Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Inevitability Dodge

A narrative that has been gaining steam with Iraq war supporters feeling chastened by events on the ground, seeks to create a refuge from the painful consequences of the war by pointing to the problematic sanctions regime and its uncertain viability going forward.

According to this storyline, the US had no other choice but to invade Iraq because the sanctions containing Saddam were crumbling and so he would have soon been out of his proverbial cage - free to reconstitute his WMD program.

Cicero at Winds of Change makes this point, though I don't mean to single him out as his is in no way the most egregious example, only the most recent one that I've come across (see also, here and here):

[The invasion of Iraq] seemed positive in the face of the alternative, which was to continue fiddling in the corridors of the UN and in the salons of Arabia and Europe while Saddam would break apart the sanctions regime.

France, Russia, China and others, acting on selfish economic interests, and under the sway of Saddam himself, it is argued, were going to scuttle sanctions. So we had to act.

I have a few problems with this theory, however. First, the level of certainty attributed to this hypothetical outcome is exaggerated. While it is quite likely that there were conflicts of interest among the Security Council members that jeopardized the sanctions regime, its imminent demise was not exactly a fait accompli.

In response, some might point to oil-for-food related malfeasance as evidence of the sanctions' decay, but it is important to note that the OFF scandal was not connected to WMD related embargoes/sanctions which were of paramount importance in terms of keeping Saddam's regime free of...WMD. That more crucial part of the sanctions initiative was a great success.

Furthermore, it is also possible that the US, armed with the twin cudgels of post-9/11 sympathies and threats to invade Iraq if its demands were not met, could have coerced those considering dismantling the sanctions regime to abandon such plans (and there was certainly room to explore how to "smarten" the sanctions by lessening some of the impact on civilians - thus reducing the humanitarian complaints/resistance).

Proponents of the inevitability doctrine often respond that maintaining the cooperation of the Security Council on this matter would have been extremely difficult. This is true: difficult, but perhaps not impossible. Either way, have you taken a gander at the alternative lately? You know, the invasion, regime change, occupation, democracy birthing, nation building cakewalk?

I have a hard time accepting that the hardships involved in trying to bolster the sanctions regime would have been more onerous than those associated with the invasion itself. That's apples and oranges watermelons.

And think of the upside. What if we were able to convince the relevant parties to maintain the sanctions regime in some improved form? Wouldn't that have averted the current disaster?

Nevertheless, let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the sanctions regime was doomed, and that embargoes and the like were going to be abandoned regardless of the appeals - and threats - communicated on the world stage by the US government. Our good faith efforts came up with nothing, etc.

Couldn't we have waited until that eventuality came to pass before we invaded? Wouldn't our cause have seemed more justified, and engendered more sympathy, if we had?

The bottom line is that if you want to justify our invasion based on what we thought might happen to the sanctions regime at some point down the road, how do you respond to someone who suggests that it would have been wiser to cross that bridge when we came to it?

If at all.

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