European Affairs

Europeans Shrink from Applying "Bush Doctrine" to Iraq     Print Email
Gary J. Schmitt

Europe stood firmly behind Washington's decision to use military power to destroy the terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks and the regime in Afghanistan that sponsored them. Indeed, many European states, large and small, have offered military assistance to help the United States wage its campaign. If anything, Europe has offered more help than Washington has been willing to accept.

In sharp contrast, Europe's lack of support for - indeed, overt criticism of - the Bush Administration's more expansive vision of what "post 9/11" requires from the United States and the rest of the civilized world is equally striking. And this divide is especially evident in connection with the Bush Administration's apparent decision that the next step in this broader war should be to remove Iraq's Saddam Hussein from power.

To a degree, the allies' consternation is understandable. It is easy enough for civilized nations to understand a state's right to eliminate adversaries who have attacked it and killed thousands of innocent civilians. It is another thing for those nations to accept the idea that a regime - even one led by a Stalin-like dictator such as Saddam Hussein - should be preemptively eliminated.

Moreover, President George Bush's State of the Union address has charted a new path for American foreign policy. Famous for its reference to the "Axis of Evil," the speech marked a paradigm shift on a par with President Harry Truman's postwar launch of the anti-communist doctrine of containment, which rallied the United States to resist its natural inclination to turn inward and to take on a new set of international tasks.

Fifty years later, the "Bush Doctrine" set forth in the State of the Union speech described a war on terrorism that is no longer simply a "police action" to round up the September 11 terrorists and their supporters, but rather, a sustained global campaign to uproot the most dangerous tyrannies and promote democracy, even in the Islamic world. This was undoubtedly a large and revolutionary agenda to drop on the world's stage.

The European response to this new and admittedly ambitious foreign policy initiative has been regrettably personalized, with many of Europe's elite dismissing the Bush Doctrine as the product of a president who is more cowboy than statesman. This is unfair to Mr. Bush, who has actually thought seriously about the lessons of September 11.

His key insight is that the nexus of terrorism, sponsoring states, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has led us to the brink of a new, highly dangerous era. As much as one might wish the proliferation genie back in the bottle, the hard truth is that the West's most determined adversaries have already developed these weapons or are very close to doing so.

Combine those capabilities with the global scope of today's terrorist organizations, and the entire civilized world faces immense peril. No amount of diplomatic wishful thinking or diplomatic initiatives can will this peril away. And no prudent leader can ignore it.

Saddam Hussein's reign is the most immediate expression of this new threat, which is why the Bush Administration - including Secretary of State Colin Powell - has concluded that the Iraqi leader must be removed. Whether Saddam was directly involved in the attacks of September 11 is not what is driving U.S. policy. (Of course, if he were, it would provide justification for taking immediate military action.)

Instead, U.S. policy toward Iraq is being driven by the deadly convergence of Iraq's ties to terrorists, its determination to build an arsenal of the world's most deadly weapons, and Saddam's obsession with avenging his defeat in the Gulf War. Reports from Iraqi defectors, UN inspectors, and intelligence sources all indicate that Saddam has supported, trained and collaborated with terrorists, including Osama bin Laden's al Qaida.

There can be no doubt about his WMD program, either. Reports from UN inspection teams and from Iraqi defectors - including Saddam's own son-in-law and his top nuclear scientist - make it abundantly clear: Saddam has chemical and biological weapons and, when the Gulf War started, he was on the verge of building a nuclear weapon.

Then, of course, there is Saddam himself. He is the personification of the tyrant, willing to kill anyone - Iraqis, Kurds, Iranians, Kuwaitis, friends, family - in order to retain his dictatorial power. Equally significantly, a senior Iraqi military defector told the New York Times last November, "The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is still at war against the United States. We were repeatedly told this."

In 1993, of course, Saddam ordered his intelligence services to assassinate former President George H. W. Bush in Kuwait. There is more than circumstantial evidence that Iraqi intelligence had a hand in the first World Trade Center bombing that same year. (Jim Fox, the FBI's chief in New York at the time, was convinced of Iraq's involvement.)

More recently, defectors have detailed Saddam's complicity in organizing terrorist plots to bomb U.S. Navy vessels in the Gulf. And, finally, there are unconfirmed reports of Iraqi agents meeting with some of the individuals involved in the hijackings of September 11 in the months before.

If there is one lesson that the Bush Administration and the American public have thoroughly absorbed from September 11 it is this: When someone indicates he is implacably hostile to you, and he has the means to cause you grievous harm, it is not enough to say that you are watching him carefully. The costs of leaving Saddam in place are potentially too high.

