Will Saddam have his Samson moment? Does the security of the world really hang on a Bush family psychodrama?by Derek Coombs / October 20, 2002 / Leave a comment
There was speculation from the earliest days of George W Bush’s presidency that he might blunder into Iraq with the aim of redeeming his father. Then came 9/11. Bush senior held George W’s hand. Junior stumbled, then rallied. Then came the “axis of evil.” Iraq was back. But Bush senior was less enthusiastic than Bush junior-and said so through James Baker and Brent Scowcroft. Was this the moment when the tables could be turned? When anxious and maladroit “Dubya” could escape from under the shadow of his father, by finishing what Bush senior-CIA background and all-had failed to do? The trouble is that if Saddam does give in now and let in the UN inspectors, how will George get his showdown? Can it be that the security of the world really hangs on this Bush family psychodrama? It seems absurd, but so many arguments for regime change now are inadequate that it is hard not to feel that something else is in play. Saddam is bad, of course. But mad? When, in 1991, James Baker threatened his regime with a disproportionate response if he used weapons of mass destruction, he behaved rationally and did not use them. In fact, since then deterrence has more or less worked. What is the evidence that this has changed? Dick Cheney recently said in public that “We only have part of the picture,” and that the risk of serious trouble from Saddam is “10 per cent, 20 per cent, 30 per cent… we don’t know.” Does that justify war? Or the nuking of Iraq? (A senior Israeli minister recently said that his country would be happy to “take out” Iraq if the US asked.) The report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (which the government’s “dossier” is unlikely to better) records the familiar evidence for his chemical and biological weapons but is cautious about a nuclear weapon. The IISS says that in theory Iraq could build a weapon within months but only if it can acquire the fissile materials-highly enriched uranium or plutonium-from abroad. Experts argue that it is much harder to conceal a nuclear programme than a chemical or biological one. The west can find out if he is close to building a bomb by sampling air and water. The chemical traces of uranium and plutonium are impossible to hide; they would come out of Iraq through its rivers. They can also be sampled electronically by satellite. Moreover, he would need huge quantities of power and water-which are very visible-to produce a bomb. So if he has a bomb, or is weeks away from making one, why are we not being shown the evidence? It would swing the doubters behind Bush, just as Adlai Stevenson’s CIA pictures of the missile sites swung opinion behind America during the Cuban missile crisis. There is an even bigger problem with Bush’s strategy. In 1991, Saddam feared retaliation if he used his nastiest weapons. This time, Bush has announced in advance that he wants to eliminate Saddam and his regime. So when hostilities start Saddam has every incentive to go with a bang, to have his “Samson” moment, and throw whatever he has at his attackers or at Israel or parts of his own country. That is the nub. Either Saddam does not have deliverable weapons of mass destruction that he is serious about using, in which case why attack him? Or he does have them, in which case we risk a conflagration. UN weapons inspectors say they need four months to establish whether Iraq is “clean.” Bush does not want to wait that long; the UN does. If Bush attacks without the UN and heavy casualties follow it will be a disaster. Bush and some of his advisers have a personal hang-up over Iraq. That’s their problem. But it is a grave abuse of power to destabilise the world because of it.