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Bush plans invite U.S. ‘Day of infamy’


We Americans are faced with two contending obligations: One is a national security obligation by the administration that calls for regime change in Iraq. The other is a moral obligation that says that the United States cannot take the law into its own hands.

By the time you read this article President Bush will probably have made his case to the United Nations on Sept. 12 on the need to strike first at Iraq, using arguments that have become familiar. Vice President Dick Cheney, for instance, holds that a first strike is justified because he believes Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, “not for the purpose of defending Iraq,” according to The New York Times, but to “seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies, directly threaten America’s friends throughout the region and subject the United States and any other nation to nuclear blackmail.”

Those arguments apparently fail to convince other world leaders. On Sept. 2, Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa, said he is “appalled” by U.S. threats to attack Iraq and warned, “Washington is introducing chaos in international affairs.”

From my experience in training to carry nuclear weapons as a Navy pilot as well as my career in analyzing the Cold War nuclear balance of power for the United States intelligence community, I believe the administration’s arguments profoundly overstate the threat from Iraq while downplaying more real dangers. From this experience, I argue that America should not threaten to invade Iraq for both national security and moral reasons.

Deterrence works

There is no need to invade Iraq even if it should acquire nuclear weapons. The risks of invading or threatening to invade Iraq are much higher than continuing our successful policy of containment: Iraq’s acquisition of nuclear weapons would be a danger but not a threat.

While watching the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on Iraq this summer, I felt thrown back in time to the Cold War. Then we faced the “Evil Empire,” predecessor to “the Axis of Evil.” The empire was ruled by a series of ruthless Soviet leaders armed with nuclear weapons. Early in the Cold War, some in Washington believed that if malevolent Kremlin leaders such as Stalin succeeded in getting more missiles, long-range bombers and submarines and armed them with more nuclear weapons than the United States had, then the Soviet Union could either win a nuclear exchange or have such superiority of nuclear and conventional forces that Moscow could coerce the West into doing its bidding.

We know what really happened. While both sides wanted dominance in nuclear weapons, neither side achieved it. And, in the only major confrontation that came dangerously close to a nuclear war, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kremlin backed down in the face of overwhelming U.S. superiority in conventional weapons in the Western Hemisphere and in intercontinental strategic weapons that could strike the Soviet Union. After that 1962 escalation of tensions, the Soviets built up their long-range strategic weapons to match Western deployments, but each side avoided challenging the other’s vital interests.

The upshot? The thousands of nuclear weapons possessed by the West did not prevent or deter the Soviets from intervening in what they called “wars of liberation” in the Third World, and the thousands of nuclear weapons of the Soviet Union did not deter the United States from assisting its allies. In short, deterrence worked, containment worked and communism ultimately collapsed.

It may be galling to some that the United States did not depose Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War in 1991. It is galling to almost everyone that he defies his agreement at the end of that war to allow full inspections for weapons of mass destruction. However, since containment is working, the refusal of Saddam to live up to this provision is not a sufficient reason to invade.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has tried to shift the argument on deterrence and containment. He claims containment has not worked with Iraq -- not because it has not deterred Iraq from using weapons of mass destruction, but because it has not prevented Iraq from developing those weapons.

Containment “has not done the job in this sense,” Rumsfeld said. “It’s clearly worked for a while. It clearly has delayed things. It’s clearly made life more complicated for Saddam. But if by ‘work’ you mean, has it actually stopped them from [developing weapons of mass destruction]? No.”

But, as the Cold War showed, possession of nuclear weapons is not a real threat if first use of them would bring self-destruction from retaliation. As long as the United States makes clear that it is willing to retaliate against Saddam’s first use of these weapons, he would not be able to create the chaos envisioned by Cheney.

In the August hearings of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, some witnesses said that Iraq could develop a few nuclear weapons by the middle of the decade. However, considering the thousands of nuclear weapons with which the West could retaliate against Iraq, even a hundred warheads would not be a realistic threat against other countries in the region as long as the United States makes clear that any nuclear strike by Iraq would trigger a U.S. response.

