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Resolution misfits the times

It was an extraordinary moment Oct. 2 at the House International Relations Committee. Iowa Republican Jim Leach -- a one-time aide to then-Congressman Donald Rumsfeld, Foreign Service officer, and a 13- term member of Congress -- spelled out in bone-chilling detail the likely result of a U.S.-led invasion. It’s worth noting, as we present his comments on the Iraqi War Resolution, that Leach strongly supported the 1991 Gulf War Resolution. Leach’s statement:

This resolution involves a difficult set of decisions that neither the Congress nor the Executive can duck. Anyone who is not conflicted in their judgments is not thinking seriously.

For myself, I have enormous regard for our president and great respect for his foreign policy advisers, but I have come to the conclusion that this resolution misfits the times and the circumstances.

There may be a case for regime change, but not for war against Iraq and its people.

As powerful a case for concern as the preparatory clauses of this resolution outline, they do not justify authorization for war, particularly absent further Security Council and multinational support.

Because time is brief I would like to emphasize three points:

  • Given the events of 9/11, a doctrine of preemption has a modicum of legitimacy. But the greater our power, the more important it is to use it with restraint. Otherwise it will be seen as hubristic with a strong prospect of counterproductive ramifications. Engaging in war the wrong way can too easily jeopardize the underlying conflict against terrorism and undercut core American values and leadership around the world.
  • There are many so-called “end game” elements that have not been adequately addressed. They range from the dilemma of street combat to problems of post-war governance to worldwide Muslim reaction.
  • And most profoundly, this resolution is based on a misunderstanding of modern science as it applies to weapons of war. The assumption is that there is a compelling case to preempt a nuclear weapons program. But what is underestimated is the volume and the danger of the biological agents Saddam possesses and the nature of his likely response to outside intervention.

The tactical assumption is that Saddam will be on the defensive with an American and British attack. But the likelihood is that as troubling as “end game” problems are, the “beginning conflict” issues may be the most difficult ever confronted in the region and possibly in all of modern warfare. When a cornered tyrant is confronted with a “use or lose” option with weapons of mass destruction, and is isolated in the Arab world unless he launches a “jihad” against Israel, it is not hard to imagine what he will choose.

Israel has never faced a graver challenge to its survival. The likelihood is that weapons of mass destruction, including biological agents, will be immediately unleashed in the event of Western intervention in Iraq. In the Gulf War, Saddam launched some 40 Scud missiles against Israel -- none with biological agents. Today he has mobile labs, tons of such agents, and an assortment of means to deliver them. It is true that his stockpiles could be larger in years to come, but [House] members must understand that the difference between a few and a few hundred tons of anthrax or plague may not be quantum. These are living organisms that can multiply. They endanger the region and potentially the planet.

We used to have a doctrine of M.A.D. -- Mutually Assured Destruction -- between the United States and the U.S.S.R. No one seriously contemplated aggression because of the consequences.

Today for the first time in human history we have a doctrine of mutually assured destruction between two smaller countries -- Iraq and Israel -- one with biological weapons, the other nuclear. The problem is that British and American intervention could easily trigger an Iraqi biological attack on Israel, which could be met by a nuclear response. Not only would we be the potential precipitating actor, but our troops could be caught in crosswinds and crossfire.

This is a circumstance we should step back from.

National Catholic Reporter, October 11, 2002