It is commonly claimed that the United States encouraged Saddam Hussein to believe that the US would not challenge his aggression against Kuwait. However, when the Republican Guards invaded Kuwait they immediately set up defenses against amphibious, airborne, and ground attacks along Kuwait’s borders. They deployed these defenses before they had consolidated control over Kuwait. Hussein appears to have believed that these defenses would be sufficient to repel a counterattack by the U.S.
In 1994, after Iraq’s decisive defeat in Kuwait, Saddam Hussein threatened to invade Kuwait again! Two years later Hussein tried to assassinate the emir of Kuwait and former President Bush. Neither assassination, if successful, would have accrued any benefit to Hussein. The assassination attempts were irrational acts of revenge, as was the burning of Kuwait’s oil fields. In October 2000 he sent five divisions to western Iraq after getting consent from Syria for an attack against Israel. Diplomatic intervention and logistical problems stopped Hussein from carrying out his attack. It is possible that Hussein moved weapons of mass destruction out of Iraq via Syria before the current weapons inspections began. Saddam Hussein has repeatedly stated that he wants to turn Iraq into a “superpower” that will dominate the Middle East, presumably by force.
Weapon inspections cannot be effective without the full cooperation of the host government. In the late 1980s, the International Atomic Energy Agency claimed that Iraq did not have a nuclear weapons program. After the 1991 Gulf war, U.N. inspectors found that Iraq was less than two years away from producing a weapon. Four years later the international agency, claiming that it had eradicated the nuclear program, recommended that aggressive inspections be replaced by passive “monitoring.” Then a slew of high-level defectors reported that there was an ongoing, cleverly concealed nuclear program that was bigger than anyone had anticipated. In the late 1990s, international nuclear experts again concluded that there was no Iraqi nuclear program. Then another group of defectors revealed that Saddam Hussein had initiated a large-scale effort to secretly build a nuclear weapon after the inspectors were kicked out in 1998.
Chief Inspector Blix, by insisting that the U.N. weapons inspectors would not be a “defection agency,” ensured that the inspection process would be ineffective. Honest, private interviews with scientists inside Iraq are impractical due to extensive bugging and the threat posed by Hussein’s goons to the families of anyone who speaks the truth. Iraq is a Stalinist tyranny that claims a 100% vote for Saddam Hussein in farce elections, refuses to renew 3-week visas to foreign reporters (who are always accompanied by government minders), and tortures and murders families of its citizens for speaking the truth.
Relying on international inspections to disarm Saddam Hussein under these conditions will not work. Relying on Hussein to exhibit rational and restrained behavior would be reckless given his current behavior, his track record, and his aspirations. The primary target for Islamic terrorists is the world’s only democratic superpower–the U.S. Extremist Islamic militants are determined to fight against “infidel” democratic governments everywhere using whatever weapons they can get their hands on, not just in the Middle East or the “Crusader” United States, as evidenced by attacks and attempted attacks in Europe, Asia, and Africa. These militants often claim that all citizens are legitimate targets. It is in the democratic world’s vital self-interest that Islamic terrorism be defeated, and it won’t be defeated while Saddam Hussein irresponsibly fans the flames of hatred with his aggressive agenda in the region where Islamic extremism is most active and destabilizing. In the current international context, any country that knowingly provides safe-haven to international terrorists and has weapons of mass destruction is a threat.
Iraq has a history of violent coups and civil conflict. Given this context it is not surprising that Iraq today is an autocracy. Over the last several decades democracy has slowly taken root throughout Central and South America. In the Middle East there are indications of the early beginnings of this democratization process. Unfortunately, the Middle East is also characterized by distress, anger, and indications of instability. To the extent that prosperity and democracy promotes stability, and to the extent that stability in the middle east is in the long-term interest of the international community, it will be in the international community’s self-interest to promote democracy in Iraq and throughout the middle east over the long term. A helping hand from the international community today will increase the opportunity for Iraqis to take charge of their destiny in the future, and define their society and their government. Although it will be a difficult and costly undertaking with no guarantee of success, this must be weighed against the larger costs and risks of leaving a nuclear weapon equipped Saddam Hussein in charge.