Should We Use Military Force to Unseat Saddam Hussein's Government? (Note: This is the pre-war debate page, for a debate on withdrawal, click here)
Overview/BackgroundSaddam Hussein has run a brutal dictatorship of the country of Iraq for over 20 years. He has started wars against neighboring countries of Iran and Kuwait, leading to the death of about 1.5 million Muslims. The Persian Gulf war of 1991 was a U.S.-led campaign to expel Saddam from oil-rich Kuwait, which had been invaded and taken over by his army. In a lopsided victory, the U.N. forces were able to defeat Saddam within a couple of months.
Saddam was allowed to stay in power if he fulfilled a number of conditions, most notably, getting rid of all chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Twelve years and 17 resolutions later, world opinion is near-unanimous that he hasn't gotten rid of his weapons or fulfilled the conditions of the cease fire.
With Saddam's history of connections to terrorism and his history of brutality & defiance, the U.S. and much of the Western world considers him a threat to world peace. A U.N. resolution was unanimously passed a few months ago mandating full disarmament. Saddam still appears to be defying the order. The current disagreement involves essentially how Saddam should be disarmed--by force or by continued U.N. weapons inspections.
- Saddam's human rights record is among the worst in the world and in history. Saddam runs a totalitarian regime similar to that of Josef Stalin (who incidentally he considers his idol). He regularly tortures and murders political dissidents and anyone he arbitrarily decides is a threat to his power. Iraqi defectors have detailed such abuses as rape, torturing children in front of their parents, electric shock, mutilation of body parts, burning with acid, and starvation. Allegations have been made that he watches videos of his enemies being tortured as a form of entertainment. He has even used chemical weapons to poison thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq. In wars, he has used "human shields" to protect his military (e.g. by placing weapons and soldiers in mosques, hospitals, and civilian residential areas). Saddam has tested his chemical & biological weapons on prisoners, including Kuwaitis captured in the Gulf War. Do we really want to trust someone with such a low regard for human life potentially with weapons of mass destruction? If you want to learn the true brutality and oppressiveness of a totalitarian regime, look no further than the former communist Eastern European bloc. People of these countries remember what it's like and not coincidentally are overwhelmingly in support of a U.S. invasion of Iraq.
- Saddam is a major threat to stability of the Middle East. Saddam is driven by power and conquest. He has attacked Iran and Kuwait in the past in an effort to monopolize much of the world's oil supply. These wars have led to the deaths of at least 1.5 million Muslims. During the Persian Gulf War he launched numerous Scud weapons at Israel in an attempt to draw Israel into the war. Since the war, Saddam has repeatedly made threats of invading Kuwait and attacking others in the region. He is obsessed with the pan-Arab movement, which is a movement to unite the Arab world into one power to oppose Israel and the Western world. He sees himself as a great king in history destined to destroy Israel or make some other great impact. Frequent Arab-Israeli wars have occurred since Israel was re-established by the British. The region always seems one step away from a large, destructive conflict. Saddam is just waiting for his chance to spark that conflict. Imagine how much worse it would be if Saddam had nuclear weapons to blackmail the West. He could one day invade Kuwait or Saudi Arabia and threaten to launch if we retaliate. We're in a similar situation with North Korea right now, but our options are limited because of its nuclear deterrence. most international intelligence experts estimate Saddam will have nuclear weapons in 1-5 years. Wouldn't it be better to act before he does?
- Saddam is connected with terrorists and may supply them with weapons of mass destruction. Saddam has had a history of connections with terrorism although the way from Carlos the Jackal to Al Qaeda. He was tied to a foiled assassination attempt in Kuwait on the first President Bush. He publicly supplies $25,000 payments to the families of any Palestinian suicide bomber. His government has threatened a wave of suicide bombers being sent to the U.S. if we attack. And given this man's history, can we really doubt he would use terrorism anywhere, anytime. What's particularly troubling is the possibility that he may give nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons technology to terrorists. Terrorists such as Osama bin Laden wouldn't hesitate to use these weapons if they got them. And because the terrorists would be carrying out the attacks, Saddam could attack the U.S. without us having the ability to trace it back to him. Although there is scant evidence, many suspect Saddam of supplying intelligence or financing to those men who carried out the 9/11 attacks. Imagine the damage a clandestine attack using biological weapons could do. Weaponized Ebola or Smallpox could be spread person to person for days or weeks before we discovered the attacks. Millions could die. Many could also die in a nuclear "dirty bomb" attack. This is in addition to the damage to our economy. As we saw on 9/11, one set of small attacks can cause billions of dollars of damage and contribute to a recession. And since so much of the world economy is integrated with the U.S. economy, people all over the world would suffer the unemployment & poverty fallout.
