Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

The Rush to War

Steven Meyer


February 24, 2003

Has the Bush administration built a convincing case for war against Iraq?

The administration has offered three basic reasons to go to war. First, Saddam Hussein's regime presents a dangerous—and perhaps imminent—threat to the US and its interests because it has a substantial store of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Second, the Iraqi regime has ignored or defied nearly 12 years of UN resolutions. Third, Saddam not only protects terrorists, he is actively in league with Usama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. For the administration, there is a simple, one-to-one correlation between these reasons and war. But, upon closer examination this case is inherently weak, contradictory, and even dangerous.

First, with regard to WMD, the information is ambiguous and it is unclear exactly what the Iraqis do and do not have. In fact, two weeks ago, the administration had to back off or nuance some of its claims. Second, and more critically, the administration has offered no evidence to support the contention that Iraq intends to use WMD against the US. In fact, the argument is strongly counterintuitive. Saddam is much more interested in survival than suicide, and the surest way to commit suicide is to use WMD against the US. Almost certainly Saddam will use WMD only if he is convinced that the end is near. Unfortunately, the danger to us grows in a circular fashion from a self-fulfilling prophecy. The harder we press Saddam, the more the information presented suggests that he may retaliate with WMD, and that information leads the Bush administration to conclude that he is threatening us with WMD.

The administration's argument that Saddam has defied the UN also presents difficulties. Without doubt he has done that. But, Iraq hardly stands alone in such defiance. Scores of countries, including the US, Israel, and the Palestinians, have ignored or defied the resolutions, orders, and judgments of a host of UN organizations. The Bush administration contends that if the Security Council fails to authorize war, the council proves its irrelevance. Yet it is the Bush administration that is drawing the UN into irrelevance. The president may not like the way the UN is handling the Iraqi situation, but the UN is handling it. However, because the administration disagrees with a majority of the Security Council members and insists that the US will act alone if necessary, the US is the party that may make the UN irrelevant.

Finally, the administration's contention that Saddam and Usama are in league is, arguably, the weakest of its three arguments. There is no credible information presented establishing an alliance between the two. In fact, there is considerable enmity between them. Usama has routinely condemned Saddam as an infidel and has shown nothing but disdain for Saddam's socialist Baath Party. War actually would play into Usama's hands. He is already positioning himself as the savior of the Iraqi faithful-—against both the US and Saddam. A US attack on Iraq would give Al Qaeda a powerful cause for attracting more recruits, would further poison US relations with the Middle East, and could ignite a new and more ferocious wave of terrorism against us.

Instead of insisting on war, the president should keep working patiently with the UN Security Council and allies, realizing that international cooperation is more important in the long run for the fight against terrorism than the immediate removal of Hussein. Moreover, the US forces and the weapons inspectors now in place are sufficient to keep the Iraqi dictator from threatening his neighbors for some time to come.

—Steven E. Meyer, Professor of Political Science
    National Defense University

    (The views expressed here are the author's alone.)

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”