In his March/April 2002 Foreign Affairs article Next Stop Baghdad? (see Of Related Interest below), Kenneth Pollack laid out the case for why an invasion of Iraq was both necessary and possible. Nine months after the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime, he provides an update on the situation there in this report released by The Saban Center for Middle East Policy of the Brookings Institution.
This article is part of the Foreign Affairs Iraq Retrospective.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at the United Nations, 2003. (Ray Stubblebine / Courtesy Reuters)
CUTTING THE GORDIAN KNOT
As the conflict in Afghanistan winds down, the question of what the United States should do about Iraq has risen to the forefront of American foreign policy. Hawks argue that toppling Saddam Hussein should be "phase two" in the war on terrorism. They see Iraq's development of unconventional weapons as a critical threat to U.S. national interests and want to parlay the success of the Afghan campaign into a similar operation further west. Those who pass for doves in the mainstream debate point to the difficulty of such an undertaking and the lack of any evidence tying Saddam to the recent attacks on the United States. They argue that the goal of America's Iraq policy should be to revive U.N. weapons inspections and re-energize containment. Both camps have it partly right -- and partly wrong.
Thanks to Washington's own missed opportunities and others' shameful cynicism, there are no longer any good policy options toward Iraq. The hawks are wrong to think the problem is desperately urgent or connected to terrorism, but they are right to see the prospect of a nuclear-armed Saddam as so worrisome that it requires drastic action. The doves, meanwhile, are right about Iraq's not being a good candidate for a replay of Operation Enduring Freedom, but they are wrong to think that inspections and deterrence are adequate responses to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs.
After the more immediate danger posed by Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network has been dealt with, the Bush administration should indeed turn its attention to Baghdad. What it should do at that point, however, is pursue the one strategy that offers a way out of the impasse. The United States should invade Iraq, eliminate the present regime, and pave the way for a successor prepared to abide by its international commitments and live in peace with its neighbors.
THE TROUBLE WITH CONTAINMENT
The reasons for contemplating such dramatic action have little to do with the events of September 11 and the subsequent crisis and much to do with the course of U.S. policy toward Iraq since 1991. After Iraq's defeat in the Persian Gulf War, the first Bush administration hoped Saddam would fall from power. It had no clear strategy for how to make that happen, however, and so settled for keeping him isolated and defanged until the lucky day eventually arrived. For lack of a better alternative the Clinton administration continued the same policy, as has the current administration.
The central goal of containment over the past decade has been to prevent Saddam -- a serial aggressor -- from rebuilding Iraq's military power, including its weapons of mass destruction. The United States and its allies did not want to have to deter, repel, or reverse another Iraqi invasion; they wanted to deny Saddam the wherewithal to mount a threat to his neighbors in the first place. So they put in place, under U.N. auspices, a combination of economic, military, and diplomatic constraints that prevented Saddam from once again destabilizing one of the world's most strategically important regions, while simultaneously allowing humanitarian exemptions so Iraq could meet the nonmilitary needs of its population. Despite the criticism it often received, this policy was a sensible approach to a situation in which there were few attractive options. It served its purposes well, and far longer than most thought possible.
Over the last few years, however, containment has started to unravel. Serious inspections of Saddam's WMD programs stopped long ago. Fewer and fewer nations respect the U.N.-mandated constraints, and more and more are tired of constantly battling with Saddam to force him to comply. Ludicrous Iraqi propaganda about how the economic sanctions are responsible for the deaths of more than a million people since 1991 is now accepted at face value the world over. A dozen or more nations have flown commercial airliners into Iraq to flout the ban on air travel to and from the country -- a ban they now claim never existed, but one that was a well-respected fact just a few years ago. Smuggled Iraqi oil flows via Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and the Persian Gulf states at a rate more than double what it was in 1998. Iraq is increasingly able to get its hands on prohibited items such as spare parts for its tanks and planes and equipment for its crippled logistical system. Most stunning of all, the Chinese were recently caught building a nationwide fiber-optic communications network for Saddam's regime; the key nodes of this system were destroyed by U.S. airstrikes in January 2001. If respect for the sanctions has already eroded to the point where the Chinese are willing to sell Iraq such critical technology, how long will it be before someone proves willing to sell tanks? Or missiles? Or fissile material?
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