The Prospect of War

Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein; drawing by David Levine

Many international problems offer only the bleak choice between a bad and a less bad solution, and the current controversy over Iraq poses this dilemma in an unusually far-reaching and complex way. It is not simply a question of dealing with a particularly obnoxious and aggressive tyrant, who may or may not be close to obtaining nuclear weapons. Other vital questions have also to be considered—the risks to the world’s most important source of oil and therefore to the world economy; the already unstable political situation of the Middle East, which has been shaken especially by the violent and emotive struggle between Israel and the Palestinians; the possibility that an American invasion of Iraq might bring down some of the less stable governments in the region; the emerging hostility between parts of the Islamic world and the West; the effect of an invasion of Iraq on international solidarity in the “war on terrorism”; and worldwide unease at the idea of an aggressive and unilateral United States hegemony, as foreshadowed in the new doctrine of American preemptive action and in documents such as the recently published National Security Strategy of the United States of America.

There is virtually no disagreement that the world would be a much better place without Saddam Hussein. There is, however, profound disagreement, both within and outside the United States, about how to achieve his overthrow without setting off a chain reaction of destructive consequences. There is also a considerable difference of opinion, and an alarming lack of reliable information, about exactly how dangerous to the outside world Saddam Hussein really is. The millions of words on the subject that have recently poured forth from governments, pundits, think tanks, academics, journalists, and the protagonists of different points of view have so far done little to clarify a situation that may well, in the near future, involve the world in war once again.

This is where Kenneth Pollack’s The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq is of great value. Whether or not one agrees with his conclusions, which are, incidentally, a good deal less uncompromising than the book’s title implies, Pollack, a respected expert on the Gulf region both in and out of government, provides a meticulous account of the history, the known facts, and the pros and cons of different options in the current controversy over Iraq. Although Saddam Hussein’s record on human rights and the brutal treatment of his own people is well down to the standard of terror and atrocity by which his chosen mentors, Stalin and Hitler, held on to power, Pollack’s book makes it embarrassingly clear that the determining factor in the reaction of governments to Saddam Hussein has always been their own interests. If Saddam Hussein was the worst of tyrants in a nonstrategic part of the world, it is unlikely that he would arouse much serious interest or outrage among governments—a…

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