Peace in Iraq?

One thing is for certain; Saddam Hussein is not insane, crazy or confused. Though he is known to be slightly paranoid – apparently he never sleeps in the same bed on consecutive nights – his actions dictate that in fact he is completely rational, calculating and, yes, smart. He seems all too aware of how far to escalate felonious exploits without getting bombed.

Under this Machiavellian logic, Mr. Hussein would be considered a “great man” in his ability to maintain and even extend his stranglehold over the Iraqi people while keeping the United Nations and the United States at bay, despite serious setbacks. In the span of one decade, he invaded two different states (Iran and Kuwait) and was expelled both times. The invasion of Iran and the subsequent war cost the lives of approximately two million Iraqis and Iranians. Yet since 1980 and during these invasions, Mr. Hussein has managed to build many luxurious palaces, secure the loyalty of the Republican Guard (his personal army), and assemble a formidable stockpile of non-conventional weapons — all under the watchful eye of the United States and United Nations. Another form of his terrorist power made itself apparent when an Iraqi man in Baghdad reportedly told U.S. networks that Iraqis would gladly sacrifice their sons for Hussein. Whether they say this because they love him, or fear retribution for an improper answer, is immaterial. If they do love him, then Mr. Hussein must be a master of propaganda; if they fear him, then his ability of instilling fear through the apparatus of a secret police is impressive. The result of this evil application of power is that a million Iraqi civilians have died in the wake of six years of economic sanctions imposed on Iraq in order to topple Mr. Hussein.

How could a man so fiendishly autocratic stay in power for so long and through such adversity if his agenda was not set and rationalized? He has succeeded in forcing the United States and the United Nations to comply and to play by his rules. Not only did we not bomb Iraq, but through the Clinton Administration’s indecision, we granted Mr. Hussein four crucial months during which he expanded his arsenal and dug “deeper holes and found other ways to hide the stuff [weapons] from inspection,” in the words of Richard Haass, a Middle East expert and New York Times writer.

The concern of the U.N. over the Iraqi possession of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons is well-founded and real. Here is what Mr. Hussein possesses. According to the British Foreign Office, which estimated the stockpiles of weapons that U.N. inspectors suspect lie hidden in Iraq, there are 8,400 liters of anthrax as opposed to Iraq’s admitted 640 liters, over 4000 tons of chemical weapons precursors; over 31,000 chemical weapons, over 600 tons of VX nerve gas precursors (200 tons could wipe out the entire population of the earth) and a nuclear program. But there is some good news; only two Scud missiles remain unaccounted for. And these could simply be lying in “bits and pieces” in United Nations Special Committee labs, or scattered around the countryside, Richard Butler of UNSCOM said in a Feb. 19 speech.

The dearth of Scuds available, however, does not ensure that the weapons of mass destruction will not be used. It takes little ingenuity to detonate a chemical warhead or spray anthrax over civilians. Mr. Hussein and the Iraqi regime — the only government to use chemical weapons against enemies in war since World War I — did not use Scuds to release chemical weapons on the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, nor was anything more sophisticated than gunship helicopters used in the chemical weapon massacres of the Kurds — his own people — in 1988 and 1991. In a frighteningly similar parallel, Judith Miller of the New York Times reported a plan that intended to use remote-controlled MIGs with auxiliary gas tanks carrying anthrax to be sprayed over Israel. It is the willingness to use these weapons that sets Mr. Hussein apart from other leaders.

However, the United States’s decision not to bomb Iraq was prudent and politically necessary. It was shrewd to permit Kofi Annan to fulfill his role as Secretary-General by mediating an accord with Iraq; (though the new one precariously resembles the old one). Now we can let Butler and his U.N. colleagues complete their assignment to the best of their ability. Butler pledged that there will be “no disarmament by declaration, only by verification.”

For now the status quo is good enough as long as Mr. Hussein understands that any non-conventional attack on any group or state will result in severe retaliation. This rationale of maintaining the status quo is correct for several reasons:

The first and most important reason not to bomb Iraq would be the sheer futility of purpose. No weapons would be destroyed in an attack, for surely Mr. Hussein has hidden the bulk of his biological, chemical and nuclear materials deep in the vast desert somewhere, impervious to bombs. To launch such a costly strike would be silly, almost like cutting the tail off of a lizard when you know the tail will grow back. It is the head that must be disposed of in order for real reform to occur. But invasion has been ruled out as politically unfeasible and too costly to the American people in terms of money, time and effort.

Most importantly, however, invasion would incur U.S. casualties, something modern U.S. presidents — in the wake of Vietnam — do almost anything to avoid.

Second, the bombing of Iraq at this juncture means the bombing of civilians. Mr. Hussein is unfortunately aware of this fact also. He has in the past few months brought human shields — civilian “volunteers” — into his palaces to ensure that the palaces remain intact along with the weapons of mass destruction harbored inside them.

Furthermore, in Iraq, there is little difference between a civilian and military installation. During the Gulf War for example, military supplies were stored inside hospitals and schools in an attempt to protect them. Bombing would serve only to kill civilians, and reduce the quality of life of the common Iraqi even further. Mass civilian deaths would also present the United States as a heartless aggressor to the world.

The third reason not to bomb Iraq derives from America’s already faltering relations with most Middle Eastern states. With the delayed progress in the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Plan, and the American inability to press Prime Minister Netanyahu to move beyond what he is comfortable with, any further disturbances would serve to alienate most of the Arab states. Arab solidarity can assert itself as a formidable opponent, and the United States does not want to throw gasoline on the flames of Middle East discontent.

Fourth, perhaps France, Russia and the rest of Mr. Hussein’s defenders are correct. There should be no concern, for the only state that has anything to fear in this situation is Israel. It would be the sole target of any non-conventional attack, if one were to occur. It is also a reasonable principal target. Since Israel and United States bashing is the most popular fad in the Middle East, and denouncement of Israel seems to be the only thing that the members of the Arab League can agree on, Israel presents itself as a prime destination for Iraq’s Anthrax.

It is important to remember that it was in large part Arab solidarity that opposed the use of U.S. force and thus prevented a U.S. attack. Mr. Hussein is well aware of this, and for that reason no other Arab states are targets.

The factor most reassuring for the West, however, is that Mr. Hussein has no weapon or missile that can travel beyond 600 miles.

The recipe for ensuring the vitality of the Iraqi people and control weapons of mass destruction continues to be the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

To topple his regime, a U.N
. invasion is necessary. But until the American people deem Saddam Hussein enough of a threat to their security, and until the rest of the world perceives him as a tyrant with no prohibitions and considerable power, we must placate ourselves by giving Butler and company a chance to complete their jobs. Whatever happens with U.N. inspections, nevertheless, is immaterial, for Mr. Hussein is not yet out. Until the United States can say with confidence that Saddam Hussein is no longer in power, Iraq will remain our biggest enemy.