War is Not Trivial
Reasons to Oppose a U.S. Invasion of Iraq
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by Stephen Zunes
Bush appears determined to move forward with plans to engage in a large-scale military operation against Iraq to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein. In the international community, however, serious questions are being raised regarding its legality, its justification, its political implications, and the costs of the war itself. Such an invasion would constitute an important precedent, being the first test of the new doctrine articulated by President George W. Bush of “preemption,” which declares that the United States has the right to invade sovereign countries and overthrow their governments if they are seen as hostile to U.S. interests. All previous large-scale interventions by American forces abroad have been rationalized—albeit not always convincingly to many observers—on the principle of collective self-defense, such as through regional organizations like the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) or the Organization of American States (OAS). To invade Iraq would constitute an unprecedented repudiation of the international legal conventions that such American presidents as Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower helped create in order to build a safer world.
Although there have been some questions raised recently about the scale and logistics of such a military operation, including some by such key Republicans as House Majority Leader Dick Armey and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, there has been surprisingly little dissent from leading policymakers, including congressional Democrats. This raises serious concerns, given that an invasion of Iraq constitutes such a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy and involves enormous political and military risks. It appears that war is inevitable unless there is a groundswell of popular opposition. This policy report attempts to encourage popular debate by raising a number of concerns that challenge some of the key rationales and assumptions behind such a military action.
Regional Allies Widely Oppose a U.S. Attack
Although there was some serious opposition to the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq in many parts of the Middle East and elsewhere, it did have the support of major segments of the international community, including several important Arab states. The Gulf War was widely viewed as an act of collective security in response to aggression by Iraq against its small neighbor. This would not be the case, however, in the event of a new war against Iraq. Instead, Washington’s proposed action would be seen as an unprovoked invasion. Unlike in 1991, when most of the region supported—and even contributed to—the U.S.-led war effort (or was at least neutral), Arab opposition is strong today. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah has warned that the U.S. “should not strike Iraq, because such an attack would only raise animosity in the region against the United States.” When Vice President Dick Cheney visited the Middle East in March, every Arab leader made clear his opposition. At the Beirut summit of the Arab League at the end of March, the Arab nations unanimously endorsed a resolution opposing an attack against Iraq.
Even Kuwait has reconciled with Iraq. This past March, Iraq and Kuwait signed a document written by Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheik Sabah al Ahmed al Jabbar al Sabah in which Iraq, for the first time, formally consented to respect the sovereignty of Kuwait. Sabah declared that his country was 100% satisfied with the agreement, and Kuwait reiterated its opposition to a U.S. invasion of Iraq. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah called the pact a “very positive achievement” and expressed confidence that Iraq would uphold the agreement.
There Is No Evidence of Iraqi Links to Al Qaeda or Other Anti-American Terrorists
In the months following the September 11 terrorist attacks, there were leaks to the media about alleged evidence of a meeting in Prague between an Iraqi intelligence officer and one of the hijackers of the doomed airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Center. Subsequent thorough investigations by the FBI, CIA, and Czech intelligence have found no evidence that any such meeting took place. None of the hijackers were Iraqi, no major figure in Al Qaeda is Iraqi, and no funds to Al Qaeda have been traced to Iraq. In fact, Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal, his country’s former intelligence chief, noted that bin Laden views Saddam Hussein “as an apostate, an infidel, or someone who is not worthy of being a fellow Muslim” and that bin Laden had offered in 1990 to raise an army of thousands of mujaheddin fighters to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.
Although Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insists that Iraq is backing international terrorism, he has been unable to present any evidence that they currently do so. In fact, the State Department’s own annual study Patterns of Global Terrorism did not list any serious act of international terrorism by the government of Iraq.
Besides, an American invasion of Iraq would probably weaken the battle against terrorism. It would not only distract from the more immediate threat posed by Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network, but it would also likely result in an anti-American backlash that would lessen the level of cooperation from Islamic countries in tracking down and neutralizing the remaining Al Qaeda cells.
Iraq Is No Longer a Significant Military Threat to Its Neighbors
It is also hard to imagine that an Iraqi aircraft carrying biological weapons, presumably some kind of drone, could somehow penetrate the air space of neighboring countries, much less far-off Israel, without being shot down. Most of Iraq’s neighbors have sophisticated antiaircraft capability, and Israel has the best regional missile defense system in the world. Similarly, as mentioned above, there is no evidence that Iraq’s Scud missiles and launchers even survived the Gulf War in operable condition. Indeed, UNSCOM reported in 1992 that Iraq had neither launchers for their missiles nor engines to power them.
