We mustn't be panicked into a war with Saddam
By Robert Harris
ON the morning of March 20, 1995, at the height of the Tokyo rush hour, five members of the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo each boarded a separate subway train carrying a plastic bag containing a small quantity of the nerve agent Sarin. At 8am, the terrorists punctured the bags with umbrellas, released the liquid and killed 12 commuters.
This remains, to date, the worst-ever terrorist attack using one of the so-called "weapons of mass destruction" of which we now hear so much, and it is worth pondering, for two reasons.
The first is that, paradoxically, these supposedly "massively" destructive weapons have rarely proved more lethal than conventional explosives: five Semtex bombs detonated on those Japanese trains would probably have killed more victims and caused more physical damage.
The second point is more crucial: the Tokyo attack was perpetrated without the involvement of any foreign state. The Sarin that Aum Shinrikyo used was manufactured by the group itself, using its own facilities in Japan.
It was a similar story with the anthrax sent through the US post last autumn. Theoretically, just one of the infected letters - that sent to the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle - contained enough anthrax spores to kill 200 million people.
In fact, the entire sequence of poisonings killed only five. And, as with the Tokyo attack, no rogue terrorist state was involved: according to the FBI, the weapons-grade material involved was probably stolen from inside an American research agency.
I mention this because we are in danger, at the instigation of an understandably vengeful America, of being panicked into a war with Iraq, which may well not be justified by past experience of terrorism and which may lead to massive casualties.
If Saddam Hussein were close to possessing nuclear weapons, destroying him would be an urgent matter. But there is little evidence that he is. Indeed, in 1998, the Iraqis were willing to allow the International Atomic Energy Authority to continue its monitoring activity, even while they were making the work of the other UN weapons inspectors impossible.
So nuclear is not the immediate issue here. Instead, what Iraq has - and probably in abundance - are what are collectively known as "the poor man's atomic bomb": chemical and biological weapons (CBW).
As it happens, this is a subject I know a little about. Twenty years ago, with Jeremy Paxman, I co-wrote a history of gas and germ warfare, with the charming title, A Higher Form of Killing. It has just been republished. Revising and updating it has made me appreciate for the first time just how immense the Iraqi CBW arsenal was at the time of the Gulf.
By their own admission, the Iraqis had armed 166 aircraft bombs and 25 Scud missiles with a mixture of biological agents, mostly anthrax and botulinal toxin. Another 30 Scuds were armed with chemical warheads. After Iraq's surrender, the UN inspectors destroyed 38,000 munitions either loaded with, or capable of being loaded with, gas.
The obvious question therefore arises: why didn't Saddam use these weapons in 1991? And the likeliest answer is: he feared that America would retaliate with some kind of nuclear strike. This was the calculated effect of the warning given to Baghdad by the US Secretary of State, James Baker, on the eve of the allied attack: "If the conflict involves your use of chemical and biological weapons against our forces, the American people will demand vengeance. We have the means to exact it."
But deterrence cuts two ways. At least one respected and well informed strategic expert, Avigdor Haselkorn, believes that the reason America didn't press home its attack all the way to Baghdad in 1991 was its fear that Saddam - with his back to the wall and with nothing to lose - would have fired chemically and biologically armed Scuds at Israel and at coalition forces. America decided to quit while it was ahead.
Eleven years later, this analysis is more pertinent than ever. As any cat will tell you, it is a famously bad idea to corner a rat. If Saddam still possesses a CBW arsenal - which is, after all, supposedly our casus belli - then we must presume he will try to use them, for we are leaving him no way out.
If he can strike at Israel, he will. If he can poison our troops, he will. If he can pass some part of his arsenal to terrorists - which up to now he doesn't appear to have done, presumably because he fears retaliation - then again, he probably will.
In other words, it may be that the best way to make sure Saddam does not use his CBW arsenal is to leave him responsible for it, whereas the surest way to ensure those gases and toxins are actually spread throughout the world is to attack him.
