Steve Sachs Duke


Saturday, February 08, 2003


Is Saddam Rational?: The effort to contain Iraq relies on a simple premise: that by giving Saddam Hussein the appropriate incentives, we can cause him to rationally choose disarmament (or at least restraint) over the destruction of his regime. But can Hussein be trusted to make rational choices? Josh Marshall isn't so sure. After all, by refusing to disarm, Hussein has
now made war very likely. And if war comes, he's out of a job, and will probably end up dead. So why the continued stonewalling? I see three possibilities.

The first is that Hussein isn't rational, at least in the sense that's relevant to U.S. policy. Maybe he doesn't make the choices that best achieve his goals. Maybe he does choose well, but simply values his plagues and poisons more than he does his own life. ("'Tis not contrary to reason," said Hume, "to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger.") Or maybe he does value his life, but is consistently misinformed by his inner circle of toadies and thus isn't aware of the incentives we offer. In any of these situations, even the wisest U.S. policy may not dissuade Hussein from the future use of WMD's.

The second possibility is that Hussein is rational, but thinks he's a dead man already. After all, a change of regime (disarmament or no) is already codified U.S. policy. If the U.S. is going to invade this spring no matter what he does, then Hussein never had any real incentive to give up his weapons--better to keep them for use in the coming Armageddon. Under this scenario, U.S. belligerence is fully to blame for the failure of inspections and the collapse of any diplomatic settlement.

However, I don't find this scenario very believable. No matter how much it's stonewalled, the regime has consistently adopted a conciliatory tone since the new inspections began. Hussein's recent interview expresses admiration for the peace movement and hopes that God will "empower all those working against war." These are not the words of a man who honestly believes he'll be dead before St. Patrick's Day. If Hussein really thought war was imminent, he would be spouting anti-Israel rhetoric night and day, trying to spark a larger Middle Eastern war and to act out, even suicidally, his fantasy identity as the new Saladin.

Which brings us to the final possibility--that Hussein thinks he can get away with it. Maybe not forever, since the Americans might still invade someday; but if he can push off the invasion for long enough (until next fall, maybe later), he may be able to obtain some additional weaponry and even the playing field. In other words, he's perfectly aware of what Resolution 1441 threatens; he just doesn't find the threat credible.

And it's hard to disagree with him. In order for a disarmament regime to be credible, the U.N. has to be ready to go to war at the drop of a hat, as soon as Iraq blocks access to one teensy-weensy presidential site. But several members of the Security Council have no intention of doing any such thing. Germany has already declared that it will not back any resolution authorizing force. (Even if Saddam has the inspectors shot?) And France's call to triple the number of inspectors, widely criticized as unserious even by liberals, is no better. France is flailing, grasping at straws in a desperate attempt to stop a war without vetoing it. And if a new resolution fails, then maybe, just maybe, the U.S. won't go in alone. By exposing cracks in the alliance--in fact, by openly opposing any enforcement of the resolutions they have passed--the nations of the Security Council have removed the credibility from the U.N.'s threat of force. Peaceful disarmament is no longer possible, and it's France and Germany's fault.

No one can be sure that Hussein is a rational actor, and Lord knows he's miscalculated before. Regardless of his rationality, however, the processes designed to take advantage of it have failed. The world now faces a choice between disarmament and peace--there's no way we can achieve both. Regretting the difficulty of this choice won't help much. But it's worthwhile considering how we arrived here, and what role America's allies have played in forcing its hand.




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