On the brink of war, Lynch offers his take on the conflict in Iraq

Marc Lynch, assistant professor of political science at Williams, presented last Thursday night his personal “secret plan” of how to win the current U.S. impasse with Iraq without going to war, which is now imminent.

Lynch opened his lecture with a historical background on the evolution of the inspections and sanctions regime imposed on Iraq after the end of the Gulf War in 1991. “The latter part of the 1990s is very important in understanding what is going on right now. It’s not only the Bush administration, it’s much more deeply rooted,” Lynch said.

He went on to say that he does not see the threat posed by Iraq as particularly serious and, hence, there is no need to meet it with forceful means. “What did change is not the threat from Iraq,” he said, but the international situation in a post Sept. 11 world, in which the United States is much less willing to take on risks that only a year and a half ago might have been deemed acceptable. The truth is that there are many different ways to measure the threat. One is Saddam himself, who “has shown again, and again, and again that what he values most is staying alive.”

Although this tyrannical ruler has caused immense suffering of his own people, he has proved deterrable. Furthermore, Saddam does not possess any nuclear weapons; at least, that is what all the evidence points to. North Korea, Russia, and Pakistan, for that matter, are considerably more dangerous with their loose nuclear weapons likely to fall into the hands of terrorist organizations.

Inspections have played a major part in the past disarmament of Iraq and in the last six months have remained the single most controversial issue.

As Lynch suggested, “they are the centerpiece in determining whether war is necessary.” If it is accepted that inspections could potentially succeed, “there is a much weaker case for war; in fact, it almost disappears.” That is why, it is even more frustrating that the Bush administration believed from the beginning that inspections would fail and therefore provided no help to change this.

Defining precisely what exactly it means for the weapons inspections to succeed is a particularly crucial aspect that could decide between war and a forceless solution to the crisis. While inspectors are not able to provide absolute assurance of the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they can achieve what has been termed by former UNSCOM weapons inspector Scott Ritter as “qualitative disarmament.” If we are comfortable with 98 percent certainty an argument for going to war becomes difficult to sustain.

In addition, Lynch elaborated on often- cited reasons for going to war with Iraq. Oil, according to him, has been overrated as such a reason, since it is going to be years before Iraqi oil production facilities get up to speed and surpasses Saudi Arabia in oil production.

Direct links between the Iraqi regime and al- Qaida can almost certainly be excluded as well. Saddam is a secular leader, whereas Osama bin Laden is a radical Islamist.

In the past, there has been no cooperation between the two, and, although they each face a common enemy, the United States, there seems no likelihood of collaboration between the two men in the future. Lynch proceeded with developing some of the arguments against the war. A military campaign against Iraq will compromise the war on terror.

Lynch dismissed the frequent statement that launching an attack against the regime of Saddam will engender hundreds of “new bin Ladens.” He admitted, however, that through its handling of the Iraqi impasse, the United States has alienated many governments that played a constructive role in the campaign against terrorism, a markedly multilateral endeavor. What is more, the U.S. has alienated the rest of the world and engendered highly anti-American sentiments. “It’s not perverse cultural antagonism,” Lynch said. “It’s deep disquiet, deep fear of what America is doing. . . I’m terrified about the destruction of this international consent. Is that fight worth all these costs?”

And then, of course, there is the ‘noble’ cause of spreading democracy in Iraq and the entire region. According to Lynch, this is not very likely to happen. He is highly skeptical of the question of Iraqi democracy not because it is not feasible or because the Iraqi people are unwilling to embrace it, but rather because of the Bush administration.

“I don’t see any reason to believe that the U.S. will be serious enough to rebuild a democratic Iraq,” he said. U.S. occupation of Iraq for the extended period of time required to achieve a lasting solution to this crisis would constitute a massive drain of resources. “We are talking here about billions of dollars. Those are real choices.”After depicting what he himself termed “a fairly grim picture” of where things are at the moment, Lynch disclosed his own solution to the crisis.

The first component of his plan is coercive inspections. They should be marked by a serious sharing of intelligence and backed by the authorized use of force by the United Nations. “Inspectors should have the right to call air strikes,” Lynch said.

The ‘regime change’ goal, so fervently pursued by the Bush administration, will have to be dropped, but in a world that is unlike the one six months ago, concessions are possible. As the second pillar of his strategy, Lynch sees the enforcement of smart sanctions as they were originally advocated several years ago. They would consist of a much more concentrated list of goods Iraq is allowed to be import, enabling the removal of all humanitarian goods from the list of sanctions. These directly targeted sanctions would control for dual-usage of the military apparatus inside Iraq.

The first two building blocks of Lynch’s plan have already been largely developed. It is the change of the oil-for-food program that Lynch sees as a radical step forward. The goal would be to avoid the “perverse consequences” the program had in the latter part of the 1990s when it led to a humanitarian crisis among the Iraqi population.

The Iraqi state has to be stripped of its control over oil revenues, whose distribution is currently in the hands of Saddam Hussein. Instead, this function should be transferred to the Iraqi civil society, creating a middle class which has been absent in the last decade. Non-governmental organizations would have to play a central role by supervising the program and by “looking for the best deal.” This process should gradually lead to the creation of an internal Iraqi opposition that could overthrow a weakened Saddam.

“Iraq is not going to like it. Nobody is going to like it. That’s why it is so good,” Lynch said at the very end of his lecture. Yet people will accept it now because the only alternative is war. According to Lynch, his plan represents a way for both sides to get what they want. Saddam will stay alive and the rest of the world can rebuild a new, different Iraq.

In the Q&A session, Lynch admitted, however, that his plan, largely due to the fact that it requires a substantial amount of protection forces, could prove to be prohibitively costly even if the expenses were shared by a broad international coalition and the United Nations. It will be a long, messy process that conflicts with the interests of many people, who will try to undermine it. However, “I am comparing two imperfect worlds here,” said Lynch.

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