Iraqi Terrorism and War with Iraq?
There is a double standard in Western approaches to Middle Eastern movements. On the whole and by and large, few sane observers suspected the United States government of supporting Communist movements for Machiavellian purposes during the Cold War. I am not speaking of WW II, when the US saw the major threat to be from fascism. I am talking about 1946 forward, when Communism was the main opponent. Anyone who suggested that the US helped the communists in Greece or tried to put Allende in power in Chile would be dismissed as a conspiracy theorist. This is because Western political actors are assumed to have principles and to adhere to them by and large under ordinary circumstances.
Iranian Shi`ites feel about hyper-Sunni movements like Wahhabism exactly as the Cold War US felt about Communism. No Shi`ite looks upon Saudi Wahhabis as allies in any way shape or form. Saudi Arabia funded Iraq’s war on Iran precisely because it was so afraid of Shi`ite republicanism spreading its influence. And Shi`ite Iran never gave any support to al-Qaida in Afghanistan, despite what authors such as Bodansky have alleged. Shadowy allegations to the contrary play on an Orientalist trope of the unreliable and unprincipled Easterner, a la Forster’s *Passage to India.*
I agree that the question of Iraqi support for terrorism is insufficient as a casus belli or cause for going to war. There is not good evidence for any significant Iraqi terrorist operation outside Iraq. Some operations that have been alleged, such as the supposed 1992 attempt to assassinate Bush senior in Kuwait, have been sharply questioned by investigative journalists like Seymour Hersh. Baathist stirring the pot in Kurdistan by giving some money to the ultra-fundamentalist Ansar al-Islam is not international terrorism; it is a brutal form of domestic politics. It can be dealt with by acting against Ansar al-Islam in liberated Kurdistan.
None of us likes the idea of Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction. However, the tradition of the United States is that we go to war only if attacked. I am very nervous about a first strike doctrine, which sounds to me more Prussian than American. A first strike doctrine might well cause wars, by making enemies trigger happy. If China knows we have a first strike doctrine, what will happen the next time there is a serious tiff over Taiwan? Might they not lash out with nuclear weapons because they fear we will do so first?
Moreover, it is not in fact clear that Iraq does have weapons of mass destruction that it can deliver to the United States, or that it would if it could. Several US enemies have had far more deadly arsenals than Iraq will ever have, and yet these were never used because regimes dislike being obliterated.
As we saw last fall, anthrax and most other biological weapons are not easy to deliver, and nor are chemical weapons. Cities are thermal pumps that throw microbes into the upper atmosphere. Aum Shinrikyo only killed 12 with its sarin attack in Tokyo, but had dreamed of killing thousands. Strains can be traced (the anthrax was the Ames strain and most likely came from Ft. Detrick), and so for Iraq to release them would invite a nuclear attack on Iraq. Moreover, in today’s globalized world, any significant disease outbreak would go back to Iraq. So far, the biological weapons programs of the U.S. military in Maryland have probably contributed (unwillingly, of course, via a rogue biologist) to more American deaths than any foreign power. Perhaps we should begin by closing down Ft. Detrick before addressing hypothetical threats from Baghdad.
Iraq does not have nuclear weapons, nor does it have any means of delivering a nuclear bomb to the US, lacking ICBMs, nor is there any reason to believe that it would do so if it could, since that would invite the nuclear obliteration of Iraq by the US.
Most arguments for a US first strike on Iraq assume that Saddam would behave like al-Qaida if given the opportunity. He would not. Al-Qaida as a covert organization could strike the US and hope to survive. A state like Iraq could not do so, and Saddam certainly wants to survive and enjoy his tinpot dictatorship.
Moreover, lots of countries are bigger potential threats to the US than Iraq at the moment, China most of all. But how can we be sure that if we increase the strength of our alliance with Pakistan we might not face a threat from New Delhi, which has more proven weapons of mass destruction than does Iraq? Do the Washington hawks propose a series of wars against all the other countries in the world with WMD capabilities? If not, then why single out Iraq, which is weaker and less likely to attack the US than the others? Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter thinks the Iraqi capabilities virtually nil.
These considerations do not even begin to take into account the possibility that a US war on Iraq will throw the Middle East into even greater turmoil, detract from our ability to wage the war on al-Qaida, actually give a recruitment boost to al-Qaida and cause new massive terrorism against the US, etc., etc.
I’d like to see Saddam removed from power and the installation of a democratic Iraq. I’d rather see the Iraqis arrange for that than for it to result from an unprovoked neo-imperial war not sanctioned by the UN Security Council or by NATO.