Forget Hans Blix and the inspectors. No one should believe that Iraq has disarmed.
Forget the war, which we will win, even though it could be tougher than expected. Forget the occupation, which is likely to be messy, expensive, and endless.
Will war make America more or less secure? The answer is no.
First, war will divert attention and resources from the ongoing battle against terrorism. Al Qaeda may be weakened and the Taliban regime may be gone, but terrorist attacks continue across the globe, with bombings in Kenya, off the coast of Yemen, and in Indonesia.
American soldiers are being shot even in Kuwait, America’s closest Gulf ally. And war continues to rage in the hills of Afghanistan, where U.S. soldiers are being ambushed by opponents who escape into Pakistan. The most recent attacker was a Pakistani border guard. Yet a U.S. attack on Iraq will reduce America’s leverage to demand assistance and Pakistan’s incentive to accede to such requests. Relations with a host of other nations necessary to battle international terrorist networks — Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia — will be similarly strained.
Second, war will make more terror likely. In the short term there may be little the U.S. can do to reduce Islamic hatred, but attacking Iraq is sure to inflame fundamentalist sentiments, offering yet another grievance for recruiting terrorists.
Moreover, war could set off populist waves that might swamp already fragile regimes, such as that of Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf. Islamabad has helped North Korea with its nuclear program; imagine a nuclear-armed fundamentalist Islamic government in Pakistan.
Third, Iraq is not uniquely dangerous. Saddam is a hideous thug and has developed some fearsome weapons, but in that he is not alone. Nor is he an uncontrollable madman.
He has killed Kurdish separatists, but so has Turkey. Saddam attacked Iran in 1980, but rationally expected support from Washington — and got it.
Baghdad thought, with some reason (remember Ambassador April Glaspie?), that Washington would similarly acquiesce when he invaded Kuwait. Since then, he’s weighed the correlation of forces and done nothing.
Fourth, deterrence also works against use of weapons of mass destruction. Saddam has never employed them against any state which, like America or Israel, could obliterate him.
Deterrence will continue to work unless the administration attacks to overthrow him. Then he would be foolish not to use his biological and chemical weapons against U.S. soldiers, Israeli civilians, and Arab allies.
Linking Baghdad to September 11 would offer a casus belli, but even this administration could not prove such a connection. In fact, al Qaeda theocrats don’t like secular dictators. Saddam is unlikely to turn over the crown jewels of any weapons program to a group which he doesn’t control, especially when he would face devastating retaliation for doing so. And Washington would automatically look to Iraq after any terrorist attack with WMD.
Finally, war makes proliferation almost inevitable. If it is Gotterdamerung in Baghdad, why not hand over canisters of anthrax and whatever else Iraq has developed to trusted agents, or even al Qaeda representatives, to wreak chaos?
In the end, the administration’s planned attack will harm America’s national interests.
— Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He is a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan and visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation.