Timing and the Case for War

October 9, 2002 Topic: Security

Timing and the Case for War

 The case for war against Iraq has always been predicated on the immediacy and immanence of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.


The case for war against Iraq has always been predicated on the immediacy and immanence of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. In trying to convince skeptics--both his domestic critics as well as an international audience--that, after more than a decade of containment and sanctions, more robust (and perhaps unilateral) action is needed, President Bush needed to present compelling evidence of a clear and present danger. The speech in Cincinnati was an attempt to do this. However, the President's remarks only partially fulfilled their intended purpose, and even partly contradicted his claims. In his long list of complaints, the President ended up enumerating the results of the previous inspection regimes. Iraqi weapons were discovered; Iraqi nuclear weapons plants were destroyed; Saddam's duplicity unveiled. All this that was supposed to justify immediate action, yet sounded more like an affirmation and endorsement of the policy of inspection (if reconstituted under a more vigorous regime). In fact, one might walk away from the speech convinced that the most prudent course of action would be that outlined by General Charles Boyd in In the National Interest some weeks ago--the reconstitution of an inspections regime backed by force. General Boyd noted that "If weapons of mass destruction are what make Saddam Hussein a problem, then … the goal is to separate him from such weapons, to disable him, rather than removing him. … [W]hat was missing from the weapons inspection program in the past is simply this element of forceful entry, if necessary, in support of an inspection regime that goes where it wants, inspects what it wants, whenever it wants, for as long as it wants, and to continue until there is satisfaction on the part of the inspectors--and the international community--that there is virtually nothing left in the way of a WMD capability in Iraq." (1) Listening to the President's speech, one cannot help but to applaud the gallant efforts of previous inspectors who did much to disarm Iraq, only to be defamed and decried by the hawks.

Make no mistake, the United States may have to wage war against Iraq. The international community cannot allow Saddam to develop and deploy a nuclear device. This is the case that the President and his advisors have made with ease and conviction. Indeed, this position enjoys near-universal support, not only within the Congress and among the American public, but also within the international community.

The case for an immediate invasion, perhaps a unilateral American attack, however, remains to be seen. The slight grab at Kennedy's Cuban Missile Crisis élan only demonstrated that a little history can not only be dangerous, but silly. In light of the competing and more dramatic threat from bin Laden, the President would be wise to prioritize his list of bad actors. As mentioned, the United States will at one point have to displace Saddam. The President sketched out the basic outline of why Saddam's departure would be a positive development for Iraq and the world. However, he failed to make the case--convincingly and urgently--that that point is upon us today.

Ray Takeyh is a Fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University.

(1) General Boyd's remarks ("The Proper Focus: Weapons, Not Regimes") appeared in the September 11, 2002 issue of In the National Interest and can be accessed at http://www.inthenationalinterest.com/Articles/Vol1Issue1Boyd.html.