- It would send a forceful message to other dictators and would-be state sponsors of terrorism. One of the most important factors in fighting terrorism is deterrence. People all over the world hate us and will continue to hate us because of our success and superpower status. Nothing is easily going to change that. But hate and terrorism aren't necessarily threatening to us without rich state sponsors to provide finance, intelligence, and basing. Taking out Saddam would send a message to countries like Syria, North Korea, and Iran--if you sponsor terrorism, we will be coming after you! History has shown that totalitarian governments do not respond to "good intentions"; they only respect force or the threat of force. Saddam hasn't even given the hint of compliance with U.N. resolutions without the backing of U.S. forces.
- A model democracy could be set up in the Arab world, possibly leading other Arab governments to follow suit. Virtually the entire Arab world is ruled by governments where power is concentrated in the hands of relatively few. Democracy and freedom of speech & religion are foreign concepts to them. Most of the press in the region is controlled by the government. Indeed, perhaps the biggest cause of anti-American sentiment in the region is a lack of understanding of the U.S. along with fair & balanced discussion of U.S. policies. By unseating Saddam, we have a chance to set up a model democracy with elections, 1st amendment freedoms, and a free market economy. We can show the Arab world how successful such a system can be, and perhaps it will inspire the citizens of other countries in the area to demand similar reforms. In may be a stretch, but this could be the beginning of democracy throughout the one part of the world that has resisted it the most. A common complaint when the U.S. talks about Saddam's human rights violations is that many of our supposed allies like Saudi Arabia have just as bad or worse of a record. But unfortunately, we don't really have the luxury of changing regimes wherever we want. World opinion is already against us now, and we're going against Saddam! Can you imagine the public opinion fallout if we went after Saudi Arabia or Pakistan? A model democracy and a subtle push for change in other countries is probably the best we can do for now.
- Oil prices could dramatically drop with a short, successful campaign. Fundamental supply/demand rules of economics show that a short, successful campaign could lead to dramatically lower oil prices. U.N. sanctions and obsolete facilities have led to drastically low output of oil from Iraq. A new government with modernized equipment and free of sanctions would lead to a major increase in oil being pumped from Iraq. The U.S. would likely be first in line for most oil contracts because of the gratefulness of the Iraqi people. Lower oil prices would likely lead to lower unemployment, lower business costs, and another economic boom.
- We can remove our troops from Saudi Arabia and much of the Arab world if he's gone. Much of the Arab world, including Osama bin Laden, resents the continued presence of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, where the two Muslim holy sites of Mecca and Medina are located. Our continued troop presence in the region is mainly to protect from the threat of Saddam. Taking out Saddam would allow us to eventually remove our troops from Saudi Arabia and perhaps the whole region. Not only would that relieve some of the anti-American feelings, it would also allow us to deploy troops to other regional hot spots such as the Korean peninsula.
- We would have Iran and Syria, perhaps the biggest terrorist sponsors, surrounded by U.S.-friendly governments. One of the most fanatical, fundamentalist governments in the world is found in the country of Iran. Many of us remember the storming of the U.S. embassy and the taking of hostages in the 70s. In the Iran-Iraq war, fanatical soldiers, hoping to gloriously die in jihad, were sent in human waves to sacrifice themselves. Humans soldiers were sacrificed without regard, sometimes being sent ahead to die exploding mines (so the tanks would have a clear path). The fear of the Iran threat prompted governments such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Britain, and the U.S. to actually provide arms and aid to Saddam, who was, believe it or not, the lesser of two evils! Nowadays Iran is still one of the world's leading sponsors of terrorism, including the sponsor of Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. Like Iraq, the human rights record of Iran is one of the worst in the world. By taking Iraq, Iran would be surrounded by two liberated, U.S.-friendly countries (Iraq and Afghanistan). From such a position, we could exhibit a large amount of pressure to stop their sponsorship of terror. A similar position could be made against neighboring Syria.
