Friday, September 13, 2002

In Slate, three distinguished foreign affairs scholars from the Brookings Institution have just announced that they have achieved consensus on a "counterintuitive conclusion" regarding the correct American policy towards Iraq. The US, say the trio of wise men, "should present Saddam with a serious, final ultimatum for toughened up inspections and real disarmament and go to war if he refuses it or subsequently fails to cooperate with the inspectors."

Now, I'm no foreign policy guru from a prestigious think-tank; I'm just an ordinary guy commenting on the news. So I'm sure these three mavens could immediately point out where my thinking is woefully deficient. But I have this nagging worry in the back of my mind about a possible scenario that might conceivably make their prescription somewhat less than ideal. The scenario goes something like this: Hussein first agrees to the terms of the ultimatum. The inspectors get organized, and begin to do their work. They find some research facilities, some production equipment, some weaponry, and set about destroying it.

The US military can't stay on an Iraqi-war footing forever, though, so the massive military mobilization that has been proceeding for the past year or so eventually begins to reverse itself, and domestic and international political discussion ultimately turn to other matters. At that point, Hussein begins, little by little, to interfere with the inspection process. He thus puts the US in a bind; it was ready to go to war to establish the inspection regime in the first place, but would it be ready to remobilize and attack over, say, a short delay in allowing inspectors to visit a particular site? Then a slightly longer delay than the previous one?

Once this process has started, it can continue until, eventually, arms inspectors have been completely banned from Iraq. At that point, the world community would likely be clamoring more for an end to sanctions against Iraq than for a return of inspections, let alone a war to oust Hussein. And the US president--quite possibly one not named Bush--would be under strong domestic pressure to avoid a major confrontation, and content himself with a token response to Iraq's disobedience. Meanwhile, the Iraqi non-conventional weapons development program would be free to resume at full speed.

Again, I claim no expertise, and I'm sure the Brookings experts would have no trouble explaining to me why this outcome of their proposed course of action is in fact completely implausible, and could never, ever happen.

No comments: