2002 September 05 Thursday
Questions for opponents of war against Saddam

For those who are opposed to a war to topple Saddam I have a question. What do you favor as an alternative? As I see it your three choices are:

A) Wait till Saddam's nuclear weapons development program is closer to fruition before attacking.

B) Wait till Saddam demonstrates a nuclear device or claims to have one. Then attack.

C) Let Saddam get nukes. Accept Saddam's regime as a nuclear power.

D) Wield a magical international power wand to change Saddam's mind and convince him to abandon his WMD programs.

I can't imagine how the opponents can seriously support option A. Option A accepts the inevitability of the attack. It just puts it off for no advantage.

Option B seems even worse than option A. Better to attack sooner and not face the prospect of his responding with nuclear weapons.

So it seems to me that the opponents are really in favor of option C. There is no option D. The "international community" is not going to use some magical international power wand to prevent him from developing nuclear weapons. There are no additional means of persuasion that can be trotted out that have not already been tried.

So then once Saddam has nukes what do the opponents think we should do? Here are your possibilities:

1) Don't worry about it. What, me worry?

2) Threaten Saddam with a nuclear attack against Iraq if he uses WMD against US friends and allies.

3) More broadly threaten Saddam with nuclear attack against Iraq if he attacks any other country with WMD.

In order for deterrence to work threats have to be credible. The opponents of war against Saddam can't state that they support deterrence and then state that they would be opposed to a nuclear counterstrike in the event that Saddam nukes Israel or a Saudi or Iranian or Turkish city. Without a credible threat of retaliation there is no deterrence and then option 1 is really the position that is being advocated.

Of course, unless we pursued option 3 and did do very credibly the neighbors would decide that they needed their own nukes in order to deter Saddam. Its not even clear that we can credibly pursue option 3. We'd have to convince the Iranian mullahs (among others) that we'd be willing to nuke Iraqi cities in event that Saddam nukes Iranian cities. If you were them would you believe us? I can think of lots of reasons for them to have serious doubts, not least that our top leadership changes and not all of our leaders are equally willing to exercise American power in such a manner.

Also, suppose we were preparing to nuke an Iraqi city in response to Saddam's nuking an Iranian city and then Saddam claimed he had smuggled a nuke into an American city that he would detonate if we retaliated for his strike against Iran. Well, what would an American President do in that situation?

But wait, this is not the only scenario where our decisions are not easy to make. Suppose Saddam just sends a threatening read-between-the-lines letter to the Saudis or the Iranians (it would be hard to imagine him not doing this). Should we nuke Iraq then? The neighbors are going to be intimidated and blackmailable even before one of their cities goes up in a mushroom cloud. So what to do about the inevitable intimidation?

In a later post I'm going to explore the problems with deterrence by threat of retaliation in the modern era. But for now I think it is safe to conclude that the opponents of overthrow of hostile regimes developing WMD are really willing to accept WMD in the hands of these regimes. Whether they are willing to then pursue a credible deterrence strategy is not clear.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 September 05 12:32 PM  US Foreign Preemption, Deterrence, Containment

razib said at September 6, 2002 1:22 AM:

i wonder if 9/11 did more harm to radical libertarianism than anything in the past 25 years. certainly our old isolationism was jarred. now i guess i'm kind of a war-mongering imperialist....

Randall Parker said at September 6, 2002 9:29 AM:

Razib, as a long time war-mongering imperialist I say the more the merrier!

sd said at July 31, 2005 6:47 PM:

I hate labeling people, but who ever wrote this parapundit post is an idiot. I'd be far more afraid that Israelis would nuke Iran for allowing them to fairly try to level the playing field before any Iraq attempt on the US. Anyone who still believes Saddam was a nuclear threat after all the BS datamined "intel", sexed-up dossiers, and plagiarized Monterrey College essays presented to the UN by Powell-that Saddam attempted to buy aluminum rods from Nigeria, really needs to just shut up because they're not expressing their own opinion or thinking for themselves; they're simply repeating what is already revealed as propaganda to galvanize US support for another illegal war. Iraq II doesn't even come close to pre-emptive, since they were never an immediate threat. It took 10 years of disgusting sanctions that killed 1 million innocent civilians, and constant disarmament from the UNSC, to completely render Iraq's army helpless, ripe for us to attack an enfeebled opponent. That's not brave or patriotic, no one should be proud of this travesty, but it was US as usual.

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