Overview of the War on Iraq and Strategic Alternatives

by Lisa Schirch and William Goldberg, February 2003

Topics addressed:

Key Concerns about Iraq:

1. Weapons of Mass Destruction

It appears very likely that Iraq is in the process of creating or already in possession of “weapons of mass destruction” (hereafter known as WMDs.) These threaten not only Iraq’s own diverse population, but also Iraq’s Arab and Israeli neighbors and the entire world. Iraq has been a technological leader in the Arab world for many years. Developing WMDs is not a new problem in Iraq – it is a continuation of their policy to develop military power in the region. There does not appear to be an immediate threat of Iraq using WMDs. The attention to Iraq’s potential to make WMDs is preventative. The U.S. wants to prevent another North Korea, whose already existing program of WMD threatens regional security.

2. Saddam Hussein is a Dictator

While there are referendums on Saddam Hussein’s leadership in Iraq, there is no true democracy. Many Iraqis want a different set of leaders and a participatory democracy. The Iraqi regime consistently uses repressive measures against minorities. Many countries throughout the world continue to be run by “superficial” democracies or outright dictatorships. Other countries around the world have human rights records that compare with or are greater than Iraqi violations. What makes Iraq different is that it is trying to create or already possesses WMDs.

3. The War Against Terror

There are possible connections between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Historically, there has been antagonism between Iraq’s regime and Al Qaeda, as they come from opposing sects of Islam. However, given the tenet that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” there is some evidence of growing cooperation between the two. Iraq’s technology and possible WMDs coupled with Al Qaeda’s virulent anti-Americanism would be very dangerous.

4. Iraqi Oil

Iraq holds the reins to a large amount of oil reserves. Because of its history of making war on its neighbors and its internal strife, Iraq is an unstable trading partner. A new Iraqi regime friendly to western interests is appealing to Western countries as it ensures that cheap oil, the driving force in many Western economies, will be available. New leadership in Iraq could choose not to be part of OPEC, the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries, who set the price and daily sale limit on much of the world’s supply of oil. If this happens, OPEC could collapse or need to restructure. Changes in OPEC could also affect the political leadership of a number of other countries in the region.

Arguments for a War on Iraq:

1. The destruction of Iraq’s WMDs and WMD development programs.

The threat of biological, chemical, and/or nuclear weapons in the hands of a leader like Saddam Hussein is extremely dangerous. The world cannot risk allowing a human rights abuser of this magnitude to possess such weapons. A war on Iraq may be able to destroy the capacity to develop WMDs and existing WMDs.

2. The removal of Saddam Hussein and his regimes as leaders of Iraq.

Saddam Hussein and his regime are some of the world’s worst human rights violators. The international community has a responsibility in cases like these to free the citizens of Iraq from such tyranny. The proposed war needs to finish the job of deposing Saddam Hussein and his regime that was started in the 1990 Gulf War. Some people believe the Saddam Hussein regime appears to be “undefeatable” since it remained in place throughout the last decade and the 1990 Gulf War. There is an argument that the U.S. risks its image and credibility in the world if it allows Hussein’s regime to continue ruling, and the appearance of being untouchable by the international community. The war on Iraq will/may deter other dictators from developing WMD.

3. Control of the reconstruction of Iraq.

Those countries that participate in the war on Iraq will have some voice in the decisions about what type of government is constructed in Iraq and how oil reserves will be sold to the international community. A war on Iraq may protect U.S. oil interests in the region.

4. The war in Iraq is part of the “War Against Terror.”

The “War on Terror” cannot be won without changes to the leadership in the Arab world. Some argue it does not matter if weapon’s inspectors find any evidence of WMD. A war on Iraq may be the perfect “entry point” into making changes in the entire region. According to some Washington thinktanks, the proposed war is aimed primarily to change “the psychology of the region” by showing that the U.S. is willing to use its military to protect its interests. Some argue the U.S. needs to “project its power” in the region to enable other Arab regimes to make decisions about how they will relate to the U.S. If our enemies, or even our friends, perceive the U.S. as “weak” or “indecisive,” they may continue to make choices that support Al Queda’s network and threaten U.S. security and economic interests. This logic is based on the belief that “respect is earned at the point of a gun.” A war on Iraq may be part of the “grand strategy” for the War on Terror.

