Hoover Daily Report

The Case for Not Invading Iraq

Monday, July 15, 2002

Saddam Hussein is a madman, with weapons of mass destruction, and therefore we need to get rid of him.” We have heard this from many Americans who want war with Iraq. But there is little evidence that Hussein is mad, and his rational response to the dangerous incentives President Bush has set up should make us afraid.

Consider the incentive that Bush Sr. set for Saddam Hussein. In 1991, just before the gulf war, the elder Bush made it clear that, if Hussein used chemical weapons against the U.S.-led coalition, Bush would consider "the strongest possible response"(his euphemism for nuclear weapons). It worked: Hussein refrained from using chemical weapons in the gulf war.

Consider the new incentives Hussein faces. Bush Jr. says he wants to get rid of Saddam Hussein. We're not talking about a move to Switzerland. Everyone understands that President Bush wants Saddam Hussein to die. One who understands that particularly well is Saddam Hussein. Hussein, therefore, also knows that Bush's staff is probably preparing, or will prepare, plans to kill him. What's Hussein's likely response? If he is as evil as George W. Bush thinks he is, then he wouldn't mind taking a million innocent Iraqis with him. In fact, he might actually prefer to die with a splash. Moreover, Hussein would probably prefer to take a few hundred thousand innocent Israelis or even Americans with him. If Hussein does have weapons of mass destruction, then he may be working to set up weapons around the world, possibly in American cities, to be detonated when he is near the end.

To avoid the deaths of many innocent Iraqis, and possibly of innocent Americans and Israelis, President Bush has two choices. The high-risk choice is to go after Saddam Hussein soon. Notice that I said "go after Saddam Hussein," not "go after Iraq." In a choice between being the only target and being one of a million Iraqi targets, Hussein would much prefer the latter. For one thing, it would help him go out with a big splash; for another, the U.S. killing of many innocent Iraqis would help him achieve a legacy—the unification of the Arab and Muslim worlds against the United States. There's a second choice. That would be for Bush to communicate, in a credible way, that he no longer wishes to replace Saddam Hussein. The first option is difficult because Hussein is well protected and might still have time to unleash his terror. The second option is also difficult because everyone knows Bush's true wishes for Hussein's future. One way to accomplish the second, however, is to actively push for ending the United Nation's sanctions on Iraq; this would communicate clearly that Hussein is no longer a target.

You might argue that Hussein is not a real threat. But if that's the case, then why all the serious discussion over invading Iraq? Either Hussein is a threat or he is not. Either way, invading Iraq is a bad idea.