Friday, October 01, 2004

Kerry wrong on containment 

John Kerry argued during the debate that war was not necessary as Iraq could have been contained:
"We had Saddam Hussein trapped... [The President] said Saddam Hussein would have been stronger. That is just factually incorrect. Two-thirds of the country was a no-fly zone when we started this war. We would have had sanctions. We would have had the U.N. inspectors. Saddam Hussein would have been continually weakening."
It's an interesting, and on the face of it, persuasive argument. There is really only one problem with it: it's wrong.

Let's assume that everything went ahead as Kerry would have wanted (call it the "Al Gore wins Florida" scenario): the UN arms inspectors would have been given more time and weeks or months later, at the end of the whole process they would have come back to the Security Council saying: "we found no weapons and we found no evidence of active WMD programs." What would have happened next? Surely not a continuing containment, because if the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction is your only rationale for containing Iraq, whether you are a Democratic Presidential contender or a member of the "international community", once Hans Blix gives Saddam a clean bill of health there is no other reason to continue containment and continue sanctions against Iraq.

With the UN officially announcing "no WMDs here" there would have been a huge push from countries such as France, Germany, Russia and China to close the door on the whole sorry saga and normalize relations with Iraq. After all, if Iraq has fulfilled its obligations to fully disarm under the UN resolutions, there is scarcely any credible reason to keep it from rejoining the family of nations. And so, the oil trade would resume without the corrupt fig leaf of the Oil for Food program and Iraq's old friends would restart their lucrative trade relations with Saddam.

This would be Iraq 2004 if Kerry had his way: Saddam and his criminal family still in power, sanctions and no-fly zones removed, the coffers filling up again, and rearmament as well as WMD programs ready to restart at a moment's notice (see this recent opinion piece by Mahdi Obeidi, the head of Saddam Hussein's nuclear centrifuge program).

So Kerry is wrong - we did have Saddam trapped, but it's Kerry's insistence on WMDs as the litmus test for intervention combined with his preference for the United Nations as the only legitimate arbiter of the legality and desirability of military action against Iraq would have ensured that far from "continually weakening" Saddam would have been allowed to have a fresh start.

As always, Charles Krauthammer put it best:
"Our postwar troubles have made us believe, as if under amnesia, that the choice was between war and some kind of sustainable equilibrium. It was not. The tense post-Gulf War settlement was unstable and creating huge and growing liabilities for America. First, Iraqi suffering and starvation under a cruel and corrupt sanctions regime was widely blamed on the U.S. Second, the standoff with Iraq made necessary a large American garrison in Saudi Arabia, land of the Islamic holiest places—in the eyes of many Muslims, another U.S. provocation. Indeed, these two offenses were cited by Osama bin Laden as the chief justification for his 1998 declaration of jihad against America. Most important, the sanctions 'containing' Saddam were collapsing.

"That would have produced the ultimate nightmare: a re-energized and relegitimized regime headed by Saddam - and ultimately, even worse, his sons - increasingly Islamicizing its Baathist ideology, rearming and renewing WMD programs, and extending its connections with terrorist groups. The threat was not imminent. But it was ominous and absolutely inevitable."
As it happens, last night I finished reading memoirs of Uday Hussein's schoolmate who was forced to be Uday's double. It's a surreal, frightening book, and I, for one, am happy that the Saddam-Uday & Qusay transition of power scenario is no longer a possibility.


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