Debate: Should We Go to War with Iraq?

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Mr. Pipes is professor emeritus at Harvard. Mr. Ledeen is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of the forthcoming book, The War Against the Terror Masters. Mr. Bukovsky, a former Soviet dissident who spent twelve years in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals, is the author of To Build a Castle and Judgement in Moscow. Mr. Barnes is executive editor of the Weekly Standard.

Following is a debate recently held by David Horowitz's The moderator is FrontPage Magazine’s associate editor, Jamie Glazov.

Question #1: Gentlemen, should we go to war against Iraq?

Pipes: I strongly believe that we should go to war against Iraq, the sooner the better. Saddam is unquestionably building weapons of mass destruction — at what pace, we do not know but we must assume the worst.

Ledeen: We have been at war with Iraq for years, since we performed victory interruptus at the end of the Gulf War phase. Iraq has attempted to assassinate a former American president, broken the agreement to permit international inspectors, aided anti-American terrorists both internationally and within the United States, and called for anti-American jihad with monotonous regularity. The only question is whether or not we’re prepared to finally wage the war in such a way as to win it.

Bukovsky: I am afraid we must finish off Saddam's regime one way or the other. The information that they are about two years away from the bomb seems quite reliable.

Barnes: What the United States must do is depose Saddam Hussein and his regime, whether or not that requires a full-scale war or a small conflict requiring fewer than 100,000 American and allied troops (and there will be allies). It should be far less difficult than Desert Storm in 1991: Saddam has fewer troops, poorly armed.

Question #2: Okay, well if we are all so certain about the dire need to invade Iraq, then when do we do so?

Pipes: Speed is essential.

Ledeen: Yesterday.

Bukovsky: The sooner the better.

Barnes: Sooner rather than later. Three things need to be in place: weapons used in Afghanistan must be replenished (this is mostly accomplished), the summer must be over so aircraft carriers can be used, and the sites of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction located so they can be taken out without Saddam mounting a suicidal attack using them against the U.S., American troops, or Israel.

Question #3: Aside from the "invasion idea," does the State Deptartment's idea of a coup make any sense?

Pipes: I am skeptical about the prospect of a coup because Saddam's is a totalitarian regime and such regimes either collapse of their own weight (as in the case of the USSR) or are destroyed from the outside (Nazi Germany).

Ledeen: The idea of a coup is very bad because we want to change the regime, not replace the tyrant. We want a freer Iraq, not merely to topple one military despot and install a successor.

Bukovsky: It would have been ideal if it were realistic. However, the internal opposition capable of challenging Saddam seems lacking. The virtual betrayal of Kurds and Shiites at the end of Desert Storm makes them unlikely partners this time. And, in any case, one should try to avoid inciting either of them lest it upset American relations with Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Barnes: The coup idea won't work; it has already been tried by the CIA for years without success.

Question #4: The impression appears to be that the American government is very isolated in its fear of Saddam getting his hands on nuclear weapons? Why is this?

Pipes: I think that to some extent we are "isolated" but this is largely due to the fact that since the end of World War II we have accustomed our allies that we take the initiative in fighting common enemies, bear the main cost in human lives and resources, while they look on. Throughout the Cold War, our allies often frustrated our attempts to contain the Soviet Union in Europe and criticized us while we waged containment on a global scale.

Ledeen: We’re not isolated. Allied governments are reluctant to publicly announce their support until and unless they see we are serious. Once that happens they will be begging to participate. Or do you think they really want to be locked out of the oil market?

Barnes: The "isolation" of the U.S. government is a myth. Journalist Mike Barone recently talked to the British and German foreign ministers — they're on board an attack on Iraq. So are the French, believe it or not, though they'd never say so publicly. Plus others. This doesn't mean they'll send divisions or armadas. They won't, but they'd rather be with us than on the sidelines. And of course they do know what Saddam has in the way of weapons of mass destruction. They'd just rather keep their heads in the sand. Thank heavens President Bush is not going to allow them to continue doing that.

Bukovsky: I agree with Mr. Barnes — this is mostly posturing by the European governments, a PR game. They will publicly oppose the operation, while privately encouraging it. If the US does it alone, efficiently and quickly, many allies will be happy.

Question #5: Let us suppose that the U.S. invades Iraq on its own. How will a one-on-one war between these two nations likely turn out? Is there a chance we will find ourselves in an endless quagmire?

Pipes: I believe we will crush the Iraqi army rather quickly because we have such immense technological superiority and as the Gulf War showed, Iraqi morale and discipline are quite low. We also by now have experience in waging military operations in this region.

Barnes: The U.S. will win easily and with few casualties. There will be tens of thousands of Iraqi surrenders and defections. No quagmire.

Bukovsky: It depends on your definition of "victory." One would expect the U.S. President to address the world before engagement, and to provide a clear definition of its objectives. I certainly hope it will be clear-cut and attainable, something within the reasonable limits like eliminating the weapons of mass destruction and any facility for manufacturing them.

Question #6: But can the U.S. really win this war without allies?

Pipes: Yes, we can do it without allies who would only be in the way.

