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I beg to differ

The problem with the argument that Saddam Hussein can be contained that Partha mentions below is that it depends not only on Hussein being deterrable, but upon him actually being deterred. Mearsheimer and Walt illustrate the point when they write:

But what about Saddam’s failure to leave Kuwait once the United States demanded a return to the status quo ante? Wouldn’t a prudent leader have abandoned Kuwait before getting clobbered? With hindsight, the answer seems obvious, but Saddam had good reasons to believe hanging tough might work. It was not initially apparent that the United States would actually fight, and most Western military experts predicted the Iraqi army would mount a formidable defense. These forecasts seem foolish today, but many people believed them before the war began.
In other words, as they later admit, he "miscalculated." Their argument is that Hussein won't act to harm the United States because he's rational rather than suicidal -- but what good is that, if he miscalculates? And his history suggests that either he's irrational or he miscalculates frequently.

Indeed, let's look at the current situation: if Saddam Hussein so deterrable, then why is he not eagerly cooperating with UNMOVIC? If he's so deterrable, if he's so rational that he wouldn't use WMD, then why not give them up? They're not serving to deter the United States; they're serving to provoke the United States. If he wouldn't use them, what good are they to him? Why not surrender them and all documents, allow Hans Blix to say, "Iraq has fully cooperated and is hiding nothing," and hence preserve his regime? Either he's miscalculating, or being irrational.

A possible answer is that he's retaining these weapons because he thinks that Bush would attack even if he fully renounced them, and so he'd rather keep them to use when the U.S. attacks. But that's not particularly rational; even if he used them in defense, that wouldn't allow him to defeat American forces. So that's not a strong argument for the containable position.

Another flaw in the argument is that it depends on (their version of) history repeating itself. But past performance, as the disclaimer goes, is no guarantee of future performance. They argue that history shows that Saddam Hussein is interested in self-preservation above all else, and so, in their words, "Saddam thus has no incentive to use chemical or nuclear weapons against the United States and its allies—unless his survival is threatened." But he's getting up in years now -- 66 -- and there are persistent if unsubstantiated rumors of health problems like cancer. What if he knows his survival is threatened, not by the United States, but by old age? (Of course, we shouldn't take that argument too far; after all, it could apply to any country. But Saddam Hussein has demonstrated himself to be particularly unconcerned with human life, even by dictatorial standards. The containment argument isn't that Saddam Hussein is decent, but that he's deterrable. When he has nothing to lose, that argument fails.)

There are many practical problems with containment, as well, but for now I just wanted to address the issue of it being effective.


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Comments (1)


The kindest thing I can say about that article is that the authors were delusional when they wrote it, so they cannot be held responsible for anything they said. My summary of the article is as follows. Iraq was the injured party. First they were forced to go to war with Iran, then they were forced to go to war with Kuwait. Iraq did nothing wrong. It was not their fault that they used chemical weapons, because the US was supported them at the time, except of course when they gassed their own people, but nobody's perfect. Anyway, we can count on Saddam Hussein not to do anything irrational such as using WMD because he can be contained, except when he decides to start a war, but he does not do that too often. Well maybe it was irrational to not pull out of Kuwait but everyone told him that he had a great army and could not lose to the US, so how was he to know differently. Finally, if he acquires nuclear weapons, he probably will not use them or give them to Al Queda unless he thinks he can get away with it or he thinks we are trying to overthrow him or he is having a bad hair day.


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