War With Iraq - As Predictable As Chess
November 22, 2002 2:33 PM   Subscribe

War With Iraq - As Predictable As Chess There is still a good chance we can avoid war with Iraq. Saddam Hussein has never won a war, and his military forces surely foresee their own destruction. Numerous assassination attempts by them (some involving the Republican Guard) have failed. They are likely trying again, even now. Therein lies our best hope. What if they fail again? Then invasion by the U.S. is inevitable.
posted by daHIFI (20 comments total)
I don't really get all of this "imminent war" stuff when we've been bombing them constantly for years.

Somewhere along the line they redefined "war" when I wasn't paying attention to world affairs...
posted by zekinskia at 3:19 PM on November 22, 2002

Is there any news I can read about the assassination attempts? I'd be really interested, and it surprises me that they don't get aired out in the major media.
posted by crazy finger at 3:50 PM on November 22, 2002

I'm sure Saddam is bound to die of natural causes anytime soon. I call heart attack.
posted by Ron at 3:57 PM on November 22, 2002

We will have a war because Bush wants a war and has shown thus far that no matter what Saddam says he will do that W insists he is lying and therefore.....
If Iraq is so evil (I don't doubt this), what of Iran and Syria ? N. Korea has both lied and violated a treaty and now admits it. Will we go after them? No. What oil is there? Russia now being bought off to go along with us, according the papers, so that they will get a share in the booty when we win.
I don't understand Congress. So willing to go along with this without trying first to see if Saddam gives in and turns over what he has so that he can continue to spend nights in his manypalaces andbring his wife andkids back from Lybia (there for protection).
posted by Postroad at 4:22 PM on November 22, 2002

Good Post daHIFI, I enjoyed the article.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 4:36 PM on November 22, 2002

I have been trying to understand the reasons some people are for/against this war.

I don't understand the urgent reasons for doing it in the immediate future, because no hard evidence has surfaced that Saddam has these weapons, and it seems kind of half-cocked for the US to decide to do this without the rest of the world backing it up.

Then again, I don't doubt that it needs to be done. I think this guy is a homicidal maniac. I don't doubt that he is trying to build these weapons, and that he'll use them the minute he's built them.

Also, it seems to me like we went in in the early nineties, never finished what we started, and as a result, the Iraqi people live in terror. We shirked our responsibilities, because going in there and cleaning up and doing it right is going to take a long time and be hard work.

And thankless.

Are there any other reasons for being against a war with Iraq? I don't want to bait or hijack this thread. I'm really being on the level.
posted by xammerboy at 4:58 PM on November 22, 2002

Saddam's no maniac, just an evil man. He's not stupid either. Therefore, he's not going to unleash his weapons (and he's had biological and chemical weapons for decades) as soon as he gets them. The only logical reason to unleash all of those weapons is if he had nothing left to lose.

So, reasons against war:
- Could lead to the use of these bio / chem weapons
- Will certainly lead to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties, including many civilians. Also hundreds, maybe a couple of thousand US casualties.
- Expensive - hundreds of billions of dollars
- No clear successor to Saddam
- The delicate mix of Sunnis, Shiis and Kurds might fall apart
- There's nothing that will provoke a jihad like a crusade by Christian nations, with Israel's support.
posted by lambchops at 5:07 PM on November 22, 2002

Expensive - hundreds of billions of dollars

Er, no: that's a reason to go to war. Money greases the military contractor's machines, ya know.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:09 PM on November 22, 2002

Good point f f f. I'm not seeing it cynically enough, am I?
posted by lambchops at 5:25 PM on November 22, 2002

Okay, so the US is expected to get the backing of the Arab league for this (article, page 1)? What kind of naive bullshit is this? I find it difficult to take the optimism of this piece seriously.
posted by Krrrlson at 6:28 PM on November 22, 2002

But Lambchops, aren't those reasons to go to way as well?
posted by xammerboy at 6:52 PM on November 22, 2002

- Could lead to the use of these bio / chem weapons

Doing nothing could lead to the same place. In fact, chances are that the longer he remains in power the more of 'em he'll have if and when he decides to use them.

