Why the United States Should Not Attack Iraq
True patriots do not follow their leaders blindly; rather they speak out when they see proposed actions by their leaders that threaten our country's best interests. President Bush's request for a Congressional blank check for the United States to unilaterally attack Iraq is such an action. An attack by the United States against Iraq would be bad for our country from a moral/ethical standpoint, from a geopolitical standpoint, from a national security standpoint, and from a military standpoint.
Morally and ethically, an attack against Iraq would be wrong, because it is not acceptable in a civilized world for one country to attack another when neither it nor its allies have been attacked. What is being proposed here is to attack Iraq because of what it might do, and this is wrong. Such an action would violate the historical principle that the United States does not attack other countries unless it, or one of its allies, is attacked. It would violate the international principle that all countries have a right to secure borders, and it would violate the tenets for just war laid out by most major world religions. The United States has long held that negotiation, not unilateral military action, is the means to resolve international disputes. To attack Iraq would be to turn our backs on this long-held view and to become a force for international violence, not international peace.
In addition, an attack against Iraq would set a terrible international precedent: a precedent that if a country merely feels threatened by another country, it is OK to attack that country. Imagine the consequences if other countries follow this precedent. India and Pakistan feel threatened by one another, and have nearly gone to war. Were either to do what the United States proposes to do to Iraq, a nuclear war would be the likely result. And do we now want to tell the Russians, in effect, that is OK to invade Chechnya because they feel threatened by it? Or to tell Egypt and Israel that it is now all right to launch "peremptory" attacks against one another? A world in which countries attack one another merely because they feel threatened is a far more violent and dangerous world - not a world I want to live in!
Finally from a moral/ethical standpoint, it is important to point out that an attack on Iraq is something very different from U.S. action against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. In the latter instance, we were attacked and were rightly acting to defend ourselves and bring the attackers to justice. Iraq is a completely different situation - in the case of an attack against Iraq, we become the attacker, and in so doing, surrender the moral high ground.
Geopolitically, an attack against Iraq makes no sense and would have serious negative consequences. For one thing, our allies in Europe and the Middle East and major countries around the world oppose such an action. France, Russia, Germany, China, and virtually all Arab and/or Muslim countries friendly to the United States have forcefully voiced their opposition to a U.S. attack on Iraq. These countries have supported us and helped us in the war on terrorism. We will lose much-needed support from around the world if we attack, and we will make potential enemies out of friends.
In addition, there are great perils in terms of the consequences in the Middle East of an attack on Iraq. It will provide cannon fodder for the most radical elements in Islamic societies, potentially destabilizing friendly governments in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In addition, an attack on Iraq would generally inflame passions in the Middle East, thus making the already-bad situation there, with repeated suicide bombings and violent Israeli retaliations, even worse. This is especially true if a US attack on Iraq were followed by an Iraqi attack on Israel, as happened during the Persian Gulf War. This time, Israel says it will retaliate to any such attack. If this happens, it could cause a region-wide war, and it will certainly fan the flames of resentment against the United States and Israel in the Middle East.
An attack on Iraq also would make no sense from a national security standpoint. First and foremost, such an attack would detract from our efforts to dismantle Al Qaeda and bring Osama Bin Laden to justice. Our success in this effort has been limited even without fighting two wars at once - Bin Laden and most of his highest lieutenants, unfortunately, remain at large. And from standpoint of national security, we have already, tragically, seen that Al Qaeda and Bin Laden are by far the greater threat to the United States. They have taken over 3000 lives on U.S. soil; Saddam Hussein has taken none.
While much of President Bush's argument for attacking Iraq is that Saddam might use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) against the United States, there is in fact no indication Saddam will use WMD offensively. In fact, the deterrence principle, used for 3 decades to keep the Soviet Union in check during the Cold War, ensures that he most likely will not. He wants to stay in power - and using WMD against the United States would mean a sure end to his power.
Additionally, an attack on Iraq carries real national security risks. If we attack Iraq, we will create an atmosphere that helps terrorists attract new recruits. Thus, an attack on Iraq could create many more Bin Ladens, who could present a threat of terrorism to the United States for decades to come.
Finally, an attack against Iraq makes no sense from a military standpoint. While Saddam is unlikely to use WMD offensively, he certainly could use them defensively, particularly if the point is reached where he figures he has nothing to lose. If WMD are used against U.S. troops invading Iraq, as they may well be, the casualties could be massive. In addition, it is likely that to overturn Saddam, urban warfare will be necessary. The casualties, both to U.S. troops and to Iraqi civilians, would be far greater in this type of warfare than is the case in most warfare. Tens of thousands of U.S. troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens could die. Finally, there is the question of what would happen once we overturn Saddam. The Bush administration has expressed concerns about peacekeeping missions because of the high risk and long-term commitment that such missions entail. Yet an invasion of Iraq would necessitate a peacekeeping mission on a scale beyond anything the U.S. has undertaken thus far - a commitment that could last for decades. And without such a commitment, we could simply replace one Saddam with another.
There is no doubt that the United States can overthrow Saddam, but that does not mean we should. Indeed, from a moral/ethical standpoint, from a geopolitical standpoint, from a national security standpoint, and from a military standpoint, the costs far outweigh the benefits. I urge Congress to reject any authorization that allows the President to commit the United States to military action in Iraq without the support and cooperation of the international community through the United Nations Security Council. The costs of a unilateral U.S. attack on Iraq are simply too great.
John E. Farley, Professor of Sociology, SIUE
September 23, 2002
This picture shows me delivering an address similar to the above essay on October 8, 2002, to a teach-in attended by over 300 people on the SIUE campus.