Magazine article The American Prospect

Between Iraq and a Hard Place: Invade Now, Pay Later-Or Sooner. (below the Beltway)

Magazine article The American Prospect

Between Iraq and a Hard Place: Invade Now, Pay Later-Or Sooner. (below the Beltway)

Article excerpt

THERE ARE THREE GOOD REASONS why the United States should worry about Iraq: oil, weapons of mass destruction, and Saddam Hussein. Iraq has the second-largest oil reserves in the Mideast, and what its government does with them vitally affects the world economy. As for weapons, Iraq already possesses chemical and biological weapons and could soon acquire nuclear ones. And Saddam, besides brutalizing his own people, has been willing to pursue reckless foreign-policy adventures--in Iran (1980) and Kuwait (1990)--that put the region at risk. Armed with nuclear weapons, he could wreak havoc.

What should the United States do about Saddam and his regime? This question has been debated for a decade, but within the Bush administration one answer is increasingly gaining ascendancy. Defense Department officials Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz have argued that the only way to prevent Iraq from acquiring, using, or getting others to use weapons of mass destruction is to overthrow Saddam Hussein through military force and install a regime congenial to the United States. The clearest sign that they are winning the debate is that Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has opposed this strategy, is now giving it lip service in his congressional testimony.

But there is a superior alternative that has been advocated by Powell, former UN arms inspector Scott Ritter, and some Democrats and policy experts. They want to contain Saddam by forcing him to agree to rigorous arms inspections. Saddam might remain in office, but he would be, in words Powell borrowed from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, "in a box." This strategy, dubbed "containment plus," is now being given short shrift in the administration. But it could prove to be a far less dangerous and costly way to deter Iraq. Here's how it would work.

At this May's meeting of the UN Security Council, the United States will demand that Iraq admit arms inspectors. Invasion proponents expect Iraq to refuse, and want to use its refusal to justify armed intervention; advocates of containment-plus want to raise the standards for inspection but also give Iraq an incentive to accept them. The original Security Council resolution, adopted after the Gulf War, declared that the council would remove economic sanctions on Iraq only when Saddam's regime had demonstrated that it had eliminated all weapons and weapon-making facilities. Under this rule, the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) tried to dismantle Saddam's arsenal. In 1998, when Saddam blocked UNSCOM, the Clinton administration bombed Iraq, but Saddam defied the United States and the United Nations by expelling UNSCOM. Seeking to mollify Saddam, the United Nations, prodded by Russia, France, and China, passed a weaker arms-inspection resolution. According to this resolution, sanctions would be removed if Iraq were to admit inspectors and if the inspectors were merely to certify that Iraq is cooperating with them. A containment-plus strategy would reject this weaker resolution and insist that Iraq prove that it has eliminated its weapons of mass destruction.

Containment-plus would also entail a change in America's policy toward Iraq, which has been riven by ambiguity since the end of the Gulf War. While the United States has repeatedly voted for Security Council resolutions promising to remove sanctions if Iraq eliminates its weapons, American officials have repeatedly declared that they would not remove sanctions until, in the first George Bush's words, "Saddam Hussein is out of there." According to this view of sanctions, their purpose has not been to force Saddam to comply with arms inspections but to weaken him and bring down his regime. Containment-plus would reject this ambiguity. It would promise that if Saddam destroyed his weapons, sanctions would be removed. And if he did not comply with inspections, the United States would undertake military action--including, possibly, an invasion. …

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