The Six Myths of Gulf War II

With the war in Iraq underway, and (as I write) the Seventh Cavalry slicing through the desert like the proverbial knife through warm butter, I’m already getting sick of the number of Gulf War II myths I’m hearing repeated on the news, especially television news. And using the term “myths” is being polite—lies would be more accurate.

GW2 Myth #1: Iraq poses a conventional threat to the United States. The issue of Iraqi missile technology was whether it could exceed the 100 mile limit imposed by the United Nations. The distance from Iraq to the US is about 3,000 miles; the only way Iraq could get one of their missiles into US territory is by use of the world’s largest rubber band and a good tailwind. (Pay close attention to this, as we’ll revisit this when we start talking about weapons of mass destruction.)

Aside from their nonfunctional missiles, there is no means by which Iraq could possibly project conventional force against us. Their fighter force is outdated, their decent troops number under 50,000; all of the reasons why we rightfully expect Gulf War II to be a cakewalk in terms of balance of force suggest that we’d have nothing to fear from these troops outside of their home territory.

GW2 Myth #2: Iraq poses a nuclear weapons threat to the United States. This seems to be taken as an element of faith, despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary. reports that the Iraqi nuclear bomb program produced a device that weighed at least a ton—too big to fit on Iraqi missiles—and was lacking the fissile material necessary to make it go boom. Pugwash reports that after years of research and billions of dollars spent, Iraq managed to create only a few grams of highly-enriched uranium.

So no bang, and no way of getting that lack of bang to a target. But supposing that Iraq managed to shrink its bomb, get their hands on uranium, and build better missiles, well, then we’d have a problem, right? Sure. No one likes the idea of Saddam with nukes. But perhaps a better line against this possibility would be working to lower the odds of any non-nuclear state getting their hands on uranium, such as the 1,000,000 kilograms currently lying around in the former Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, the smoking gun that the US claimed was proof that Iraq was trying to buy uranium turned out to be a stack of forged documents. And no one in the administration seems to care much about their provenance; you’d think that finding the forger might be of some concern.

Nuclear weapons are a major concern. North Korea and Iran are well on their way, or already there. Israel’s nukes provides a nice justification for other nations in the Middle East to try to build their own. Russia still has theirs, and hasn’t always kept the best track of where they kept them. Iraq’s nuclear program doesn’t begin to hold a candle to other nuclear threats.

GW2 Myth #3: Iraq poses a chemical or biological weapons threat to the United States. Ok, now we’re talking about a weapon that we can be reasonably sure Saddam’s got. But see above about Iraq’s lack of ability to get them here.

So can we postulate that Iraq could send a spy over here and set them off? Not really—the Washington Post reports that Iraq is dependent on air power to deliver his payloads, and he’s not likely to have that here in the US. Granted that it’s possible to foresee a crop-duster scenario, but seeing as how the last three terrorist attacks in Washington have been: 1) an unidentified anthrax attack, probably from US bioweapon stores; 2) a couple of homegrown nutcases with rifles; and 3) a lunatic from North Carolina with a tractor; it seem pretty far-fetched to think that Iraq is the most dangerous actor on US soil.

Finally, let’s not forget that the CIA thinks that the only circumstances in which Saddam would even try to use his chemical and biological weapons are exactly the ones we’re creating right now.

GW2 Myth #4: It’s necessary to attack Saddam in order to prevent him from giving his weapons to terrorists. MSNBC reported recently that 81% of Americans think that Saddam is in bed with Al-Qaeda. The same poll reported that 51% of Americans think Saddam was directly involved in 9/11, despite not a shred of evidence. Which goes to show that the most powerful weapon of the 21st century is still smoke and mirrors.

The fact is that despite an administration that would have really liked to produce the direct connection between the bad guys, the best connection we have is “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Al-Qaeda, who would like to see the rule of sharia law throughout the Middle East, consider Saddam to be an apostate. Saddam is not going to hand weapons over to people who are as likely to use them against him as against us. And the problem remains that “poor man’s nuclear weapons” are exactly that—there are easier ways for terrorists to get these weapons than to spirit them out of Iraq.

