One day after President Bush signed a measure authorizing him to use military force against Iraq, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and former CIA director John Deutch publicly debated the question: Should the United States attack Iraq now?
Kristol, who taught at the Kennedy School in the 1980s, stressed to the ARCO Forum of Public Affairs audience on Oct. 17 that the only way to ensure stability in the Middle East is to have a regime change in Iraq.
When asked, “Why now?” Kristol replied, “The necessity and urgency come from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Does he have them? Yes. He had them in 1996 – chemical and biological – despite weapons inspections.” Kristol called the inspections a “false middle ground” that have allowed Hussein years to hide his weapons.
“Saddam is not the kind of dictator that you want to deter,” Kristol said. “He’s not rational or predictable. He’s a risk-taker. Are we comfortable with a Cuban Missile Crisis with Saddam? Deterrence is not an acceptable alternative. That’s why I think we need to go ahead and remove Saddam now.”
Deutch, currently a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, agreed that Hussein has to be stopped but disagreed with Kristol on timing.
“Yes, it’s true that Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and has shown interest in using them. He’s been a supporter of terrorism. He’s been a disaster for his country,” Deutch said. “The conclusion is to go in and remove him? My answer is no.”
Several key questions need to be addressed first, Deutch said: Will the region be more or less stable after Hussein is gone? Will going in strengthen U.S. interests in the region? What will the provisional government look like? And, will the other nations in the region, such as Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, and Syria, support the effort?
When asked by moderator Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, to assess the risk of going in versus the risk of not going in, Kristol said risk is the very reason action should be taken sooner than later.
“If you say we can’t use military force now because he might retaliate with weapons of mass destruction, then we are deterred against any dictator who threatens to use weapons of mass destruction,” Kristol said. “That’s unacceptable.”
Deutch countered by saying that the huge, unknown risk involved “argues strongly for being careful and taking the time to minimize the risk.”
Although the men disagreed on much throughout the debate, they agreed on one point: the future of Iraq. Kristol said he was optimistic about a post-Saddam Iraq. Deutch said the potential for a democratic Iraq was “unbelievably bright.”