Iraq and the Value of Inspections

Something's up when the Marxists at Workers' World have the same editorial position on Iraq as their polar opposites at The American Conservative.

Something's up when the Marxists at Workers' World have the same editorial position on Iraq as their polar opposites at The American Conservative. Opposition to a military campaign against Baghdad has brought together some strange ideological bedfellows-as among those who support such action. Ideologues, of course, inhabit a granular universe. The world takes whatever form the believer chooses for it. This approach is fine for editorial offices and debating halls but dangerous when espoused by policymakers. The rationale for or against war with Iraq ("regime change" or "regional security" or "securing oil supplies") needs to be something more than a pithy slogan inscribed on a placard.

Now realists, whether they support or oppose military action against Iraq, come to their positions after pragmatically evaluating the situation and weighing the consequences of action. For the realist, war is but one option in the nation's toolbox-to be neither excessively utilized nor automatically demonized. Yet, it is a costly choice. In the case of Iraq, it is also a risky option, fraught with uncertainties. Chemical or biological weapons could be unleashed against United States and allied forces or hurled at Israel by a desperate Saddam Hussein-a risk that can be minimized but not completely eliminated by the best of precautions. (1) The United States might be successful in taking 80 percent of the country within ten days (2) yet become bogged down in a nightmare scenario of prolonged urban combat in Baghdad. These and other negative outcomes (environmental degradation, prolonged civil unrest, and so on) have to be taken into account when calculating the risks of war. (Moreover, the United States needs to assess whether North Korea, at this moment, might in fact pose a greater threat to U. S. national security than Iraq, an issue raised in last week's "The Realist" column, at

This is why the United States should not be so quick to declare the new inspections regime in Iraq a failure and thus move to the armed option. Only two weeks ago, commentators (whether of the left or of the right) were already concluding that the inspectors would find nothing. Continuous probing, however, is beginning to turn up results, as the discovery of the chemical warheads demonstrates.

One of the arguments for moving ahead with war is that Saddam Hussein must be prevented from crossing the North Korean threshold. Intrusive and continuous inspections, however, obviate that possibility. Hussein cannot develop weapons of mass destruction while he continues to dodge inspectors.

Continuing with inspections, for now, also gives the United States time to complete the ring of steel closing around Iraq and allows Washington to solidify wavering alliances and commitments. Not only can the United States deploy an overwhelming military force in the months ahead, it can accelerate efforts to isolate Saddam Hussein diplomatically, stripping the last vestiges of support he may enjoy in the Arab world and in Europe.

However, there is another important reason to continue with intrusive inspections for the long term. Saddam Hussein's dictatorship is a pharaonic despotism, designed to remove him from the ranks of ordinary mortals in the eyes of his subjects. As with the Egyptian pharaohs, defeat in battle does not fundamentally undermine the regime. Rather, it is the enforced humiliation of submitting to international controls. The inspections regime must become the equivalent to the successful California program to combat drunk driving by outfitting offenders-lawyers, business executives, and other pillars of the community caught driving under the influence-in bright orange jumpsuits and sending them out on a Saturday morning to collect trash from the main thoroughfares. Inspectors who boldly and constantly use their authority to pry open the hidden places of the regime are undermining Saddam Hussein's mystique. This is why he so strenuously objected to more intrusive inspections in 1998. He realizes that every visit of inspectors-"ordinary foreigners"-to presidential palaces that are treated as sacred precincts by the average Iraqi who has no access to them delegitimizes his authority. Over time, guards and functionaries observe that their leader is powerless before these new overlords. The first reaction, as we have seen in recent weeks, is anger for the humiliation of their president; but over time, the seed is planted, that Hussein is not omnipotent even within Iraq. Premature withdrawal of intrusive inspections, however, will only cause this seed of doubt to wither away.

Playing hardball with Iraqi scientists is also crucial to this process-and the pressure must be accelerated. Already, Iraqi nuclear specialists have seen that their leader cannot even prevent inspectors from coming into their private homes and seizing their personal possessions. This should be accelerated by removing scientists from Iraq for interrogation in Cyprus. Neighbors and family members cannot help but ponder the question-who is more powerful, Hussein or the "international community?" This is why it is critical that the UN inspection teams must insist that no Iraqi government minders are present when scientists are questioned (a demand that the Iraqi government itself seems now prepared to accept) and that local security officials are warned that "they are being watched" to ensure that there are no reprisals taken against scientists or technicians who provide information to the inspectors.