TCS Daily

Doves In Wonderland

By Joe Katzman - August 13, 2002 12:00 AM

Recently, a fellow blogger emailed me to argue against a war with Iraq. With the media campaign heating up, and the New York Times' campaign against it in full swing, perhaps it's time to take a different perspective on the arguments.

We can beat opponents of the coming war over the head with reasons, as The Economist did recently. While the Economist did a fine job of this, reasons don't always convince. They can always be evaded, or denied. Which is why I'm going to take a different approach, and turn the argument on its head: What would a reasonable person have to believe, in the wake of the September 11 attacks, in order to make a respectable argument against an invasion?

Why is the anti-war case so problematic? First, lets look at...

What's Beyond Any Doubt

  • At least some of Iraq's arsenal escaped the inspectors. Even anti-war activist and ex-U.N. inspector Scott Ritter will only claim 90-95% accuracy; his suppositions regarding what remains are, by his own admission, pure supposition.

  • Iraq has had several unfettered years without any inspection, after kicking them out in defiance of the U.N. and the certainty of damaging sanctions.
  • Iraq has links with terrorist organizations, not least through its payment of Palestinian suicide bombers and their organizations. One of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers also lives in Iraq, where he was interviewed by 60 Minutes this year.

  • One of those Palestinian organizations, Hamas, recently made the use of chemical weapons part of its publicly declared strategy.

  • Export controls from and import controls to Iraq have leaked, to the tune of billions of dollars.

  • Saddam continues to show clear public intent to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, recent efforts by Iraq have included the purchase of items that can only be useful in the production phase for nuclear weapons.

All of these points are rock-solid. Ironclad. I'm not even talking about the attempted assassination of a U.S. President, or some of the more disturbing allegations floating around. Which means that in order to buy the anti-war point of view, you'd have to believe...

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast

  1. That what was left of Iraq's chemical and bioweapon stocks post-inspection isn't enough to launch an attack via terrorism or military action. The history of weapons inspections generally, and the surprises from defecting Iraqis over the last few years, are less than comforting on that score.

  2. That Saddam's stockpile has not been augmented in the several years Iraq has had without weapons inspectors.

  3. That Saddam's attempt to purchase items for nuclear weapons production recently is apropos of nothing, entirely disconnected from capability or intent.

  4. That sanctions and controls proven to be flawed and proven to erode over time will work flawlessly to contain Iraq into the future re: weapons of mass destruction.

  5. That any capabilities Iraq does gain would never be transmitted to terrorist groups, either openly or in the belief that 'deniability' is possible. (Note that you'd have to believe this not only for authorized transfer, but for unauthorized transfer as well in a political culture whose fault lines include factions divided by tribal and personal loyalties.)

  6. That if these sanctions and controls fail, Iraq under Saddam will remain deterrable re: using weapons of mass destruction against Israel, America, or other targets that we value. (Note that this implies Saddam's continued physical and mental health, without any episodes of instability. Otherwise, one risks a rash decision that may trigger nuclear retaliation of uncertain scope. You'd also have to believe all of this for Saddam's successors, including his children, even though reports of their conduct and demeanor are less than encouraging.)

The Red Queen's "six impossible things before breakfast" that she described to Alice in Wonderland can't hold a candle to this set of beliefs. I certainly wouldn't bet anyone's life on them, and the nature of the risks makes it clear that the lives being wagered could easily be counted in hundreds of thousands.

In the international arena, the game is played for keeps. Euro-fantasies aside, there are no rules accepted by all parties. There is no enforcement mechanism other than the weapons you bring yourself. There is also no forgiveness for delay or hesitation in the face of clear threats. To make decisions - or to fail to make them - affects and risks the lives of thousands or even millions. We learned that anew on September 11, 2001.

The evidence threshold is therefore reasonable suspicion. In the words of William F. Buckley: "The evidence at hand is not what we would need in a court of law. We would not, in 1942, have been able to prove that Adolf Hitler was exterminating the Jews. We proceed on reasonable grounds." We have that, and far more.

Joe Katzman is a Partner with Sensei Associates. He also writes "Winds of Change," a daily weblog on world affairs, technology and cultural/spiritual trends.

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