Sunday, October 06, 2002
Why War with Iraq?

This past week saw two very clearly reasoned pieces for why war with Iraq is justified, responsible, proper, and necessary. One was Jeffery Goldberg in this dialogue entry (scroll down) on Slate.
In 1995, the government of Saddam Hussein admitted to United Nations weapons inspectors that its scientists had weaponized a biological agent called aflatoxin. Charles Duelfer, the former deputy executive chairman of the now-defunct UNSCOM, told me earlier this year that the Iraqi admission was startling because aflatoxin has no possible battlefield use. Aflatoxin, which is made from fungi that occur in moldy grains, does only one thing well: It causes liver cancer. In fact, it induces it particularly well in children. Its effects are far from immediate. The joke among weapons inspectors is that aflatoxin would stop a lieutenant from making colonel, but it would not stop soldiers from advancing across a battlefield.

I quoted Duelfer, in an article that appeared in The New Yorker, saying that "we kept pressing the Iraqis to discuss the concept of use for aflatoxin." They never came up with an adequate explanation, he said. They did admit, however, that they had loaded aflatoxin into two warheads capable of being fitted onto Scud missiles.

Richard Spertzel, who was the chief biological weapons inspector for UNSCOM, told me that aflatoxin is "a devilish weapon. From a moral standpoint, aflatoxin is the cruelest weapon—it means watching children die slowly of liver cancer."

Spertzel went on to say that, to his knowledge, Iraq is the only country ever to weaponize aflatoxin.
The second piece (here) appeared today in The Boston Globe. It's by Jean Bethke Elshtain.
Once the case for preventive force has been made, the question then becomes one of jus in bello - what sort of force and against whom? The single most important factor here is the principle known as discrimination. This means that noncombatants cannot be the intended targets of harm, as were the victims of Sept. 11 and the Iraqi Kurds. In any conflict civilians will fall in harm's way. But it is forbidden to knowingly and maliciously target them. Of course, if the United States goes to war, it must not target civilians. As for Saddam, we know he has no compunctions in this regard, and that fact, too, weighs heavily in evaluating the threat he poses and our own actions.

In the 1991 Persian Gulf War, one of Hussein's strategies was to locate noncombatants in or near legitimate military targets precisely in order that they might be harmed. He could then point an accusing finger and say, ''Look what the Americans and the United Nations coalition are doing,'' when, in fact, it was his own actions that had brought them to grief. Saddam's record is clear. He will not hesitate to target civilians intentionally. The only questions are when and where.

There are many puzzling features to the current debate. We hear a lot, and rightly, about not going it alone. But in fact we are not. The Bush administration is seeking congressional authorization (''legitimate authority,'' as the just war tradition calls it) to use US military might. It is urging the Security Council to adopt a strong resolution that basically calls upon the Iraqi regime to abide by all the other resolutions the UN has passed and Iraq has ignored.

When critics bemoan the current administration's alleged unilateralism, they seem to be operating under a peculiar double standard. The United States, working around the clock to secure support for the preventive use of force to disarm the Iraqi regime, is accused of egregious unilateralism. But a state -Iraq - that has behaved and continues to behave unilaterally in defiance of the international community's various and repeated resolutions is let off the hook. Why?
Dr. Martin Luther King once said, "The time is always right to do what is right." A continued failure to act -- and the current situation is one in which we have failed to act already -- regarding the weapons that Iraq has developed and continues to develop would constitute a grave moral neglect. A future which includes the likes of the current regime in Baghdad holding its own citizens, the citizens of neighbor nations (democratic or not), or the citizens of the rest of the world hostage by its use or threat to use chemical and biological, much less nuclear, weapons is simply unacceptable. It is entirely proper to use all forces at our disposal -- diplomatic, economic, and military -- to make sure that future does not happen.

Addendum: The 7 October 2002 New York Times features this op-ed by William Safire. The piece includes the URL for this testimony to the House Armed Services Committee by US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld regarding the Bush (II) administration's stated reasons for action against Iraq. Even though this is prepared testimony, it is expressed with Rumsfield's usual clarity and lack of obfuscation.