The coming war with Iraq

Deciphering the Bush administration's motives


Michael T. Klare


The United States is about to go to war with Iraq. As of this writing, there are 60,000 US troops already deployed in the area around Iraq, and another 75,000 or so are on their way to the combat zone. Weapons inspectors have found a dozen warheads, designed to carry chemical weapons. Even before this discovery, senior US officials were insisting that Saddam was not co-operating with the United Nations and had to be removed by force. Hence, there does not seem to be any way to stop this war, unless Saddam Hussein is overthrown by members of the Iraqi military or is persuaded to abdicate his position and flee the country.

It is impossible at this point to foresee the outcome of this war. Under the most optimistic scenarios - the ones advanced by proponents of the war - Iraqi forces will put up only token resistance and American forces will quickly capture Baghdad and remove Saddam Hussein from office (by killing him or placing him under arrest). This scenario further assumes that the Iraqis will decline to use their weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or will be prevented from doing so by US military action; that civilian casualties will be kept low and that most Iraqis will welcome their "liberation" from Saddam; that a new, pro-US government will quickly and easily be put into place; that fighting between competing ethnic factions will be limited and easily brought under control; that anti-American protests in other Muslim countries will not get out of hand; and that American forces will be withdrawn after a relatively short occupation period of six months to a year.

It is not difficult, however, to imagine less optimistic scenarios. In these scenarios, the Iraqis could put up stiff resistance and conduct house-to-house fighting in Baghdad, thereby producing significant US casualties and leading, in turn, to heavy US air and missile strikes on populated areas, resulting in high civilian casualties. Under these scenarios, the Iraqis will use their chemical and biological weapons in a final spasm of self-destruction, producing untold civilian and combatant casualties. The surviving Iraqis will turn against their American "liberators," resulting in constant sniping and acts of terrorism. The Kurds and Shiites and Sunnis will fight over the spoils of war, producing widespread carnage and trapping US forces in the middle. American troops will remain in Iraq for a generation, or more, producing hatred and resistance throughout the Muslim world and increased levels of terrorism elsewhere.

Which scenario will prevail? Nobody can be certain at this point. Those who favor a war with Iraq tend to believe that Iraqi resistance will be light and that the rest of the optimistic scenario will fall into place. But no one can guarantee that any of this will come to pass, and there are many experts who believe that the likelihood of things going awry are very great. For example, the CIA has indicated that Iraq is most likely to use its WMD in the event that Iraq is attacked and defeat appears likely. In weighing the relative merits of going to war with Iraq, therefore, one should reckon on the worst possible outcome, not the best. One must ask: are the purported benefits of war so great as to outweigh all of the possible negative repercussions?

And this leads to the most fundamental question of all: WHY are we going to war? What is really motivating President Bush and his senior advisers to incur these enormous risks