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Invading Iraq - Abandoning America

12 May 2002

President Bush would like to invade Iraq and topple its odious leader, Saddam Hussein. In seeking this outcome, Bush has the support of many officials, members of Congress, and others who deplore Hussein's dictatorial regime and pursuit of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. But while there are many good reasons for wishing for the removal of Hussein, there are equally good reasons for questioning the desirability of a U.S. invasion.

The logic for such an invasion was first spelled out in Bush's State of the Union address of Jan. 29. "By seeking weapons of mass destruction," he asserted, states such as Iraq "pose a grave and a growing danger." Under these circumstances, "I cannot stand by, as the peril grows closer and closer. . . . The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."

Of course, Bush did not state openly that the surest way to accomplish this is through a full-scale invasion of Iraq. That would alarm America's allies, and possibly upset those Americans who believe that the top priority right now is to fight al Qaeda and capture those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. But there is no doubt than an invasion is what Bush has in mind: According to recent press accounts, the Pentagon is actively planning for a Desert Storm-like operation involving hundreds of thousands of American military personnel.

Such an operation, if backed by the full weight of U.S. combat power, would assuredly weaken Iraqi defenses and result in the occupation of Baghdad. Presumably, Hussein would be captured or killed and his nuclear-chemical- biological laboratories destroyed. A new government would be set up under U.S. tutelage, allowing for the lifting of the onerous U.N. trade sanctions on Iraq.

All this sounds ideal -- so why question the desirability of an American invasion? The answer lies in the unavoidable implications of the two key words, "American" and "invasion."

First, the problem with "American." Undoubtedly, Bush would prefer that any invasion of Iraq be supported by a coalition of like-minded powers (as was the 1991 invasion of Kuwait) and be preceded by an internal "uprising" by anti- Hussein forces (similar to the attacks mounted by the Northern Alliance against the Taliban in Afghanistan). But neither of these scenarios is likely to occur. None of our allies (save, perhaps, for Britain) is likely to support such a move, while most of the Arab states -- including those who participated in Desert Storm -- will oppose it.

Furthermore, the anti-government forces within Iraq are too weak to stand up to Hussein's armies, while the opposition forces outside the country (such as the Iraqi National Congress in London) have too little domestic support to lead an authentic uprising. So the invasion, when it occurs, will be an almost entirely American affair. This is not good news. Operation Desert Storm succeeded to the degree that it did because the United States was acting with the support of the international community and received critical assistance from Arab states in the region.

In addition, the highly visible use of American military power against an Arab Muslim country -- coming on top of the highly visible use of Israeli military power against an Arab Muslim population -- is certain to provoke anti-American demonstrations throughout the Islamic world and invite numerous acts of terrorism. These demonstrations might prove so forceful as to threaten the stability of pro-American governments in the area, including those in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

When the war is over, moreover, the United States will be faced with the unenviable task of creating a stable, pro-Western government in Baghdad. This could mean deploying a sizable American force there for a long time to come as various internal factions fight over the spoils -- a situation all too evident in Afghanistan today. And no one will want to assist us in controlling the chaos.

Next, the problem with "invasion." In almost all of the previous uses of military force by the United States abroad, the exercise of American power was triggered by a direct attack on this country (as in Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11) or by unambiguous aggression against an ally (as in North Korea's 1950 invasion of South Korea and Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait).

But there has been neither type of provocation in this case. Hussein may fantasize about an attack on the United States or Kuwait, but he has no capacity to execute such scenarios and will not for some time to come. So we are speaking here of an unprovoked American invasion in anticipation of a hypothetical Iraqi attack.

There are many in Washington who seem to be untroubled by such a move. Pre- emptive action is justified, they claim, by past Iraqi aggression and the assertion -- unsupported by any evidence -- that Baghdad is contemplating some new atrocity. But the American public has always demanded more than this. We have been reluctant to risk the blood of our soldiers unless we have come under attack or have become convinced, after sustained national debate, that all other forms of redress have been exhausted. In a democracy, this is the only sure way to ensure public support for a costly and dangerous military engagement.

We have not yet had this debate. The proponents of invasion have not produced any evidence that Iraq is manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, or that a direct attack is the only way to secure America's safety. What is wrong with the existing system of air patrols and space surveillance, which ensure that Iraq cannot build any large weapons plants without inviting detection and destruction? Unless and until Bush can address these concerns, a direct U.S. invasion of Iraq would represent a violation of basic American values and jeopardize the vigor of our democracy.

Michael T. Klare
Published in the San Francisco Chronicle © 2002 San Francisco Chronicle

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