Commentary

Why Attack Iraq?

By Ivan Eland
September 10, 2002

Vice President Dick Cheney has joined Bush administration hawks in calling for war with Iraq. He has asserted, without providing evidence, that Saddam Hussein is amassing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to use against the United States and its allies. But the hawks’ rage against Hussein is based on emotions, not on sound analysis. The ever-changing reasons given for an invasion should lead one to be suspicious about the need for a war against the leader of a small, relatively poor nation. A deeper analysis of the hawks’ reasons for war show that they ring hollow:

  • Hussein Has Links to the Sept. 11 Attacks and Harbors Al Qaeda

    Alleged meetings in Prague between the ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks and an Iraqi intelligence agent have proven hard to substantiate. Even if true, they do not necessarily implicate Hussein in the planning or financing of the attacks. Some al Qaeda terrorists apparently are in Iraq today. Yet one senior U.S. intelligence official—presumably with a more disinterested view than that of administration officials—noted that it had not been shown that Hussein was harboring such terrorists; they could be in transit. The administration also says that al Qaeda members are in Iran and 43 other nations, but there is no talk of removing the governments of those countries.

  • Iraq is a State-Sponsor of Terrorism

    True. But Iran is the most active state-sponsor of terrorism and has more resources from which to finance such activities. Yet there has been no suggestion of a ground invasion of Iran. In addition, the terrorist groups that Iraq supports focus their activities in the Middle East rather than against the United States.

  • Iraq is a Threat to the Middle East

    The Iraqi armed forces were devastated by the Gulf War and have been unable to rebuild: A decade of international sanctions has prevented new weapons purchases and impeded efforts to get military spare parts. The United States, a half a world away, sees a bigger threat from Iraq than its neighbors do. For example, the autocratic rulers of Saudi Arabia are less concerned with the threat from Iraq than they are about animosity stirred up among Islamists by U.S. forces protecting the Saudi monarchy from Iraq.

  • Iraq Has Weapons of Mass Destruction and Will Attack the United States

    Cheney seems alarmed that time is running out before Saddam will use his WMD against the United States. But Iraq had biological and chemical weapons at the time of the Gulf War (and probably ever since) and has been deterred from using them against the United States by America’s nuclear arsenal.

    In the worst case, Cheney also fears that Iraq will soon get nuclear weapons, although he admitted that no one knows how quickly. But the United States did not attack the Soviet Union or Maoist China to prevent them from getting nuclear weapons. If the United States has contained and deterred such great powers with its massive nuclear arsenal, it should be able to contain and deter a nuclear Iraq. Containment and deterrence will fail only if Hussein is irrational. But Saddam has demonstrated more rationality than the erratic Kim Jong Il of North Korea or the radical theocrats running Iran. Besides, North Korea and Iran also have nuclear programs and are closer than Iraq to developing long-range nuclear missiles. Pakistan, a nuclear nation in which Islamists could take power, is probably a more dangerous source of nuclear proliferation than Iraq. Why, then, the obsession with the (purely hypothetical) threat of a nuclear Iraq?

    According to the U.S. Department of Defense, threats to the United States and its allies include 12 nations that have nuclear weapons programs, 13 countries that have biological weapons, 16 nations that have chemical weapons, and 28 countries that have ballistic missiles. How is Iraq worse than the rest of those nations with WMD, including the other “rogue states,” such as Iran, Libya, Syria, and North Korea?

  • Iraq Has Invaded Its Neighbors and Has Used WMD in the Past

    Yes, but Iraq isn’t alone. Syria, North Korea, and Libya have invaded their neighbors, and Libya used chemical weapons in its intervention in Chad.

  • Hussein Will Give WMD to al Qaeda

    More ideological affinity exists between al Qaeda and Iran than between the terrorist group and Iraq. Al Qaeda is a fundamentalist Islamic group that wants to overthrow corrupt secular regimes in the Middle East. Hussein would have to be leery that such weapons could be used against him.

The administration has failed to show why Iraq is any worse than other repressive states with WMD. Even less has the administration proven that Iraq is a threat to the United States. Administration hardliners should not use the Sept. 11 tragedy to settle old scores with Saddam Hussein.

Ivan Eland is director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute.