Saddam Hussein is deemed reckless, ruthless and not fully rational. But his past dealings show him to be eminently deterrableby John J Mearsheimer / March 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
Should the United States invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein? The immediate cause of any war is likely to be Saddam’s failure to comply with UN inspectors to the Bush administration’s satisfaction. But this failure is not the real reason Saddam and the US have been on collision course over the past year.
The deeper root of the conflict is the US view that Saddam must be toppled because he cannot be deterred from using weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Advocates of preventive war use many arguments to make their case, but their trump card is the charge that Saddam’s past behaviour proves he is too reckless and aggressive to be allowed to possess WMD, especially nuclear weapons. They sometimes admit that war against Iraq might be costly, might lead to a lengthy US occupation, and might complicate US relations with other countries. But these concerns are eclipsed by the belief that the combination of Saddam and nuclear weapons is too dangerous to accept.
Even many opponents of preventive war seem to agree that deterrence will not work in Iraq. Instead of invading Iraq and overthrowing the regime, however, these moderates prefer to keep Saddam bottled up with bigger and better inspections. Their hope is that inspections will eliminate any hidden WMD and ensure Saddam cannot acquire any of these deadly weapons. Thus both the hardline preventive war advocates and the more moderate supporters of inspections accept the same basic premise: Saddam Hussein is not deterrable, and he cannot be allowed to obtain a nuclear arsenal.
This argument is almost certainly wrong. The record shows that the US can contain Iraq-even if Saddam has nuclear weapons-just as it contained the Soviet Union during the cold war.
Those who call for preventive war begin by portraying Saddam as a serial aggressor bent on dominating the Persian Gulf. The war party also contends that Saddam is either irrational or prone to serious miscalculation, which means he may not be deterred by even credible threats of retaliation. Kenneth Pollack, former director for Gulf affairs at the National Security Council and a proponent of war with Iraq, goes so far as to argue that Saddam is “unintentionally suicidal.”
The facts tell a different story. Saddam has dominated Iraqi politics for more than 30 years. During that period, he started two wars against his neighbours-Iran in 1980, Kuwait in 1990. Saddam’s record in this…