Invade Iraq? No
Are the drum beats for a war against Iraq in tune with reality? No.
The drums have been beating for some time to start to focus on Iraq after the military side of the Afghan war is over. These drums have been beating loudly and often in the media. Television talk shows are often"debating" the question:"Should we attack Iraq?" Sometimes the people on these show are hardly debating the issues, but agreeing with each other in different ways. It seems that there is a group of middle-level officials, hired talking heads, and professional Iraq bashers who have taken it upon themselves to convince the public and others that we should invade Iraq. If it were only so clear cut and as easy as these persons make such an invasion to be.
There are various serious issues associated with the invasion of Iraq that may make this one of the worst times to go ahead with such an adventure. These are risky times. It is important that we clearly and fully think through our options for the next stage of the"war on terrorism", which so many have simplified to something akin to a rolling"Showdown at the OK Corral".
Does it make sense for the US to now invade Iraq?
It makes little sense to go into Iraq in the near future unless: (1) Osama Bin Laden or a significant amount of Al-Qaeda move to there; (2) Iraq directly threatens the United States with weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) or terrorist activities; or (3) Iraq is tied to the events of September 11. If any of these is proven with incontrovertible and verifiable evidence, then all bets are off. Saddam Hussein has then invited a"justified" invasion. He will once again prove himself to be one of the worst strategists in modern history.
Have the sanctions been successful?
No. Saddam Hussein and his corrupt and vicious band of cronies are actually more powerful in the country than before. Many Arab states and others have reestablished diplomatic and other ties with Iraq. Many sides of the borders of Iraq are fairly porous. Western and American goods can be found, for a heavy price usually, in the markets in Iraq. Saddam Hussein, his family and cronies have profited handsomely from smuggling around the sanctions. The people of Iraq have been savaged by the sanctions and by their leadership.
This has turned into a society of paranoia, fear, hunger and disease--without much hope. It is also a very angry society. They are mostly angry at the U.S. for what they see as the overriding savagery of the sanctions. One of the main results of the sanctions has been to make millions of new enemies -- so much for"economy of enemies."
Another of the main purposes of the sanctions was to stop Saddam from building weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). What the sanctions are doing at best is postponing the inevitable. With 165 billion plus barrels of oil the Iraqis could easily rebuild their WMD programs within 5-10 years of even their"total" destruction. Why would they do that? A main reason is that they will remain boiling angry for years about the sanctions. Eleven years is a long time to put a country under siege. It is a long time for people to simmer in their anger.
Furthermore, these sanctions have put us in a moral space that we really do not belong in.
How seriously do the Arabs take the plight of the Iraqis?
There is little sympathy in the Arab world for Saddam, but great sympathy for the Iraqi people. An invasion of Iraq would cause an eruption of greater anger based on this sympathy with the Iraqi people throughout the Arab world.
The Arab states will turn further away from us if we invade Iraq. Turkey may start to move away if we invade Iraq, especially if we use the Kurds as the front lines. We will have an extraordinarily difficult time convincing any Arab state, other than Kuwait, to give us basing rights and overflights for an invasion of Iraq. Even Turkey may not agree to similar rights and privileges they granted us in the previous Gulf War.
Furthermore, the argument that we use the Kurds like the Northern Alliance is so absurd as to not warrant serious reply.
Might the Kurds be a good option for allies in the war against Iraq, like the Northern Alliance has been in Afghanistan?
We once considered helping the Kurds in an uprising against Saddam and the Ba'athi"mafia." We had our chance in 1991 and dropped the Kurds and the Shia like rocks. Why should we think they would trust us now? For the use-the-Kurds crowd: Which Kurds? It is important to understand that the Kurds have regularly fought against each other. Once one group of Kurds invited Saddam in to destroy another group of Kurds. Turkey would also be very wary of the production of an autonomous Kurdish state. Any use of the Kurds like the Northern Alliance could do much to destabilize certain parts of Turkey, especially in the east.
What about the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and other opposition groups?
Most of these folks have no credibility within Iraq. They are mostly expatriots from wealthy families, educated in the West, and who have had little contact with the people of Iraq during the time of sanctions. They have little military experience. This is hardly a battle-hardened group. They are more like a bunch of sophisticated Iraqis who fled Saddam Hussein, and now meet regularly in five-star hotels and try to extract subsidies from the U.S. and others. The amounts they garner are hardly sufficient for anything serious to happen in a mukhbarat-(secret police and intelligence services)-dominated country. Moreover, the amounts that the administration and Congress are discussing to support these opposition groups in"toppling Saddam" are ludicrously small.
The intelligence services and others in Iraq will likely crush the INC and others rather quickly, as they have done before to others who have tried. Periodic murders of anyone perceived to be opposed to Saddam Hussein and the BaÆath have been common practice in Iraq for decades. Saddam Hussein and his gang of murderers are ruthless in their quest to retain absolute power in Iraq--no matter what the cost to their people. Frankly, they could not care less about their people.
Can we go it alone?
The argument that we can go it alone with this silk-tie opposition is minimalist, short-sighted and dangerous at best. This is not"High Noon at the OK Corral." This is a country of 22 million who have been savaged by sanctions and their leadership--and who have been cowed by their leadership, yet have many sympathizers throughout the region and elsewhere. The Gulf War was made possible with the cooperation of many countries in the region and elsewhere. That cooperation will likely not be seen this time around. The sanctions have shattered the coalition.
The opinions expressed are those of the author alone and do not neccessarily represent those of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or of any entity of the US Government.
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