Archive for November, 2001

[Originally published in the Burlington Free Press.]

The Burlington Free Press headline “Vermont split on Iraq” on October 30th, which reports the results of a poll on Iraq, conveys a largely erroneous message because it misses the main finding of the poll in question.

The important thing here is not that Vermont is split, but that Vermont is populated by people who support “diplomatic efforts only” (31%), doing “nothing” (13%), military activity “only with UN backing” (40%) and “not sure” (6%) for a total of 90% percent who do not agree with the 10% who think the U.S. should “launch a military strike on its own”.

And that is the real issue here:  There will inevitably be major negative consequences for the United States if we take action against Iraq without U.N. cover.  Let’s make two stipulations:  Saddam is a thoroughly evil person and the world would undoubtedly be better off without him.

The question of unilateral action is the key because it has the potential to create the following disasters for the U.S.:

  • A unilateral attack, despite the fact that most Muslims thoroughly dislike and fear Saddam, will move Muslim fence sitters toward the radical fundamentalists against the U.S. and very likely prompt many of them to join the jihad against the secular West.
  • It will greatly increase instability.  The northern Iraqi Kurds, who have long sought their own country, will cause instability in Turkey and Iran where there are major Kurdish populations who would join them.  The Shiites in the South may find advantage in joining with Iran’s Shiites.
  • Unelected governments (our “friends”) in the Muslim world will find it even more difficult to contain the growing fundamentalist Muslim discontent that exists in their populations. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and the Gulf States as well as Pakistan and some of the countries in North Africa will all feel this instability and its unpredictably destabilizing results.
  • It will empower any government to make preemptive strikes without worrying about U.S. wrath or intervention, simply because having done it ourselves, we will hardly be in a position to disapprove anyone else doing it.  Pakistan, India, Korea and Russia are all candidates.
  • It will further marginalize the United Nations, which despite the derision of the U.S. political right over the years certainly has played a positive role in U.S. foreign policy objectives in Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq.  In effect, a unilateral U.S. attack on Iraq will tell the rest of the world that they don’t have to worry about the U.N.
  • What effect will it have on our long-time allies around the world who believe unilateral action is inappropriate?  Will we become increasingly isolated?  If you think that doesn’t matter, think about the importance of global trade to our well being.
  • If Israel is attacked by Saddam in the waning moments of our attack on Iraq, they will retaliate, as they have said they would do, perhaps even with nuclear weapons.  Either way, it will create further chaos.
  • It will bring a quick end to what is now left of U.S. moral authority in the world.  We will no longer be able to use that authority to defuse dangerous issues abroad as we have done so many times in the past sixty years.

We have already redefined the word ‘terrorist’ to cover anyone who uses “force or violence …..in furtherance of political or social objectives” (2001 FBI definition).  This could probably have been applied to the Minutemen!  This labels as terrorists any group of people who have legitimate grievances against their repressive government and it enables any such government to crush them without a whimper from the U.S.  This has recently happened with the Chechens in Moscow and will happen again all over the world.  After all, they are terrorists by U.S. definition and therefore they are evil. If we want to be supported in our war on terrorism, we will have to support theirs even if our war is morally correct and theirs is not.  The list includes any country with national minorities that have legitimate repressed goals.   Turkey, China, India, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Phillipines and Iran are all included.

It appears that Usama bin Laden’s primary goal on 9/11 was to provoke U.S. retaliation, which he dreamed would lead to a decades-long confrontation between the secular West and the Muslim worlds.  Even though there is no credible evidence of a connection between Iraq and Al Quaida, a unilateral attack on Iraq, particularly if it involves significant Israeli retaliation, will simply increase the possibility that he will get his wish.

If Saddam does not acquiesce to our demands on his weapons of mass destruction, the last thing we want to do is undertake action against him without the sanctions and the blessings of the United Nations.  Even though action under the UN’s multilateral umbrella may not solve all our problems, it will be preferable to going it alone.  The consequences of unilateral action could haunt our country and our civilization for decades to come.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served in the Middle East and was subsequently Chief of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Staff.  He lives in Williston.

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