Monkeytime makes an argument that nonviolent social change in Iraq can oust Saddam. The author points to the massive protests that toppled the Ceausescu and Pinochet regimes in Romania and Chile respectively.
However, there are some flaws to that analysis that need to be looked at.
The first is that we are already trying exactly that. If Saddam Hussein can be removed by his own people, we would most certainly welcome that. Our psychological warfare campaign against the Iraqi military and leadership is likely to be one of the largest psy-ops campaigns ever. (Anna at the Beligerent Bunny Blog has some more details on our psy-ops campaign.)
However, we have to realize that the Hussein regime has endured significant strife before. US analysts predicted that the Hussein regime would collapse after the Gulf War. Instead, Hussein instituted brutal crackdowns on dissent in his country, leading to the institution of the no-fly zones to prevent Iraqi helicopters from attacking civilians. Each time a revolution has been planned, it has failed as Saddam’s Republican Guards have been able to crush the insurrections.
Furthermore, there’s an element in Iraq that was not present in Chile or Romania, and that is the use of chemical weapons. We know from the incidents at Halabja that Saddam Hussein is willing to use chemical weapons as a method of controlling his own people. Given that tactic, a massive civil protest could result in tens of thousands of civilian casualties quite possibly more than would occur in the case of a US invasion. Given this history, it would be exceptionally hard to believe that such an effort would work. Hussein has a history of using extreme methods of coercision to maintain power. If such a nonviolent protest were to occur, the resulting casualties could be nothing short of catastrophic for the Iraqi civilan population.
Furthermore, there’s another reason why America is chosing to invade Iraq. We need a zone of stability in the Middle East. Merely deposing Hussein does not guarantee that the subsequent regime will be any better. Unlike Chile or Romania, the democratic tradition has never truly taken root in Iraq. Even if Hussein were peacefully deposed, we would still need to occupy Iraq for political and humanitarian assistance. Nearly 25 years of war and 10 years of sanctions have severely weakened Iraq to the point that it would not be self-sufficient without large amounts of help – help that the United States will end up providing either way.
As attractive as a nonviolent removal of the Hussein regime is, there are still some problems with such an approach. Considering the long-term goals we have for the region and the needs of the Iraqi people, the potential risks of such a rebellion aren’t much less than that of war and invasion. While the United States would welcome the internal toppling of Saddam Hussein, we have based our Iraq policy on that flawed hope for too long, and we cannot simply assume that will happen. In the end, invasion is still the least harmful option given the difficult circumstance we are placed in.