The Winds of War. (Foreign Policy & Defense)

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When an essay calling for the invasion of Iraq appears in the well modulated pages of Foreign Affairs (March-April 2002), the leading forum of America's foreign policy establishment, it's hard to see what's left to debate. Especially when the essay is written not by a Republican hawk but by the former director of gulf affairs on President Bill Clinton's National Security Council, Kenneth Pollack. Especially when the essay echoes in just about every important particular the prescription offered by Robert Kagan and William Kristol in the conservative Weekly Standard (Jan. 21, 2002). And especially when the same issue of Foreign Affairs opens with an essay by a Washington Post editorial writer calling upon the Bush administration to accept "the logic of neoimperialism."

On the assumption that the invasion of Iraq will not already have occurred when this survey appears, consider Pollack's account of the doves' position. They note the absence of conclusive evidence tying Iraq to the September 11 attacks. They oppose American unilateralism and favor a multilateral effort "to revive U.N. weapons inspections and re-energize containment."

Pollack essentially says that this argument is nonsense. Since the end of the Persian Gulf War, the United States has sought to contain Saddam Hussein--a "serial aggressor"--and prevent him from rebuilding Iraq's military power. It used "a combination of economic, military, and diplomatic constraints," and the strategy worked--for a time. But not only did Saddam long ago halt UN inspections of his weapons facilities, but now even some U.S. allies routinely violate the sanctions against Iraq. And China went so far as to build a fiber-optic communications network for Saddam (the target of U.S. air strikes in January 2001). France, Russia, and China have rejected the Bush administration's effort to implement "smart" sanctions, which would ease economic restrictions while tightening others. The doves' strategy simply will not work.

What about relying on deterrence to control Saddam? "Too risky" is Pollack's verdict. While the Clinton administration may have rejected the label "rogue nation," Iraq is quite rogue-like: The United States cannot assume Saddam will behave predictably.

It's not Iraq's sponsorship of terrorism that ought to compel U.S. action, as some hawks contend, but "the risk that a nuclear-armed Saddam might wreak havoc in his region and beyond," Pollack writes. He rejects the notion of an Afghanistan-style campaign. The attack must be quick and overpowering, in part to prevent Saddam from using his two or three dozen Scud missiles, potentially armed with chemical or biological weapons. (Kagan and Kristol point out that the chief U.S. hope of preventing such an outcome is a hammer blow so powerful that Saddam's officers are persuaded that his regime is doomed and thus refuse to follow his orders.) Up to 300,000 U.S. troops would be needed. Such an attack would elicit loud protests from China, France, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and others, but they could do nothing, Pollack says. The United States would then need to commit itself to rebuilding Iraq, probably with the help of the United Nations or others. …