5. The time is right.

The situation in Iraq and the prospects for war will only be more difficult in the future. The U.S. military base in Saudi Arabia has already overstayed its welcome. Waiting to go to war may mean that the U.S. will not have access to its Saudi base. In addition, there is growing interest by France and Russia, for example, in Iraqi oil. Some argue they may be resisting a war on Iraq due to their own national interests rather than questions about the war’s strategic necessity or its moral implications. If France and Russia open up trade on Iraq, this may entrench Hussein’s leadership even more making it more difficult to uproot him later.

Problems with Using War to Address Iraq:

1. Problems with destroying Iraq’s WMDs

  • Key figures within the U.N. state that Iraq has already disarmed and is not in position of any WMDs.
  • It is not clear where WMDs, if they exist, might be developed or stored in Iraq. Weapons inspectors say the search for WMDS is like looking for a needle in a haystack. If on the ground inspectors cannot find WMD, it is not clear how military strikes will be able to destroy WMDs if they do exist.
  • If the Iraqi government falls, WMDs may be left without any supervision. As in the former Soviet Union, WMDs under current Iraqi control are likely safer than left alone in a storehouse where they may be even more susceptible to theft by terrorist cells.
  • If Iraq does possess WMDs, they may seek to use them in a U.S.-led war on Iraq, particularly if their situation looks hopeless. This could result in the deaths of American and British troops as well Iraqis and those in neighboring countries. A leader or country backed into a corner with no means of avoiding war is more likely to use WMDs than one with other options. Backing Saddam Hussein into a corner is dangerous for everyone.

2. Problems with Removing Saddam Hussein

  • Saddam Hussein was able to hide during the last war. The war in Afghanistan was unable to find and kill key Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders. It is likely that the war in Iraq will be unable to find and/or kill Saddam Hussein. He also has numerous doubles and it is quite possible that the real Hussein will go into hiding if one of his doubles is killed, only to emerge and appear victorious over the Americans after the war ends and the occupying troops leave the country.
  • Even if Saddam Hussein is killed, it is not clear that the political and military structure that supports Hussein will collapse. The Iraqi regime may be able to continue to function without Hussein.
  • Destroying an entire government and military structure is difficult. Constructing a new government and military is even more difficult, as we have seen in Afghanistan. Even if Saddam Hussein and his regime are removed from all positions of power in Iraq and a true, participatory democracy is allowed to choose a new regime, anti-Americanism will continue in Iraq. Yet it is unlikely that the U.S. would allow an anti-American leader to be elected in a new Iraq, so the U.S. may end up supporting a pro-American dictator, like the ones in neighboring Arab countries. A true democratic Iraq will require longer-term work to create a relationship with and support for Iraqi democratic movements.
  • The Iraqi regime is not the only threat in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for example, also have clear connections to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Recently a freighter traveling from North Korea carrying SCUD missiles was stopped in international waters, on its way to deliver the missiles to Yemen. A war on Iraq will not address these broader regional security problems, nor will it address the anti-Americanism that is rampant in the region. It might, in fact, worsen the sentiments.

3. Problems with Securing U.S. Oil Interests

  • The U.S. has supported some of the dictators within the Arab world because they are friendly to U.S. oil interests. Yet these dictators are increasingly isolated from their own people. A war on Iraq will require some cooperation between Iraq’s neighbors and U.S. forces. This cooperation, given to the U.S. by “friendly dictators” may exacerbate tensions within these countries, putting U.S. oil interests in the region at even more risk.

