Sunday, October 24, 2004
I as I have argued at length elsewhere, intrusive "containment" was the only policy short of regime change that prevented Saddam Hussein from acquiring nuclear weapons. That containment rested on four pillars: U.N. inspections, brutally tough economic sanctions, the enforcement of "no fly" zones, and a substantial American military presence in the Gulf. It is abundently clear that containment in this fashion "worked," in the sense that Saddam did not have the wherewithal to restart his nuclear weapons program for a third time as long as the four pillars were standing. The critical question is whether the four pillars of containment could have been sustained for the indefinite duration of the Saddam-Usay-Qusay regime.
The mounting revelations around the oil-for-food financial scandal and the concurrent smuggling strongly support the claims of supporters of the war, including me, that at least the economic sanctions were collapsing. Not only was Saddam using the oil vouchers to buy influence with France and Russia on the Security Council, but the flood of smuggling through Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Egypt would have been almost impossible to stop. As Kenneth Pollack wrote as late as January 2004, long after it became clear that Saddam had no viable nuclear weapons program:
The oil-for-food program itself gave Saddam clout to apply toward the lifting of the sanctions. Under Resolution 986 Iraq could choose to whom it would sell its oil and from whom it would buy its food and medicine. Baghdad could therefore reward cooperative states with contracts. Not surprisingly, France and Russia regularly topped the list of Iraq's oil-for-food partners. In addition, Iraq could set the prices—and since Saddam did not really care whether he was importing enough food and medicine for his people's needs, he could sell oil on the cheap and buy food and medicine at inflated prices as additional payoff to friendly governments. He made it clear that he wanted his trading partners to ignore Iraqi smuggling and try to get the sanctions lifted.
Got that? Saddam was using the oil-for-food program, which was put in place to ease some of the impact of economic sanctions on innocent Iraqis, to undermine the sanctions regime, which was in turn a critical element of the containment that was keeping Saddam from developing nuclear weapons.
Thoughtful opponents of the war argue that containment had worked to prevent Saddam from re-starting his nuclear weapons program. Containment was falling apart, though. The U.N. inspectors were gone, and only able to return after the United States positioned a full-fledged invasion force on Iraq's border. The "no-fly" missions (one of the better oxymorons in geopolitical discourse - ed.) were increasingly unpopular in the Gulf States from which they were flown and in the Security Council (the French had bailed in 1996). The huge presence of American soldiers in Saudi Arabia could not have continued for many more years. Between smuggling and oil-for-food corruption, Saddam was able to break the embargo against him and develop Western allies against his own containment. It would not have been many years before Saddam would have launched his third (or fourth) attempt to develop nuclear weapons.
Genuine opponents of the Iraq war -- excluding those who supported the war but for its timing, manner, and diplomatic context -- need to demonstrate how containment, which was never meant to have been a long-term policy, could have been sustained credibly for the expected life of the Saddam-Uday-Qusay regime. Unless they do, they must have been willing to countenance Saddam Hussein or one of his less rational sons armed with nuclear weapons, or have been genuinely willing to fight a future war against Iraq on Saddam's terms, rather than ours.
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