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Could Saddam have been deterred from obtaining W M D had the US

refrained from engaging war and opt for a peaceful solution instead?

The aim of this paper is to determine whether the engagement of war in Iraq and the
removal of Iraqi dictator Saddam were a real necessity for the US to guarantee its safety
or if, as many think around the globe, the menace adduced did not constitute such a
peril, but rather a fabrication built up in order have an excuse to satisfy other interests
beyond the spreading of democracy in Iraq.
There seems to be a agreement among the scholars1 that the final decision to invade Iraq
in October 2003 was due to a combination of two factors: first, the prevailing neocon
stream that stained both the White House and the State Department; and second, other
external factors such as the exploit of oil resources, the Israeli lobbying and a shift of
power between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The main concern of neoconservatives is about
the moral obligation the US had to promote democracy wherever a tyrannical regime
exists. As the American diplomat and policy analyst Kenneth Adelman stated,
Neoconservatism is the idea of a tough foreign policy on behalf of morality, the idea of
using power for moral good in the world2. On the other hand, the main concernment
for the Defense Department officials was to halt Saddam from obtaining or utilizing
WMD, or even to halt a theoretical cooperation between Saddams Baathist regime and
However, many argue that, even in the case that Saddam wished to obtain WMD, a nonbellicose solution could have been reached, avoiding thus a war that had excruciating
though not unforeseeable consequences both from the humanitarian point of view and
form a political prospective. This paper intends to sanction this view by providing some
supporting data, as well as offering a theoretical approach to the topic.

Was the war and occupation of Iraq necessary?

Contrary to what those willing for a war to happen adduced, two reasons support the
idea that Saddam did not act irrationally in the past. When he decided to militarily fight
against Iran he did it thoughtfully: first, Iran was living its own national turmoil due to
the great shift of power that the removal of Shah Pahlavi constituted; second, a lot of
countries mainly from the Arab world but also from the West aided Iraq in his
struggle against the Ayatollahs regime, fearing the spreading of the radical ideas of the
Islamic Revolution. We can therefore surmise that the choice to attack Iran was not the
result of a mad mans recklessness, but rather a strategic decision with serious
considerations taken in mind.
Different though the reasons were, the same thesis can be applied in regard to the Iraqi
invasion of Kuwait in 1990. In this case the safety of Iraq was not compromised by a

Khong 2008

Neo Culpa. Vanity Fair (issue January 2007) Retrieved from (last access:
October 26, 2016)

foreign army ready to attack, but yet Saddam made us of intelligence to take the final
decision to invade its southern neighbor: Iraq needed to have its economy recovered and
Saddam was convinced that his fellow Arab countries had the duty to help the State that
had appeased the Iranian monster restore its wealth. It did not occur to the Iraqi dictator
that things would develop the way they did. In other words, he did not expect that the
US would enter that war. So this example does not demonstrate a nonsensical
standpoint of Saddams, but rather a misperception3.
On the other hand, proof that Saddam had been deterred in the past can be encountered
in the historical record, by examining the decision making by him and his team during
the Gulf War. True though being that Saddams army had used chemical weapons
against its enemies (particularly beastly were the bombings against the Kurds4) it was
highly unlikely that he would never even think to utilize this kind of weaponry against
the US, as it is demonstrated by the fact that he did use chemical weapons in cowardly
actions against weak enemies, but never attempted to use them to fight more powerful
adversaries such as Israel or the very same American troops deployed in Kuwait. As
Mearsheimer and Walt point out, the blackmailers threat is [in this case] an empty one
because the blackmailer cannot carry out the threat without triggering his own
destruction. [] That logic explains why the Soviet Union was never able to blackmail
the US.5
It would be a matter of interest and a subject of research the fact that senior officials of
the US government during the time of preparation of the Iraq war among them
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the would-be Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, had had no problems in helping Saddam obtaining chemical
weapons in the past in the belief it would not affect American security or interests.
The application of this logic disqualifies the main argument exposed by those who
defended the need for the war: the threat it supposed to the American people and its
allies the fact that Saddam could provide himself or others with WMD and use them to
blackmail the international community. Also the attempt to link Iraqs Baathist regime
with the 9/11 attacks or with the al-Qaeda activity as a whole is pointless, given the
ideological differences that were precisely one of the main stakes at the Iran-Iraq war.

