10 reasons why the USA should not attack Iraq

Note: This article first appeared in LP News in February 2003.


10 reasons why the USA should not attack Iraq

by Bill Winter
LP News Editor

[February 3] For a Libertarian, there's only one valid reason for the United States to go to war: Self-defense.

The party platform makes that clear. It states: "Any U.S. military policy should have the objective of providing security for the lives, liberty and property of the American people in the U.S. against the risk of attack by a foreign power."

Such a "risk of attack" must obviously be immediate, grave, and unequivocal. Otherwise, the government could point to almost any risk -- no matter how unlikely or insignificant -- as a rationale for war.

Given this straightforward self-defense mandate, is the United States justified in going to war against Iraq?

The Bush administration says it is. It argues:

1) Iraq possesses nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that threaten the security of the United States.

2) Saddam Hussein is a past and future ally of terrorists who threaten the United States.

Below, we will address each of these arguments.

The Bush administration has offered other rationales for war: Saddam is a thug who oppresses his own people and threatens his neighbors. He has violated U.N. and international agreements. And he has hindered U.N. weapons inspections.

Those accusations all seem to be true. But for a Libertarian, they are not valid reasons to go to war, since they go far beyond any proper defensive role for the U.S. military. It is not the job of the United States to liberate the oppressed people of the world, nor to defend Arab nations against aggression, nor to enforce international treaties, nor to compel Hussein to open his borders to U.N. weapons inspectors.

What about the U.N. report that says Iraq did not prove conclusively that it dismantled its weapons of mass destruction? The mere possession of weapons is not a valid reason for the U.S. to invade a sovereign nation. After all, Iraq is not the only nation with such armaments. According to the Pentagon, 12 nations have nuclear weapons programs, 13 nations possess biological weapons, 16 nations have chemical weapons, and 28 nations are armed with ballistic missiles.

"But no other of those nations is facing the threat of having its leadership overthrown [by armed invasion]," note Ivan Eland and Bernard Gourley in a briefing paper for the Cato Institute (December 17, 2002).

In a similar vein, most of the more colorful anti-war allegations from the Left are also irrelevant: That a war is a ploy to capture Iraq's oil fields for Bush's oil-tycoon friends, or to distract attention from a frail economy, or a son's effort to finish what Bush Senior started. Those allegations merely distract from the central question: Is a war with Iraq necessary for the security of the United States?

An examination from a Libertarian perspective of the arguments for war presents an unambiguous answer: No.

The evidence makes it clear that Iraq does not pose an immediate, grave, and unequivocal threat to the security of the U.S.

Eland and Gourley sum up the view of most libertarian defense experts. "Hussein's threat to the United States has been overstated," they write. "Evidence that Hussein presents an imminent and uncontrollable threat is simply not there. Neither does evidence exist that having Hussein in power is any more threatening than the rule of other despotic tyrants around the world."

Writing in Foreign Policy (January/February 2003), John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt agree. "The campaign to wage war against Iraq rests on a flimsy foundation," they write. "Americans should understand that a compelling strategic rationale is absent."

Summarizing the research of these and other foreign policy experts, here are 10 reasons why the U.S. should not go to war with Iraq:

1) Even if he does have nuclear weapons (or other weapons of mass destruction) Saddam Hussein would not risk using them on the United States.

While there is clear evidence that Iraq possesses a variety of chemical and biological weapons (including mustard gas, nerve gas, and anthrax) – and while he may be working to build nuclear weapons -- there is almost no chance that Hussein would use them to attack the United States.

Why? Because Hussein has no wish to die. The Iraqi dictator understands that if he attacks the United States, he faces massive, devastating retaliation.

"Hussein had an opportunity to use chemical weapons against U.S. troops during the Persian Gulf War, and he did not," note Eland and Gourley. "The lesson to be drawn from this is that Hussein was deterred from using chemical weapons against an adversary capable of massive retaliation."

Even CIA director George Tenet in a letter to Congress, admitted that Iraq would not risk an attack on the world's only superpower. He wrote: "[Iraq] for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting ... attacks with conventional or chemical or biological weapons against the United States."

But might Hussein use WMD against the U.S. because he is insane, irrational, or reckless? No. Contrary to Bush Administration allegations, Hussein is neither a madman, nor irrational.

