With the gathering storm of war looming over Iraq, the increasingly vociferous detractors of American and British policy are asking old questions ever more loudly. “Why is Iraq a threat to the United States?” “Where are the links between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein?” “How is this even a part of the war against terrorism?” “Why Iraq? Why now all of a sudden?”
Underlying such questions is the presumption that there is not a link between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and terrorism, and thus, contrary to the pronouncements of President Bush, Iraq is not a legitimate target in the war on terrorism.
Iraq most certainly is, however, a vital consideration in the issue of terrorism, and its disarmament is crucial to the effort to defeat international terrorism of the most murderous kind. The reason should be quite plain to see: Sept. 11, 2001.
I do not mean to imply that Hussein was somehow responsible for the attacks or even remotely linked to the act. What is relevant about Sept. 11 is how it totally changed our conception of threat: On that day it became painfully obvious that a determined few could bring untold death and destruction to a multitude of innocents right in our own backyard with relatively little means. It is only natural and sensible that the horror wrought by four planes and 19 hijackers has made us start thinking about what just one determined individual with a vial of harmful biological agents, a chemical bomb or a small nuclear weapon could do. Any comprehensive effort to defeat terrorism must include dealing with such weapons and ensuring — and we must ensure it — that they do not fall into the hands of those who wish us harm.
Here is where Iraq enters the equation. Let us go so far as to assume that there is no link between Iraq and al-Qaida, or even that there never was any connection between Iraq and any terrorist group. The force of this argument is still not mitigated. The mere possibility that such links could form in the future should be enough to compel us to action.
Those who oppose forcibly oppose confronting Iraq about its weapons of mass destruction must necessarily be comfortable with this possibility. But it is not one that our leaders, especially democratically elected ones like George W. Bush, should be expected to accept. A hypothetical scenario is required here for argument’s sake: Suppose a massive attack on the scale of those in September 2001 hit the United States or any other country tomorrow and there was incontrovertible proof that Hussein was responsible for it. There can be no doubt that in such an instance most people would support forcefully confronting Iraq. But our capacity to take the first hit in this new kind of war, a hit that could kill tens of thousands of innocents, should be doubted. Taking that first hit is far too high a cost to pay for such a high moral ground, and no responsible leader should be willing to court it. For the same reason we should not be willing to court the possibility that Hussein’s weapons may in the future be used against us.
The thing that many forget about current crisis over Iraq is that we do have the moral high ground: 10 years worth of flouted U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for Iraq’s unconditional disarmament of its weapons of mass destruction. Surely anybody who believes in even the simplest notions of international law, as I suspect most who oppose war do, must concede this point. A possible U.S.-led war on Iraq is often termed a war of pre-emption, but it would also be a war of enforcement, enforcement of internationally sanctioned rules that has already been given too many second chances.
Even as a war of pre-emption, though, military intervention would be justifiable. Hussein’s weapons could pose a mortal threat to countless thousands, either in the hands of a leader who has already shown his predilection for aggressive wars, or in the hands of others. One must also not forget the “soft power” of Hussein’s weapons on those individuals or groups in the region who wish the United States and its allies harm. Another hypothetical scenario is necessary here: suppose Hussein develops and publicly declares his possession of a nuclear weapon. This ultimate symbol of military power could easily become a rallying flag that would embolden the likes of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and others. They would consider such a weapon an assumed back-up for what could become an even more destructive agenda that they could hold anybody in the world ransom to. Then the link between Iraq and terrorism would exist whether Hussein intended it or not.
Iraq must thus be considered a central part of the problem of terrorism. Present U.S. and British policy is therefore fully justified. This policy is often simply labeled “war,” but it would be accurate to see it as a demand for the disarmament of Iraq that is backed by the credible threat of force. This is a responsible policy; the French and German one is not. Inaction on the Iraqi issue now could have grave consequences. The mere possibility of those consequences would haunt us in future; their horrible realization would have us ruing the squandered chance we had to prevent it.
Kamal Sidhu is a junior in Ezra Stiles College.