And so, for the first time in my life, rather to my surprise, I find myself beginning to line up with the doves. The Falklands in 1982, the Gulf in 1991, Kosovo, Afghanistan - in all of these I supported military action. But this mooted assault on Iraq strikes me as being in a different category.
We are being whipped into a war psychosis about "weapons of mass destruction" that are, practically, often no more destructive than high explosive and that can, unlike nuclear weapons, be manufactured in the middle of a city or stolen from a laboratory.
We are considering acting pre-emptively against a state that has not - has it? - actually sponsored a terrorist threat against us. We are likely, in the process, to fracture the united international front against al-Qa'eda, split public opinion in this country and make bio-terrorism more likely. All in all: a strange way to go about making the world a safer place.
A Higher Form of Killing (Arrow) by Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman is available for £8.99 plus £1.99 postage and packing from Telegraph Books Direct on 0870 155 7222. Alternatively buy the book from amazon.co.uk by clicking here.
Jiml1126 From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR: Reply 2, posted (11 years 9 months 1 week ago) and read 780 times:
Bush will push us into a prolonged "war against terrorism" to keep his approval rating high. He is a ruthless and facist idiot that will sacrifice lives to retain power.
I never like Bush, BUT, I think he's being cautious.
Although Iraq and Saddam Hussain may looks like a poorlamb right now (and seems like no threat to other western countries),BUT who knows when will this poor little lamb become a scary tiger and begin to strike?
So it's hard to judge whether Bush is right or wrong.
The Arab countries may have a point that looks right, but I'm not sure whether they think about the future or not.
OzarkD9S From United States of America, joined Oct 2001, 4783 posts, RR: 22 Reply 3, posted (11 years 9 months 1 week ago) and read 778 times:
Clinton wasn't perfect, but he was a Rhodes Scholar, Dubya got C's in "daddy paid for it" school. I suppose any fool can become president, as we are dealing with one now. yes, abort the babies, tax and spend, i didn't have improper realtions with that woman etc... but you knew where you stood with Bill.
Ozark Flies Your Way, Coast To Coast and Border To Border
Heavymetal From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR: Reply 5, posted (11 years 9 months 1 week ago) and read 765 times:
Fine analysis. And wrong.
Aside from not acknowledging that a Boeing 767, which seems a bit out of this author's expertise, is now a "weapon of mass destruction", and that Saddam possses as great a risk by allowing his country to become a refuge for those who would plan the next September 11th, all this author says essentially is "let's not freak out Saddam or he'll do something mean."...without offering ANY insight as to what we do when, if history is any guide, he gets beligerent ANYWAY.
As far as dealing with Saddam Hussein, I quote a charector ironically from one of the Iraqi dictator's favorite movies:
"If history has proven one thing...it's that you can kill anyone." - Michael Corleone
Terminate with extreme prejudice. We needn't kill a country. Just a man.
GDB From United Kingdom, joined May 2001, 12968 posts, RR: 79 Reply 6, posted (11 years 9 months 6 days 23 hours ago) and read 762 times:
I agree with the thrust of this article.
Bush would be foolish to lose momentum in the war against terrorism, which like it or not, is reliant on the co-operation, overt or not, of some states not previously well disposed to the US.
Vital not to confuse this with unfinished Bush family business.
To give an example, of all nations Libya has recently provided the West with info. about possible Al-Queda elements.
This was probably done out of fear of the US, and if the retoric aimed at Iraq recently is serving a similar purpose, good.
But to pick a fight for no good apparent reason right now is folly, I know there is concern about preventing states from aiding terrorism, I suspect the fall of the Taliban has already rammed that message home.
Marco From United Arab Emirates, joined Jul 2000, 4168 posts, RR: 17 Reply 7, posted (11 years 9 months 6 days 23 hours ago) and read 756 times:
Terminate with extreme prejudice. We needn't kill a country. Just a man.
Very well put Heavymetal.