- Most Arab governments want Saddam gone; the public opinion backlash may not be as great as portrayed in the media. If you've been watching the news or reading the newspaper lately, you'll notice there's very few vocal protests coming from governments in the Arab world. Most of the public criticism for the war is coming from Europe. Saddam has completely lost credibility in the Arab world. His invasion of Iran, his use of chemical weapons on the Kurds, his scorched-earth policy in Kuwait, and the committing of other atrocities have turned public opinion against him. If so many Arabs didn't fear a U.S.-dominated Middle East more than a Saddam-dominated one, this would be a moot point. There have even been anti-Saddam protests in Iran (although these protests seem to be noticeably absent from the U.S. and Europe). About the harshest criticism you'll hear coming from Arab governments is that Saddam is a Muslim and therefore should be removed by Muslims. Of course, public opinion is what counts, and the governments don't necessarily reflect the attitude of the people. However, unlike the first Gulf War, Al Jazeera is around now to get the message out of Saddam's atrocities. Muslims will be saddened by the loss of innocent Iraqi life, but they sure won't shed a tear for the loss of Saddam's government.
- Saddam continues to fire on U.S. and British planes enforcing U.N. no-fly zones. After the Gulf War, areas of northern and southern Iraq were set up which prohibited any Iraqi military flights. These areas were set up to prevent Saddam from slaughtering the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south. Since then, Saddam has continually tried to shoot down Western planes enforcing the zones, even with the threat of war looming. In any other situation, this would be an obvious act of war. Most of the world, including Americans, have been dismissive, but one has to wonder if that attitude would change if Saddam actually shot down & killed an American.
- Saddam refuses to return the booty he stole from Kuwait during the Gulf War or account for hundreds of prisoners. Saddam's army confiscated numerous treasures & wealth from the small nation of Kuwait during it's invasion 12 years ago. The cease-fire agreement demanded he return these items. Predictably, he has refused. Hundreds of Kuwaiti families have suffered not knowing what happened to their loved ones who were taken prisoner. Saddam refuses to acknowledge whether they're dead or alive. Allegations have been made that the prisoners were used to test his bio and chem weapons. What would be the reaction if hundred of American soldiers were in this situation?
- The cost in lives and dollars of containment is higher than that of war. The sanctions imposed on Iraq due to Saddam's refusal to comply with U.N. resolutions has taken a heavy tolls on the economy and people of Iraq. Starvation and unemployment occur on a massive scale. Removing the sanctions would just give Saddam more money to spend on his palaces and weapons. Not only are the resources of Iraq being taxed, the U.S. military is also spending a tremendous amount of troops and money putting the pressure on Saddam. The cost of continuing these policies far outweigh going to war.
- The credibility of President Bush and the U.S. is at stake. Bush has said "You are either with us, or you're with the terrorists" as part of a new policy some dub the "Bush Doctrine". The idea is to strike any nation that supports terrorism pre-emptively and discourage such actions in the future. We've spent most of the last year talking about forcing Saddam to disarm. If after all this talk and all this military buildup we decide to back down, no country will respect or fear us in the future. Osama called the U.S. a "paper tiger". Saddam himself has said that given enough time the U.S.-British coalition will surely fracture. It's obvious that monsters like these will never back down if we pull out now.
- Saddam deserves to be punished for the death & misery he's caused to the world. As we've detailed in previous points, Saddam's atrocities are every bit as gruesome and brutal as Hitler or Stalin. Beyond just freeing the Iraqi people from such torture, we should punish Saddam for his actions. Justice would not be served if Saddam was able to stay in power or go into exile somewhere.