Critics of the new Bush Doctrine on both sides of the Atlantic suggest that U.S. policy, even in light of new information and this changed environment, should continue to focus on preventing Iraq from rebuilding its military power and, in particular, preventing it from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. They believe that goal can be reached by a system of sanctions, inspections and deterrence.

Yet, the one thing we know for sure from the past decade is that even the most onerous regime of sanctions has not prevented Saddam from continuing his WMD programs. The second thing we know is that the West has no stomach (and correctly so) for the pain that sanctions in§ict on innocent Iraqi civilians.

And while a regime of "smart sanctions" might make life more tolerable for the innocents, there is no reason to believe they will stem Saddam's efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. Just the opposite. Iraq's increased economic activity and trade would give him more opportunities for illicit acquisitions, and more cover for them.

The record on inspections is equally discouraging. The UN inspections following the Gulf War uncovered how extremely effective Iraq had been in acquiring weapons of mass destruction. As the inspectors themselves admitted, however, they ultimately failed to account for the program's full scope, much less to stop it.

This has been confirmed by high-level Iraqi defectors who were personally involved in these programs. New inspection efforts are not likely to be any more successful - indeed, it is already clear that the proposed new UN inspection program will be even less confrontational than in the past.

Given the amount of time and effort Saddam has put into hiding these programs, the only way that inspections might work would be if they were so thorough and sweeping that they effectively subordinated Iraqi sovereignty to the United Nations. Is there any evidence Saddam would tolerate that situation? Is there any evidence that the United Nations would insist on it?

Sanctions and inspections aside, the central issue is the effectiveness of deterrence. The argument goes that, whatever weapons Saddam has or gets in the future, America's nuclear capacity to wipe Iraq off the face of the earth is sufficient to deter him from using them.

In this instance, however, deterrence is a two-way street. If Saddam had had nuclear weapons in 1991, for example, would the United States and its European allies have gone to war to drive him from Kuwait?

Or, what if Saddam used chemical weapons against Kuwait, the Kurds or even U.S. troops in some future con§ict? Would an American president retaliate with nuclear weapons, possibly killing thousands of innocent civilians?

Finally, the critical question since September 11 is what if Saddam provides a terrorist group with a chemical, biological or, in time, a nuclear device. Under that scenario, Saddam could reasonably expect that his hand in the operation would never show, even while he in§icted incredible damage on America or an ally. How do you deter that?

Removing Saddam by force of arms of course carries some risks. But the Bush Administration and, according to opinion polls, the American public, judge those risks to be smaller than leaving Saddam in power.

Iraq's army is now about a third of the size it was during the Gulf War: it is poorly equipped, undermanned and - with the exception of a few elite troops - inadequately trained. By contrast, while the American military has also been reduced in size, it has, as the war in Afghanistan shows, continued to modernize its capabilities in ways that make the Iraqi forces even more vulnerable.

In the Gulf War, for example, 90 percent of the bombs dropped by U.S. aircraft were "dumb," that is, non-precision guided weapons. The vast majority of bombs used against the Taliban and its al Qaida allies, however, have been precision-guided, with devastating results. In the face of such a force, it is not likely that the great body of Iraq's army would be willing to stand, fight and die to prop up a dictator who maintains their allegiance only through a systematic program of fear.

Getting rid of Saddam would not only eliminate a dangerous threat but provide a strategic opportunity, as well. As Henry Kissinger has noted, "were Iraq governed by a group representing no threat to its neighbors and willing to abandon its weapons of mass destruction, the stability of the region would be immeasurably enhanced."

It will certainly take work to repair the fabric of civil society torn apart by decades of Saddam's rule. But Iraqi society is probably no worse off than Japan or Germany after World War II.

If the United States does remove Saddam's regime from power, it will of course have an obligation to stay involved in Iraq and help to establish a stable democratic order there. But, here again, the benefits would be substantial. A democratic, oil-rich Iraq, in alliance with Turkey, Jordan and the West would have a potentially revolutionary and beneficial impact on the Arab world.

The Bush Administration and a majority of Americans think the case for removing Saddam from power is compelling. It is clear that most Europeans still do not. Certainly, the administration could have done a better job of arguing its case. In this regard, Washington needs to understand just how big a step it is asking the allies to take in supporting the Bush Doctrine, with its contemplation of preemptive strikes and regime changes, and its tacit acknowledgment that international accords have failed to stop weapons proliferation.

On the other hand, it is also true that Europe has not been especially receptive to hearing the case being made by Washington. Indeed, Europeans often appear more concerned by the exercise of American power than by the threats to international peace and security posed by the nexus of terrorist organizations, weapons of mass destruction, and states potentially willing to exploit them both.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number III, Issue number II in the Spring of 2002.

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