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U.S. force necessary to liberate Iraq


Last September, I wrote a column for NCR that opposed the coming war. I said at the time that the United States was overstating the threat from Iraq while downplaying more real dangers. But I am revisiting the issue because I now believe that to not use force to back up the many U.N. resolutions over the past decade could lead to more serious injury to the world than to maintain the current situation of phony containment of Iraq.

My main reason for opposing war was that I believed that Saddam was deterred from using weapons of mass destruction as both the United States and Soviets were deterred during the Cold War. However, in reviewing the 1962 Cuba crisis, I found that when the United States was putting pressure on the Soviets to remove their missiles from Cuba in 1962, Castro was screaming at Moscow to launch a nuclear attack on the United States from Cuba -- even though Castro knew that Cuba would have faced destruction from the U.S. response. This unnerved Khrushchev because he knew the conflict would then probably escalate to full-scale nuclear war. Khrushchev was perfectly willing to threaten to use nuclear weapons but was constrained from using them; Castro, however, would not have been so constrained had he had them.

There is a strong possibility that Saddam is not deterred from providing chemical and biological weapons to terrorists. He has used chemical weapons against his own people in the past and there is no reason to believe that deterrence would persuade him not to provide chemical or biological weapons to terrorists. Short of an invasion of Iraq, Saddam may be persuaded to not make an overt attack with weapons of mass destruction. However, there are all sorts of ways to clandestinely provide them to terrorists.

As President Bush said in his State of the Union address: “Secretly, without fingerprints, [Saddam] could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists or help them develop their own.” Imagine how attention would be diverted away from Iraq by, say, near simultaneous chemical and/or biological weapons attacks in European and/or American cities by terrorists with weapons supplied by Iraq. Without regime change in Iraq, disasters such as this are waiting to happen.

My second major reason for advocating regime change is the suffering of the Iraqi people. The tortures, executions and other activities of the Saddam regime against its own people are comparable to the suffering of the peoples of Europe under the Nazis. Many argue that the U.N. sanctions policy is the cause of the suffering of the Iraqi people. In response, I would point out the situation of the Kurds in Northern Iraq. Under the protection of the U.S. and British aircraft in the “no-fly zone” the Kurds have prospered, while Iraqis in other regions have suffered severely. Saddam has clearly manipulated the sanctions to cover up his spending “oil for food” to build his palaces and weapons of mass destruction -- while at the same time allowing the blame for the suffering of the Sunnis and Shiites to be put on the U.N. sanctions.

There also have been accusations that “the war in Iraq is about oil.” I believe that is true -- but for reasons different from those who advance that argument.

As I see it, the United States can buy oil from whomever it wants. Note that in the current crisis in Venezuela, the Saudis have proposed increasing OPEC oil production; the sheikhs know that their financial future depends on healthy Western economies. At the same time, oil producers are signing oil contracts with Russia and other Black Sea states to diversify their suppliers.

Clearly, if Iraq was not an oil producer, the United States would not have the same interest in that country. At the same time, no country without energy to sell (except the bankrupt North Koreans) would have interest in developing weapons of mass destruction.

The United States has alternative sources of supply and among the major world economies dependent on imported energy, it is itself one of the world’s greatest energy producers. Since, unlike the other advanced Western economies, the United States also has the capability of developing other sources of energy -- shale, natural gas, hydroelectric, solar and so on -- it is a canard to assert that the United States is going to war to dominate Iraq’s oil resources.

On the other hand, few in the Western press publish the interests of the French and the Russians in perpetuating the status quo in Iraq. John Hall, a columnist for the Media General News, writes, “To a certain extent the source of the current deterioration in French-American relations over Iraq is traceable to oil.” The French have extensive contracts with Baghdad. “There is clearly a huge French financial interest in a peaceful settlement of the Iraqi issue. That doesn’t explain dovish French policy, any more than oil explains hawkish U.S. policy.” In addition, Baghdad has significant debts it owes to Moscow for arms purchased during the Soviet era. Moscow wants to collect on those debts, and both the Russians and the French have contracts to develop Iraqi oil fields once the sanctions are lifted.

Certainly, the United States will want to use some of the funds from Iraqi oil to pay for rebuilding the country after the war and the costs of occupation. But Washington knows it cannot be seen as exploiting the situation for controlling Mideast oil for its own purposes or setting up a colonial regime in Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell said, “The U.S. had sent its soldiers into foreign wars over the last century, most recently into Afghanistan, without having imperial designs on the territories it secured. We’ve put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives. ...We’ve asked for nothing but enough land to bury them in.”

I believe those who shout that the war in Iraq is “about oil” should consider these factors.

There are other significant reasons why the status quo in Iraq cannot continue. To briefly enumerate:

  • The League of Nations collapsed in the 1930s after Hitler marched into the Rhineland and Mussolini conquered Abyssinia. Many in the league said forceful measures to expel the conquerors were not needed, collective security would protect Western Europe. The result was the league turned out to be toothless and civilization plunged into World War II. Since the end of the first Gulf War there have been innumerable U.N. resolutions calling on Saddam to disarm. He has not disarmed. Short of invasion there will be no disarmament.
  • We owe the Kurds in Northern Iraq. They have been the most “sold out ally” in history. Most recently, at the end of the first Gulf War, they were brutally repressed by both the Turks and Saddam’s forces. According to a March 2 New York Times editorial, “Forcefully repressing Kurdish national aspirations has been a central doctrine of the modern Turkish state. … The Bush administration is trying to convince a skeptical world that it is ready to fight for a free, democratic Iraq. Nothing would undermine the American assertion faster than abandonment of the Kurds.”

There is a need to provide an example of democracy to the Arab world. New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman calls Bush’s plan for regime change: “the mother of all political gambles. … It could help nudge the whole Arab-Muslim world onto a more progressive track.”

  • Considering the lack of confidence among the American electorate of our president’s domestic policies, it is not surprising that there should be broad skepticism over U.S. foreign policy. There is doubt over whether the administration will keep its promises for reconstruction in Iraq (and Afghanistan) after the fighting ceases.

I believe there is no greater effort the United States could undertake at this time than the liberation of Iraq, winning the peace in both Iraq and Afghanistan and creating an example for democracy for the Arab world -- as the United States nobly did in Western Europe and Japan after World War II. Such a course would set the stage for then turning to more effective policies to resolve the Arab-Israeli situation.

Charles Davis was a pilot for the Navy and flew antisubmarine warfare aircraft in the late 1950s. In his civilian career he was an analyst of Soviet military and foreign policy for the Defense Intelligence Agency and National Intelligence Council.

National Catholic Reporter, March 14, 2003