Israeli military analyst Meir Stieglitz, writing in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, noted that “there is no such thing as a long-range Iraqi missile with an effective biological warhead. No one has found an Iraqi biological warhead. The chances of Iraq having succeeded in developing operative warheads without tests are zero.”
The recent American obsession with Iraq’s potential military threat is discredited by the fact that Iraq’s military, including its real and potential weapons of mass destruction, was significantly stronger in the late 1980s than it is today. (From the Carter administration through the Reagan administration and continuing through the first half of the senior Bush administration, the U.S. dismissed any potential strategic Iraqi threat to the point of coddling Saddam’s regime with overt economic subsidies and covert military support. This support continued even as Iraq invaded Iran and used chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers and Kurdish civilians.)
Iraq’s current armed forces are barely one-third their pre-war strength. Military spending by Iraq has been estimated at barely one-tenth of its levels in the 1980s. The Bush administration has been unable to explain why today Iraq is considered such a threat that it is necessary to invade the country and replace its leader—the same leader Washington quietly supported during the peak of Iraq’s military capability.
There Are Still Nonmilitary Options Available
The best way to stop the potential of Iraq developing weapons of mass destruction would be through resuming United Nations inspections, which—despite episodes of Iraqi noncooperation and harassment—were largely successful. It was Washington’s ill-considered decision to misuse the inspection teams for unrelated spying operations and the decision to engage in an intense four-day bombing campaign against Iraq that led Saddam Hussein to cease his cooperation completely in December 1998.
Since then, the United States has not offered any incentives for Iraq to allow inspections to resume. From the outset, Washington made it clear that even total cooperation with UNSCOM would not lead to an end to the devastating international sanctions against Iraq. As a result, Saddam Hussein may be refusing to allow UN inspectors to return not because he has something to hide but because he has nothing to gain by cooperating. Offering an end to or a substantial liberalization of nonmilitary sanctions in return for unfettered access by UN inspection teams would probably be the best way to regain access for the inspectors.
A number of observers, including Scott Ritter—who had criticized the Clinton administration for not pushing the Iraqi regime harder on its initial refusals to allow inspections into some of the government’s inner sanctums—believe that the Bush administration is sabotaging United Nations efforts to reopen inspections. For example, Ritter told the Los Angeles Times that the recent decision to engage in covert operations to assassinate Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi leaders “effectively kills any chance of inspectors returning to Iraq” because “the Iraqis will never trust an inspection regime that has already shown itself susceptible to infiltration and manipulation by intelligence services hostile to Iraq.”
There is also no reason why the current emphasis on deterrence will not continue to work. Iraq was able to build up its initial raw components, equipment, and technologies for the development of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons through imports, much of which came from the United States. The vast majority of these items and infrastructure has since been destroyed. Although the economic sanctions have been quite controversial as a result of their devastating effects on Iraqi civilians (and are therefore frequently violated), international support for and enforcement of the military sanctions have remained quite solid.
Finally, given that UN Security Council Resolution 687 also calls for disarmament initiatives throughout the region, the United States could help curb Iraq’s appetite for weapons procurement by reversing its opposition to arms control initiatives for the entire Persian Gulf region.
The serious moral, legal, political, and strategic problems with a possible U.S. invasion of Iraq require that the American public become engaged in the debate over the wisdom of such a dramatic course of action. What is at stake is not just the lives of thousands of Iraqi and American soldiers and thousands more Iraqi civilians but also the international legal framework established in the aftermath of World War II. Despite its failings, this multilateral framework of collective security has resulted in far greater international stability and far less intergovernmental conflict than would otherwise have been the case.
During the 2000 election campaign, George W. Bush scored well among voters by calling for greater “humility” in U.S. foreign policy, decrying the overextension of U.S. military force, and criticizing the idea that the U.S. armed forces should be engaged in such practices as “nation-building” in unstable areas. As president, Bush has made a remarkable reversal of this popular position and appears eager to embark on perhaps the most reckless foreign military campaign in U.S. history.
Taking advantage of the fear, anger, and sense of nationalism felt by so many Americans in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration and its allies in Congress and the media are now seeking to justify an unrelated military campaign that would have otherwise been unimaginable.
The most effective antidote to such arrogance of power is democracy. Unfortunately, in times of international crisis, many Americans are wary of exercising their democratic rights and are reluctant to oppose a president’s foreign policy. Yet, seldom in U.S. history has it been so important for Americans to raise their concerns publicly and challenge their elected representatives to honor their legal and moral obligations.
Stephen Zunes is Middle East editor of Foreign Policy in Focus.
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