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Time to act

It is 12 January 2003 and US president Bush has rallied his troops for what he calls “The first war of the 21st century”. What is your view of this crisis, where, briefly, do you stand? This is the question we are putting to people around the world, especially those with their own public reputation and following. Our aim, to help create a truly global debate all can identify with.
Philip Bobbitt
12 January 2003

Saddam Hussein has spent the last twelve years breaching every provision of the Ceasefire Agreement that ended the Gulf War. Though required to “unconditionally accept” disarmament of his weapons of mass destruction under UN supervision, he has actively sought to acquire such weapons, expelled the inspectors and hidden the WMD he already had. After the defection of the head of his biological weapons program in 1995, Saddam Hussein was compelled to acknowledge that he had produced no fewer than 183 biological weapons in violation of the Agreement. Since 1998, he has repeatedly attempted to acquire weapons-grade uranium. He has replaced the original design for a nuclear warhead with a new design that could accommodate a Scud missile. Nine such missiles are still unaccounted for in the Iraqi inventory.

When Saddam Hussein attacked the unprotected Kurds in violation of the Agreement, the Coalition should have acted, immediately and decisively. But for the same reasons one hears now - concern about post-Saddam governance, anxiety among local allies over domestic reaction, fear of retaliation - the US could not marshal support for action at that time or at any time during the following decade in which Saddam Hussein flagrantly violated the Agreement that had allowed him to maintain his dictatorial power over Iraq. Indeed the US was barely able to keep the sanctions in place even after Saddam had threatened and expelled the inspectors. During those years, nothing changed - until 11 September 2001. What happened on that day had little to do with Iraq - but a great deal to do with the willingness to respond to the ongoing situation in Iraq.

So those who are looking for a “smoking gun,” or for something new in Saddam Hussein’s behavior that would compel us to act now, or for some link between al-Qaida and Iraq in order to justify a change of regime by force are looking in the wrong place. It is not new evidence that is driving the response now; I for one pray he hasn’t been able to get nuclear weapons, despite his best efforts. Rather there is a new resolve, and a new urgency.

For we must act now. In August 2002, former weapons inspectors for the UN testified that “the current leadership in Baghdad will eventually achieve a nuclear weapon in addition to their current inventories of weapons of mass destruction.” Once Saddam Hussein has nuclear weapons, the West will be deterred from using force to thwart an Iraqi move against it neighbors; the chances of an attack by terrorists using these weapons increases significantly; and Iraq’s neighbors will scramble to acquire nuclear weapons of their own.

If we could avoid Saddam Hussein’s acquisition of weapons of mass destruction through a combination of sanctions and inspections, I would surely favor this instead of war, in spite of the human cost an indefinite continuation of the sanctions would impose on the people of Iraq. But Saddam Hussein’s unique combination of vast wealth (which can quickly replace any weapons decommissioned under pressure), aggressive risk-taking, and resolute mendacity makes inspections hopelessly inadequate, even if they were to be continued indefinitely, which we all must know is impossible. Given the divided, impotent nature of the Western response to Saddam Hussein’s shredding of the Ceasefire Agreement and all the UN Resolutions that, pathetically, repeatedly called on him to respect its provisions without success, I see no grounds for confidence in a system of sanctions and inspections.

If we want to restore Iraq’s wealth to its people, to avoid nuclear proliferation, and to lessen the dangers of terrorism, Saddam Hussein cannot remain in power. If he cannot be persuaded to leave, he must be forced to leave.

©Philip Bobbitt 2003

Originally published as part of a debate on 12 January 2003 Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Pt. 1.

See also Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Pt. 2.

Peter Geoghegan: dark money and dirty politics

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