No Iraqi Surprise

Avoiding surprise seems the order of the day when it comes to Iraq. Invasion plans are out in the open. The Bush Administration has pledged against any “October Surprise” — war to boost Republicans in November elections.

Yet potential “surprises” remain.

Surprise! The war will not necessarily make us safer from WMD: The stated goal of targeting Saddam Hussein is to eliminate the threat that he might use weapons of mass destruction (WMD), presumably against Americans or our allies. Although Saddam has biological and chemical weapons, few U.S. officials believe he has nuclear weapons, and it’s doubtful he could use the former against Americans.

Containment and a renewed commitment to meaningful inspections can keep nuclear weapons from Saddam’s grasp. The key is to tighten control — the very control that would slip away in the chaos of war. This legal approach will also avoid the mass killing and misery that war always brings.

If it turns out that Saddam has more capabilities than now believed, then a U.S. assault could actually trigger Iraq to use all of its weapons, in self-defense. So might all this talk of war. Indeed, the increasing doom that Saddam must feel could give him incentive to smuggle any WMD he might have to terrorists now, or to launch missiles as his own preemptive strike.

Surprise! The war will not defeat terrorism: The Bush Administration openly, and unsuccessfully, has tried to tie Iraq to the September 11 attack. But what if the Bush Administration finds evidence? Should we then declare war?

Military responses to terrorism have, to date, failed. According to many U.S. officials, the war in Afghanistan has not made us safer from terrorism by al Qaeda. Israel’s war on the Palestinians is another example; it has succeeded only in escalating terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.

The best successes against terrorism have resulted from work by police and intelligence agents, coordinated among many nations. For example, a plot to bomb the U.S. embassy in Paris was foiled last fall. A plot to bomb New Year’s 2000 celebrations was thwarted by customs inspectors in Washington state. The perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Tower bombing were arrested in the U.S. and convicted in federal court.

That brains, not bombs, are necessary to defeat terrorism is clear. Transnational terrorist groups such as al Qaeda funnel money from country to country. Members cross borders. Members discuss plans for attacks. Armies, navies, and air forces are not equipped, or trained, to detect and disrupt these plans.

Surprise! The war will increase the danger of terrorism: Iraqis whose families will be uprooted or killed by U.S. bombs won’t necessarily forgive the U.S., even if it removes their vicious leader. Litmus test for human emotion: How did Americans feel after being bombed on September 11? Expect similar reaction from Iraqis and others, especially in the Arab world, if they watch U.S. forces rout Iraqi troops and wreak “collateral damage.” This anger and resentment will be exploited by those who recruit terrorists.

Surprise! Civilian casualties and mass slaughter: If a bomb falls in another country and no American hears it, does it make any noise? Yes. It kills people, too. The Gulf War killed so many people that many Arabs call it “The Gulf Massacre.” (U.S. officials estimated in June, 1991 that 100,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed. Baghdad reported 35,000 civilian casualties. Since then, some scholars have revised these numbers downward.) In the Afghan war, U.S. bombs have killed thousands of Afghani civilians. A new war with Iraq promises more large scale killing. Yet possible civilian casualties in Iraq were not a focus of last week’s Senate hearings on the proposed war, and the danger to Iraqi civilians was barely mentioned in the mainstream media.

In any event, U.S. forces will kill mostly soldiers, and that’s good, right? But who are these enemy troops? Many Iraqi soldiers, if not most, are conscripts, young men and teenagers. In the Gulf War, some of Saddam’s soldiers were civilian men plucked off the streets and dumped at the front.

That soldiers may be “innocents” is never mentioned by U.S. leaders eager for war. How innocent? Worldwide, according to UN estimates, 300,000 children are being used as soldiers in various conflicts. This might not be the case in Iraq (where the UN sanctions wipe out 5,000 children every month), but it is the case in many poor nations — nations targeted in the war on terror.

“War” might be an inapt description of U.S. military operations in the past decade — the lopsided scorecards tell the story. Fewer than 200 U.S. troops were killed in combat in the Gulf War, the Kosovo war and the Afghanistan war combined. Contrast that with the 100,000 Iraqi soldiers, 5,000 Yugoslavian soldiers, and an estimated 10,000 Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters killed in these wars. Using the above figures, that’s almost 600 enemy soldiers killed per each American killed. So efficient is the U.S. military that, in the Afghan war, American generals called the shots all the way from Central Command in Tampa, Florida.

As a practical matter, the use of advanced weaponry yields the same result as fighting unarmed people.

Surprise! Refugees and starvation: Last September, the mere announcement by U.S. leaders that they would bomb Afghanistan caused millions of Afghani civilians to flee their homes. Uprooted, these Afghanis lugged what belongings they could to cramped, unsanitary refugee camps, where thousands died from starvation, exposure, and sickness.

Such misery is sure to be inflicted on Iraqis if Bush wages war. UN economic sanctions since the Gulf War have caused the death of more than 600,000 Iraqi children. A new war could be a death sentence for people already so weak.