4. Moral Problems for the U.S.

  • A war will inevitably result in the deaths of massive numbers of innocent Iraqis. While no one is exactly sure what percentage of Iraq’s people support Hussein and what percentage wants the U.S. to invade and overthrow Hussein, on the ground reports by relief and development agencies attest to the many Iraqi citizens who fear and oppose an attack on their homes and businesses.
  • If Iraq does have chemical and biological weapons and the US drops a bomb on these weapons, the chemical and biological agents released in the air will likely kill thousands of Iraqi civilians in the area. Our own military strikes will inevitably cause “collateral damage” or the deaths of large numbers of civilians. The possibility that Saddam Hussein may aim to use WMDs against people some day does not give the U.S. the right to kill thousands of Iraqi civilians today.

5. Strategic Problems for the U.S.

  • If the U.S. attacks without a multi-lateral coalition, despite the protests from key leaders within the U.S. and among U.S. allies in Europe and the Middle East, the U.S. will likely “pay” for the damage done to these relationships in other ways. The recent world economic summit in Davos, Switzerland already gives evidence of the ability of other countries to sideline or punish the U.S. for even contemplating unilateral action.
  • When U.S. citizens are given details about the consequences of a war on Iraq in terms of the deaths of civilians and the possible spill over effects of war in the region, most U.S. citizens oppose the war. Waging a war without the consent of U.S. citizens runs the risk of the “Vietnam effect” where a war is lost for lack of conviction.

Alternative Strategies to Address Iraq

1. To Address Weapons of Mass Destruction

  • Provide a Continual Monitoring and International Presence in Iraq
    The current weapons inspection team is tasked with both finding and disarming Iraq’s WMDs. The international community could continue weapons monitoring in Iraq through a permanent weapons inspection team. Far less expensive than war, the international community could keep 500-1000 people on the ground over the next 10-20 years. These inspectors could serve as civilian peacekeepers, gathering data and intelligence about military projects in Iraq. The inspectors may need to risk their lives in some situations, but so will the soldiers in a war on Iraq. This information could be fed to a United Nations monitoring committee that would be tied to loosening or tightening a new breed of economic sanctions.
  • Put the UN in Charge of Iraqi Oil until WMD are Confirmed to be Abolished
    The “oil for food” economic sanctions imposed on Iraq were a tremendous failure that killed many innocent Iraqis while imposing little pressure on Hussein’s regime. The international community cannot trust a dictator to supply needed food and medicine for his people. The international community, in the form of a UN temporary management team, could take over the sale of Iraqi oil. Profits from the sale of oil could be used to pay for the UN monitoring of WMD, food, heath, and education aid, and management services to Iraq.
  • Provide Amnesty and Jobs to Iraq’s Scientific Community
    U.N. leaders could make a covert offer to Iraqi scientists, giving them amnesty and jobs in any country of their choice in return for leaving Iraq and abandoning its weapons program. These scientists could be rewarded for passing on information about Iraqi weapons programs.