- The credibility and relevancy of the U.N. is on the line. This is a critical moment in history for the U.N. Saddam has made a mockery of the entire U.N. process. In his mind, the 17 U.N. resolutions passed against him are nothing more than toilet paper. The U.N. is an important institution necessary to ensure peace and stability in the world. To continue to pass unenforced resolutions sends a message to all countries & terrorists that its word means nothing. Prior to World War II, the League of Nations (a precursor to the U.N.) faced a similar situation. Adolf Hitler was following a series of aggressive courses of action. The League of Nations could have stopped him early but instead chose to engage in endless debate and appeasement. The result -- over 50 million deaths and the near takeover of the world by Nazi rule. Saddam may or may not be that big of a threat, but wouldn't it be better to stop him before he has the means to match his hatred and thirst for power. We can ensure that U.N. resolutions have some teeth and that the organization doesn't evolve into what the League of Nations was -- a meaningless debating society.
- Many soldiers & innocent Iraqi civilians will be killed. No war is ever totally predictable, and in this case, the number of lives lost could be catastrophic. Saddam is likely to use his chemical and biological weapons. In addition to the number of potential soldiers killed, many unprotected Iraqi civilians could fall victim to the attacks. Saddam has never shown any regard for the lives of his people; thus, he is likely to put weapons and soldiers in crowded civilian areas. Saddam also is likely to try to draw U.S. soldiers into dangerous street fighting. He knows we'll do everything in our power to avoid killing civilians, so he'll use that in every way to his advantage. Saddam may even deliberately kill thousands of his own people and blame the U.S. in an attempt to turn world opinion even more in his favor. No matter how you look at it, things don't look good for the average Iraqi citizen. You also have to consider the lives of Iraqi soldiers. Many of them have been forced into service and will be slaughtered if they put up a fight (and murdered for treason if they desert).
- The financial cost of executing the war may be prohibitive. Paying soldiers, dropping "smart" bombs, launching Patriot missiles, etc. costs an enormous amount of money. Unlike the first Gulf War when countries such as Saudi Arabia and Japan picked up much of the tab, the U.S. will bear the brunt of the cost. Estimates of cost have ranged from 30 billion to the 100s of billions. And that's just the execution of the war. You also have to add in the cost of occupying & re-building Iraq. Then you throw in all the money we have to dish out to countries like Turkey to ensure their support. This is money that could be spent beefing up homeland security, improving education, extending unemployment benefits, and more. With record deficits already projected, we have to consider if we really can afford this.
- Weapons of mass destruction could be launched at Israel or other allies. Saddam launched several conventional Scud missiles at Israel during the 1st Gulf War in an effort to draw Israel into the war and fracture a fragile coalition. He didn't load the Scuds with any chemical or biological weapons then, but this time that may not be the case. Even in defeat it's possibly Saddam may want to go out with one final act for history by trying to kill much of the Israeli population. These weapons have the potential to misfire and hit citizens in Jordan or other neighboring countries. Biological weapons can spread person-to-person and perhaps engulf the whole region. Nations such as Kuwait and Turkey that are helping us could also be victims. In the last Gulf War, we convinced Israel to stay out of the war. This time, Israel has vowed retaliation. Israeli strikes could inflame Arab opinion and snowball to a larger Arab-Israeli fight.
- Anti-American sentiment could grow in the world, creating new potential terrorist recruits. Anti-Americanism has been growing rapidly lately, as evidenced by the war protests and public opinion polls around the world. Any significant death & destruction in a war would likely be blamed on the United States. Hatred of the U.S. has already led to numerous terrorist attacks. Many Iraqi civilian casualties could lead to thousands of little Osamas being recruited around the world. The best way to end terrorism and ensure safety is to not make enemies. This war isn't going to help matters.
- Hard evidence of Saddams' weapons of mass destruction still hasn't been found. Any reasonable, informed person knows that Saddam has these weapons (or at least has the technical capacity to mass produce them at any time). Vast amounts of former U.N. inspector information, defector tips, and Saddam's own admissions attest to that. Few world leaders dispute the fact that he has the weapons. However, the populations of countries around the world remain unconvinced. The only way to change that is to find that evidence. Further inspections are the only way to do that.
