Coastal Post Online


September, 2002

Attack on Iraq will violate Logic and the Ethics of Warfare
By Muqtedar Khan, Ph.D.

The drum beats for the war against Iraq are getting louder everyday. It is becoming apparent that Washington is getting ready to take some kind of military action against Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein from power. President Bush's desire for a change of regime in Baghdad and its tenuous connection with the war on terror raise several questions that are yet to be discussed and debated in the public sphere. The last time I checked we were still a democracy.

The Bush administration has failed to establish any plausible connection between the attacks on America on September 11 and Saddam Hussein. Even American allies such as Great Britain are not convinced that attacking Iraq is the best thing to do in order to reduce the threat that Saddam poses to America and its allies in the region. The Saudis and the Kuwaitis, who should most fear any military (mis) adventure by the Butcher from Baghdad, are not convinced that at the moment Iraq threatens them.

In the absence of any imminent danger to allies in the region and any connection between Baghdad and Bin Ladin, the only reason why the US may attack Iraq is to preempt Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) against the US and its allies.

There are two grounds on which I disagree with the conservatives hawks. They are on the premises and the logic of their argument and on ethics.

Porous Logic

The hawks, such as Richard Pearl a member of the defense planning board, and the administration argue that Saddam is very close to developing WMD and once he succeeds he will pass them on to terrorists who will then use them against the US or Israel. Therefore rather than wait for another 9/11 with potentially far more devastating consequences, America must act now and remove Saddam from power even if it means that America has to got to war alone without the participation of its European allies and the without the logistical support of its Middle Eastern partners.

The problem with this argument is that it is not consistent with the facts. We know that Saddam already has biological and chemical weapons he has used them against Kurds and Iranians. He has had them for over 15 years now. But in the fifteen years that he has had access to chemical weapons, Saddam Hussein has not passed them on to either the Al Qaeda or to Hamas, or Islamic Jihad. It would have been very easy to hand them over to Hezbollah in Lebanon to use against the Israelis who were for sometime occupying Southern Lebanon. But this did not happen then, why should it happen now or in the future?

The hawks and the administration have not answered this question convincingly.

The Ethics of Preemption

The second problem with the proposed war against Iraq is the logic of preemption. America is threatening to attack Iraq because Iraq seeks WMD capability. Ironically threats of invasion and attack by powerful states like the US and Israel who already possesses nuclear and other WMD in hundreds and thousands is itself a justification for these regimes to acquire weapons that they can use to deter US and Israel. Thus in a perverse fashion threats of war from Washington provides a justification for states like Iraq to hasten their WMD projects. While this important ethical conundrum has escaped serious discussion in American media, it is obvious to rest of the world, including American allies in Europe.

If the US would make a preemptive strike against Iraq it will set a dangerous precedent. Consider for example the fact that Israel too has an illegal, an unlike Iraq a more successful WMD program. On several occasions Israeli leaders have identified Iran as an arch enemy. Does that mean, using the American logic of preemptive strikes, Iran would be justified to attack a hostile state with illegal WMD programs? Does it also mean that India can wage a preemptive war against Pakistan? Does it also mean that China will be justified in making a preemptive strike against the US?

These are serious questions. The US cannot subvert the international order and its ethical norms when it suits its interests and then demand that other nations abide by them.

Final Word

Saddam Hussein has never attacked America directly nor has he threatened to attack the US. Yes, he is a despot and is responsible perhaps for the deaths of millions of people. He deserved to be removed from power and tried for the crimes he has committed. But a war against Iraq will cause unimaginable pain suffering to innocent Iraqis who have already suffered tremendously at the hands of Saddam and the US sponsored sanctions.

While most of the Muslim and Arab world is opposed to a war on Iraq that will punish innocent Iraqis, It is in total agreement with Washington on the need to oust Saddam from power. Washington must make a serious effort to work with its regional allies and find a less bellicose solution to the problem.

Perhaps a ten billion dollar bounty and guaranteed amnesty for past crimes to individuals or groups who can dislodge Saddam may be a way to go. The war is expected to cost $100 billion upfront and about $20 billion every year. While extremely abhorrent even attempts to assassinate him would be preferable to an all out war.

A war is always a serious affair. We must explore every possible alternative, debate ever aspect before taking this drastic step.

Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Director of International Studies at Adrian College and the author of the new book, American Muslims: Bridging Faith and Freedom. His work is archived at


Coastal Post Home Page