Barnes: We can win overwhelmingly without allies, but we won't have to. We'll have allies, whose presence will be more important diplomatically and politically than militarily.

Bukovsky: If under "winning" we mean toppling Saddam's regime and destroying the weapons of mass destruction (as well as destroying the equipment for its manufacturing), then the Americans can certainly win on their own.

Question #7: So you think that the U.S. can win without allies. Now let me ask this: will it have to fight without allies?

Barnes: We will not have to fight without allies because allies such as France, England, and Germany realize they're better off being with us than on the sidelines. They don't want to write themselves out of the geopolitical script.

Bukovsky: I guess the British will go along, others might provide some token support.

Question #8: Let us suppose that, for one reason or another, the U.S. suddenly becomes afraid to act and does not invade Iraq. What are the consequences?

Pipes: If we delay, Saddam may be in a position to inflict incalculable damage to our troops and to Israel.

Ledeen: If we don't remove Saddam, we will not only encourage him to use his most terrible weapons, first against Israel and then against us, but also encourage the entire terror network and the other "terror masters," Syria and Iran. Finally, it will strengthen the radical wing of the Saudi royal family, which will in turn reinforce the ideological assembly line of terrorists: the worldwide network of radical schools and mosques funded by the Saudis.

Bukovsky: Accepting a hostile nuclear power domination of the Middle East means almost total change in the international scene, starting with oil supply and ending with destruction of Israel. Sooner or later, this challenge will have to be met. And it is much easier to do it sooner rather than later.

Barnes: Unthinkable. Iraq will be encouraged to step up its development of weapons of mass destruction. It will be all the more tempted to slip WMDs to terrorists. Israel will suffer, and so will the Arab countries in the Middle East. And President Bush will be seen as a paper tiger and international blowhard, having promised regime change and not delivered.

Question #9: I know we have all gone over this a thousand times, and at the risk of repeating a broken record, let me ask this one more time: was it a mistake not to take Saddam out in the Gulf War?

Pipes: Leaving Saddam in power at the end of the Gulf War was a mistake of historic proportions for which the elder George Bush will always bear grave responsibility. I do not know what consideration prevailed, but Bush Sr. is in general a weak-willed man, forever worried about the consequences of his actions. He likes things to be unchanged and predictable. (Remember his advice to the Ukrainians in late 1991 to remain in the USSR?). I believe his son has much more pluck.

Ledeen: Yes we should have removed Saddam in '91, only the 41 loyalists and assorted fools think otherwise.

Bukovsky: Yes, it was a big mistake to leave Saddam in power in 1991. Thanks to it, we have to return to the same problem time and again. I suspect many Muslim countries will be happy see the end of Saddam. They might use the event to whip up more mass hysteria against the West, but there will be few genuine tears.

Barnes: This question touches on the myth of the Arab street. It was supposed to rise up in an anti-American fury during the Gulf War, but didn't. Why not? When the U.S. asserts itself powerfully, the Arab street — really its Arab public opinion — is quiet. When the U.S. acts docile or indifferently, then the street erupts. What this means is the U.S. could (and should) have deposed Saddam in 1991 without igniting mass hatred and the U.S. (and should) can knock him off now without generating mass hatred. Instead, such an action would instill fear and respect, which are what the U.S. needs in the Arab world.

Question #10: Let’s put Saddam aside for a moment. Personally, I am very pessimistic about the West’s ability to defeat this new threat in militant and radical Islam. I think that the Soviet and Fascist threats were easier to deal with. In the end, I fear that the radical Muslims, especially in the Arab world, will always stick together, and we will be dealing with millions upon millions of religious fanatics who not only seek our death, but also their own. How can we be confident in facing Islamic messianism? I don’t think we’ve ever seen a threat like this and I doubt that our Western democracies have the resolve or capability to defeat it. Please tell me I am wrong.

Pipes: Islamic fanaticism will not last forever. Such movements sooner or later run out of steam: this was true of the French revolutionaries, of the communists et cetera. Fatigue is sure to set in: people do not stay frenetic year after year.

Ledeen: Yes of course we're going to win, and we're going to remove the tyrannies in Iran and Syria, and either Saudi Arabia is going to change their policies — shutting down the radical schools and mosques — or we will have to go after them as well. Remember there are lots of overqualified unemployed Hashemites nowadays. You don't believe we will win because you haven't studied our history. If it were Europe you might be right; Europe is ready to surrender to anyone. They tried hard to surrender to the Soviet Union but it just didn't work out for them, poor things. But we are talking about America, and Americans love to fight and love to win.

Bukovsky: If we want to defeat militant Islam, we have to get really serious for a change. Let me re-formulate your question: is it possible in principle to defeat Islamic messianism? Yes, it is possible. But we would have to change a lot in our own world first, particularly in the ways we conduct foreign policy. Like you say: we have to get both resolve and capabilities.

Barnes: Radical Islam is an insidious and different kind of threat. There's no clear battlefield. The battlefield is everywhere. But it can be combated and thwarted if the U.S. and its allies, if there are any, zero-in on eliminating terrorists wherever they are found and force countries like Saudi Arabia to quit harboring, funding, and encouraging them. If we succeed, radical Islam will stop being a major threat and will become a small but nagging one.

