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War Watch
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card September 16, 2002

Iraq: Deterrence or Prevention?

How sad -- but almost funny -- to watch people take positions about the need to attack Iraq.

CNN, for instance, took their editorial position on Sunday. President Bush has not made his case for attacking Iraq, they said. Such an attack would not be necessary, because what harm would it do for Iraq to have nuclear weapons? Didn't Russia have nuclear weapons for fifty years of the cold war? Our nuclear weapons were a fine deterrent then, and Mutually Assured Destruction should work just as well against Iraq.

This is so idiotic it takes my breath away. Mutually Assured Destruction worked for several reasons: First, the Russian government was not, in fact, insane. Systemically evil, yes -- but they actually cared whether their own nation was utterly wiped off the face of the earth, and preferred to act in such a way as to keep that from happening. They knew we would and could retaliate, and so they carefully avoided provoking us too much.

Second, the Russian government actually cared what the rest of the world thought. They had an ideology to promote, and they knew they wouldn't promote it by using weapons of mass destruction. So while they had nerve gas and nukes, they didn't use them, at least not in circumstances that would come to the eyes of the world.

Third, the only practical way for the USSR to use nukes against the U.S. would have been to launch missiles from land bases or submarines. When missiles are used, we know instantly where the launch originated. There is no doubt who attacked.

But Iraq is not the USSR, and Saddam is not Khruschchev or Brezhnev or even Stalin.

Saddam has used poison gas openly against his own citizens. He has threatened to use nukes and poison gas against Israel if the West attacks him. And we have no reason to doubt that he would try.

And Saddam could not launch a nuke directly from Iraq against the U.S. Instead, the danger is that he would provide nuclear weapons (or poison gas, or bio-weapons) to terrorist groups, which would deliver them using unpredictable and hard-to-defend-against means.

For instance, why couldn't the components of a nuclear weapon be loaded on a ship as regular cargo in a port where bribery could keep inspectors from being quite sure that the boxes contained what the bill of lading said?

The ship could be sailed into any American port -- New York, New Orleans, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Charleston, Boston -- and blown up. Even a low-yield nuclear weapon would kill thousands and spread radiation to millions of people.

And we wouldn't know where it came from.

Even if we did, what would we do?

Since the wise folks at CNN are so worried that a conventional attack on Iraq now would kill innocent civilians, would they really want us to retaliate for a nuclear attack by nuking Baghdad in reply?

The point of attacking Iraq now and eliminating their weapons capability is to prevent a nuclear, chemical, or biological attack against us or any other nation, thereby making it unnecessary ever to retaliate against Iraq with nuclear weapons.

Even if ten thousand or twenty thousand innocent Iraqis died in a conventional war designed to take down Saddam's government -- a very high estimate, given how extraordinarily careful our armed forces are to avoid needless civilian casualties -- wouldn't that be better than relying on nukes that would kill hundreds of thousands, if not millions, if Iraqis?

Did CNN really mean to suggest that they thought that using nuclear weapons against Iraq would be preferable to ousting Saddam using conventional military forces?

Of course they didn't mean that. Because they openly expect that we would never use nukes against Iraq no matter what.

But then, if everybody expects that we won't use our nukes, they are not a deterrent.

Saddam knows we won't nuke Baghdad no matter how he provokes us.

The only force that serves as a deterrent is the force that your enemy believes you will use.

In Afghanistan, Saddam learned that we will use effective military force to accomplish our objectives.

But CNN, and those who "think" as they do, would like to take away even that deterrent, thereby showing Saddam that he has a free hand.

CNN's "policy" is so astonishingly stupid and counterproductive that you just know it was thought up by playboy do-gooder Ted Turner and a bunch of journalism school graduates -- not by anybody who has actually studied history and gained some idea of how the real world works.


CNN, fortunately, is not a branch of government. Congress, however, is, and while I haven't heard any leading congressfolk advocating anything as dumb as relying on our nuclear force to deter Saddam, I have heard some remarks that are almost as lame.

I've heard congressmen and newspeople talk on and on about how "we haven't found a smoking gun linking Saddam to Al-Qaeda." They seem to think that unless we can prove such a link, we have no right or reason to attack Iraq.

But we didn't declare war on Al-Qaeda. We declared war on terrorism. So we don't have to prove a link between Saddam and a particular group of terrorists (though the link has been proved).

Some pundits and congressfolk even talk as though the link has to be shown to have taken place before September 11th of last year, as though we had to prove Saddam had something to do with the attacks of that day.

But we would not be attacking Saddam because he's guilty of a particular crime. Good heavens, we have a laundry list of crimes this monster has committed.

Our attack would be to prevent him from making weapons of mass destruction available to groups that would use them against us in ways we would be hard-pressed to forestall.

So all we have to prove is:

1. He has current links to terrorists and a history of supporting them.

This has been proven over and over again, including his bonuses to the families of suicide bombers in Israel.

2. He is developing or has developed weapons that pose a grave risk not only to America but to any other nation.

Well, we know he has poison gas, we know he has been working on bio-weapons, and we knew he has a nuclear program, which may or may not yet have achieved a working weapon.

3. He has a disposition to make unprovoked attacks on other countries.


This is a guy who commits murder with his own hands, who slaughters whole families with poison gas, who invades neighboring countries without provocation, and who has weapons that should make our blood run cold -- weapons that could be carried into our country without detection by a reasonably resourceful enemy who didn't care about personal survival.

And we have congressional leaders who think we haven't got a case against Saddam?

The only reason Ted Turner exists, I think, is so that Tom Daschle doesn't look like the dumbest policy-leader in America.

Here's a fact, folks: We are at war with Iraq already. We've been bombing Iraqi soil, shooting down Iraqi planes, and killing Iraqi people on at least a weekly basis since 1991. Why should we suppose for one instant that any weapon developed by Saddam would not be used, as quickly as possible, against us?

But there are those in high places in our country who insist that we have to wait until Saddam or his allies actually slaughter hundreds of thousands of people before we have sufficient cause to move in and attack him.

What if Saddam uses his first nuke against Kuwait? One big blast would make the whole country virtually uninhabitable -- and it would wipe out our entire staging area for an effective conventional attack against him.

What if Saddam uses his first nuke against Israel? Count on it -- there'd be Americans saying, "Well, of course it was wrong to nuke Israel, but the Israelis did provoke the anger of their neighbors and, after all, Saddam didn't attack America, so we still shouldn't go to war."

Our enemies have shown that they're perfectly happy to kill hundreds of Africans just to damage our embassies and kill a handful of Americans. They might use Saddam's weapons in Singapore or Manila or London or Buenos Aires.

We are the only country that has the power to stop Saddam before his weapons kill thousands of innocents.

I can't believe that any Americans think there is any plausible reason for delaying our attack on this dangerous monster.

But then, America is the same country that turned away boatloads of Jewish refugees trying to escape from Hitler because, after all, in those days he was only killing Jews a few hundred at a time. He wasn't a threat to us.

And now Saddam is saying he will admit inspectors. This is the most frightening thing I've heard from him yet. Because we know there is no chance these inspectors will actually be allowed to look at anything, or that, if caught, Saddam would give up his weapons programs.

So the only thing he could possibly be doing is buying time -- a few weeks, maybe a few months.

A few weeks or months in which to get his weapons out the door and into the places where they can be most effectively used.

Copyright © 2002 by Orson Scott Card.

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