Published on Wednesday, October 16, 2002 by the Boston Globe
A More Effective Ultimatum to Iraq
by Robert Kuttner
THERE IS AN alternative to invading Iraq that deserves serious consideration. The United States, working with the United Nations, should give Saddam Hussein one last chance to grant unimpeded access to weapons inspectors. If he refuses, the United States should bomb suspected weapons sites.
Critics of President Bush's plan to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam's regime have one strong argument and one weak argument. The strong argument has nothing to do with whether Saddam is an appalling dictator, whether he is trying to acquire nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, or even whether he'd use them.
The strong argument is that the aftermath of war would not be worth the cost. The United States would have fewer friends in the world and a more militant terrorist movement to contend with. It would have set a precedent for unilateral military action. We would have a prolonged occupation of a country whose inhabitants would be far less hospitable to GI Joe than the defeated Germans or Japanese were. Invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein could well destabilize the geopolitics of the entire Middle East region. That is the realist argument against this war.
The weak argument is that Saddam isn't such a bad guy or that other bad guys have nuclear weapons or that we should just work with the UN under current inspection plans. The problem with that argument is that every time President Bush seems reined in by the process of working through the UN, Saddam keeps making a liar out of Bush's critics.
Doves should recall that Saddam, after invading Kuwait and being beaten back by a US-led coalition, agreed to an armistice that required renouncing weapons of mass destruction and admitting weapons inspectors to confirm that he was in compliance. In return, he was allowed to stay in power. By now, it's clear that Saddam has no intention of giving inspectors even the kind of access that the stronger UN inspection force had prior to 1998.
A much-discussed plan in Washington is one proposed by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for ''coercive inspections.'' Under that plan, weapons inspectors would have full access to any site they desired, backed by a multinational military force that would come in with the inspectors.
It's a fine plan and a good alternative to the disruption and slaughter caused by war. The only problem is that Saddam is extremely unlikely to agree to it.
Our usual allies who are resisting Washington's grand design for Iraq are not doing so out of love of Saddam Hussein, out of cowardice, or because they have made separate oil deals. They are resisting for fear of the chaos that war would bring to the entire region and out of concern for the severe setback to international cooperation and international law.
The other members of the Security Council will very likely go along with a tougher set of inspection demands, but in the end they will be stymied when Saddam refuses to cooperate in good faith. This will leave the Bush administration in the position of saying, ''I told you so,'' and the US-led invasion will proceed.
But an ultimatum to Saddam, to let in armed inspectors or face the bombing of weapons plants and sites, would have several advantages over other approaches.
First, it would spare a lot of casualties among US troops and Iraqi civilians.
Second, it would get rid of the weapons of mass destruction that are Bush's rationale for full-blown war. If Saddam refused, he would face the demolition not just of known weapons plants but of the ''presidential palaces'' that have long been suspected as hiding weapons development.
Third, this approach would prevent the need for a prolonged US occupation.
Fourth, there would be far less damage to the fabric of multilateral cooperation and international law.
Fifth, it would neutralize Iraq as a military threat to the region without the disruptive side effects that might prove more disastrous to world peace and US interests than Saddam himself.
Finally, bombing weapons sites would indicate that the United States is very serious while stopping short of all-out war. That, in turn, might allow for one round of diplomacy that could result in a viable inspection system. If Saddam is denied weapons, one way or another, we can avoid all-out war.
Invasion of Iraq would mark the failure of US power to use its influence in proportion to achievable US goals. There are military alternatives that add up to more realistic defense policy than going to war.
Robert Kuttner's is co-editor of The American Prospect. His column appears regularly in the Globe.
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