 25th article, which come after he sets out the arguments of those who think Saddam has been contained and deterred and can be deterred and contained in the future:
"But what they overlook is that Mr. Hussein is often unintentionally suicidal - that is, he miscalculates his odds of success and frequently ignores the likelihood of catastrophic failure. Mr. Hussein is a risk-taker who plays dangerous games without realizing how dangerous they truly are. He is deeply ignorant of the outside world and surrounded by sycophants who tell him what he wants to hear. When Yevgeny M. Primakov, a Soviet envoy, went to Baghdad in 1991 to try to warn Mr. Hussein to withdraw, he was amazed to find out how cut off from reality Mr. Hussein was. "I realized that it was possible Saddam did not have complete information," he later wrote. "He gave priority to positive reports . . . and as for bad news, the bearer could pay a high price." These factors make Mr. Hussein difficult to deter, because his calculations are based on ideas that do not necessarily correspond to reality and are often impervious to outside influences.The Clinton administration joined Congress after the UN inspectors quit Iraq in December 1998,"
--8. What about regime change, the official US policy? Yes, US policy --- not George Bush Jr's. as we noted earlier, intended to put an end to the failure of inspections by early 1999, and quite likely again since November 8th of 2001, to disarm Saddam. According to the Congfessional resolution passed in early 1999 on this score, not only was regime-change explicitly said to be the aim of American policy henceforth regarding Iraq, the country was also committed to arm and aid the Iraqi opposition forces in and out of the country to that end. W&M, like most opponents of the Bush policy today, gloss over this. They seem to think it reflects an arbitrary Bush decision that our allies dislike (the British? The Dutch who have officially supported a war to topple Saddam? The Italian government, supportive of Bush; also the Spanish government; also the East European members of NATO; not to forget the Australians).
Three More Clinching Observations:
FIRST, as we noted earlier, nothing is said by W&M about the domestic bureaucratic and military requirements of stable deterrence: secure command and control systems, military subordination to the political leadership, ability to withstand an initial pre-emptive strike by another nuclear power and retaliate --- otherwise, Iraqi nuclear weapons would be what are called "Tempting Targets" to elicit such a strike in a crisis, say, between Iraq and Iran, both nuclear armed in the future. All that we dealt with earlier. No less inexcusable, W&M fail to deal with the built-in instability of the domestic regime that conflicts with the requirements of stable deterrence.
In particular, to get down to nitty-gritty details in a brief schematic way, 80-85% of the Iraqi population of 25 million are Shia or Kurds (the former much larger in number), and few of them can have relatives who haven't been killed or tortured or imprisoned by Saddam's secret police, Republican guards, and other ruthless forces of his regime. Sooner or later, probably in the Kurdish areas, a full breakaway from Saddam's rule will likely occur, followed by civil war and other secessionist efforts . . . including uprisings even maybe in Baghdad, where a large Shia population now lives. How would Saddam react? Would he stand by, idly, if he had WMD at his disposal and rely only on conventional forces to suppress any rebellions? Wouldn't he be tempted to use his nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, while simultaneously trying to deter a US or other foreign intervention by a nuclear threat? What then?
Alternatively, though no clear Al Qaeda links to Saddam's government have been established, there are Al Qaeda forces right now fighting Kurds in the northeast of the country. What if they get hold of WMD, by attacking Iraqi arsenals successfully? There are other Islamist extremist terrorists in Iraq; what if they were equally successful and used the weapons against us?
SECOND, W&M say nothing about the example that Iraqi's nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons would have on states, in the Middle East and elsewhere.. Almost certainly, if Saddam stays in power, not only would Iran and Syria very likely accentuate their programs as his rivals, thus, starting a WMD arms race in the area among these rival states . . . a dangerous enough prospect in its own right. Equally dangerous, maybe more so, other states would very likely follow suit --- in the Arab world, in Pakistan (reacting to Iran's nuclear build-up), then India in turn reacting to Pakistan's programs, then other countries in Asia.
That's what's really at stake here: the prospects of mass proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to dozens of states in the world in the next 10-20 years, most of them autocratic dictatorships, most not having built-in collective restraints on the supreme leaders' impulses and decisions to expand or attack others (as the Soviets and the post-Maoist Chinese have), most not fully stable, and most without effective command-and-control and communications systems that could break down and be taken over by rogue groups or terrorists or rebellious forces.
AND THIRD, while there are risks and dangers in a war to topple Saddam's regime now, the costs of letting it stay in power for years and decades into the future --- the inevitable result of limiting US policy in the Gulf region to deterrence and containment --- seem to tower above these. It was such realist management that left Saddam's rule intact in 1991 that has created such a danger in the Gulf region and for regional and broader global order and the security of this country.
Not that Syrian and Iranian programs of mass destructive weaponry aren't dangerous too. They clearly are, not to mention the crisis generated by what seems to be a desperate Pyongyang Communist regime in North Korea the last three months. But, to stay with the Middle East, once Saddam is gone one way or another, political change of a desirable sort is likely to be initiated throughout the region --- which, as certain members of the Bush administration at high levels, rightly underscore as a goal no less important than disarming Iraq, and maybe even more so . . . and for the reasons we mentioned earlier. Specifically the Iranian opponents of the clerical-fascist regime will no doubt be emboldened by the changes in Iraq, along with the presence of tens of thousands of American forces there. And the Jr. Asad fascist regime in Damascus, Syria, however cruel and dictatorial, is neither clerical-fascist as the dominant forces are in Iran nor headed by a megalomanical risk-taker who seems himself as the greatest statesman in the last 1000 years . . . and not just in the Islamic world. It will be more amenable to change under US diplomacy, I predict, of both a coercive sort and then rewards for changes.. Right now, it governs a totally bankrupt country, barely afloat.
All of which leads us back to the start of our analysis here: the strange coalition of realist power-managers, hesitant liberals, and radicals of the usual suspect sort for whom the US is almost always wrong and the exercise of American power in the world nefarious and even evil, that has embraced the Walt-Mearsheimer article. Why, more specifically, is so much of the political left so enthusiastic all of a sudden about nuclear deterrence and containment and realist-managerial power politics? Or is it just that those who have suddenly cited W&M and Scowcroft and James Baker are grasping for any sort of argument, however much they marched against such views in the 1970s and 1980s cold war period, that will help keep what appears to most Americans, according to polls, as a dangerous regime in power.
UC Santa Barbara Department of Political Science