- Will certainly lead to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties, including many civilians. Also hundreds, maybe a couple of thousand US casualties.

You've based this on what? The last war with Iraq? Perhaps the hundreds of thousands of civilians who were supposed to die in Afghanistan? What is this other than your own pie in the sky guesstimate?

- Expensive - hundreds of billions of dollars

Perhaps (actually probably more of a gross overstatement like your casualty estimate but I'll give you this one).

- No clear successor to Saddam

Sure there is. If you haven't noticed Bush has pretty much snubbed all of the Iraqi exiles who have been trying to step up to the plate and claim the title in a post-Saddam world. My guess is that the plan is to do a post-WWII
Germany/Japan on them. We're going to hang out and build up your commerce and infrastructure while Tommy Franks or someone plays mayor of Bahgdad. We'll turn it back over to you in 3 - 5 years after you've actually figured out how democracies work and have a stable enough economy so that you have too much to lose to become an aggressor nation.

- The delicate mix of Sunnis, Shiis and Kurds might fall apart

See the above.

- There's nothing that will provoke a jihad like a crusade by Christian nations, with Israel's support.

This sounds to me like the threats al Queda is famous for making. "We have sleeper cells all over the world and if you invade Iraq we're going to activate them." Yea? Well why would I think that you won't activate them anyway? What's to assure me that next week you won't have a new demand? If anything, it makes me want to kick your ass even more because I refuse to live under threat of constant blackmail. No thanks but given the choice between fighting on my terms and fighting on your terms, I'll take my terms any day of the week.
posted by billman at 7:03 PM on November 22, 2002

There was a good article about the real causes and reasons behind this war published not too long ago in the voice (free). Major source was this report by the institute for national strategic studies. And no, its not all about oil...
posted by sophist at 7:34 PM on November 22, 2002

Okay that should have been "its not *ALL* about oil..." because most of it is.

"Our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region, and preserve U.S. and Western access to the region's oil." -from Defense Planning Guidance paper drafted for Cheney.
posted by sophist at 7:39 PM on November 22, 2002

xammer, if I may venture, I am often seen here as a warmonger. In fact I don't believe we need to go to war right this minute, or even next year or the one after that. But it's clear that the way the Bush administration sees it, there will never be a better political climate for a war (and this one, as anyone can see, is very chilly as it is). They see the sanctions being dropped, the Saddam WMD problem falling off the media radar, and "allies" like France and Russia lining up deals for a post-sanctions era. In other words, they see that if they don't push for a resolution to the issue immediately, it will only be harder -- and the longer we wait, the greater the likelihood that Saddam will succeed at producing WMD that will permit him to engage in regional blackmail once again. Since the latter is unacceptable, they feel they have no choice but to proceed, the climate be damned, knowing our allies will get over it relatively quickly once it's over.

As you say, you don't doubt that it needs to be done. The administration would argue that if you believe that, you must support action now, because waiting increases the risk unacceptably.

lambchop: As xammer and billman point out, while there are risks with a war, that must be weighed against the risks involved with the status quo. Risks of inaction:
* Iraqi WMD capability (shared with terrorists, or just used to bully his neighbors as in old habits)
* continuation of sanctions on Iraqi people
* pressure on UN to end sanctions, end inspections regime, back off (effectively neutering Security Council for years to come)
* 2nd-gen Hussein regime (Uday and Qusay are worse)
* Iraqi civil war of succession
... and so forth. Christopher Hitchens has pointed out that all of the "risks" of invasion are present in the immediate post-Saddam scenario no matter how that happens: they are thus in many respects risks we cannot avoid.

From a strategic standpoint, it is always better to force a bad situation to happen under circumstnaces which you to a degree control. That is also part of the administration's thinking.

