Although President Bush has not formally decided to invade Iraq, the emotional chest pounding in the press by anonymous high-level civilian hawks in his administration has reached a crescendo. And while the hawks have made it seem unpatriotic to raise questions about such an invasion since Sept. 11, a careful analysis suggests that such a high-testosterone response should be avoided for 10 reasons:
- High casualties may result at home or abroad. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admits that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons. Faced with destruction of his regime (and possibly his own death), Hussein would have every incentive to use them against U.S. forces, Israel, oil fields, or even the U.S. homeland. If rag-tag al Qaeda terrorists can operate on U.S. soil undetected over a number of years, then more highly trained Iraqi intelligence agents might be able to smuggle in chemical or biological weapons (and may be already doing so). The U.S. military has been unenthusiastic about undertaking an invasion of Iraq because of fears of high casualties from urban fighting or from such Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
- Occupation of an Islamic country by the United States could be a recruiting poster for Islamic terrorists. We should remember the worldwide mobilization of Islamic radicals to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. An invasion of Iraq would play right into al Qaeda’s hands. Terrorists hope for an excessive, intrusive response by their adversary so that they can recruit more supporters.
- Invading and occupying Iraq would distract the U.S. government from the vital task of destroying an enemy that has actually attacked the U.S. homeland—al Qaeda. U.S. intelligence agencies apparently have no hard evidence that links Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks. How is an unprovoked U.S. invasion of Iraq, without international support, is relevant to the legitimate war against America’s terrorist adversaries.
- The threat from Iraq is exaggerated. Other despotic countries have or are seeking weapons of mass destruction (Syria, Libya, North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia), have invaded their neighbors (Syria, Libya, and North Korea), and even used chemical weapons (Libya in Chad during the 1980s). Moreover, Iraq’s military has been devastated by the Gulf War and a decade of sanctions. Americans should ask why the United States — half a world away — is more concerned about the Iraqi threat than are Iraq’s neighbors.
- The terrorists groups that Iraq supports do not focus their attacks on the United States. Such groups concentrate their attacks on targets in the Middle East.
- Although unsatisfying, the U.S.-led containment policy has worked. If the United States could successfully contain a superpower (USSR) for more than 40 years until it fell from within, it can continue to contain the dictator of a small, poor nation until he dies or is overthrown.
- A U.S. invasion of Iraq could destabilize or topple friendly governments in Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Enflamed Islamic populations could rise up against those regimes, which are closely aligned with the United States.
- The United States might be isolated diplomatically or have to expend large amounts of diplomatic capital to gain support for the invasion. The aforementioned friendly Islamic nations — many of whose territories would be needed to launch any invasion — and the European allies are almost universally unenthusiastic about such a military operation. The United States had to offer Turkey about $5 billion in debt forgiveness and other financial inducements to obtain even reluctant Turkish support for a U.S. attack on Iraq.
- At a time of economic sluggishness and of red ink for the U.S. government, an invasion and long-term occupation of Iraq could cost billions of dollars, bust the budget and throw the U.S. economy into a tailspin. The Gulf War Cost $80 billion (in 2002 dollars). Because the United States would probably be faced with a long occupation of Iraq to stabilize the country after the invasion, the cost is likely to be higher this time around. And unlike the Gulf War, no financial support from other nations can be expected to defray the costs.
- The threat of war in the Middle East or a loss of production from actual combat could cause the world price of oil to skyrocket. Fighting in Iraq could reduce oil production there, as could any Iraqi attack on the Kuwaiti and Saudi oilfields using missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.
After sober analysis, one must conclude that the civilian political appointees in the administration should stop the tub-thumping for war and listen to counsels of restraint by those in the military who would have to fight and die in such a war. Hussein’s survival in the 11 years after the Gulf War—combined with his demonization by three U.S. administrations—has led many to overstate the threat that despot presents and understate the costs of scrapping the containment policy that has contained him effectively.