Is War With Iraq Imminent?
Is war with Iraq imminent? The short answer is, yes; the long answer is that there is a small likelihood that war can be averted if one of the following scenarios materialize in a fairly short order:
In the first scenario, Saddam Hussein leaves Iraq for exile under conditions acceptable to him and the United States. A proposal to this effect has been floated by the Saudis and other Arab nations. According to many who have a keen knowledge of Saddam–his historical perspective, how he sees his role in the Arab world, his aspirations–and Iraq's four thousand-year history, the likelihood that he will accept exile is extremely small. He sees himself as the savior of the dignity of the Arab world and its defender against Western, especially American, domination. Exile will also mean that none of his sons will succeed him as other sons of Arab leaders have their fathers in Syria, Jordan, and Morocco. Only with a succession will he feel as if his reign has been brought to a legitimate close, and that his future place in Iraqi history is assured. Finally, Mr. Hussein's pride will prevent him from accepting the humiliation of exile. Thus, if there is another option that insures his survival without his leaving Iraq, he may very well seize it.
In the second scenario, Saddam will be deposed by a military coup supported by the United States. This scenario is slightly more likely to occur, and it can be played out just when war becomes absolutely imminent. Observers familiar with the Iraqi leader's security apparatus, however, tend to dismiss the prospects for a coup. Saddam's tightly-knit group of advisors and multi-layered security apparatus make it immensely difficult, if not impossible, to penetrate his inner circle in time. Moreover, those in charge of his immediate security are very close family members, including his son Odey, who is the head of the special forces that guard his father. This group is all hand-picked, well trained, highly paid, and enjoys a social and economic leverage that few Iraqis can match. Several attempts on Saddam's life have been foiled in the past, precisely because the multiple security rings surrounding him are so impenetrable. Perhaps not surprisingly, they have been trained and organized by the former Soviet KGB.
In the third scenario, Mr. Hussein may surprise everyone by revealing much or even all of his hidden weapons of mass destruction on the condition that we leave him alone. I believe that this option is the most likely one to be played out if he decides to look for a way to avert war. It is true that he would lose face, anger many of his senior military officers, disappoint extremists within the Muslim and the Arab world, and allow the United States to keep the pressure on Iraq for years to come. This option, however, remains the safest of the three, and gives him some hope of rising again even without WMD, to lead, or be at the forefront of, the struggle for an Arab renaissance. Knowing that when war comes he will face death or, at best, live out his remaining years as a fugitive, he may just rethink his options. Ruthless and calculating, but neither a madman nor a fool, Mr. Hussein is also far from being suicidal. And he is capable of a dramatic, bold gesture: This is the man who several months ago woke up one morning and released all of his prisoners to the utter surprise of everyone inside and outside his country. He is similarly capable of waking up one morning and declaring his readiness not only to allow U2 surveillance flights over Iraq and granting his scientists permission to be interviewed by United Nations weapons inspectors, but of disclosing the whereabouts of many of his WMD, blaming several of his top officers for hiding them without his knowledge. Far-fetched? Yes. Possible? Yes.
As the clock continues to tick and the drums of war beat louder and louder, Mr. Hussein knows that if he does not act, his days are numbered. As an increasing number of nations coalesce around the United States in support of war (probably as many as supported the first Gulf war), sooner, rather than later, Iraq's president will conclude that he can no longer count on the French or the Germans to stop an attack. President Bush has virtually made the decision to go to war, with or without a Security Council resolution, French or German support, and despite the tragic disaster of the Shuttle Columbia. It is entirely possible that between now and the end of February, as we complete our troop deployment in the region and reach a full state of readiness, Mr. Hussein may, just may, come to his senses. More than anything else he wants to live, and if he can accomplish this goal with some dignity, he just might chose this last option.
Throughout this crisis, I have believed, and continue to believe, that war should be averted and so am prepared to create what some may view as the craziest scenarios for how this might occur. But what the heck, maybe this time the Iraqi leader will, in a spasm of lucidity, do the utterly unexpected. If so, he can save himself and his people from the agonies of war and the terrible wounds it will inflict on them for generations to come. President Bush would have every reason to rejoice in such an outcome. He would take the credit for forcing Saddam Hussein's hand and thereby, moving the region closer to security, stability, and peace.