By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
President George W. Bush, however, and other top administration officials tell us that going to war to bring about a regime change is the right thing to do because Saddam Hussein is a reprehensible tyrant. Which, of course, is true (but which also overlooks the fact that when national interests have so required, the U.S. has never had trouble jumping into bed with nasty dictators, including Saddam Hussein himself in the 1980s). But there are lots of nasty dictators and regimes in the world, and Americans should be really worried about the implications of a foreign-policy doctrine -- the so-called Bush doctrine -- that invests the U.S. with the right, or duty, to use its military power to engage in overseas crusades to remove the world’s “evil ones.”
Are we as a nation prepared to engage in perpetual war to overthrow them, even when they pose no security threat to the U.S.?
Now, if Saddam Hussein could be disposed of easily, and cheaply -- and by cheaply, I mean with little loss of American lives -- a case could be made that the payoff would justify the small price that would have to be paid. But there is no assurance at all that Saddam Hussein can be overthrown cheaply and easily.
For sure, since the early 1990s we Americans have become used to thinking of war as sort of a real-life video-arcade game in which the high-tech U.S. military is able to win wars -- the first Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan -- quickly, and almost painlessly. This time, however, while there is no doubt the United States will defeat Iraq on the battlefield, there‘s plenty of doubt about how high the cost of victory will be.
Many military experts believe the Iraqis learned some lessons from their defeat in 1991, and that this time they will adopt a different strategy: entrenching themselves in Baghdad and other major cities. Go see Black Hawk Down, or Enemy at the Gates, to see how costly it is to fight an enemy block by block. Moreover, Baghdad is a sprawling city of 5 million people. If the U.S. is forced to root out the Iraqi army from Baghdad, there would be a humanitarian crisis of the first magnitude, and the deaths of many Iraqi civilians -- broadcast on CNN or, worse, Al Jezeera -- would be a public-relations disaster for the U.S. in Europe, and in the Islamic world.
The Bush administration has given no indication that it has an effective strategic response if, indeed, Saddam Hussein tries to turn Baghdad into a Middle Eastern version of Stalingrad. Instead, the administration’s “strategy” seems to consist solely of the hope that Saddam Hussein will be overthrown by the Iraqi military, or that Iraqi troops simply will refuse to fight. No one can rule out these possibilities, but serious strategy must be based on something more than hope.
Of course, as the 19th-century Prussian strategic theorist Karl von Clausewitz famously observed, wars are fought to attain political objectives. But when it comes to thinking about postwar Iraq, the administration‘s policy does not even rest on something as tangible as hope, but instead is the product of wishful thinking. When senior administration officials say that Iraqis will welcome U.S. troops as liberators, and that America will transform Iraq into a democracy, it’s time to worry about what they have been smoking -- and inhaling.
Iraqis may well pray for Saddam Hussein‘s demise. That does not mean they will welcome an American occupation army and military government. Not only is nationalism a powerful force, but in this case the element of a “clash of civilizations” -- Islam vs. “The West” (read the U.S.) -- inescapably will be present. Not only are American troops likely to be regarded by Iraqis as a hostile, alien presence, but by overthrowing Saddam Hussein, a U.S. war against Iraq easily could spark ethnic and political conflict that could lead to Iraq’s disintegration. The U.S. would have to umpire the competition for power among various factions in postwar Iraq, and would be faced with the challenge of establishing democracy in a country that has less than zero experience with democracy. Notwithstanding breezy comparisons with the U.S. post--World War II occupations of Germany and Japan, Iraq offers a much less hospitable theater for the latest chapter in that long-running U.S. foreign-policy soap opera, “Adventures in Nation Building.”
Regime change in Iraq, in short, is a long-term imperial vocation. And this is to say nothing of the regionwide consequences of a U.S. military campaign against Iraq. A war against Iraq may result in a battlefield victory, but the political consequences are likely to be unpleasant. Fragile U.S. client regimes (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia) may be threatened by domestic instability. There is likely to be an areawide anti-American backlash. And there will be more terrorism directed against the U.S., not less.
For sure, if the United States wants to go to war with Iraq, the rest of the world is powerless to stop us. The U.S. today is a hegemonic great power. “Hegemony” is the fancy term we political scientists use to describe a single great power that dominates international politics by virtue of its overwhelming military and economic power -- as the U.S. does today. History tells us a lot about the fates of hegemonic powers, and it is a tale that should give Americans pause. Hegemony has never proved a winning grand strategy for great powers for the simple reason that when one state is too powerful, everyone else feels threatened. And just as kids on the playground join forces to oppose a school-yard bully, other states in international politics coalesce to put hegemonic powers in their place. The history of modern international history is littered with the wreckage of defeated hegemons and empires.