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How Not to Get Rid of Saddam
How Not to Get Rid of Saddam
Andrew Mack, Director - Human Security Centre
July 16, 2002
Members of Iraq's opposition-in-exile concluded a three-day meeting in London on Sunday just days after new reports of Washington's military plans to oust Saddam Hussein were leaked to the U.S. media. The meeting, which was organized by the relatively new Iraqi National Coalition and which has strong representation from former Iraqi military officers, predictably endorsed U.S. war plans. But all that U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher could bring himself to say of this latest exile talkfest was that it was "a useful tool." This was hardly a ringing endorsement. But the U.S. has just about given up on the expatriate Iraqi opposition, which, despite considerable CIA support, remains weak, corrupt and divided. There has been much talk. little action. The Kurds in the north don't support Washington's war plans at all -- not least because they were encouraged to rise up against Mr. Hussein in both 1991 and 1995, only to be abandoned by their so-called allies. The fact that the Bush administration has no equivalent of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance to lend legitimacy to its campaign does not faze Washington's confident hawks in the least. Working with allies requires messy political compromise. So why endure this if you are confident that you can win without help? The U.S. has some reasons for optimism. The Pentagon argues that the next war against Iraq will be much easier than the last. The U.S. military is much stronger than it was before the Persian Gulf war, and Mr. Hussein's forces are far weaker. And the Bush team sees no alternative to war. Diplomacy has failed to persuade Mr. Hussein to comply with United Nations resolutions; sanctions have failed to coerce him. What is delicately called "regime change" is seen as the only strategy that can ensure that Iraq gives up its weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. This analysis is almost certainly correct. America's many critics remain unimpressed. They point out that the war Washington is planning has no support in Europe except from Britain, while potential Arab support has been undermined by Washington's backing for Israel in its current bloody confrontation with the Palestinians. Taking Baghdad will require street-to-street fighting as well as precision air and artillery strikes, and this risks far higher U.S. -- and civilian -- casualties than in Desert Storm. Moreover, according to U.S. intelligence, Mr. Hussein is hiding critical military facilities and weapons-of-mass-destruction plants in heavily populated civilian areas -- even under hospitals. Striking these targets could cause huge civilian casualties even with precision weapons. Waging unpopular wars that create heavy U.S. and civilian casualties is not a recipe for success. Finally, the critics say, a war with Iraq will further inflame and destabilize the region, while fuelling the very terrorist rage it seeks to repress. And it can provide no guarantee that a successor regime will be any better than Mr. Hussein's. Supporters of the war acknowledge that there are risks but argue that the do-nothing strategy of the mostly European critics amounts to little more than appeasement. There is some truth to these claims. But to argue that the choice is between war and appeasement betrays a startling lack of imagination. There is an alternative. It might be called the strategy of "passive aggression." It seeks the overthrow of Mr. Hussein's regime without resorting to war. During the past 40 years, the number of authoritarian regimes around the world has more than halved. In almost none of these cases did the regime succumb to either sanctions or the sort of external military assault the U.S. is planning against Iraq. Authoritarian regimes ultimately fall because, as societies become more developed and interdependent, they also become increasingly difficult to govern by coercion. In some cases, "people power" on the street has brought such regimes down; in others, more subtle forms of resistance have been decisive. In almost all cases, the role of the middle class has been critical. The strategy of "passive aggression" would start by lifting the Draconian trade and investment sanctions on Iraq that have enriched Mr. Hussein's henchmen, wiped out the middle class and created appalling suffering. The Iraqi economy, now a quarter of its size in 1990, would be allowed to recover. This, in turn, would facilitate the re-emergence of the middle class -- the most effective potential source of resistance to the regime. Military-related sanctions would remain in place. With the threat of a U.S. assault lifted, and without the sanctions regime to blame for the suffering of the Iraqi people, Mr. Hussein would lose support at home and sympathy abroad. It is true that this strategy will give Iraq more time to recreate its chemical and biological weapons programs. But possession is not the same as use. Iraq will continue to be deterred from using these weapons by the threat of a devastating U.S. response -- as it has been for the past decade. And if the use of weapons of mass destruction really is the primary concern, then Washington needs to reflect more seriously on the real possibility that a Saddam Hussein confronting military defeat and capture would no longer be deterred from using his chemical and biological arsenals. A U.S. military campaign, in other words, could trigger the use of the very weapons whose elimination is part of the war's key rationale. All strategies for dealing with the loathsome Iraqi regime involve risks and costs, the "passive aggressive" strategy included. What this strategy does offer, however, is a pragmatic alternative to both the horrors of war and the shame of appeasement. And it has history on its side.
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