Friday, 21 February 2003

Iraq and containment

One of the more reasoned (and reasonable) arguments against a war in Iraq is that Iraq can be effectively contained. In the short term, containment is a viable option; however, beyond the short term, containment solves relatively few problems:

  • Effective containment requires the inspection process to continue. Without the imminent threat of U.S. and allied military action, the Iraqi regime is unlikely to continue to cooperate (and I use that term loosely) with inspectors.

  • Effective containment requires a long-term U.S. commitment to maintain an imminent threat of military action. The U.S. cannot afford to station a large permanent force in the region for years, perhaps decades. “Friendly” states like Saudi Arabia cannot host a large permanent force for domestic political reasons, at least under their current regimes.

  • Effective containment requires the sanctions regime to remain in place. France, China, and Russia are on record as wanting to loosen the sanctions or eliminate the sanctions regime altogether.

  • Effective containment does nothing to hasten the end of the Iraqi regime. Twelve years of sanctions, enforced about as well as one can reasonably expect, have given Saddam Hussein a pretext to impoverish and starve the Iraqi people but otherwise have had little impact on his ability to enrich himself or consolidate his hold on power.

The only realistic long-term alternative to war in Iraq, or regime change accomplished by some other (unspecified) means, is a complete dismantling of the sanctions regime and an end to any pretense of containment. So, the big question is: in 2020, do we want a different regime in Iraq, or do we want Saddam or Uday still running the show with a rebuilt military and large quantities of WMD at their disposal?

E. Nough has some additional thoughts on Iraqi exceptionalism (or, why we're not planning invasions of Venezuela and Zimbabwe). Meanwhile, here's one for the “those who don't learn history” file. Neville Chamberlain would be proud.