Myth #4 is the crux of why the war on Iraq is part of the war on terror. But the war will make it more likely that these weapons will get into the hands of people likely to use them. As of today, these stockpiles are in the hands of a tyrant who, according to the CIA, is unlikely to use them. Postwar, there will be an interregnum during which time these weapons, locations and quantities known only to God, will be under no one’s control. Do you suppose that some enterprising Iraqi military officers might have a few contacts that would be willing to make some stockpiles disappear in return for ready cash? Do you expect that American forces will find all of it before this happens?

GW2 Myth #5: We’re doing this out of a humanitarian impulse to liberate the oppressed Iraqi people. This one has gotten very popular of late, as it has the dual effect of making us feel like good guys, and getting the left wing in the US and elsewhere to shut up. No rational person can argue that life in Iraq isn’t a living hell.

But we tend to gloss over the fact that we’re going to make it worse before we make it better. The collapse of the Iraqi government is going to mean the collapse of the Iraqi food distribution system, which the United Nations has called one of the best in the world; Saddam has discovered that feeding people keeps them firmly under his control. The US military doesn’t have the ability to feed 24 million people, and current US postwar plans are to entirely shut out the UN programs with the most experience doing this, in favor of American companies who have landed juicy rebuilding contracts.

And you only have to look as far as Afghanistan, site of our last war on terror, to get a feel for our lack of tenacity when it comes to rebuilding countries formerly known as enemies. My prediction is that there will be just enough reports from embedded reporters, showing the wonderful munificence of troops feeding a few thousand, to keep the humanitarians quiet; if millions starve beyond the view of the cameras, it will take much longer for us to notice, and the anecdotes of our generosity will have inoculated us against doing anything more.

As for our ability to transplant democracy into Iraq, it’s amazing that it’s the Left that has the reputation of believing in political fairy tales if this is the plan of the administration. You’ve got a semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north, and factions of Sunnis and Shiites splitting up the rest of the country, with Turkey and Iran both quite happily pondering pocketing some additional border lands. This in a country coming off of decades of totalitarianism, preceded by decades of being a vassal colony. And with a strong disinclination to take on “Western values” in the form of our governmental system. Not what you’d call fertile ground for the wellspringing of democracy.

GW2 Myth #6: The US doesn’t need the rest of the world, and the UN is irrelevant. I note that the irrelevant UN at least managed to delay the onset of war, and I don’t think you’d see the global near-unanimity of opinion against war in their absence. The very fact that you hear so many people talking about international law and the use of diplomacy versus war is in itself the best evidence of how far the world has come in the past century.

And even the Bush administration is not immune. Would Bush have bothered to trumpet the “Coalition of the Willing” if he didn’t also believe that he desperately needed international support and legitimacy? Of course, this coalition is in itself one of the biggest myths being foisted on the public: of the 40 nations listed, only 3 (including the US) are involved militarily. Turkey, who refused us the use of their airbases, is listed as willing. Reports are that the Colombian Embassy in Washington discovered that they were willing when reporters called to ask them about it.

What makes this an even greater farce is the US press release claiming that the population of the Coalition of the Willing is almost 1.2 billion people, ignoring that in at least two of those countries, Great Britain and Turkey, the populations are overwhelmingly against the war; last time I checked, Americans aren’t exactly unanimous either. The Bush administration still seems to have some trouble counting votes.

Myths 1-5 pretty much make up the totality of our stated reasons for going to Iraq. If none of them are true upon examination, and assuming that the Bush administration is made up of at least a few people who have similar powers of analysis, it remains to be said exactly why we’re going to war.

There are a few truths of GW2: 1) it will be quick; 2) by most of the standards of war, it will be easy for the US, in terms of casualties and cost; and 3) winning will make us feel good. Those of us who think that the war will make the world more dangerous won’t be able to point to an easy cause-and-effect between this and the next threat, and we’ll have to overcome the cheers of people who happily insinuate that we’re traitorous.

One traitorous belief that’s ascribed to us is that we don’t want the war to be quick, easy, or cheap. And of course that’s not true. What I’m hoping for is a fast US victory, an administration that surpasses my low expectations in Iraqi rebuilding—and firm evidence that cannot be ignored about what we’ll have to do next to clean up the mess we’ve created.

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