Can Hussein be deterred?
Experts say the Iraqi's survival instincts can be exploited.
For hours, the thousands of Iraqi troops paraded in Baghdad, past a reviewing stand where Saddam Hussein or at least his body double presided. But amid all the menacing pomp was a tiny clue to the regime's vulnerability.Skip to next paragraph
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"The troops were all very neat, with Saddam looking at them," recalls Iraq analyst and journalist Patrick Cockburn. "But when I got close, I noticed they weren't wearing gloves they were white sports socks."
While Iraq's feeling of vulnerability has helped drive its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), some analysts say that this very sense of weakness also means that a classic deterrence strategy the same threat of annihilation that kept the Soviet Union and United States from turning the cold war into a nuclear war can be applied to Iraq.
Calling Mr. Hussein "unstable," President Bush is making the case for US military strikes to rid Iraq of WMD and Hussein's leadership.
But some experts argue that Iraq has been, and can be deterred from launching WMD. "When [Hussein] did have lots of these weapons and missiles, he didn't dare use them, because it was always true that the counterattack would be greater than the attack," says Mr. Cockburn, coauthor of "Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein."
A report released yesterday by the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) in London says that Iraq could build a nuclear bomb "within months," if it acquired fissile material from a foreign source. US officials disclosed over the weekend that the US had intercepted shipments of thousands of special aluminum tubes for Iraq that they say could be used to enrich uranium a sign that Iraq is stepping up its interest in nuclear weapons, while also demonstrating that it still lacks key elements. New information in the IISS report states that Iraq has mobile and possibly underground biological production units.
Spelling out the dilemma for US military planners, the report's author, John Chipman, said: "Wait, and the [Iraq] threat will grow. Strike, and the threat may be used."
But some observers say Saddam's own survival instincts will make him pliable if effective deterrence is used. "The first law of a dictator is: 'I want to stay in power,' and Saddam Hussein is deterrable on that basis," says a US government analyst in Washington with extensive intelligence experience. "We know he didn't use his anthrax, his sarin, his mustard or anything else during the previous Gulf War, because George Bush [senior] told him it would be met with American violence. George Bush [junior] has the same option, if he wants it."
Iraq can be deterred "if the Soviet Union, with several tons of smallpox ... and several kilo-megatons of nuclear explosives ... was a deterrable country," the government analyst says. "I think we can turn up the rhetoric on Saddam, and say that any Islamic terrorist detonation of a WMD device anywhere in the world will be attributable to Iraq and considered grounds for attack."