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.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company