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Thursday, March 13, 2003

Well I managed to resist posting about Iraq for months (good thing by the way that I didn’t know about Blogger during the Florida recount business). Partly I don’t know what I think. Decisions depend in part on predictions about the consequences of actions (real shocker there eh) and I don’t like to make predictions. I find the effects of an invasion of Iraq especially hard to predict. My guess is expected value even worse than continued Saddam Hussein rule and I’m against invading. I am not at all sure an invasion would be a bad thing (I am never sure of anything). Oddly I am more confident of some views which might sound crazy and which no one seems to be publicly stating.
First I think it would be tolerable if Saddam Hussein kept stocks of weapons of mass destruction. An absolutely agreed point in say the security council debate is that Iraq must be disarmed. Opponents of invasion implausibly claim that this can be done by inspections. This seems absurd to me given the size of Iraq and the volume of, say, 10,000 liters of anthrax (I might have that in my garage for all you know). However, I am fairly confident that the anthrax will not be used by terrorists. Note that the anthrax that has been used by terrorists was bred in the USA. More importantly note that this is known. The anthrax can be identified because different strains of anthrax are genetically different. I believe we know what strains of anthrax Iraq has because they were imported from the USA with Bush sr administration permission. In any case two things seem clear. Anthrax was traced to a source so reliably that no one contests the claim (note the Bush administration has not even hinted that the anthrax in Daschle’s office might have come from Iraq and they are not very worried about making accusations which turn out to be untrue). I also have no doubt that if the anthrax had come from Iraq (or more exactly not from any known stock outside of Iraq) then we would have invaded long ago (with international support). So if I were in Saddam’s shoes I would make sure that any anthrax I had didn’t get used by terrorists. Saddam is not me in his shoes, but I don’t think he is quite that stupid. On the other hand I can tell two worrisome stories about Iraqi anthrax and terrorists each of which requires the assumption that we invade. First, when Saddam knows he is done for (that is when the invasion starts) he decides to take some of us with him and gives anthrax to some terrorist. I think he could manage that. Why isn’t that a strong argument against invading ? Second other people with access to anthrax might hope to avoid death and prison but recognise that they are going to be out of a job soon. They also could get their hands on something (the anthrax) which a certain rich Saudi terrorist would be glad to buy for a ton of money. That seems to be a problem. The point is that, so long as Saddam is in control, hopes to die in bed, and knows that if his anthrax gets in our lungs he is dead, we are relatively safe. I think invading Iraq because there is anthrax there is roughly like shooting missiles at the old USSR because they had missiles. I think, in this case as in that, first strike won’t work, and deterrence has a better chance of working.
Same goes but less so for nerve gas. Mustard gas is horrible but I think not horrible enough for small quantities to kill huge numbers of people. I think mustard in Iraq is not a big threat to us with or without invasion. I note an Australian intelligence officer who recently resigned made the argument I made above. I hadn’t read it before. I find the rareness of what seems to me to be an obvious argument very puzzling.
Oh what about the Iraqi Kurds or Iranians who Saddam Hussein has already gassed ? Well he hasn’t in the past 15 years mostly because in the past 12 he has known he will be punished very severely if he does. Again it seems to me deterrence has worked and I wouldn’t bet on first strike.
What about liberating Iraq. Yes that would be good. War is generally bad. I am not sure in my belief that Iraq shouldn’t be invaded. I do think that Bush’s sudden enthusiasm for nation building will end when the invasion is over and that post Saddam Hussein Iraq is likely to be horrible. My fear is civil war not pitched battles but guerrilla and urban guerrilla warfare.
I honestly think it could be worse that Iraq with Saddam Hussein. I would not be surprised to see (on TV) Iraqi’s dancing in the street, if Saddam Hussein is overthrown. I remember seeing live on TV Zairians dancing in the street when Mobuto Sese Seko was overthrown and seeing film of Vietnamese dancing in the street when Ngo Dinh Diem was overthrown. These memories make me less enthusiastic than I would otherwise be about dancing in the street. Now Saddam Hussein is worse than the other two, but still. What stumps me is I don’t have any story about how Iraq will become a decent place without an invasion. Still general pessimism makes me against the invasion. Iraq is very bad but could be worse.
Oddly one thing pacifists argue when opposing the invasion is that sanctions have horrible costs. This to me is weird. If sanctions were so horrible, I would be in favour of invasion because that is clearly the only way they will end any time soon. I am reassured by my firm conviction that any numbers concerning deaths in Iraq are likely to be lies. I can prove beyond all doubt that I really disbelieve if Saddam’s vital statistics.
I am surprised by the huge importance many people in the USA and even more in the UK seem to place on UN approval. I see that if the USA invades Iraq because Bush claims that Iraq is a potential future threat, then international law will be a utopian pipe dream, but isn’t international law already a utopian pipe dream ? I would say that the claim that Iraq is a threat to the USA is not convincing. If we don’t invade now Saddam will know it was close and that he can’t afford to indulge his inclination to kill some of us without our invading. Iraq is very weak compared to the USA. I think Iraq is a threat to the USA in roughly the same way and to roughly the same degree as Kuwait is a threat to Iraq. How would you react if Saddam Hussein said he was invading Kuwait in self defence ? Still I don’t think this is a key issue because there isn’t much to international law now anyway.
I am also surprised that the means used to achieve UN approval don’t seem to have much effect on people. For example 1441 was approved while Bush was saying he would invade if there were not a new resolution. A country with no aim but preventing an invasion would have voted yes. Yet now he claims that the Security council would be backing down if it didn’t approve an invasion.