- The post-Saddam Iraq situation could be unstable and destructive. You have an independent Kurdish minority in northern Iraq, the ruling Sunni minority in Baghdad, and the Shi'ites in the South. Iraqi exile groups agree that Saddam must go but haven't decided how to rule the post-Saddam Iraq. The Iraqi people have never known democracy. It's very risky to assume they'll be able to form a functioning, efficient democracy. There's always the potential for civil war, power struggles, and other problems. Many in the country will probably want retribution against anyone who remotely supported Saddam, which opens up the potential for more violence. All in all, the situation is extremely complicated and likely will take an expensive, long-term effort by the U.S. to straighten out.
- A pre-emptive attack is against what the U.S. stands for. In past wars, the U.S. has usually been able to claim the higher moral authority. We've attacked only after first being attacked by others. A new doctrine of preemption would give credibility to those that describe the U.S. as an aggressive, imperialistic nation. Granted, if you wait to be attacked by terrorists, you risk the lives of thousands or millions as well as great economic damage. However, this is a dangerous precedent when you're the most powerful nation in the world. Other nations such as India and China may use the doctrine of preemption to attack their enemies of Pakistan and Taiwan, respectively. A peaceful world can only be assured if sovereign nations never attack each other.
- Saddam can be neutralized without the brutality of a war. With constant threats of force and a large number of inspectors in Iraq, we can keep Saddam from expanding his weapons and power. We can eventually find most of the weapons if allowed enough time. The cost of keeping the forces in place are great, but probably are nowhere near the costs of going to war.
- With the economic and domestic security problems we have, this is a bad time to go to war. The stock market is close to it's lowest level in 5 years, unemployment is relatively high, and we will soon be generating record deficits. We also are on high alert for terrorist strikes from Al Qaeda. One has to ask if this really is the best time to go to war in Iraq, especially when Saddam doesn't seem to be an imminent threat to the U.S.?
- Saddam could torch oil fields, leading to even higher oil prices, world recession, and an environmental disaster. During his retreat in the Gulf War, Saddam's troops set fire to numerous Kuwaiti oil fields. There is every indication that Saddam will do the same thing to Iraqi oil fields this time. The Kuwaiti scorched earth policy led to large economic losses and fires that raged for years. The environmental damage from the fires is still being calculated. Now, Saddam may be setting fire to even larger deposits of oil. This time we're better prepared to handle the fires, but the price of oil could skyrocket. As we saw in the 70s and early 90s, high oil prices can contribute significantly to world recession.
- Retaliatory strikes from Al Qaeda, Hamas, and other terrorists could occur. It's very doubtful that Al Qaeda would refrain from attacking us again if we didn't go to war to Iraq, but this may give them a reason to immediately attack. The bigger problem is organizations like Hamas that have only attacked Israel in the past. Hamas has already threatened to unleash suicide squads against the U.S. if we attack Iraq, and they usually follow through on their threats. Aside from the loss of human life and economic damage caused by such attacks, a Hamas attack and U.S. retaliation could lead to a large cycle of violence similar to the one going on between Israel and the Palestinian terrorists, which would do nothing to help an already anti-American Middle East.
- U.S.-friendly Arab governments could become unstable. Governments such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt are all friendly to the U.S. and considered "allies". Unfortunately, the sentiment of the citizens is very different. Fundamentalists in all the countries want to take over the government and impose Taliban-style Islamic regimes. Support from allies or simply their silence could anger the people even further, especially if the war doesn't go as planned and tens of thousands of Iraqis die. That anger could lead to an overthrow of a U.S. friendly government, possibly creating another terrorist state. If this seems far-fetched, look no further than the country of Iran and it's Islamic revolution in the 70s. Do we want another regime like that to deal with?
Related LinksUS-Iraq ProCon.org: Should the U.S. Have Attacked Iraq?
Preventive War: Pros & Cons
Bush's Request Brings Pros, Cons to the Forefront
Rambling Rhodes: Iraq Pros and Cons
Iraq Troop Withdrawal: Pros and Cons
Written by: Joe Messerli
Page Last Updated: 10/02/2003