"Hussein, while he may not act morally, is rational in the sense that economists and political scientists use the term," write Eland and Gourley. "Although he is prone to take risky and even foolhardy actions, he always does so with one eye focused on maintaining power over Iraq. [Hussein] holds his physical and political survival as paramount among his preferences."

2) There is no evidence that Saddam Hussein helped the September 11 terrorists.

Is Hussein an ally of al Qaeda? No, say Mearsheimer and Walt.

"There is no credible evidence that Iraq had anything to do with the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon," they write. "Hawks inside and outside the Bush administration have gone to extraordinary lengths over the past months to find a link, but they have come up empty-handed."

This isn't surprising, note Mearsheimer and Walt, because "relations between Saddam and al Qaeda have always been quite poor."

"Osama bin Laden is a radical fundamentalist, and he detests secular leaders like Saddam," they write. "Similarly, Saddam has consistently repressed fundamentalist movements within Iraq."

Given the non-alliance between Hussein and al Qaeda, an invasion of Iraq would represent a setback in the U.S.'s efforts to seek justice for the September 11 attacks, argue Eland and Gourley.

"Instead of being part of the war on the terrorist network that remains viable and is still attacking the United States, an unprovoked invasion of Iraq would detract from it," they write. "Scarce intelligence resources, special operations forces, and the attention of policy makers would need to be shifted [away from al Qaeda] to an attack on Iraq."

Hussein has given aid to Islamic terrorists -- most recently, to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers -- but "the terrorist groups that Iraq supports do not focus their attacks on the United States," writes the Cato Institute's Ivan Eland (August 19, 2002). "Such groups concentrate their attacks on targets in the Middle East."

3) Hussein is extremely unlikely to give WMD to al Qaeda for future attacks on the United States.

Hussein would not give al Qaeda nuclear or chemical weapons because doing so would pose a danger to the Iraqi dictator's favorite cause: The longevity of Saddam Hussein, argue Mearsheimer and Walt.

"Saddam could never be sure the United States would not incinerate him if it merely suspected he had made it possible for anyone to strike the United States with nuclear weapons," they write. "The U.S. government [is] already deeply suspicious of Iraq, and a nuclear attack against the United States or its allies would raise that hostility to fever pitch.

"No one knows just how vengeful Americans might feel if WMD were ever used against the U.S. Indeed, nuclear terrorism is as dangerous for Saddam as it is for Americans, and he has no more incentive to give al Qaeda nuclear weapons than the United States does."

So, they conclude, even if "Saddam thought he could covertly smuggle nuclear weapons to bin Laden, he would be unlikely to do so."

There's another reason, too, write Eland and Gourley: Al-Qaeda is so "ideologically incompatible" with Hussein that the dictator fears the terrorist group "could ultimately turn on him and use [WMD] weapons against him."

4) The one thing that might convince Hussein to use WMD against United States is a U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Given that he faces certain annihilation if he uses nuclear, chemical, or biological devices against the United States, what might convince Hussein to employ such ghastly weapons?

Only the belief that he has nothing left to lose. In other words, an invasion by the U.S. that Hussein knows will topple and kill him.

"In the face of a threat to his own survival, Hussein will have little incentive to do anything but lash out," write Eland and Gourley. "Under those circumstances, Hussein is very dangerous."

After all, they note, with an invasion looming, "the message to Hussein is, no matter what you do, the U.S. government is coming to eliminate you. That only gives Hussein more incentive to plan a counterattack -- in the event of a U.S. invasion -- using WMD against U.S. forces, Israel, or Saudi oil fields."

Even the CIA acknowledges this nightmare scenario, write Eland and Gourley.

The spy agency reports that Hussein is "unlikely to use WMD against the United States unless he feels that the forcible halt of his political control over Iraq is going to be brought by a U.S. invasion," they write. "Then he could commission Islamist terrorist groups to use such weapons in the United States -- the very threat the United States sought to avoid by attacking Iraq in the first place."

5) Invading Iraq will make Muslims hate us more -- increasing the risk of future terrorist attacks on the United States.

President Bush has made the case that toppling Saddam Hussein is part of a far-reaching War on Terrorism. However, a war with Iraq is likely to increase the threat of terrorism, not decrease it.

"An invasion of Iraq would play right into al Qaeda's hands," writes Ivan Eland. "Occupation of an Islamic country by the United States could be a recruiting poster for Islamic terrorists. We should remember the worldwide mobilization of Islamic radicals to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan."

