To the Editor:
Kenneth Pollack's recent article ("Next Stop Baghdad?" March/April 2002) presents a strong case for invading Iraq. Yet ultimately it is not persuasive, for it rests on a series of questionable assumptions about Saddam Hussein.
The most important of these assumptions is that Saddam is a risk-taker and therefore cannot be reliably deterred; hence a policy of containment is doomed to failure. This view, however, ignores the defining feature of Saddam Hussein: his deeply ingrained instinct for survival. Thus far, his regime has survived a destructive and ultimately inconclusive war with Iran, a devastating defeat in the Persian Gulf War, several U.S.-inspired coup attempts, a series of armed rebellions, an unknown (but probably high) number of assassination attempts, and more than a decade of crippling economic sanctions. Throughout this multitude of tribulations, Saddam has maintained, perhaps even increased, his tenacious grip on power.
Few could question that Saddam's survival instinct is finely honed, yet it is precisely this desire (and capacity) to survive that provides the key to dealing with Saddam. If confronted with a specific demand coupled with a credible threat to punish noncompliance with massive military force, Saddam's track record indicates that he will back down. If confronted with a military invasion with the express purpose of removing him from power, Saddam will have nothing to lose by rolling the dice.
His most plausible opening gambit would be an attack on Israel with the intention of broadening the war beyond the borders of Iraq. Saddam's deeply rooted desire to survive means that he can be deterred and therefore contained -- so long as it is done in the right way. Moreover, this same desire means that any military operation that seeks to remove him will be fraught with danger.
Assistant Professor of Political Science, Wright State University