There are two ways of opposing a war with Iraq. The first way is simple and wrong; the second way is right but difficult.
The first way is to deny that the Iraqi regime is particularly ugly, that it lies somewhere outside the range of ordinary states, or to argue that, however ugly it is, it doesn’t pose any significant threat to its neighbors or to world peace. Perhaps, despite Saddam’s denials, his government is in fact seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. But other governments are doing the same thing, and if or when Iraq succeeds in developing such weapons—so the argument continues—we can deal with that through conventional deterrence, in exactly the same way that the US and the Soviet Union dealt with each other in the cold war years.
Obviously, if this argument is right, there is no reason to attack Iraq. Nor is there any reason for a strong inspection system, or for the current embargo, or for the northern and southern “no-fly” zones. Some of the most vocal organizers of the antiwar movement, here and in Europe, seem to have adopted exactly this position. It has been overrepresented among speakers at the big demonstrations against the war. Most of the demonstrators, I believe, don’t hold this first view; nor is it held by the wider constituency of actual and potential opponents of Bush’s foreign policy. But we have to recognize a constant temptation of antiwar politics: to pretend that there really isn’t a serious enemy out there.
This pretense certainly keeps things simple, but it is wrong in every possible way. The tyranny and brutality of the Iraqi regime are widely known and cannot be covered up. Its use of chemical weapons in the recent past; the recklessness of its invasions of Iran and Kuwait; the rhetoric of threat and violence that is now standard in Baghdad; the record of the 1990s, when UN inspectors were systematically obstructed; the cruel repression of the uprisings that followed the Gulf War of 1991; the torture and murder of political opponents—how can all this be ignored by a serious political movement?
Nor should anyone be comfortable with the idea of an Iraq armed with nuclear weapons and then deterred from using them. Not only is it unclear that deterrence will work with a regime like Saddam’s, but the emerging system of deterrence will be highly unstable. For it won’t only involve the US and Iraq; it will also involve Israel and Iraq. If Iraq is permitted to build nuclear weapons, Israel will have to acquire what it doesn’t have at the present time: second-strike capacity. And then there will be Israeli ships in the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean equipped with nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert. This may be “conventional” deterrence, but it is insane to look forward to it.
The right way to oppose the war is to argue that the present system of containment and …