The discussions of weapons inspectors are side issues. Yes, we want inspections. But not getting inspectors back in or whether the inspections are adequate are not vital to security. Deterrence works against Saddam as it worked against the Soviets.

Does deterrence prevent U.S. invading?

Administration spokesmen make much of the fact that Iraq has used weapons of mass destruction to quell rebellion in the country itself and to attack and coerce neighboring countries. In the 1980s, Saddam used poison gas against Iran and against the enclave of Kurdish people living in the north of Iraq. In each case, however, Saddam’s opponents had no retaliatory capability. There was no opposing nuclear power to deter Iraq’s attacks.

As his troops retreated from Kuwait during the Gulf War, the utility of Saddam’s chemical and biological weapons fundamentally changed. Saddam could not use them against the Western coalition in Kuwait for fear of retaliation. At the same time, he probably believed that his ownership of these weapons deterred an invasion of Iraq by the Western coalition.

Perhaps as a warning to the Western coalition not to invade Iraq proper, Saddam launched short-range ballistic missiles at Israel and Saudi Arabia with warheads armed with conventional explosives. These could have been armed with chemical or biological warheads, but Saddam was probably deterred from using such warheads by fear of Western massive retaliation. Many commentators have noted that during the first Gulf War, Iraqi forces loaded chemical and biological warheads on launchers capable of reaching U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia and Israel. But Saddam was deterred from using weapons of mass destruction because he understood he faced massive retaliation.

At the same time, Saddam probably believes that any advance on Baghdad by the Western coalition in 1991 was forestalled by the threat of his using his chemical or biological weapons. In an interview with columnist Trudy Rubin, Charles Duelfer, the former deputy head of the U.N. inspections mission in Iraq from 1993 to 2000, said: “Iraqi officials believed the use of chemical weapons had saved them in the Iran-Iraq war. The [Iraqi] regime also believes possession of WMD [weapons of mass destruction] kept George Bush ‘père’ from invading Baghdad in the Gulf War, and that if they had nukes then, they would still be holding Kuwait. To cause Saddam to give up something vital to his survival, it ultimately won’t work.”

I would agree with all that Duelfer says, except his belief that if Iraq had nukes in the 1991 Gulf War the Iraqis would still be holding Kuwait. As Cuba was not a vital interest to the Soviet Union, the Soviets gave up their missiles in Cuba when challenged in 1962; the Kremlin was not willing to risk nuclear war. Similarly, Kuwait was not so vital to Saddam that he would have used nuclear weapons to defend his invasion there and have Iraq be destroyed by Western retaliation.

If Saddam believes that his possession of chemical and biological weapons deterred a Western invasion of Iraq in 1991 -- and would also do so in the near future -- then he also believes the West would be even more reluctant to act if Iraq should develop nuclear weapons. But, as long as superior Western retaliatory forces are in the region, Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction are no longer to be used to attack or coerce opponents -- they are to be held in reserve to deter an invasion of Iraq.

Risks of a U.S. invasion

If the United States were to invade Iraq, Saddam would believe he would be the prime target. In that case, it is almost certain that he would unleash his biological and chemical weapons -- and nuclear weapons if he has them -- on our invading troops, on neighboring countries and on his own peoples. The United States would bear a heavy responsibility for the large loss of life of the innocent populations of Muslim and Jewish peoples.

Moreover, in the face of Saddam’s potential to escalate in the face of a U.S. threat to invade, it is probable that Israel would launch a preemptive nuclear strike. According to a study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (June, 2002), Israel has “a triad of land, sea and air [launched] nuclear weapons” (“Missile worries focus Israel on navy,” by Walter Pincus and Vernon Loeb, The Washington Post, June 19). If Israel had nuclear weapons, it would have little reason to hesitate if it thought that Iraq were about to launch a preemptive nuclear attack.

Thus, even the movement of U.S. forces in the region capable of invading Iraq could prompt an outbreak of war with weapons of mass destruction by either Iraq or Israel. While the United States would not be directly responsible for the escalation, few would doubt that Washington’s threat to invade would have been the indirect impetus for such an escalation.