I am going to say something really truly weird now. I think it might be better if the US/UK/Australia invade without a resolution. Now I am sure that no one else says that. The reason is simple. This would not be new (Nato bombed Serbia without UN permission and, well, the list is as long as human history). However it would be new if the US demonstrated the ability to bend the UN security council to its will. It seems to me clear that 4 of 15 countries in the security council are in favour of an invasion yet 4 or 5 more might be convinced to go along by arm twisting. I think this would be a bad thing. A security council which rubber stamps the presidents decisions is totally pointless and redundant. The advantage of the security council is that it has perceived legitimate authority. That perception will vanish if the stated will of the security council is seen as being the thinly disguised will of the US president (except among people who think the president of the USA has legitimate authority to take over other countries). I mean if the security council is just a ceremonial appendage on the oval office then why not save a few bucks and shut it down ?
This very unusual (probably crazy) view makes me very sensitive to what I perceive as US and UK bad faith in security council debates. I think that aside from the question of whether Iraq will be invaded (and Bush assures me that the questions are not linked) such bad faith reduces the credibility of the security council. I think the credibility of the security council has some value and that it is rapidly declining because of US and UK diplomatic tactics. I think it would be better to just say we are going to do it and you can’t stop us. Of course I also think we shouldn’t do it in any case with or without security council approval.
Oddly I am less struck by French dishonesty. This is very surprising. One very minor aspect of this crisis which I don’t like at all, is that I find myself agreeing with Jacques Chirac. I shudder as I type that I have even imagined being him and being much more blunt than he has been. OK enough about me. I mean obviously the claim that Iraq can be disarmed by inspections is other than completely frank but this doesn’t bother me so very much. I don’t know why.
OK so the tactics. Well one thing, of course, is the almost open arm twisting. Another is the many lies about matters of fact. Finally there is the completely dishonest reading of, for example, 1441. On 1441 and how it doesn’t say anything like what Bush claims see the Fred Kaplan article at March 6. Basically Bush is claiming that 1441 was an ultimatum telling Hussein he would be invaded if he didn’t disarm immediately and therefore the security council will lose credibility if it backs down by not authorising an invasion now. This is obviously false. First the threat is of “serious consequences” not invasion. It was written this way because otherwise it wouldn’t have passed. Somehow in the current debate, the Bush administration is claiming that the rewrite was a trick a change which changed nothing. They say the countries which would have vetoes 1441 in its original draft with a threat of invasion now must not back down from the position they were tricked into. Now this is crazy. I don’t think anyone could convince a court that a law, say, which was amended after heated debate should be interpreted as unchanged.
It is an insult to our intelligence for Bush to claim that the security council must do what he says because Saddam Hussein is defying it and it has to defend its credibility. At the same time Bush says he does not consider himself bound by the UN charter, will do the same thing no matter what the security council decides etc etc etc.
The effort to get votes for the current proposed resolution by changing it in a way that it is almost unchanged is also bizarre . Some countries claim that it matters whether Saddam Hussein is given a test. Clearly this does not matter if the test is graded by George Bush. I am not absolutely certain that Bush would give Saddam Hussein a failing grade, but I am sure that in the cases in which he would say Saddam passed the test, he wouldn’t invade Iraq even if the security council hadn’t set the test. Similarly there is no point if the test is graded by Jacques Chirac. So how can anyone keep a straight face while pretending to care ? Now, if the test were graded by, say, Hans Blix, that might make a difference. Format here is the test. On March x or April y Blix must enter the security council chamber. Unless he says “Iraq has passed the test.” with no other words in between all member countries are authorised to invade Iraq otherwise, of course, the UN charter holds and they are forbidden to invade Iraq. That would be something. Of course it is unacceptable to Bush because he won’t accept any limits on his perceived right to invade Iraq. Given that, why do the English care ?
Oh see above forbidden to invade Iraq note no exception for self defence. The clause allowing “self defence” is limited by the clause “Until the security council has acted” or something. If the security council says it has dealt with the matter, self defence is not allowed. Now why doesn’t that get on the nerves of countries which don’t have the veto ?
OK so the test doesn’t matter the grader matters. There is no point in pretending otherwise. However I think the unofficial UK proposed test as quoted in the New is clearly not serious. Some of the challenges might be impossible. Others are open to interpretation so broad that it is possible to claim that Iraq has already complied and would be possible to claim that Iraq has not complied no matter what it does.
The test ( my comments in <>
Mr. Hussein must admit on Iraqi television that he possesses weapons of mass destruction and will now disarm fully.

He will account for and destroy stocks of anthrax and other biological and chemical weapons.
Mr. Hussein will permit 30 scientists and their families to fly to Cyprus for interrogation by United Nations weapons inspectors.

He will admit to possession of an unmanned drone aircraft discovered by inspectors.

He will promise to destroy mobile production facilities for biological weapons.
Mr. Hussein will pledge to complete the destruction of all unlawful missiles.

So it goes from the totally trivial to the impossible and is so sloppy that it can’t have been meant seriously. Why does anyone take this charade seriously ?


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