2. To Address the Saddam Hussein Regime

  • Deliver Aid to Iraq
    The international community could increase food, health and education aid to international organizations working within Iraq. This will allow the people of Iraq to oppose their government and take the responsibility and the lead in creating a democracy. While the ‘oil for food’ sanctions increased Iraqi animosity toward the West, thereby strengthening Hussein’s position within society, massive doses of relief aid paid for by Iraqi oil sales controlled by the UN could bolster the relationship between the people of Iraq and the international community.
  • Support Internal Democratic Movements
    All Arab countries have key groups seeking to bring an “Arab democracy” to their countries. Arab or Islamic democracy might look different than Western democracy. Democracy takes different forms in different cultures. Democracies key components are:
    • freedom to discuss key issues in public, including freedom to disagree and offer different opinions;
    • freedom to make choices through consensual discussion, voting, or other participatory decision-making methods;
    • respect for the majority opinion; in cases where there is disagreement, the majority takes the lead in making decisions;
    • respect for the minority opinion, and inclusion of key minority concerns in final decisions.
      Examples of social change in the last century testify to the need for internal and external actors working together. The international community can support internal democratic movements in a variety of ways, including financial aid, training in overthrowing dictators through nonviolent strategies, and the use of international media to gain sympathy and support for democratic movements within and outside the Arab and Islamic world. Twentieth century revolutions in South Africa, Chile, Poland, India, and El Salvador, for example, give proof that even ruthless, repressive dictatorial regimes can and have been brought down through nonviolent revolutions.
  • Support Hussein’s Transition Toward Democracy
    Dictators everywhere are vulnerable. Dictators depend on the cooperation and complicity of vast numbers of people. Their authority rests on fear rather than public legitimacy. The international community needs to provide both “carrots” to lead dictators to step down and “sticks” that pressure them to step down. Both persuasion and coercion bring about change. Dictators can be given “retirement” packages that make their exits more tempting. While paying off dictators to leave office does not foster accountability or set a good precedent, it can be the most inexpensive solution to a complex problem. It also takes into consideration the psychological dimension: dictators look for ways of “saving face” that allow them to step down peacefully. In Iraq, the international community could offer “carrots” in return for demobilizing and demilitarizing and creating an Iraqi democracy. A combination of internal and external on dictatorial regimes can persuade and coerce leaders to either step down or allow democratic elections. Kenya’s Moi, for example, was persuaded to allow free elections. Chile’s Pinochet was forced to leave office by his own military generals who believed it would be impossible to ignore a democratic vote against Pinochet’s leadership after massive nonviolent protests and organizing.

3. To Address U.S Security and Oil Interests in the Arab and Islamic World

  • Set up Education and Training Aid Programs throughout the Arab world
    Many Arab and Islamic countries are underdeveloped in terms of education and employment. It is widely recognized that lack of access to free education has driven large numbers of destitute Muslim parents to send their children to schools sponsored by religious fundamentalists. This has greatly influenced the influence of formerly marginal elements in the Muslim world. UN sponsored international schools throughout the Islamic world could provide an Arabic-based liberal arts education. Adult training programs teaching computer and technology skills as well as a full range of peacebuilding trainings and programs could strengthen the economy and the capacity for democratic leadership within civil society. Free interdisciplinary education would strengthen and empower civilians to participate in democratic movements. It would also contribute to economic development, and improve relationships with Western countries.
  • Send teams of highly skilled peacebuilding consultants to conflicts in the world
    The conflicts in Israel/Palestine, Kashmir, and between Christians and Muslims in countries like Sudan, Nigeria, and other African countries also add tension to the situation in Iraq. The international community can put major resources toward negotiating issues fueling the current support for terrorist actions. These teams of consultants could be made up of high and low-level diplomats, religious leaders, and scholar-practitioners in the field of conflict resolution from both the local regions and the international community. A more even-handed approach to the Israel-Palestine problems is particularly needed. The international powers supporting both sides need to use coercive measures if necessary to deliver the Israelis and the Palestinians to the negotiating table and ensure that both groups understand that negotiating is the best option for meeting their interests. In addition, it may be necessary to establish an international presence in Israel/Palestine, ensure Palestinian elections for accountable leadership, and back the Mitchell Commission recommendations to stop all new Israeli settlements in the West Bank and scale back existing settlements.
  • Make Human Rights and Democracy the Central Guiding Principles of Western Foreign Policy
    The U.S. does not have a coherent foreign policy. Internal and external analysis of the foreign policy of Western countries, particularly the U.S., point to an inconsistent focus on human rights and democracy. Critics point to the contradictory policies of supporting some dictators and overthrowing others, of upholding human rights in some cases and ignoring them in others. Both conservative and progressive analysts point to a “double-speak” of using human rights language to cover for policies based on national economic and geo-political interests instead of human rights and democracy. In order to be accountable to their own guiding principles and to win the support of others around the world, Western countries must be clear about their own priorities.