Storm Warnings for a Supply-Side War
Pollack also argues that the United States should not and cannot conduct a successful war alone. At one point he goes so far as to say that the Persian Gulf states "have a veto over whether or not we invade Iraq." Elsewhere he stipulates that "an invasion of Iraq would require a new coalition to support it"--a coalition that at minimum must include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Needless to say, of these necessary allies only Kuwait and, perhaps, Turkey (although its Parliament is balking), have been cajoled or coerced into joining our "coalition of the willing."
One reason the coalition Pollack sees as necessary has not been established is that another key condition for the war has not been met. Pollack repeatedly emphasizes that as uncomfortable as it may be for many in Washington to accept, the Israeli-Palestinian problem would have to be radically reduced in scope, though not necessarily solved, before a war on Iraq would be advisable. "Much as we may not like mediating between Israel and the Palestinians, if we are going to deal with the problem of Saddam Hussein, it is necessary that we do so." Only if we "deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict and get it moving in the right direction," he writes, can we be confident of the access we will need to Egyptian air space, the support we need from the Egyptian government and the political barrier required to reduce the risk of regime collapse in several friendly Arab countries. The Israeli-Palestinian problem is identified as the source of most of the "bedlam" in the Middle East, and Pollack warns that levels of unrest in the region must be reduced if his characterization of an invasion as "the conservative course of action" is to be considered valid. "Unless and until we have done that preparatory work, an invasion of Iraq itself would be the risky option." Again, needless to say, this condition is as far from being met now as it has been since the beginning of the second intifada in the fall of 2000.
Pollack also warns that despite the dangers he sees in Saddam's Iraq and the inadequacies of other options he considers, no invasion should be undertaken unless key domestic political requirements are met. As in World War II and Vietnam, he writes, "the United States should not embark upon this [war] without the clear, expressed support of the American people." A marker of this requisite level of public support would be "the endorsement of a congressional declaration of war." Of course, Congress is nowhere near ready to pass such a declaration. Polls now show that no more than 55 percent of the American people support President Bush's handling of the Iraq issue. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are marching in the streets against the war, and it has not even begun.
But of all the warnings Pollack offers, of all of the conditions he places upon the advisability of the war option, none are more categorical and more obviously unmet than his insistence that no war can be made on Iraq until after Al Qaeda has been defeated. According to Pollack, "it would be best to hold off on plans for an invasion until al-Qa'eda [is] more thoroughly eradicated." In his conclusion he is more emphatic. "In the immediate wake of 9/11, we rightly devoted all of the United States' diplomatic, intelligence, and military attention to eradicating the threat from al-Qa'eda, and as long as that remains the case we should not indulge in a distraction [sic!] as great as toppling Saddam." Pollack is specifically afraid that a war in Iraq could itself lead to the transfer of weapons of mass destruction from Iraqi arsenals to terrorist networks like Al Qaeda. While allowing that the utter destruction of Al Qaeda would be too severe a condition for a US war in Iraq, "we certainly need to be at a point where we do not have monthly government warnings of possible terrorist attacks." Oscillating as we have been, between Code Yellow and Code Orange alerts, it is clearly the case that this condition for war, however hedged, has not been met.
Having finished The Threatening Storm, the careful reader will wag his or her head in disbelief. How can a book resounding with so many warnings against an invasion be heralded as acompelling call to arms? The question parallels the large question ringing in the ears of millions of puzzled Americans. What is the reason for this war? What has made it such an urgent matter to dispose of Saddam Hussein? What has changed in Iraq to produce a threat to the United States and the world that was not present eight, six or four years ago? What is the "demand" for this war?
The answer is simple. This is a supply-side war. There is very little demand for the war, and nothing in the way of a compelling necessity for it. But the enormous supply of political capital flowing toward the President after 9/11 combines with the overweening preponderance of US military power on a global level to make the production of war in Iraq not a trivial affair but one that can be embraced with relatively little thought and almost no need to appeal to a readiness to sacrifice. That a war is militarily and politically so "easy" for the United States government can explain why so little reason for a war can produce so powerful a campaign for one. It also explains why so weak an argument for it, as is contained in the Pollack book, can be so widely regarded as persuasive.