Monday, March 17, 2003

Battling for Baghdad And Freedom

My article titled "Battling for Baghdad And Freedom" was published in the Wall Street Journal on 17th March 2003.

War is a messy business. And it invariably imposes great human sufferings. Nevertheless, there are times when war is necessary to achieve an objective not possible by other means, particularly if the cost of inaction outweighs the cost of war. Most importantly, war is not an end in itself. It is only a means to a greater end. The question to ask today, therefore, is not about the tragedy of a possible war in Iraq, but the greater tragedy that might follow if Saddam Hussein is allowed to remain in power.

Clearly, the issue goes beyond disarming Saddam, or even "regime change." It concerns instituting in Iraq a modern, liberal order based on the rule of law. It implies providing an opportunity for the Arab and Muslim population of the region to enjoy freedom and to benefit from peace and prosperity. If ever there was a case for a just war, the situation in Iraq is it.

The basic issue in Iraq is disarming Saddam's regime. The problem with the U.N.-led disarmament effort is that it functions in the Cold War context. Within this context, policies of containment and disarmament worked because both sides did not want to mutually destroy each other. But the price of that policy was the rise of realpolitik, where ideals and morality were sidestepped in order to rope in friendly dictators and tyrants in the effort to contain the other side.

Disarmament can work in situations where the leadership decides to adopt it. Disarmament can also work in situations where the political leadership decides not to seek weapons of mass destruction, even though that nation's technological know-how and economic capacity would allow such developments, as in the case of Japan and most other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

After 12 years and numerous U.N. resolutions, it is clear the Iraqi regime is nowhere near accepting the principles of disarmament. Iraq would not even have allowed in U.N. arms inspectors but for the sustained pressure of the U.S.-led coalition. And if there has been some positive movement reported by the inspectors, it is because of the armed forces assembled on the borders of Iraq by the "coalition of the willing."

Containment won't work if a regime or a leader is willing to follow a self-destructive course or seeks military adventurism. And if there is one lesson to be learned from the Cold War, it is that liberal democracies must promote the ideals of freedom, the rule of law and limited government, and never again let dictators of any political hue acquire WMD and recreate the balance of terror under the theory of mutually assured destruction. This is why preemptive war becomes relevant in the context of Iraq. Policies of containment and disarmament no longer work in the post-Cold War and post-Sept. 11 world.

Destroying WMD facilities in Iraq is no guarantee that the regime will not be able to reassemble the necessary technology. To attempt to keep Saddam in check means establishing a hugely expanded inspection regime, coupled with an almost permanent deployment of coalition forces to maintain a credible threat of force in the event of violation. Yet such an exercise would not only be costly but provides no assurance of success.

It is feared that a war to replace Saddam would raise Arab and Muslim anger, and spur militancy and terrorism. Yet a successful change of regime in Iraq could once and for all expose the hollowness of the claim that the populations in the Middle East are not yet ready for liberalism. This might in effect boost the possibility of a permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinians -- because of the shared liberal values of freedom and democracy. Let us not insult the populations in the Middle East by holding them unfit for freedom.

This is where the present anti-war movements, particularly in the West, have got it wrong. Peace activists are concerned about human suffering in the event of war. In the process, most of the activists seem to ignore the suffering caused by brutal regimes such as Saddam's. In fact, many rationalize that these regimes are products of U.S. and other interventions. But then when the U.S. at last seems to recognize the limits of realpolitik and to want to rectify the mistakes of the Cold War era, it is condemned for neocolonial aspirations.

It is time to recognize that the aspiration for freedom is universal. If the U.N. Security Council fails to free the people of Iraq, the people of Iraq are unlikely to shed any tear for the demise of the U.N. If the peace movement doesn't recognize the aspiration for freedom, then the people of Iraq may seek to find their own peace, consigning to the dustbin of history the peace movement that seeks to perpetuate the status quo of tyranny.

Today, we have all the right ingredients for the liberation of Iraq. The basic motive is to replace a regime that practices terror as state policy. After 12 years, there is no indication that Saddam's regime has accepted the principle of disarmament. The use of force is the only option to disarm it and liberate the people of Iraq.

Despite all efforts to reduce casualties, war will bring human suffering. But without a war, suffering could be multiplied many-fold if Saddam's regime finds access to weapons of mass destruction. Finally, the people of Iraq deserve better. Their freedom must be protected by establishing a participatory civil society and representative government under the rule of law -- rather than rule by men like Saddam -- and integrate it with the global community. This won't be easy, but the cost of failure will be higher. The Battle for Baghdad will pave the road to freedom for the Iraqi people.

Regimes such as Saddam's are products of Cold War realpolitik. It's time for change. After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, it is imperative that such regimes are changed, through domestic and international pressure or military action if necessary.