President Bush would like to invade Iraq and topple its odious leader,
Saddam Hussein. In seeking this outcome, Bush has the support of many
officials, members of Congress, and others who deplore Hussein's
dictatorial regime and pursuit of nuclear, chemical, and biological
weapons. But while there are many good reasons for wishing for the removal
of Hussein, there are equally good reasons for questioning the
desirability of a U.S. invasion.
The logic for such an invasion was first spelled out in Bush's State of
the Union address of Jan. 29. "By seeking weapons of mass destruction," he
asserted, states such as Iraq "pose a grave and a growing danger." Under
these circumstances, "I cannot stand by, as the peril grows closer and
closer. . . . The United States of America will not permit the world's
most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive
Of course, Bush did not state openly that the surest way to accomplish
this is through a full-scale invasion of Iraq. That would alarm America's
allies, and possibly upset those Americans who believe that the top
priority right now is to fight al Qaeda and capture those responsible for
the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. But there is no doubt
than an invasion is what Bush has in mind: According to recent press
accounts, the Pentagon is actively planning for a Desert Storm-like
operation involving hundreds of thousands of American military personnel.
Such an operation, if backed by the full weight of U.S. combat power,
would assuredly weaken Iraqi defenses and result in the occupation of
Baghdad. Presumably, Hussein would be captured or killed and his
nuclear-chemical- biological laboratories destroyed. A new government
would be set up under U.S. tutelage, allowing for the lifting of the
onerous U.N. trade sanctions on Iraq.
All this sounds ideal -- so why question the desirability of an American
invasion? The answer lies in the unavoidable implications of the two key
words, "American" and "invasion."
First, the problem with "American." Undoubtedly, Bush would prefer that
any invasion of Iraq be supported by a coalition of like-minded powers (as
was the 1991 invasion of Kuwait) and be preceded by an internal "uprising"
by anti- Hussein forces (similar to the attacks mounted by the Northern
Alliance against the Taliban in Afghanistan). But neither of these
scenarios is likely to occur. None of our allies (save, perhaps, for
Britain) is likely to support such a move, while most of the Arab states
-- including those who participated in Desert Storm -- will oppose it.
Furthermore, the anti-government forces within Iraq are too weak to stand
up to Hussein's armies, while the opposition forces outside the country
(such as the Iraqi National Congress in London) have too little domestic
support to lead an authentic uprising. So the invasion, when it occurs,
will be an almost entirely American affair. This is not good news.
Operation Desert Storm succeeded to the degree that it did because the
United States was acting with the support of the international community
and received critical assistance from Arab states in the region.
In addition, the highly visible use of American military power against an
Arab Muslim country -- coming on top of the highly visible use of Israeli
military power against an Arab Muslim population -- is certain to provoke
anti-American demonstrations throughout the Islamic world and invite
numerous acts of terrorism. These demonstrations might prove so forceful
as to threaten the stability of pro-American governments in the area,
including those in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
When the war is over, moreover, the United States will be faced with the
unenviable task of creating a stable, pro-Western government in Baghdad.
This could mean deploying a sizable American force there for a long time
to come as various internal factions fight over the spoils -- a situation
all too evident in Afghanistan today. And no one will want to assist us in
controlling the chaos.
Next, the problem with "invasion." In almost all of the previous uses of
military force by the United States abroad, the exercise of American power
was triggered by a direct attack on this country (as in Pearl Harbor and
Sept. 11) or by unambiguous aggression against an ally (as in North
Korea's 1950 invasion of South Korea and Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait).
But there has been neither type of provocation in this case. Hussein may
fantasize about an attack on the United States or Kuwait, but he has no
capacity to execute such scenarios and will not for some time to come. So
we are speaking here of an unprovoked American invasion in anticipation of
a hypothetical Iraqi attack.
There are many in Washington who seem to be untroubled by such a move.
Pre- emptive action is justified, they claim, by past Iraqi aggression and
the assertion -- unsupported by any evidence -- that Baghdad is
contemplating some new atrocity. But the American public has always
demanded more than this. We have been reluctant to risk the blood of our
soldiers unless we have come under attack or have become convinced, after
sustained national debate, that all other forms of redress have been
exhausted. In a democracy, this is the only sure way to ensure public
support for a costly and dangerous military engagement.
We have not yet had this debate. The proponents of invasion have not
produced any evidence that Iraq is manufacturing weapons of mass
destruction, or that a direct attack is the only way to secure America's
safety. What is wrong with the existing system of air patrols and space
surveillance, which ensure that Iraq cannot build any large weapons plants
without inviting detection and destruction? Unless and until Bush can
address these concerns, a direct U.S. invasion of Iraq would represent a
violation of basic American values and jeopardize the vigor of our
Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at
Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and the author of "Resource Wars: The
New Landscape of Global Conflict" (Henry Holt, 2001).