A U.S. attack, he bluntly warns, would "inflame radical Islamists around the world" and "actually cause more retaliatory terrorism against U.S. targets."

Further, writes Eland, "A U.S. invasion of Iraq could destabilize or topple friendly governments in Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Enflamed Islamic populations could rise up against those regimes, which are closely aligned with the United States."

6) Iraq is a greatly diminished military power, and poses little threat even to its neighbors.

In the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq was able to field only a "Third World military" that quickly crumbled before the U.S.'s technology and power, notes Owen Cote Jr., associate director of Security Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the Boston Globe (January 12, 2003).

Since then, he says, "the Iraqi military has done nothing except decline in size and degrade in capability."

The numbers are stark. In 1990, Iraq had 1 million men in its armed forces, backed up by 5,500 tanks. By contrast, the Iraqi military today has only 400,000 men in arms and 2,200 tanks.

But even those numbers are deceiving, says Cote. The Iraqi tank forces, for example, are primarily comprised of Soviet T-54, T-55, and T-62 models -- some of which date to the 1940s.

The Iraqi air force is equally weak, boasting only a handful of Soviet MiG-29s and French Mirage F-1s.

"Iraq's military has been devastated by the Gulf War and a decade of sanctions," writes Eland. "Americans should ask why the United States -- half a world away -- is more concerned about the Iraqi threat than are Iraq's neighbors [who oppose a U.S. invasion]."

7) A war against Iraq is unconstitutional.

The U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8) is clear: "The Congress shall have power ... to declare war."

"Congress, not the president, has the power to declare war," writes William Raspberry in the Washington Post (January 6, 2003). "Nor do I find anything to suggest that Congress may delegate its war-making authority to the president."

On October 11, President Bush did receive Congressional "authorization" for military action against Iraq, but not the declaration of war the Constitution requires.

The Bush administration has tried to sidestep this formality, invoking what Vice President Dick Cheney calls the "inherent presidential power" to defend "vital national interests."

"Bush's lawyers have assured him he may start dropping bombs on Baghdad anytime the urge strikes, without the bother of getting approval from ... the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue," writes Steve Chapman on TownHall.com (September 2, 2002). "If the founding fathers were to hear all this, they would wonder how their cherished republic fell back under the rule of the King of England. They took care not to give the executive a free hand to initiate armed hostilities."

Eland and Gourley warn bluntly: "An unprovoked attack on another sovereign state ... undermines the principles of a constitutional republic."

8) A war against Iraq will be enormously expensive.

How much will a war with Iraq cost?

"Although it is difficult to predict how much Americans would pay for a new war with Iraq, one fact seems indisputable: It will be many times more than the cost of the last [Persian Gulf] war," writes Michael Dobbs in the Washington Post (December 1, 2002).

Given all the variables, even federal bureaucrats don't know how much Gulf War II could cost. "It is impossible to know what any military campaign would ultimately cost," acknowledges Trent Duffy, a spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget.

However, according to "best-guess" estimates by Congressional staff and Washington, DC think tanks, it could cost as much as $100 billion to $200 billion to invade and occupy Iraq.

And, if "Iraqi President Saddam Hussein blows up his country's oil fields, most economists believe the indirect costs of the war could be much greater, reverberating through the U.S. economy for many years," writes Dobbs.

Ivan Eland agrees that an expensive war poses a danger to the U.S. economy, given the growing federal budget deficits and sluggish economy. "An invasion and long-term occupation of Iraq could ... bust the budget and throw the U.S. economy into a tailspin," he writes.

9) A pre-emptive strike is un-American.

In September 2002, the Bush Administration released a document entitled "The National Military Strategy for the United States of America" which outlined a new "first-strike" policy for the United States.

Under this policy -- which represented a sharp break from the past and serves as the strategic underpinning for the war with Iraq -- the U.S. can attack another nation if there is evidence that it is building or trying to obtain WMD.

The policy does not require those "enemy" nations to possess working weapons, or to even explicitly threaten the U.S.'s security.

Indeed, the U.S. military is now authorized to "act against ... emerging threats before they are fully formed," writes President Bush.

The problem with such a shoot-first doctrine -- besides the almost unlimited power it gives the U.S. government to wage war around the globe -- is that it stands in stark contrast to American tradition.

