Sunday, 7 September 2003

Iraqi rope-a-dope

This week’s Newsweek has a fairly convincing explanation for why Saddam gravely miscalculated before the war:

U.S. DEFENSE AND Security sources tell NEWSWEEK that high-ranking former Saddam aides have told U.S. interrogators that Saddam believed the only assault President George W. Bush would ever launch against Iraq was the kind of low-risk bombing campaign that the Clinton administration used in the former Yugoslavia.

Or, for that matter, the kind of low-risk bombing campaign that the Clinton administration used repeatedly against Iraq during the 1990s. Or the same kind of campaign that was waged against al-Qaeda (and unfortunate Sudanese businessmen). Why was he so confident?

Saddam was also confident that France and Germany would pressure the Americans to retreat from this course, leaving Iraq shaken but Saddam still in power.

Which, of course, nicely dovetails with Daniel Henninger’s Friday column discussing the Democrats’ foreign policy credibility shortcomings:

Democrats have been urging “cooperation” and “consultation” for 40 years. Maybe in this election we’ll finally find out what this means. Democrats strongly imply that the mere process of talking with the U.N. or even with an enemy such as North Korea constitutes success. The cardinal Democratic sin in foreign policy is to “alienate our friends.”

In his announcement address, Sen. Kerry said: “I voted to threaten the use of force to make Saddam Hussein comply with the resolutions of the United Nations. I believe that was right—but it was wrong to rush to war without building a true international coalition.” What does this mean? Faced with a real threat to American security, will John Kerry wait, talk and consult, no matter how many months or years it takes until Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder and Kofi Annan are standing with him on the bridge?

I don’t doubt that a President Kerry or even a President Dean would deploy the U.S. military on relatively modest missions—a Haiti or Liberia, or Somalia. But an Iraq war? A strike and follow-through against North Korea? After Vietnam and no matter that September 11 happened, and no matter what the merits, Mr. Kerry and the others (perhaps excepting Sen. Lieberman), give the impression they would not act, or not act in time. They would consult, specifically with France, Russia, Germany and the U.N. secretary general.

There is no way to know with certainty whether any of them would act on the scale of the Iraq war on behalf of American security. But Mr. Kerry has usefully raised the issue. It won’t be sufficient to say they would have “done things differently.” The real question is whether they would do it at all.

No matter how much discussion Washington is willing to engage in with “allies” and “partners,” the fundamental fact remains that Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong-Il and Saddam Hussein are perceived to be less of a threat by most other countries than they are by the United States. Subordinating U.S. security interests to those of less threatened states (or at least countries that think they are less threatened; France and Germany are probably more at risk from attacks by Islamic fundamentalist terror groups than the United States is) is not a sound foreign policy—as the behavior of Saddam Hussein, emboldened by nearly a decade of the U.S. engaging in that sort of foreign policy, clearly demonstrates. In other words, a Saddam that took U.S. threats seriously might actually have been containable.

OpinionJournal link via Econopundit.