The Myth Of Deterrence

Kenneth Pollack has a utterly fascinating op-ed in The New York Times on why deterrence can’t be counted on in Iraq. There’s one passage that’s especially key:

Proponents of deterrence argue that Mr. Hussein will not engage in new aggression, even after he has acquired nuclear weapons, because he is not deliberately suicidal and so would not risk an American nuclear response.

But what they overlook is that Mr. Hussein is often unintentionally suicidal — that is, he miscalculates his odds of success and frequently ignores the likelihood of catastrophic failure. Mr. Hussein is a risk-taker who plays dangerous games without realizing how dangerous they truly are. He is deeply ignorant of the outside world and surrounded by sycophants who tell him what he wants to hear.

This is a point that needs to be made. Yes, deterrence might work, and perhaps Saddam Hussein won’t launch a nuclear attack at some point. However, if that assessment is wrong, the consequences would be apocalyptic in scope. We cannot base our foreign policy on the hope that a possibly unhinged dictator will play nice.

The fact remains that the consequences of invading Iraq are far less than the consequences of a nuclear war in the Middle East, or even an Iraq that has the benefit of using a nuclear weapon to back up whatever aggressive action they choose. We should not enter into this lightly, but at the same time, we cannot allow the threat from Iraq to remain unchecked. Saddam Hussein represents a clear and present threat to the United States, more so than even al-Qaeda at the moment. Leaving him in power would be disastrous, and we must act before the situation spirals out of control.

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