While our nation has never fully lived up to its don't-strike-first ideal (the U.S. attacked first or fabricated a pretext for the Mexican War in 1846-47, the War of 1812, and the Vietnam War), the U.S. has never seen itself as an aggressor in war, notes Ken Ringle in the Washington Post (November 19, 2002).

"We have always told ourselves, Americans don't shoot first," he writes. "The no-preemptive-attack rule is as fundamental an American value as almost anything in our culture."

For example, the Declaration of Independence lists 27 accusations against King George III "in an effort to prove that Americans weren't the ones who started the American Revolution," writes Ringle.

Moving forward almost two centuries, John F. Kennedy said in a speech: "Our arms will never be used to strike the first blow in any attack. It is our national tradition."

Ringle quotes David Hackett Fischer, a history professor at Brandeis University, who says, "It has been our collective judgment as a nation that something as immensely serious as war should only be embarked on for very clearly defensive reasons. And our culture tells us we depart from that judgment at our peril."

10) A war against Iraq is utterly arbitrary.

Iraq isn't the only nation with a nuclear weapons program, a bellicose foreign policy, and the potential to give WMD to terrorists: North Korea and Pakistan also fit those criteria.

Take North Korea. The reclusive communist nation, ruled by Kim Jong Il, has been covertly obtaining tools to produce weapons-grade uranium, according to the CIA. North Korea has been buying high-speed centrifuge machines, with which the communists can produce weapons-grade fissionable material from natural uranium -- enough to manufacture two or three nuclear warheads a year.

While the CIA is unsure whether North Korea has actually built nuclear devices, its weapons program violates international law and agreements with the U.S.

Given the United States' doctrine of pre-emptive strike against nations with WMD assets, Seymour M. Hersh (in the New Yorker, January 27, 2003) notes: "Logically, the new strategy should have applied first to North Korea, whose nuclear-weapons program remains far more advanced than Iraq's."

Where is North Korea getting its nuclear technology? From Pakistan. According to Hersh, "Pakistan has been sharing sophisticated technology, warhead design information, and weapons-testing data with the Pyongyang regime."

In exchange, Pakistan has purchased long-range missiles from North Korea, with which it could launch nuclear weapons at its rival, India. Indeed, the military brinkmanship between Pakistan and India almost triggered a nuclear war in 2002.

Pakistan's threats don't stop there. According to Hersh, there are "close ties between some scientists working for the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and radical Islamic groups."

Hersh quotes one unnamed nonproliferation expert who says: "Right now, the most dangerous nation in the world is Pakistan. If we're incinerated next week, it'll be because of H.E.U. [highly enriched uranium] that was given to al Qaeda by Pakistan."

Given their similarities to Iraq, is the U.S. planning to invade North Korea and Pakistan? No.

President Bush is reportedly considering renewed aid to North Korea in exchange for a promise to end its nuclear program.

And Pakistan is our ally in the "War on Terrorism."


Reviewing the evidence, "the assumptions that underlie the administration's [plans to invade Iraq] range from cautiously pessimistic to outright fallacious," write Eland and Gourley. "His aggressive nature may be cause for concern, but it is not a threat to the United States a half a world away. Iraq's pursuit of NBC [nuclear, biological, and chemical] weapons may be a cause for concern, but it is not a sufficient reason for going to war."

If there is, then, no solid rationale for an invasion, how should the U.S deal with a rogue dictator like Saddam Hussein?

Eland and Gourley offer a straightforward prescription: "Hussein must be made to know that if he uses NBC weapons against America, or if he assists others in doing so, he and his regime will be destroyed."

Even the Bush administration took this sensible position -- before it started beating the drums of war.

In January 2000, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice said that if Iraq did acquire WMD, "The first line of defense should be a clear and classical statement of deterrence. If they do acquire WMD, their weapons will be unusable because any attempt to use them will bring national obliteration."

Such a policy of deterrence worked successfully against the Soviet Union -- a much more powerful adversary, note Eland and Gourley: "The United States deterred and contained a rival superpower, which had thousands or nuclear warheads, for 40 years; America can certainly continue to successfully deter and contain a relatively small, relatively poor nation until its leader dies or is deposed."

In other words, a military conflict with Iraq is not necessary, write Eland and Gourley: "Despite the furor over Hussein in the world media, there is no reason to believe that removing him from power is critical to American national security."