My own thinking about a scenario goes something like this: A fast ground war takes all of outer Iraq, encircling Baghdad outside of artillery range. Saddam holes up while we accept the surrender of the Iraqi regular army, which we then use to engage the Republican Guard while special forces use intelligence to pin and ideally kill Saddam in one of his bunkers, all the while collecting evidence of war crimes by the RG and Special RG by using civilians as shields. I actually think Baghdad will fall almost as fast as the rest of the country (recall that in Gulf War I, 17 of 18 provinces were in open revolt), or Kabul. Rooting out the man himself will be a bit harder, but we won't have to fight the Iraqi people to do it. Now, I may be wrong, but I hope I'm not. All SH really has over his people is the prospect that he'll still be over them next year. Once that goes --

I don't think the administration is actually proposing to install a military government, as popular as that idea is among neocons. Bush, certainly, isn't naturally disposed to that level of involvement. (And we've recently come under criticism for allegedly reducing our support for Karzai. Imagine.) I suspect we'll go for a hybrid of the Afghanistan model -- an "acceptable" general in charge, but under nominal civilian control, until a new constitution can be enacted.

As for Arab League support, they're telling Iraq "you're on your own" if they don't comply with the UN. It's a brave face on a situation they can't control, of course, but there's no chance of an LAS resolution against action now that the UN resolution has passed.

sophist, free access through free trade to Middle-Eastern oil has been a basic US national interest for years, and enshrined into policy by the Carter Doctrine.
posted by dhartung at 7:58 PM on November 22, 2002

In response to Billman.

The bio / chem weapons
- were given to Saddam by the US or were acquired with the US's full knowledge
- have not been used since the 80s (and there was no US outcry)
- I concede that they might be used anyway. My point was that they are far more likely to be used in the case of a war, especially when his own destruction seems inevitable.

The high casualties and costs
I resent your implication that I'm making up facts and figures.
- Here's a coservative estimate
- Another discussion of casualties
- The high possible casualties were the prime reason Bush Snr. didn't do the "regime change" thing ten years ago.

The government after the war
I agree that there's likely to be an American occupationist government for a few years (let's leave the cost in money and bad PR out of this). But what happens after they leave? Who will step up? The only people with government experience are Saddam's various puppets. There are no legislators, no lawyers, no non-corrupt army officers. There's Saddam's people and nothing else. The reason that it worked in Germany is that there was another tier of experienced people who were sidelined under the Nazis. In Japan, the exact same people ran the country before, during and after the war, with a few high-profile prosecutions. The Germany option is impossible and the Japan option is highly unsavoury.

The delicate mix
See above for the post-occupation situation. I was meaning _during_ the occupation, my bad here. What's holding the country together is repression and violence. The US has the choice of letting the Kurds / Shiis drift off or of repressing them Saddam-style. Anything else would be a PR coup like convincing the US to allow the UK to recolonise the country.

I'm not trying to sound like Osama here. An attack by a Christian country with Christian and Jewish allies would look to many Muslims like an attack on Islam. (I don't care whether it is or not, the important thing is how it looks to the Muslims.) This would create more antipathy towards the US / West etc and be a PR windfall for Osama's brand of hardcore Islamism.

As long as you're OK with all these costs, feel free to advocate war. They're all real, no bullshit. Your beliefs are your beliefs, but these are the likely negative consequences of a war.
posted by lambchops at 9:48 PM on November 22, 2002

Might I point out that we're not at war, that Bush is actually going through the UN, that we actually are giving Iraq time to submit to regulations, and that perhaps the threat of war exists only to make sure that Saddam follows the regulations that he agreed to after he lost the war in Kuwait (as did the rest of the world?)

To repeat: We are not at war.

Further, many many times, the US (and other powerful nations of the day) accomplished foreign policy goals by "the threat of force." For instance, I have no doubt that India and Pakistan would have went to war if it weren't for the threats, believable, on either side that nuclear war would be the result.

Think of it as a game: As of last year, Saddam could build weapons of mass destruction or not, and the reaction of the world would be the same, so of course he has been doing this. As of now, Saddam is becoming aware that having WMD or violating the treaty made after Kuwait *for the protection of both Israel and Arab nations in the area* will result in loss of power, whereas abiding by the treaty will allow him to keep power.

