reasons for war

Bill Emmott, the editor of the Economist, has a lucid op-ed in today’s Guardian arguing for the war. The kernel of his argument is that only force, or the wholly convincing threat of overwhelming force, will make Saddam comply with UN resolutions and disarm. It is the credible threat of war that has now made it possible that Saddam could be disarmed peacefully, under the terms of the new resolution the UN security council approved unanimously on November 8. That still, however, leaves a question hanging: if he calls the UN’s bluff by making a fake declaration on December 8, should the threat be carried out? I believe that, not least because it’s true of almost every country threatened by the UN. But the inescapable corollary is that once we have assembled an overwhelmingly impressive force (which seems to happen once every ten years) we have to use it. Otherwise, Saddam will simply resume his efforts to rearm once the troops go away.

Emmott does the usual three-card trick about whether Saddam actually has anything that needs disarming. He’s different from the North Koreans, says Emmott, because they could kill 100,000 people in the densely populated regions of the South close to the DMZ with a conventional artillery barrage. So they can’t be invaded, even though they have go nukes.

But Saddam, if he had weapons capable of killing 100,000 Jews, could presumably get them into South Lebanon without too much trouble, and they could be delivered from there. So it’s a fair bet that none of the war planners really believe that he has anything to disarm. Otherwise, he could hurt Israel as badly as he would himself be hurt. You may say this is not rational, considering the certainty of awful retaliation. But the argument that Saddam will behave rationally is not open to the war party who argue that his irrationality is exactly what makes him dangerous. Besides, if he is finally driven into his last bunker, then he has nothing any more to lose. If you take seriously the comparison of Saddam with Hitler, and ask yourself “What would Hitler do?” I think that in the final götterdämmerung, he would do anything.

Which leaves us back at the beginning of the argument. He cannot be allowed to obtain such weapons, says Emmott. But the only way to stop him is with the immediate credible threat of force. If he survives the present UN inspections, the threat of force will once more lose credibility. So he must not be allowed to survive these inspections. The threatened force must be used to remove him. Otherwise it won’t be credible. There’s another condition neccessary if the threat of force must be effective: Saddam must not in fact have usable weapons of mass destruction with which he could retaliate when all seems lost. So the only sense in which a war to disarm Iraq is possible is if it does not in fact need disarming. But such a way is absolutely neccessary. QED.

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3 Responses to reasons for war

  1. Rupert says:

    Saddam has now been asked for proof that he doesn’t have MWDs. That reminds me of one of my encounters with the Inland Revenue, where I said that for various reasons, I hadn’t done any freelance for a couple of years. “Can you prove that?” they asked. I asked what on earth that sort of proof would look like, and they changed the subject.

    The paradox — that if Saddam actually had MWDs capable of devastating Tel Aviv, the Americans wouldn’t be doing this — is perhaps best answered by the notion that they sincerely believe him to be about to obtain them, but for whatever reason are unable to give details. It’s pure speculation on my part, but it’s at least plausible that the Israelis have said privately to the US that they are prepared to do an Osirak on Baghdad unless the problem is neutralised. I have a hard time coming up with other reasons why the US is so exercised about Iraq at the moment, or what sensibly might be the worse outcome they fear if they don’t push things to the brink now. I’m not sure I buy the ideas that it’s Dubya avenging his father, or mid-term politicing, or anti-terrorism… Might it be to dissuade any other oil-rich local state from going down the Iraqi path, or part of the US hedging its bets over what happens next to Saudi? Oh, so much speculation from such a trifling injection of facts.

    What’s most disturbing is the underlying idea, now explicitly stated by the Americans, that nobody shall be allowed to get to the position where they might credibly obtain MWDs — ie, we made the mistake of letting Saddam get so far, but we won’t make the mistake again. That suggests a much more aggressive application of the ‘credible force’ policy in future.


  2. Andrew says:

    As a general principle, America is quite happy to export the First Amendment round the world, but not the Second.

    I still don’t honestly know why now, except that the White House really believes this is a war, so it wants to commit an army somewhere; and once the Grand Old Duke of York has marched all those men to the top of the hill, they do have to be used. It has taken Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz nine months to get even this far. It’ll take another month or three before all the troops are in position. They are not going to throw all that effort away.

  3. Anonymous says:

    My own instinct is: Follow the oil.


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