There is also a significant danger to the Kurds in northern Iraq. They were viciously attacked in the 1980s and again in the aftermath of the Gulf War. Today they live in relative prosperity in an enclave that only survives because they are in the Northern “no-fly” zone -- protected from Iraqi attack by almost daily U.S. and British air sorties.

But, if the United States were to prepare to send sufficient forces to the region for an invasion, Saddam could again wreak his vengeance on the Kurds. Well aware of this threat, the Kurds sent a representative to Washington in mid-August to discuss their concern that Saddam might launch a preemptive strike on the Kurds. We owe it to the Kurds to protect them.

Weapons to terrorists

One of the administration’s other main arguments for regime change is that Saddam would supply weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. The risks to Saddam, however, would be great: If it were shown that Iraq had provided such weapons to terrorists, no one could blame the West for subsequently launching an all-out attack to change the regime.

Moreover, according to Scott Ritter, a former weapons inspector in Iraq for the United Nations, Arab fundamentalists are anathema to Saddam. He does not wish to assist al Qaeda.

While there is a danger that Saddam could supply terrorists with chemical or biological weapons, it is more likely that terrorists would acquire these from other sources -- including a successor regime to Saddam -- unless we occupied the country for a number of years after a change in leaders.

In January 2001, a bipartisan task force presented to the new Bush administration a report card on nonproliferation programs with Russia. According to The Economist magazine, “The principal finding of the task force is that ‘the most urgent unmet national security threat today is that weapons of mass destruction or weapons-usable material in Russia could be stolen, sold to terrorists or hostile nation states, and used against American troops abroad or citizens at home.’ ” Former Sen. Sam Nunn points out that only 40 percent of Russia’s arsenal of chemical, biological and nuclear materials has been secured.

Columnist Thomas Oliphant writes that, although the Nunn-Lugar program to secure these materials has expended some $5 billion in the last nine years, it has not received permanent funding, and President Bush “is missing when the time to twist arms [in Congress] arrives” (South Carolina’s The Beaufort Gazette, July 31). Sen. Richard G. Lugar “has repeatedly chided the administration for declining to release hundreds of millions of dollars allocated by Congress to finance Russian disarmament programs” (The New York Times, July 10).

The administration’s preoccupation that Saddam might supply weapons of mass destruction to terrorists should not only extend to a concern about Russia, it should also extend to the countries in Eastern Europe and of the former Soviet Union as well as to Iran and Pakistan. We cannot have a special policy toward Iraq and different policies toward other countries that also are capable of supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.

A unilateral example

If the United States were to invade Iraq to seek a regime change, we would be setting an example for other countries to unilaterally declare war.

Pakistan’s nuclear-armed government has great difficulty combating terrorism and quelling fundamentalism. A return to democracy in that country in the near future is in great doubt. The concerns of the United States are the capability of the Pakistani government to hold in check militants who are trying to incite war between that country and India and/or a possible coup leading to a fundamentalist takeover of the Pakistani government.

If the United States were to invade Iraq because of concern about Saddam acquiring nuclear weapons, does it not also follow that the United States should invade Pakistan if a fundamentalist regime were to take over the country? That government, after a coup, probably would be heavily infiltrated by Taliban and al Qaeda forces, and these fundamentalists -- who have much less concern over their own survival than does Saddam -- would be in charge of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

This would be a much greater threat to peace than Saddam’s potential acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Economic instability

An invasion of Iraq is likely to threaten world and U.S. economic stability.

In the specter of defeat, Saddam could attack his own oilfields (as he destroyed Kuwait’s oil wells at the end of the Gulf War) as well as oil fields in Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Persian Gulf to either destroy the fields or contaminate them with the fallout of the explosions of weapons of mass destruction. A successful attack would drastically curtail the production of oil and natural gas and would throw the world’s economies into turmoil. The oil we have stored in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would not sustain the United States beyond a few months.

Even if another Gulf War is concluded without this catastrophe, the U.S. taxpayer will bear almost all the war’s costs. According to an article in The New York Times, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Japan paid $48.4 billion of the $61.1 billion cost of the 1991 Gulf War. Also, a CIA analyst pointed out that after Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait in August 1990, oil prices climbed rapidly from $15 a barrel, peaked at $40 and stayed there for more than a year.