Question #11: Let me be a pessimist for a moment. So we get rid of Saddam. Great. But then what? Let’s be honest: there is not going to be any democracy in Iraq, for the same reason why there is no real democracy anywhere in the Arab world. All we can basically hope for is an Arab despot who will, preferably, be on our side and resist Islamic fundamentalism. Right?

Pipes: I think we worry too much about such matters as "who will follow Saddam." There will be a period of instability, to be sure, but this kind of instability is preferable to the totalitarian stability which he imposes.

Bukovsky: I am not an expert on the Middle East, but I guess you are somewhat wrong. Most likely, Iraq will fragment into at least three parts (Kurds in the North, Shiites in the South and "Iraqis" — whatever it means — in the middle) with all the consequences it entails. Yes, it will be messy for a long while. Still, I believe we must do it because the alternative is unthinkable.

Barnes: Who says there can't be an Arab democracy? At the least, Iraq is the place to try. I'm sure it was said of Japan and Germany and India and who knows how many other countries that democracy will never take hold there. But it did. So let's give Iraq a chance. I'm optimistic it will prove popular.

Question #12: I would not be content with just a war against Iraq. The bottom line is that, notwithstanding how many Westerners want to keep their head buried in the sand, we are at war. And we are at war with radical Islam — with which Hussein has been complicit in launching terrorism against the West. We have to hit them before they hit us. So we have to go after the others once we finish off Iraq. Can we agree on who the others are?

Pipes: If Saddam is liquidated expeditiously, with minimum of casualties on our side, and nothing remains of his regime, I think much of the zeal will go out of the Islamist movement, in which case it may not be necessary to go after the others.

Ledeen: As for radical Islam, I think you'll find them less vigorous and less united once we've smashed them. But we're taking too long, that's the main problem these days.

Bukovsky: Until and unless we undergo the above-mentioned changes (get resolve and capabilities), the best strategy is to tackle the problems as they emerge, one by one, each time carefully defining our goal. No more declarations of Global Wars, please.

Barnes: We are indeed at war. But ousting Saddam is a big part of winning the war. I suspect Osama and Mullah Omar and Zawahari are all dead. So we are on the path toward victory. Radical Islam isn't immune to the effects of defeat after defeat. In this war, the U.S. is like Israel: no matter how long its enemies wage a war of terror, the U.S. will not surrender, just as Israel won't. And maybe Europeans with weak hearts will realize that their only hope of protecting their civilization is fighting, not appeasing.


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More Comments:

michael hintz - 10/29/2002

we should just go in there and kick their asses

Richard Lester - 9/6/2002

As others have already noted, this is a "debate" in which only one side of the issue is presented, somewhat like elections in the former Soviet Union (you have a vote but there's only one party to vote for). Why attach the misleading label of "debate" to a discussion between four neoconservatives, who agree on nearly everything (and always do on almost every issue)?

If the neoconservatives believe so strongly that they have a good case against Iraq, why don't they debate someone on the other side (Brent Scowcraft, for example) rather than spending so much time "debating" each other.

Also, with regard to the comments on Europe, the commentators should perhaps heed Winston Churchill's comments that the only thing worse than having allies is not having them.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 9/5/2002

Actually, for almost two decades the very, very narrow range of public discussion in the US has moved to the Right, and dissent--even from philosophical and cultural conservatives (and I am one of those folks) is met by irrationality.

There are two courses, it seem to me, to follow: One is to push the issues, confronting the Right with a mirror of its own snideness. That drives'em up a wall, but not much else is accomplished. The other--and perhaps the most difficult--is to begin real organizing of alienated constituencies and attempting to "change the discourse," as it were, as we do.

Finally, as historians we don't have a leg to stand on unless we take theory seriously, and work our way out of the bureaucratic and skeptical, and largely half-baked "linguistic turn" legacy that has left history as a profession detached from the public and focussed inward, toward the university, blind to the role of scholars in sustaining what is really a variant of corporate culture.

Anthony Baltakis - 9/5/2002

My comment is brief.Why bother to have a debate with four conservatives who agree on almost all issues.

Alec Lloyd - 9/4/2002

Which is located in every college faculty in America.

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 9/3/2002

Tom beat me to the punch. Who needs George Lucas when we have this attack of the clones? I'm delighted my old conversation partner in Washington University's Holmes Lounge has shed his dashiki and asssures us that once we act in re Saddam, everybody else'll fall into line, too! Bush Wars, Episode.....

Tom Spencer - 9/3/2002

Debate? Are you kidding me?

This is five loyal Bush supporters all talking to each other from David Horowitz's far-right wing website. There's no debate here -- it's more like a Bushian echo chamber. Was this on the Fox (Faux) News Channel perchance? If not, it certainly should've been. This is what passes for debate at Fox as well. Fox is, after all, just a right-wing echo chamber. Sigh. Surely we can actually find some debate somewhere.