Variations on Iraq: Steven B. Smith

President George W. Bush made a compelling case for the war against Iraq in his speech in Cincinnati, Ohio Monday night. I have no doubt that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is a member in good standing of the “axis of evil.” I have no doubt that a pre-emptive strike against Iraq is warranted at least in principle. It seems to me, however, that there are several issues yet to be addressed as the president gears up for phase two in the war against terrorism. These issues concern not Iraq per se, but the larger political and strategic consequences of such a war. As the president prepares the public mind for a war, he needs to consider the following.

First, the administration needs to confront, in a more serious way than it has so far been willing to do, the Saudi complicity in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The Iraqi connection to the Sept. 11 terrorists is thin at best, while 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia. The word for the Bush administration’s reticence in facing this question, one suspects, has three letters: oil. There is a deep reluctance to upset the Saudi pipeline despite that regime’s complicity in fostering or at least turning a blind eye to global terror. Until this issue is addressed it will be difficult to dispel the suspicion that the president is simply engaged in a grudge match with Saddam Hussein.

Second, President Bush and his team need to exhibit greater clarity on how an American assault on Iraq will affect Israel’s security. Israel will surely be on the front line of Saddam’s chemical and biological retaliation. If Saddam is truly as dangerous as he has been portrayed, there is no reason to think he will not do everything in his power to destroy, if not America, then America’s friend and partner. What are the projected costs of such a response? The threat of a second Holocaust seems possible.

As if this were not enough, the principle bankroller of Palestinian terrorism today has not been Iraq but Iran. Iran is the puppet master behind Hezbollah and Hamas and is the source of the enormous buildup of weapons on the Syrian border just to the north of Israel. The boat load of illegal weapons intercepted by the Israelis were coming in to the Palestinian Authority via Iran. If the truth be told, it is the Iranian mullahs who have been a much greater and more dangerous supporter of global terrorism than Saddam.

Third, there is the Turkish question. As Bernard Lewis has forcefully pointed out, Turkey is the only Muslim country that has had any kind of success with building secular and democratic political institutions. It is also pro-American, not exactly a common position in the Muslim world. But Turkey has its own Kurdish problems. The administration’s plan to use the Kurds in Iraq as a weapon against Saddam poses real dangers for spilling over and destabilizing an already fragile Turkish ally.

Finally, as we consider extending the war against terrorism into Iraq, the American people are owed an honest accounting of the results so far of the war in Afghanistan. Although American and allied forces were successful in ousting the Taliban, the big fish seem to have got away. We do not know the fate of either Osama bin Laden or Mullah Mohammed Omar; the capture or death of both was originally seen as vital to the success of the mission. Even more importantly, we have good reason to believe that the financial and organizational structure of the al Qaeda terror network has not been sufficiently disrupted but has simply moved shop into Pakistan.

These are issues that President Bush must address if he is to have popular and political support for a war against Iraq. It is not enough to say that Saddam Hussein is an evil man who is in hot pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Both of these statements are no doubt true. The question is: How does a war against Iraq at this time fit into the larger political and strategic concerns of the post-Sept. 11 world? As Abraham Lincoln told the Republican Convention in 1859, if we don’t know where we are, we cannot know whither we are tending.



Steven B. Smith is the Alfred Cowles Professor of Political Science and the Master of Branford College.

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