However, I have to agree with DC3cowboy regarding Bush. You've got to admit it, he dealt with Afghanistan brilliantly. Who would have thought seven months ago that the taliban would have been overthrown? and with relatively little resistance?
Eg777er From United Kingdom, joined Feb 2000, 1834 posts, RR: 15 Reply 9, posted (11 years 9 months 6 days 23 hours ago) and read 748 times:
I think the consensus is that Saddam is evil, but are the US or UK developing any 'post-Saddam' scenarios for Iraq?
Becuase, the way I see it is that Saddam is the only component that keeps Iraq as an entity. If you remove him, you run the risk of allowing the Kurds to secede (pissing off Turkey), and the Shias to join with Iran.
Putting the Iranian border within spitting distance of Saudi and 25% of the world's oil.
DC3Cowboy From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR: Reply 10, posted (11 years 9 months 6 days 23 hours ago) and read 745 times:
"Putting the Iranian border within spitting distance of Saudi and 25% of the world's oil."
I'm not sure that we need worry too much about the oil supply. After all, if the free world doesn't buy it what are tha Arab countries to do? They can't drink it and their income would be lost.
We need oil and they need to sell it.
Marco From United Arab Emirates, joined Jul 2000, 4168 posts, RR: 17 Reply 11, posted (11 years 9 months 6 days 23 hours ago) and read 743 times:
If I'm not mistaken the USA gets more oil from south america than from the middle east. I don't understand why there's such a hype about middle eastern oil! south america probably has just as much!
Also Eg777er, it wouldn't be fair, if the Kurds took over the North. Why not? Well because the Assyrians have been there far longer than the Kurds, and there are still over a million Assyrians living in Northern Iraq, as well as 700,000 in Syria(The Assyrians speak Aramaic, one of the oldest languages on earth). If Northern Iraq were to be split, it should be done so equally between the minorities.
If you visit Atour you can get an idea of how much persecution the Assyrians suffer, especially by the Kurds. All because we are 100% Christians.
Capt.Picard From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR: Reply 12, posted (11 years 9 months 6 days 23 hours ago) and read 741 times:
I have some questions;
1/ How do the press know that there is little evidence/threat from Iraq?
2/ What intelligence do the Americans have up their sleeves?
3/ Are America definitely going to 'attack' Iraq?
4/ How? Bombs? Or using some other strategy?
5/ Is the opposition to Saddam politically viable and credible?
This is not my field, however-to what extent do the Americans actually consider the geopolitical fall-out that would occur from Saddam's removal? My guess is that they are determined to remove threats while the going's good-it would seem that America would be happy to leave the clearing-up after the party to others.
The Europeans may yet be thanking America in the future.
I still don't have a position on this-I need more information; but if America wants, America gets!
GDB From United Kingdom, joined May 2001, 12968 posts, RR: 79 Reply 13, posted (11 years 9 months 6 days 21 hours ago) and read 724 times:
The idea that you can somehow take out Saddam, without dealing with the 1 million Iraqi's whose security, lifestyles etc rely on the regime, and with no major political fall-out which may come back and bite us, is a James Bond fantasy.
The opposition to Saddam is a farce, and so have the CIA operations been in Iraq in the last 10 years.
Comparing the 23 year reign of Saddam, with all his still considerable military infrastructure, with the chaotic rule of the Taliban is stupid.
Remember, Saddam ultimatley cares only for his own protection, not Iraq's, that's why despite the total rout his forces experienced in the 1991 war, he considers it a victory for himself the US led coalition failed to remove him.
Marco From United Arab Emirates, joined Jul 2000, 4168 posts, RR: 17 Reply 14, posted (11 years 9 months 6 days 9 hours ago) and read 713 times:
GDB that's a very good post. What many people fail to realize that, to some extent, Iraq is held together by Saddam. The opposition is a farce, they're mostly minority shia's or Kurds. The shia's want Iraq to be another islamic state (like saudi and iran), as opposed to the current secular state, and the Kurds...well they're a minority.