The side benefit is that maybe someone will assassinate Saddam because of these war threats, and thus the world will have the best-case scenario of an Iraqi-led regime change.

Finally: the Iraqi people already are dying and already are suffering under Saddam.
posted by Kevs at 11:34 PM on November 22, 2002

we're not at war
Are you sure?

Bush is actually going through the UN
Only after Bush floated "go it alone" and "military action authorized under the 1991 resolution" trial balloons and they came down to earth full of lead.

The side benefit is that maybe someone will assassinate Saddam because of these war threats, and thus the world will have the best-case scenario of an Iraqi-led regime change.

Certainly better than the D-Dayesque "invasions" seemingly being entertained at the White House.
posted by owillis at 12:03 AM on November 23, 2002

I don't understand this hysteria over WMD. As far as I know, Hussein has never indicated that he will strike first.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:29 AM on November 23, 2002

lambchops: You may resent my implications about you making up the numbers but in the first article that you linked to (which I just skimmed because I felt the author was wrong on several points -- comparing an Iraqi invasion with Somolia -- so I wasn't interested in his analysis only the source of your numbers) and he doesn't say anything about hundreds of thousands of civilian lives lost. He doesn't say it. The author estimates in a worst case scenario 1000 or so US troops and tens of thousands of dead civilians (not hundreds of thousands). Here's the a quote from the artile YOU linked to:

Simply scaling the results of Panama for the size of the Iraqi military leads to an estimate of about 2,000 Americans killed, more than 10,000 dead Iraqi military personnel, and tens of thousands of dead Iraqi citizens. If, however, the only forces that fight hard are the elite—somewhat more than 100,000 Republican Guard, Special Republican Guard, and palace guard forces—extrapolation from the Panama case suggests that losses on all sides might be only one-fourth as great.

So again, I ask where do you get the number "hundreds of thousands" dead Iraqi civilians?

Listen, everybody seems to think they actually know something about US military planning and yet the US military has done exactly the opposite of what everyone thought and been highly successful doing it. The author of the first piece attempts to compare Iraq with Somolia and Panama. First off, Panama was a war fought over 10 years ago under very different circumstances and different military technologies. Somolia, if anything, despite being a failed mission was probably one of the shining moments in military history. 99 men pinned down, surrounded by thousands of enemy, held their own with little or no air or heavy artillary support. Those who question whether US soliders have the stomach to fight a toe to toe battle obviously take the wrong lesson away from that incident based on the actions of the president. Bush isn't Clinton. Bush is a wartime president. Say what you will about him but having served under his father, if you gave me the choice to fight under Bush or Clinton I would much rather fight under Bush. He's in it to win and the troops know it. They don't feel like the Rangers in Somolia who expressed feelings that Clinton stabbed them in the back.

As far as the threat of jihad, I think you're missing the point. I refuse to live at knifepoint. Many Americans refuse to live at knifepoint. I don't give one rat's ass whether Osama is going to be pissed. I don't care how many radical Islamists he rallies into a fury. The US cannot allow it's foreign policy to be dictated by a bunch of whackos who threaten to do us harm every time we do something they don't like. If it's your proposal that we do temper our foreign policy to appease the Osamas of the world we might as well just elect the guy president and get it out of the way. Why live a charade. If he's calling the shots, let's just officially put him in office.

If the US does go into Iraq, and wins quickly and with relatively few military and civilian casualties, it actually harms Osama's cause. Afghanistan was embarrasing to al Queda. Iraq will be another black eye. Every setback reduces his base of financing and influence. With the US taking the war to him (spy planes firing missles at cars and capturing of his top brass) all he has is threats. Might cells loyal to Osama attempt more attacks? Sure. But there's a finite number of highly-trained operators. Without the ability to set up new camps every al Queda we kill is one less crediable threat walking around. I don't think we're ever going to be able to stop the random guy who decides to park a truck outside a government building in Oklahoma City but we can disable the organized network of terrorists.
posted by billman at 10:44 AM on November 23, 2002

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