Apparently not everybody inside the Bush Administration is banging drums and blowing trumpets for a war against Iraq. The Washington Post reported last week that at least some major brass inside the Pentagon—including some on the Joint Chiefs—think the current U.S. policy of containing Iraq is working just fine. Why go to full-scale war, they’re asking, if there’s no need and some danger in doing so?
Some weeks ago, the New York Times published a supposedly secret document containing part of the Administration’s war plan against Iraq, a plan involving at least 225,000 American troops descending upon a country that to date has done absolutely nothing to harm any American or any American interest. The cost, in both human and material terms, of such a crusade would be exorbitant, but the war party—described by the Post this week as “high-level civilians in the White House and Pentagon”—is undeterred. [“Some Top Military Brass Favor Status Quo in Iraq” By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, July 28, 2002]
High-level Civilian No. 1, apparently, is Richard N. Perle, head of the Defense Advisory Board, who assured the Post that “ultimately, U.S. policy on Iraq will be set by civilians,” that it will involve a “political judgment,” and that the brass hats in the Pentagon who are skeptical about a war “aren’t competent” to make it.
Maybe not; they just have to die along with the other American soldiers who will have to fight the war Mr. Perle imagines he is competent to start.
Then there’s High-level Civilian No. 2, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who is worried about Iraq’s capacity to deliver “weapons of mass destruction” even without long-range missiles. He too is gung-ho for a war he won’t have to fight.
What both Mr. Perle and Mr. Wolfowitz have in common besides being “high-level civilians” involved in deciding whether the United States will go to war or not, is that they’re both well-known as partisans of Israel and favorites of the Israeli lobby, which is licking its whiskers for a good, bloody war against Iraq.
The Perle-Wolfowitz axis may well yet drag us into just such a war, but the generals who oppose it make a pretty good case against it. They argue that ever since the Gulf War of 1991, Saddam Hussein has more or less behaved himself, partly because of the trouncing he took in the war but mainly because of the stringent containment policies the United States has enforced on him.
He has not waged war against any other state, and there’s no evidence he’s supported any terrorist groups or activities. His own arsenal of missiles is virtually non-existent, and he has no means to deliver the chemical and biological weapons he probably does have. Since containment has worked so far, they argue, what’s the point of launching a full-scale war?
They also argue that such a war would involve dangers we might not want to court—and not just in the actual fighting, which would probably wind up in slogging it out through the streets of Baghdad against Iraqi troops and partisans and facing guerrilla warfare from Iraqis for years afterward (and not just in Iraq but from Iraqi saboteurs already in the United States). There’s also the very real problem of what would happen in Iraq after Saddam departed and a U.S. army is in the country.
The Pentagon opposition to the war points to the possible disintegration of Iraq, with the Kurds breaking off in the north and Shiites in the south. The former might unite with other Kurds in neighboring Turkey to destabilize that country, while the Shiites in the south might join with Shiite Iran to carve out a state of their own.
Since neither Turkey nor any other Arab state wants any of these consequences and since the break-up of Iraq could lead to new power blocs and alignments, it’s not clear what the United States would be doing in this situation.
We could use armed force to control the Kurds and Shiites and keep Iraq in one piece, or we could try to balance one against the other and play imperial diplomacy. We could just walk away and let the whole mess blow up.
Or we could do what the generals advise and stay out period.
A war with Iraq, so far from leading to the triumph of democracy, could easily destabilize and bring a larger and longer war to the entire Middle East and suck the United States into decades-long conflicts that are none of our concerns. The generals’ case against war is a compelling one, even if certain civilians don’t want to hear it and would rather have American troops fight a war that the civilians and their colleagues will be planning and leading from the rear.