2002 September 26 Thursday
Kenneth Pollack: Why Iraq Can't Be Deterred

Kenneth Pollack, former National Security Council official in the Clinton Administration, has a new book just out entitled The Threatening Storm which is about Iraq and the necessity of taking out Saddam's regime. Pollack also has a column in the NY Times today entitled Why Iraq Can't Be Deterred:

But what they overlook is that Mr. Hussein is often unintentionally suicidal that is, he miscalculates his odds of success and frequently ignores the likelihood of catastrophic failure. Mr. Hussein is a risk-taker who plays dangerous games without realizing how dangerous they truly are. He is deeply ignorant of the outside world and surrounded by sycophants who tell him what he wants to hear.

When Yevgeny M. Primakov, a Soviet envoy, went to Baghdad in 1991 to try to warn Mr. Hussein to withdraw, he was amazed to find out how cut off from reality Mr. Hussein was. "I realized that it was possible Saddam did not have complete information," he later wrote. "He gave priority to positive reports . . . and as for bad news, the bearer could pay a high price." These factors make Mr. Hussein difficult to deter, because his calculations are based on ideas that do not necessarily correspond to reality and are often impervious to outside influences.

Stanley Kurtz finds much to agree with in Pollack's book:

The frightening scenario described by Pollack, in which Saddam could seize Kuwait and threaten to nuke the Saudi oil fields if we attack, is something I've never seen publicly discussed. But as Pollack lays it out, the scenario is all too realistic. A nuclear-armed Saddam taking over Kuwait and threatening Saudi Arabia leaves us with a choice between ceding him control of the world's oil supply, or of seeing that supply destroyed and contaminated for decades by a nuclear strike, sending the world's economy into radical shock, perhaps for years.

You might not believe that Saddam Hussein would dare to contemplate such an action, given all the attention now focused on him. Read this book, and I wager you'll think differently. Saddam, as Pollack shows, "is generally not deterred by the threat of sustaining severe damage." Instead, he has a "tendency to invent outlandish scenarios that allow him to do whatever it is he wants to do, no matter how dangerous." Again, these generalization become real in Pollack's book. For example, even though Iran had again and again demonstrated its superior ability to harm Iraq with retaliatory missile strikes, Saddam nonetheless repeatedly ordered air and missile strikes against Iranian cities. This was a clear breakdown of ordinary "rational" deterrence.

Kurtz's previous article points out that Saddam has also done other things that the threat of retaliation should have deterred him from in the first place:

It is often said by those who believe that the principle of deterrence will suffice to contain Saddam that he is rational enough not to do anything that could bring down the might of the United States upon his head. But why then did he attempt to assassinate former President Bush? Revenge, of course. But why would Saddam have risked bringing on his own destruction, as a successful assassination attempt against even a former president well might have?

(latest Kurtz article reference found on Little Green Footballs)

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 September 26 06:06 PM  US Foreign Preemption, Deterrence, Containment

Lyle DeWitt said at October 3, 2002 7:02 AM:

Perhaps Hussein is insanely evil, but war is not the best solution. For $400 Billion, twice the projected direct costs of the war, we could permanently leave the mideast. For the above amount, we could build 40 million 50 Mpg cars and just give them away to replace the least efficient cars on the road. This replacement of a third of our cars would raise the national mpg from by 50% from 20 to 30 mpg. This would eliminate our need for the third of our oil that comes from the mideast.

If we announced such a program of withdrawal, the dynamics of the mideast would completely change. Sure Hussein would still be evil, but he is, frankly, a regional problem. If the region is no longer strategic to our interests, we can approach the solution cooperatively and with a lower level of urgnency.

And by the way, rebuilding a third of our automobile fleet would be a fabulous boost to our own economy.

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