With dinner trays in hand and recent political events on their minds, numerous students filed into the Greylock Makepeace room last Thursday evening to participate in an informal dinner/discussion with Marc Lynch, assistant professor of political science, on the prospect of an American war with Iraq. Organized by the Students for Social Justice (SSJ), the forum is the first of a series of biweekly discussions aimed at addressing current issues that affect the world at large.
Lynch, whose research focuses primarily on the Middle East, began the discussion by offering his analysis of the current situation between the United States and Iraq. He characterized a possible war with Iraq as a “horrible idea,” pointing out that there has been no evidence linking Iraq with al-Qaida and no urgency to declare war when crippling sanctions against Iraq are already in place. He further explained that such a war has the potential to spiral out of control and require extended use of American ground troops.
“The Bush administration has been horribly dishonest with the American people by pretending this [war] will be a cakewalk,” Lynch said.
Lynch went on to address the Bush administration’s main argument to declare war on Iraq: the threat of nuclear weapons. This threat has become more real to Americans in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks as they showed Americans that if terrorists obtain nuclear weapons they will indeed use them.
The main question now is whether or not Saddam Hussein has control of a nuclear arsenal. If Hussein does have nuclear weapons, Lynch said, he probably will not allow someone else such as Osama bin Laden to use them. The weapons put Hussein in a position of power, and he will not want to compromise that position.
On the other hand, if Hussein does not have nuclear weapons, he still has three options. First, Hussein could obtain the base parts needed to construct a nuclear weapon and build the weapon himself. Second, he could purchase nuclear weapons on the black market. Both these options do not seem plausible because the strict sanctions in place against Iraq prevent such actions. In a more likely scenario, Hussein could develop his own indigenous nuclear arsenal. However, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) recently conducted a study assessing Iraq’s nuclear capabilities and determined that it will take Iraq five years to develop a nuclear weapon. This study greatly undermines the Bush Administration’s stated reasons for an imminent declaration of war against Iraq.
Lynch then fielded questions regarding other reasons why the Bush administration would want to declare war on Iraq. With regards to the oil interest, Lynch explained that America has been distancing itself from Saudi Arabia as its chief source of oil since Sept. 11. If U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia collapse, the American economy will suffer greatly. Instead, if the U.S. institutes a friendly regime in Iraq, Iraq can replace Saudi Arabia as a source of oil, and American interests will be ensured.Â
Furthermore, Lynch described the Bush administration’s foreign policy strategists as people who have a long history of trying to eliminate Saddam Hussein. After Sept. 11, Lynch said, it no longer requires a massive effort to convince Americans to go after Hussein, and these members may be taking advantage of the opportunity. In fact, Lynch cited a CBS News report which focused on the first meeting of the Bush administration immediately following the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. At this meeting, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said to find a way to link the attacks to Saddam Hussein and not stop at Osama bin Laden.
A question was then raised regarding how other leaders and countries view the United States current policy on Iraq. Lynch said the U.S. policy on Iraq is needlessly alienating other countries and “costing us cooperation in gaining a coalition against terrorism.” Also, Gallup polls indicate that most Americans do not favor war against Iraq without the support of allies, Congress, and the United Nations.
Currently the Pentagon is considering a “Baghdad first” attack strategy under which the U.S. will land special forces in Baghdad and attempt to capture Hussein right away.
Rather than invading Iraq, Lynch believes that the United Nations should reinstitute the use of inspectors. From 1991 to 1998, the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) succeeded in finding and destroying Iraqi chemical and nuclear weapons. They were expelled in 1998 when it was discovered that the U.S. was using the inspectors to gather intelligence about Iraq. Reinstituting UNSCOM, Lynch feels, would be a valuable step in resolving the conflict with Iraq diplomatically.
Should the U.S. commit to a war against Iraq, Lynch does not see any evidence that Hussein’s totalitarian regime will be replaced by a democracy, since Iraq does not have a history of democracy. Furthermore, it is difficult to construct any political system in a war ravaged country. Lastly, the country has been suffering from the effects of debilitating economic sanctions.
Lynch concluded, “I do not see the prospects for a politically stable country for some time to come.”