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More on containment

It may be moot by the time anybody reads this, but I wanted to follow up on last week's entry where I addressed the question of whether Saddam Hussein is containable. A few additional thoughts:

  1. Effective inspections (assuming such creatures exist) would be a key requirement for containment. But even the virulently anti-war Europeans such as Jacques Chirac concede that inspections are only taking place because of the credible threat of invasion by the United States. How long can the United States keep that threat credible? Hundreds of thousands of troops can't remain in the Gulf forever. For one thing, the United States needs them elsewhere (and many of them are reservists, who can't be kept on active duty indefinitely). For another, their presence is a source of friction between the U.S. and local governments in the region.

  2. What if the inspectors claimed to have finished? What if the inspectors announced that they had found whatever there was to find, and that they had verified that everything had been destroyed? Would they remain active forever in order to maintain the containment approach? Or do inspections end, as it seems likely the "international community" would demand? If so, how does containment work at that point? With no inspections, what's to stop Saddam Hussein from restarting his weapons programs?

  3. What happens to the Kurds of Northern Iraq (or the Shia of Southern Iraq)? Do the United States and the United Kingdom become the permanent air force of these groups? Given Saddam Hussein's behavior towards these groups in the 1980s, again right after the Gulf War, and then at various times in the 1990s, he certainly can't be trusted to leave them alone if they're unprotected. So do proponents of containment suggest we abandon them, or that we continue our current, hybrid approach in which the Iraqi government has only limited sovereignty over large portions of its territory? And if Iraq is given a clean bill of health by inspectors, can we be sure that Iraq's neighbors would continue to allow us to fly missions over Iraq forever?

  4. There are costs to containment -- and I don't just mean the troop commitments and the strained relations with other countries in the region. While the effect of sanctions have almost certainly been greatly exaggerated, they do exist. (Indeed, before Bush pushed for a preventive approach towards Iraq, those currently opposing military force were opposing sanctions.) And in addition to the humanitarian cost, there's the economic cost imposed on neighboring countries which could otherwise trade with Iraq. How long will people tolerate these costs? Indefinitely? Will most countries stop respecting the sanctions after a while? Will humanitarian groups talk about malnourished children, and demand that the sanctions be lifted? At that point, what would containment consist of? Stern looks and firmly-worded UN resolutions?

  5. In the Cold War, "containment" was a long-term state of affairs; we were waiting for an entire system of government to disappear. What's the exit strategy for containing Iraq? Do we wait for Saddam Hussein's death? Is the guy who replaces him -- very possibly one of his sons -- going to be any better, or will he need to be contained also? Do we continue until a democratic regime spontaneously appears in Baghdad?

  6. The "C"-word. Credibility. If the United States backs down at this point, after all of President Bush's rhetoric, how can the United States ever give a credible ultimatum again? What if North Korea acts up, and Bush threatens to bomb them if they don't behave, why would they go along with our wishes? Why wouldn't they assume the United States would wimp out at the last minute just as we did vis-a-vis Iraq? It's a dangerous argument which needs to be used sparingly, because it could be used to justify just about anything the president wants to do. But in this case, we're not talking about the whim of a president; we're discussing a course of action authorized by Congress (and, even if they're trying to pretend now that it never happened, the UN Security Council), so the danger is minimized. And like it or not, it has to be a factor.

  7. Related to the credibility argument, what about the effect on the rest of the region? What are the Kurds to think about how the U.S. feels about their plight, if the U.S. decides that allowing Saddam Hussein to remain in power is preferable to removing him? What are Iranian democracy advocates to think, if Bush backtracks? It will be a major morale booster for the Iranian dictatorship, for the Syrian dictator, for the Saudi monarchy, if they see that there's really no commitment in Washington to middle eastern democracy.
None of these items by themselves constitute conclusive proof that containment isn't a viable alternative. But taken as a whole, they make a strong case to that effect. And until I hear satisfactory answers to these issues, I won't be convinced that such answers exist.


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Comments (1)


It says here that Chirac concedes that inspections are taking place only because of the threat of invasion. I'm not sure where this is from - in the speech I saw Chirac give (to France's Parliament), he repeated many times that the reason inspections were happening was because the security council vote on Resolution 1441 was unanimous!!!


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