Thus, the higher prices for oil we paid at the gas pump went first to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and then came back to the United States by those countries “to pay for the war.” In effect then, did not we taxpayers indirectly pay for most of the Gulf War?

Would the United States have to pay double in a future war? Since all the oil-producing states in the gulf have so far not supported U.S. plans for invasion, there is no guarantee that we will be “repaid” as we were in 1991. We could pay for the war in taxes as well as at the gas pump. If we invade Iraq, then America must also be willing to take on the burden of a long-term occupation of the country as we did in Germany and Japan after World War II.

Iraq is basically not a cohesive state. It is divided roughly into three spheres: The Kurds in the North, the Shi’ites in the South -- which makes up more than half the population -- and the ruling Sunni Arab minority who were imposed as rulers by Britain in the 1920s.

This raises the question that, with the best will in the world and a long-term commitment, could the United States ultimately bring peace and democracy to Iraq?

The history of our interventions of the last decade does not demonstrate that we are willing to make such a commitment. We did not bring democracy to Kuwait after winning the Gulf War -- nor have we brought it to any other major Arab country despite many billions of dollars in foreign aid. We refused to intervene in Africa to stop the carnage of millions. Our military incursions of Haiti and Somalia were failures. Robert Kagan, senior associate at the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace, wrote recently in The Washington Post that in Bosnia, “the Pentagon seemingly can’t wait to extricate itself.” And in Afghanistan, “the administration’s aversion to nation-building and peacekeeping, and even to putting substantial numbers of troops on the ground to fight the war, is palpable.” Stability in Afghanistan is tenuous outside the major cities, and the United States seems unwilling to provide the money or troops to secure stability and peace over the long term. James Webb, former secretary of the Navy, says: “The issue before us is not simply whether the United States should end the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years. Those who are pushing for a unilateral war in Iraq know full well that there is no exit strategy if we invade and stay.”

Petition the government

As war involves the people of a country in a unique way, so we all should be involved in its initiation. If you agree that America is as secure against Saddam’s threats as the United States was against the Soviet Union, and if you agree that America should not be an aggressor nation, then we need to speak out in opposition.

I concur with Congressman Dick Armey of Texas that: “We Americans don’t make unprovoked attacks.” I believe if President Bush were to do so against Iraq, he will be remembered as initiating “An American Day of Infamy.”

In order to strengthen Congress’ resolve, Americans -- in their synagogues, mosques, churches schools, colleges, communities, local business associations, in all manner of groups -- should sign a petition and send it on to Congress. I offer a sample:

We, the undersigned, do not want the United States to invade Iraq based on whether or not Saddam Hussein will acquire weapons of mass destruction or whether Iraq would supply such weapons to terrorists. As long as the United States maintains a strong military presence in the region, we believe Iraq is deterred from coercing its neighbors even if Saddam should acquire nuclear weapons. And, we believe other countries are as likely as Iraq to supply such weapons to terrorists.

An invasion could result in the death of thousands and thousands of Muslims and Jews from an escalation to weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, the movement of U.S. forces in the region capable of invading Iraq could prompt an outbreak of such a war. Even if U.S. forces were not directly involved, America would bear a heavy responsibility for these deaths.

Although an invasion might be successful, it would create a significant financial burden and it would embroil our military forces in an untenable situation for the long term. Moreover, an invasion presents a poor example of how to settle disputes. Invasion should be considered only when our country or our allies in the region are convincingly under danger of imminent attack.

To maintain the core values of the United States, we believe that our country should work actively and diligently with our allies to resolve the greater threats to peace in the region, especially the current conflicts between India and Pakistan and between Israel and the Palestinians. Our diplomatic and military efforts should be focused on binding up the wounds of war and creating the infrastructures for peace in Bosnia and Afghanistan, protecting minorities in Iraq and bolstering democracy in Pakistan and other Arab states in the region.

Charles Davis was a pilot for the Navy, flying anti-submarine 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 the National Intelligence Council. Now retired, he works for reform in the Catholic church.

National Catholic Reporter, September 20, 2002