My favorite German columnist weighs in on the topic of the hour — the Europe-America divide over Iraq — in his latest Die Zeit article Atlantic dyspepsia.*
Each side owes the other the most important answers. How, please, will Bush topple the arch-enemy, without setting the region or at least the oil fields aflame? Without allies inside Iraq, (almost) without them outside Iraq as well? Bombs alone won’t do; without a Northern Alliance, without Russian military aid for its troops the Taliban might still be in power. What comes after the fall? Still more world policing by the “hyperpower,” while the EU and the UN can take care of cleanup?
The Europeans owe other answers. They bet on the UN, on the return of weapons inspectors — just the hopes that Saddam has been dashing derisively since 1998. Doesn’t the iron fist of the military need to be beneath the velvet glove of diplomacy, to give some emphasis to political gestures? That’s how it was in Bosnia, that’s how it was in Kosovo, that’s how it was in Afghanistan. It’s especially those who don’t want war, who must credibly show they’re ready for one.
That last part actually puts Joffe more in the “game theory”, “just bluffing” school than I am, but my point is that there is (slightly) more political overlap between Europe and the U.S., even now, than, say, Andrew Sullivan and Victor Davis Hanson might lead you to believe.
Your weekly Newsrack helping of contrarian thoughts on Iraq
Which leads me to that weekly or so event: thoughts on Iraq. For those of you scoring at home: I think (1) the U.S. could easily topple Saddam by ourselves; (2) any burning oil fields would be put out all over again. (3) I share Joffe’s concern about still more world policing, and the cleanup or even reparations question — unlike Afghanistan — is serious: why would anyone else would want to fix a country we attacked? Yet it would have to be repaired, or we’d have a much worse problem than mud-hut Afghanistan to worry about for the next 50 years. (4) Returning weapons inspectors would probably get the run-around all over again too, unless they have a couple or ten U.S Army regiments behind them, or a dead Saddam and Republican Guard in front of them. And (5) — if Hussein has weapons of mass destruction (WMD), I can’t think why he wouldn’t use them on us or on Israel when cornered in some Battle of Baghdad endgame.
My position remains that war #1 has still not been won, and that if we’re indeed dead set on war #2, we need to think about what comes after, and whether we can live with the likely consequences. Instead, “debate” has come to where normally sober people like Gregg Easterbrook are apparently so entranced by the hardware of it all they can hardly think of anything else. Easterbrook ends his New Republic piece (“Smart bomb”) thusly:
On September 11 we learned there is a moral obligation to act in advance against those who plan to do mass murder.
That looks good on paper, but unfortunately none of us are any more psychic today than we were on September 10, and even possession of WMD is not evidence of planning to use them (…I hope; after all, we have a fair amount of the stuff ourselves). I do know who did 9/11, and I am 100% for smashing Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and anyone who gets in the way.
It’s a good idea for the United States to promote, not tear down, the notion that starting wars isn’t right unless the world (that is, the U.N. Security Council), agrees it’s in self-defense. Someday, rather than run an empire, we’ll want to count on world cooperation and a system of foreign relations. It’s not a good idea for us to blow up the one we have — terrorists and rogue states will do even better amid world disorder than they’re doing now.
That’s why, unlike Matt Welch, I support sanctions against Iraq: the alternative is a war that could destroy the international frameworks built since World War II. While, as Matt puts it, sanctions are “the first attempt to disarm a country against its will”, they are at least not an armed and shooting pre-emptive attempt to do so. You can estimate how many Iraqis are dying until you’re blue in the face: the point remains that it’s Hussein who’s killing them, by not honoring the conditions of a cease-fire and attendant U.N. resolutions he agreed to, and by putting his palaces and weapons programs ahead of his people. Unless you see Saddam’s regime as some kind of immutable force of nature incapable of choice, the Iraqi government bears responsibility for everything that’s happened to Iraqis for the last 20 years.
I would rather see us focus on destroying the loose rats than corner and kill a trapped one (and possibly provoke the bites we seek to avoid). If Hussein wishes us ill, he’s done nothing effective about it since the Gulf War, pace Laura Mylroie; if he has WMD, so far what he’s shown is that he won’t use them willy-nilly (on us).* If he doesn’t, then a big cause for going after him vanishes.
It’s true, as Steve Den Beste has pointed out, that leaves a 3rd scenario, in which he’s working as hard as he can to get something he may want to hurt us with. But we lived with that with the Soviet Union for 50 years. Why not try containing a far smaller country? We just might be able to pull it off, our track record isn’t half bad.
*Not positive about dyspepsia, but I think it’s right. The German word is “Aufwallungen”, lit. “upwellings”.
Update 2/28: important proviso — “(on us)” — added above. As is well known, Hussein attacked Kurdish civilians and Iranian soldiers during the Iran-Iraq war with chemical weapons. The attack on Kurdish civilians is, of course, the principal reason Hussein should be loathed and feared in this respect, but it does not prove his willingness to attack Americans in the same way.