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Iraq next? Not yet

By W. James Antle III
web posted January 14, 2002

As US Special Forces and our British allies continue to sift through the remains of the Taliban's shattered mountain hideouts, the drumbeat for "finishing the job" against Saddam Hussein in Iraq grows louder.

In the Persian Gulf War, liberating Kuwait from the Iraqis was understood by most foreign policy realists to be in the national interest on the grounds that Saddam should neither be able to threaten the Western world's access to Middle Eastern oil nor develop nuclear weapons. Despite a decade of containment, there is evidence that Saddam is still working toward becoming a nuclear power. Enter Stage Right editor Steven Martinovich recently outlined some of this evidence in an article advocating new military intervention against Iraq.

It is worth noting at this point that the first President George Bush had reasons to stop short of Baghdad during the Gulf War. Although we today remember a successful war which led to presidential approval ratings in excess of 90 percent that were never seen before and not seen again until his son's post-9/11 tenure, it was by no means clear that the White House was going to be able to obtain congressional authorization to use force against Iraq. Fully 47 senators opposed Desert Storm, with Vice President Dan Quayle on hand in anticipation of breaking a possible tie in the fateful vote. The United Nations resolution that was the basis of the artfully crafted Gulf War coalition called specifically for ejecting Iraq from Kuwait, not effecting a change in regime.

Had President Bush (41) gone further and worked to overthrow Saddam, he would have jeopardized both his political support at home and the diverse coalition of nations supporting the US position abroad. Furthermore, there was concern of greater instability in the event that purer Islamic fundamentalists replaced Saddam or if his ouster occasioned war in that country. Finally, there were inaccurate Arab intelligence reports that the Iraqis might have been close to overthrowing Saddam on their own.

Every reason except for the last is at least worth considering before the younger President Bush makes Iraq his next target for the war against terrorism. While there are many legitimate reasons to be concerned about Saddam Hussein's actions, attacking Iraq may not be the most logical extension of an anti-terrorism policy. First and foremost, there is no concrete evidence that Saddam, loathsome as he is, was involved in the attacks against the World Trade Center or the Pentagon.

Despite initial reports that raised suspicions that the Iraqis provided al-Qaida with the intelligence necessary to carry out the 9/11 attacks, a solid link between Saddam and those incidents of mass murder has not been established. Syndicated columnist Robert Novak quoted NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson as telling US senators there was "not a scintilla" of evidence to support an Iraqi connection. Former British foreign secretary and House of Commons leader Robin Cook said, "I am not aware of any evidence pointing to Iraq's complicity in those outrages."

With al-Qaida operatives still in place in Sudan, Yemen and Somalia among other places, now is not the time to end the international coalition against terrorism. Yet that is precisely what a premature or inadequately justified attack against Iraq threatens to do. Not only would the United States lose the support of its Arab partners in the coalition, even such steadfast allies as Great Britain have indicated their reluctance to participate in a campaign against Iraq. It may be the case that only Israel would support us and that development would play right into the hands of the clerics who agitate for terrorism against the American and Israeli people. And it does not bode well for the cooperation the US will need to continue rooting out al-Qaida.

The United States must combine its military strength and willingness to use its power prudently in defense of vital national interests with a new humility in international interventions. While the blame the victim arguments of some noninterventionists following last fall's terrorist attacks were repugnant, there is truth to the claim that the US government's tendency to behave as global policeman has generated ill will in many parts of the world. Those who despise Western civilization and the American way of life point to American policies that have led to a rapidly growing number of military deployments in their propaganda. This is not a cop-out to terrorists, but recognition of the wisdom of our Founding Fathers who warned about the consequences of empire.

There are many options short of war, such as the reintroduction of nuclear inspectors, which can be applied to Iraq without compromising our ability to stem the activities of international terrorist cells. If neighbors such as Turkey feel secure with a more restrained approach, so should we. Better to keep the coalition together while continuing the war on terrorism and keeping an eye on Saddam. We retain the option to strike in the event that we discover solid evidence of a national security threat.

A Saddam-free world would be a desirable place. Yet the current international environment is one in which we should heed Teddy Roosevelt and "speak softly and carry a big stick." Let's take one step at a time.

W. James Antle III is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right and can be reached at wjantle@enterstageright.com.

Other related articles: (open in a new window)

  • Making the case for Iraq by Steven Martinovich (December 24, 2001)
    Like it or not, says Steven Martinovich, we may need to expand the the war against terrorism to Iraq
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