Iraq - The Case Is Still Not Made
By Terrell E. Arnold

Since President Bush addressed the UN General Assembly last week, Washington has descended into a swamp of confusion, misinformation and hard-headed opinion pushing that should scare Americans a great deal more than Iraq. It should be deeply disturbing to us that not a single new piece of information about Iraq has appeared in months. But if you take your cue from the noise level, you would think that Saddam Hussein controls a large meteor that is headed dead on for mid USA, and we must act strongly and now to head it off. The known facts plainly do not support this judgment, but what are the facts?

Eleven years ago the United States led a coalition war to stop the Hussein expansionist scheme to control the Persian Gulf. That engagement was both short and successful in that allied forces quickly routed Iraqi troops and destroyed much of the Iraqi war-making capability. In succeeding years, UN inspectors discovered and destroyed significant parts of the war-making machinery our forces had failed to uncover during the Gulf War. Thus, when UN Inspectors left Iraq in 1998, there were still questions, but it was clear that Iraqi capabilities were a mere shadow of their former strength.

Those capabilities were by no means eliminated, and there is no doubt that Hussein has worked steadily to rebuild. Moreover, studying the limitations of long supply lines and slow replacement schedules that cost him dearly during the war, Saddam set out to become self-sufficient in as many areas of armament÷munitions, weapons and missiles÷as his industry could achieve. That effort has given him more autonomy than he had a decade ago, and he has come a long way to rebuilding by most estimates. But the best estimates available indicate that he is far from back to his pre-Gulf War strength in any area of military capability. Even at that, he may have achieved greater staying power by making his military industries more self-sufficient.

One must search carefully here for what is really new and newly frightening about Iraq. The answer, put as simply as possible, is nothing. At the end of the Gulf War, we already knew pretty well what he was up to in the effort to acquire or make Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). Under UN auspices a great deal was done to slow those efforts and to derail them. Saddam did not stop trying. In such areas as Scud missile engines, tank guns and artillery he learned to make his own. Former UN inspectors assert regularly that he was not that successful in concocting WMDs, and he did not succeed in solving the problem of how to refine weapons grade nuclear materials.

That does not mean he could not have acquired weapons grade material for one or more weapons, or even complete weapons. The accounting for former Soviet/now Russian weapons and materials is by no means reassuring. Even senior officials who had control, such as general Alexander Lebed, have expressed doubts that all are accounted for, and not too far back five kilograms of plutonium were discovered in the trunk of a Mercedes in Germany. That material unfortunately would have been of interest to any of twenty or more countries that seek quietly to become nuclear powers. On the face of it, Iraq poses no unique WMD threat.

Just what is a threat? As defined by serious professionals, a threat is a capability to do harm that is combined with the intent to do harm. The capability itself is a risk, to be sure, but the intent to use it is required to make a threat. As an example, we have more nuclear weapons than the rest of the world powers combined. They are not a threat, unless we decide to use them. As a second example, Americans own an estimated 40 million shotguns. If the shotguns themselves are a threat, then we are in deep trouble, because one person out of every six or so has one, but they become a threat only when someone is on the warpath, or possibly in the hands of a militia on the march. As a specific case, if the possession of nuclear weapons and other WMDs by a Middle East power is a threat to the United States, then Israel is a major threat, because the Israeli have around 200 actual nuclear weapons, albeit unclear numbers of chemical/biological weapons.

By the above definition, Bush has only half of a threat statement. We do know Saddam is trying to build or obtain weapons of mass destruction. In that search, he is a member of a fairly large club. But even if he already has them, he has not threatened to use them on the US. The most widely held view of the situation is that if he used such a weapon on the US, or on Israel for that matter, he would be obliterated. No one has suggested that Saddam has a death wish. I donât know where Chicken Little is today, but the cry sounds very familiar.

The bottom line: Iraq is part of a global problem of policing the capabilities and the behavior of nation states, some with extra-territorial ambitions. As noted above, there are twenty or more nation states trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Most, if not all of them, seek such weapons to dominate or deter the actions of a neighbor, e.g., India and/or Pakistan, or as trappings of the power of autocratic leaders, e.g., pick pretty much any of the group. Over time, any of these may need to be reined in, moderated, or even de-fanged by the UN and the leading world powers.

The clarity of this situation leads many observers to suspect a hidden agenda of the group around Bush respecting Iraq. The prize, maybe, is improved access to Iraqi oil, but that problem, such as it is with leaks, can be solved when necessary by agreement among UN members to lift sanctions. If the prize is US company control over Iraqi oil, then it is too bad that the key players in Washington, from the President and the two think tanks involved down to the Undersecretary of Defense, are oil industry insiders. Just maybe the national interest, yours and mine, coincides with the special interests of that group, but donât count on it.

Certainly the US Congress should ask more questions than it has to date about the Bush agenda. And Congress should get better answers than Bush or his core team have provided to date before approving of any program for Iraqi regime change. They should be very wary of any program that would put US troops on the ground and in jeopardy.
The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the Department of State and former Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College.


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