Was there a diplomatic alternative?

Based on what we have seen, it appears to us obvious that the Iraq war was not a
requirement for the US to protect neither itself nor its allies safety. Actually, the effect
might have been the contrary, for Americas worldwide aggregate image resulted
damaged because of this war to the extent that some authors compare the decline of the
US image around the world to other critical historical moments such as the Vietnam


Duelfer and Dyson 2011

Remembering Halabja chemical attack Al Jazeera. March 16, 2016. Retrieved from (last access: October 24, 2016)
Mearsheimer and Walt 2003

War6. This decline has been especially intense in the Middle East and Western Europe,
and should be regarded as one of the many factors that have caused the ongoing
radicalization of Islamism and Islamist terrorism to grow up and constitute a global risk.
As long as the other part is by far much stronger than one single country such as Iraq,
resources such as diplomatic pressure or economic sanctions are the methods a country
that considers itself the bearer of the democratic values should use as the first instances,
relegating the war to the last of the resources and if there exists a real threat, as well as
the approval of the international community.

Failing diplomacy often has a major impact in international relations not only from a
governmental scope but also regarding the people. The recent events in Belgium, France
are a proof of that. It is another example of how not setting war aside as the last
resource only creates more violence.
Through the previous pages have explained how the American foreign policy worked
during George W. Bushs first term (2000-2004). The prevailing school of thought was
of a moralist, conservative kind, and this set of ideas plus the alienated state of mind
caused by the recent events, and the revelation that the US could be beaten in its very
core, provoked the regarding of its potential enemies to be more based on a perverse
fabrication than rather on justified reasons to support a war against the reign of the
Baath party in Iraq and its leader, Saddam Hussein. The neocon wave predominant in
the Government of the United States, the Defense Department and partially the State
Department played a major role in the ultimate decision, which did not have an
important contestation among the American people, who were by that time dazed in the
post-9/11 paranoia.
Thus, the military action in Iraq encountered little opposition in the American society,
who had been told their safety was at risk. Regarding the international community and
unlike what it is widely believed, no less than 49 countries tacitly supported the war,
including virtually all Eastern Europe, the Turkic countries and many Latin American
As to the question of when a war is necessary, we respond that a war can be justified
when it is the last resource, when avoiding a fight can cause your obliteration, when the
main international agencies support it in the basis of the protection of the individuals
safety and the preservation of democracy.
None of these features were present in the Bush administration decision to invade Iraq,
and though the removal of Saddam Hussein does constitute a major step for the future
democratization of Iraq and for the wellbeing of its inhabitants, the way in which it has


Katzenstein and Legro 2009

"Operation Iraqi Freedom". Conflict 21. United States Air Force. 13 March 2006. Retrieved 25 October

been made has let the country in a situation of continuous violence that is impossible to
identify with what we understand as a democratic, free country.

Mearsheimer, John and Walt, Stephen. 2003. An Unnecessary War. Foreign Policy No.
134 (January/February, 2003), pp. 50-59
Khong, Yuen Foong. Neoconservatism and the domestic sources of American foreign policy:
the role of ideas in Operation Iraqi Freedom. 2008. In Smith Steve, Hadfield Amelia and Dunne
Timothy (eds.) Foreign Policy: theories, actors, cases, Chapter 14. Oxford: Oxford University
Duelfer, Charles A. and Dyson, Stephen Benedict. 2011. Chronic Misperception and
International Conflict, International Security, volume 36, issue 1, pages 73-100
Katzenstein, Peter and Legro, Jeffrey. 2009. Think Again: Americas Image. Foreign
Policy No. 174 (September/October 2009)