Iraq and the United States: Who's Menacing Whom?

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The
recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings highlight a development
that ought to have inspired a great public debate but hasn't. From
the very beginning, the Bush administration has been intent on waging
war against Iraq, and by now nearly the whole country seems resigned
to a U.S. attack. Within the government, discussion concerns matters
of timing, strategy, mobilization of military resources, provision
of bases, and so forth. Hardly any prominent person has questioned
the attack’s underlying rationale.

Yet the justification for this war remains extremely problematic.
u201CIf we do this,u201D said Anthony Cordesman, military guru and Iraq
specialist, u201Cit will in many ways be our first pre-emptive war.
We will not have a clear smoking gun.u201D Once upon a time, such an
attack would have been labeled naked aggression; nowadays, it's
swallowed with ease as the Bush Doctrine. Is everybody really in
favor of a unilateral, unprovoked U.S. assault on a small, faraway
country that has never attacked us and does not now pose a serious
threat to us?

Ever since the build-up prior to the Gulf War, the U.S. government
has undertaken to demonize Saddam Hussein. No herculean effort has
been required along these lines, because by all accounts Saddam
is, in fact, a murderous thug who rules Iraq with an iron fist.
It stretches the limits of credulity, however, to accept characterizations
of him as another Hitler. A bit of searching might have turned up
even more despicable leaders in other countries – Kim Il Jong,
for example, whose principal occupation seems to be starving to
death the North Korean people.

The presence of a murderous thug in control of a small country is
hardly front-page news. Such rulers are dime a dozen. Yet the United
States does not stand on the verge of attacking all of them. What’s
so special about Saddam?

It is claimed, of course, that his government actively seeks to
develop weapons of mass destruction – chemical, biological,
and nuclear. Again, however, the same claim might be made about
many countries. Moreover, many of those countries have already succeeded
in developing such weapons. Yet the United States does not propose
to launch attacks on India, Pakistan, China, or Russia, not to speak
of France or the United Kingdom.

The story line seems to be that Saddam Hussein not only seeks to
obtain weapons of mass destruction but, once he has them, he will
immediately use them against the United States. This nearly-always-unspoken
assumption, when brought into the open, has less than overwhelming
persuasive power. Why would Saddam take the assumed action? What
would he gain by it?

Well, most likely, he would gain less than nothing. As former UN
weapons inspector Richard Butler told the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, Saddam understands that making first use of weapons of
mass destruction against the United States or its allies would guarantee
his own destruction. Whatever else one may think about Saddam, no
one can deny that he has been a wily leader, keenly concerned about
his personal survival. He hardly qualifies as a potential suicide
bomber.

Nobody has presented any evidence that the Iraqis now possess weapons
of mass destruction or the effective means, such as ballistic missiles,
to deliver such weapons over long distances. Senator Richard Lugar
himself admits, u201CWe haven't found the evidence.u201D During the Gulf
War, when the Iraqis were under ferocious attack, the Scud missiles
they fired at Israel were equipped only with conventional explosives,
not with the chemical or biological warheads that everybody feared
Saddam might use. Why would he act more recklessly in the future,
when not under attack, than he did during the massive attack on
his country in 1991?

At the recent Senate hearings, Senator Lincoln Chafee identified
the crucial issue when he said, u201Cthe key here is the existence of
the threat. And there's some dispute.u201D

But is there any genuine dispute? All that’s been shown is that
Saddam, like many other national leaders, is working to develop
weapons of mass destruction, and even that part of the story has
been spun out of proportion by the administration and its friends
in the media. There’s many a slip, especially in a small, impoverished
country such as Iraq, between working to develop such weapons and
succeeding in developing them as well as the effective means of
delivering them against the United States – leaving aside the
critical question of Iraqi motivation for such a suicidal attack.

The truth of the matter seems to be that the Bush administration,
apparently for reasons of political expediency, is obsessed with
defeating Saddam’s regime. To achieve this desired end, it is eager
to launch a gigantic attack on a country that the United States
first devastated in 1991 and has been provoking with aggressive
overflights of Iraqi territory and sponsorship of anti-Saddam factions
and intriguers for more than a decade. It’s almost as if the principal
grievance of the Bush administration is sheer frustration, piqued
perhaps by the president’s yearning to vindicate his father by finishing
the job that George H. W. Bush did not finish. Who knows? Given
the manifestly shoddy case the administration has made for its proposed
war, one can only fall back on speculation about its real motives.

In 1821, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams declared that this
country u201Cgoes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.u201D Now,
however, it seems that doing so, by means of aggressive u201Cpre-emptiveu201D
attacks, is to be the government's official policy. If the American
people accede to this policy, we will suffer the fate that Adams
himself feared would ensue. u201CThe fundamental maxims of [U.S] policy
would insensibly change from liberty to force,u201D he said. America
u201Cmight become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer
the ruler of her own spirit.u201D

August
6, 2002

Robert
Higgs [send him mail]
is senior fellow in political economy at the Independent Institute,
editor of The
Independent Review
,
and author of Crisis
and Leviathan
.

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