Tuesday, May 21

Derbyshire's Wrong on Iraq . . . For Now

John Derbyshire has a hunch (which, by his own admission, is difficult to support with hard facts) that the United States is not on course for a war with Iraq.* In his opinion, war just is not in the air. I can't bring myself to agree, but neither do I have any information on which to base a clear rebuttal. This much, however, I do know:

1. Regime change in Iraq has been the unstated (or softly spoken) goal of international sanctions and general external pressure since at least the Gulf War and it would only be a change of tactics rather than a change of goals to add military pressure into the mix.

2. Saddam Hussein has called the international community's bluff many times by playing games with inspection teams and refusing to cooperate in their attempts to verify his claims that he does not possess a nascent nuclear program, banned armaments or chemical or biological weapons. At this point, because of his refusal to cooperate with inspectors, we can never be certain whether he possesses such weapons or not (and the strong presumption of every major player, including the UN inspectors, is that he does, not least because he had them as recently as ten years ago and he has not produced evidence of their destruction).

3. We could send teams of inspectors around the country for years but as long as there is a suspicion that he is manipulating the process, no firm conclusion that he does not possess such weapons can ever be reached. This alone is a justification for invasion: we could then carry out the inspection process in the way that UN resolutions contemplated it being carried out. This may not be a sufficient reason on its own for war, but combined with the good that could be brought to the country by removing its vicious leader and the deterrent effect on neighbouring rogue states (this means you Syria and Iran), it is an important part of a sound argument in support of war.

Does a sound argument make war either (a) on balance a good idea or (b) likely? I'm not sure about the former: I don't think the reasons for invading are significantly stronger today than they have been for the last ten years (in fact, I think we have about the same amount to gain but more to lose today than five years ago), but neither am I so opposed to the idea that I wouldn't support an invasion. As for the latter, I think it is quite likely and definitely more likely than Derbyshire thinks it is. We will see.

One caveat: if the United States suffers another attack comparable in physical or psychological devastation to the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks--something that Rumsfeld and Cheney have both declared is certain to happen--then the mood in the country will shift quickly in favor of all out war against any country perceived to have harbored, armed or financed terrorists. This is not just a hunch.

*I do not know much about the terminology and protocol of warfare and, consequently, am going out on an unsteady limb here, but I don't think that the resumption of war against Iraq would techinically be a new war. As I understand it, the first part of the Gulf War ended in a ceasefire rather than a formal cessation of hostilities and a new invasion would, technically, be a continuation of the earlier conflict rather than a new war. If this (admittedly incomplete) understanding is correct, then referring to a new conflict as Gulf War II or the second Gulf War would be incorrect.