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Contain This


Morton Halperin makes an unconvincing case for containment of Iraq in the Washington Post today. A couple of points:

1) He argues that Saddam would never use WMD against us because he can be deterred. True (more or less). But he can also deter us, which Halperin implicitly acknowledges by suggesting that Saddam might use WMD if we attack him and that this precisely is a reason not to attack him. Textbook deterrence at work. If Saddam can use his existing attenuated WMD capability to prevent us from attacking him after a decade of defiance, he obviously could use a beefed up WMD capability to deter us from attacking him in other, more dire circumstance—say, if he invades Kuwait again. It is against this possibility that we must guard.

2) Halperin argues we can keep Saddam from getting more WMD with inspections and tighter sanctions. But inspections are a function of the seriousness of the military threat against Saddam. If we back off now, that threat evaporates and eventually inspectors do too (see the 1990s). As for sanctions, Halperin is out of touch with reality. France and Russia picked apart the sanctions regime in the 1990s, and will do so again as long as they know Saddam is staying in power, because he will have oil contracts and other business to dole out (Ken Pollack’s book is especially good on this point).

3) Halperin doesn’t make this argument, but many other opponents of war do, and it’s related to his deterrence point—Saddam would never give WMD to terrorists because he would be found out and we would make a devastating response. But links to terrorism are too murky for such cut-and-dry statements. Iraq may have had a role in the 1993 World Trade Center attack—we’ll probably never know. After 9/11, we suffered an anthrax attack—we still don’t know who was behind it and probably never will. Also, why would Saddam be so sure we’d make a devastating response? If we won’t follow through and attack him now, Saddam—and every other terrorist and rogue around the world—would have understandable doubts about our ability to follow through on anything.


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