Surprise! Destruction, disorder, and yet more death: Rebuilding infrastructure such as dams, bridges, water purification plants, irrigation, highways and communications centers — all targets in modern U.S. war practice — is an enormous task. When infrastructure is destroyed, disorder and disease take hold. In fact, most of the 5,000 children who die each month in Iraq die as a result of impure water. Materials needed to rebuild the purification plants are under UN embargo, because they could conceivably be used to make WMD.

The prospects that a new war against Iraq might somehow avoid such waste are bleak. The Bush Administration categorically dismisses reconstruction as “nation building” and in Afghanistan has left that task to allies. Nation building, which helps “drain the swamp” where anger, misery, poverty and chaos fester, could be a potent weapon against terrorism. The Bush Administration has offered no exit strategy for Iraq, and experts warn that post-war chaos could result in a civil war between Kurds, Sunnis and Shias, a war that could flare into animosity, and even terrorism, against Americans.

Surprise! “Conflict contagion”: A little-discussed effect of war is “conflict contagion.” Simply put, conflicts often lead to more conflicts. Such was the result of the U.S. war against Afghanistan, which brought that region to a near boil: India and Pakistan teetered on the brink of nuclear war, and Israel upped its own war on terror.

A new war against Iraq could prompt Saddam to hurl missiles at Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to disrupt the flow of oil, causing Western economies to nosedive. He might fire missiles at Tel Aviv, as he did in the Gulf War, to incite a broader Arab war against the West. If so, will the Sharon government restrain itself from unleashing its own nuclear weapons?

As a member of the Kuwaiti royal family pleaded last week in the New York Times, “Afghanistan is in turmoil, the Middle East is in flames, and you want to open up a third front in that region? That would truly turn into a war of civilizations.”

Surprise! The war will not “spread democracy”: Some Americans support war against Iraq because toppling a brutal dictator would appear to “spread democracy.” Yet the opposite will likely obtain, because the U.S. will need to cut deals to win the support of other nations. And there are no plans or pledges to create a democratic post-war Iraq.

U.S. deal-making to win international support for war has thwarted the spread of democracy in the past. For example, securing UN Security Council support for the Gulf War required preempting a likely Chinese veto. So U.S. leaders lifted the trade sanctions imposed for the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and resumed relations with China, despite a continued crackdown on dissidents.

To gather support for its fight against Afghanistan, the U.S. has nourished repressive regimes in Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia. Other countries saw a green light to go after their own internal — and often legitimate — political opponents in the name of fighting terrorism.

The need for allies in a war against Iraq could likewise limit democracy and human rights. The Bush Administration has already promised Turkey that it will not support any political autonomy for Kurds in a post-Saddam Iraq if Turkey backs the war. (Turkey feared such autonomy could inspire its own Kurdish population to seek similar freedom.)

Surprise! International criticism: There is no meaningful support for this war around the world. If the Bush Administration goes ahead anyway, nations will criticize the U.S. for not following international law and acting unilaterally, perhaps even as a “rogue nation.” Why?

After World War II, the U.S. helped draft, and signed, the UN Charter, promising to place control of its military forces in the hands of the UN Security Council. Under the Charter, nations may use military force unilaterally only in self-defense against an armed attack, and then only until the Security Council can take over.

Preemptive strikes — the crux of the “Bush Doctrine” — are forbidden. If a country can go to the Security Council, it must. More importantly, the UN Charter requires all nations to seek peaceful alternatives to war.

Given that international cooperation is crucial to defeating terrorism, listening to allies and respecting the laws that apply to all nations make eminent good sense.

Surprise! Americans will be forced to tighten their belts: The Gulf War cost almost $80 billion in 2002 dollars. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Japan picked up 80 percent of the tab. A new war would likely have a similar price tag — but Americans will have to bear all the costs alone. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Japan have indicated they won’t pay this time.

At the Senate hearings last week, Scott Feil, a retired Army colonel who specializes in post-war rebuilding, advised that to create a stable, post-war Iraq, U.S. troops would have to occupy it for at least six years. Price tag: more than $16 billion Without occupation, there would be no guarantee against chaos, or that Saddam’s successor won’t have a similar appetite for WMD.

Experts have also predicted that if the Bush Administration attacks Iraq, oil prices will soar, stocks will tumble, and the federal budget deficit will deepen. These effects are no tonic for an already-ailing U.S. economy. The resulting recession could put many Americans out of work.

A positive surprise: Americans might be able to stop this war before it starts: Saddam poses a danger, and certainly no reasonable person would suggest that we sit by and do nothing. To initiate another Gulf War, however, given the pain it would inflict on others and the financial burdens and misery it would inflict on us, defies common sense. Instead of passively observing our leaders plan for war, we should force them to find more intelligent, more responsible, ways to deal with Iraq.

BRIAN J. FOLEY is a professor at Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Delaware.

He can be reached at


Brian J. Foley is a lawyer and the author of A New Financial You in 28 Days! A 37-Day Plan (Gegensatz Press). Contact him at