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On Deterrence
[February 8, 2003]

By John Bragg

In recent months, there has been much discussion of deterrence, much praise of the strategy which contained the Soviet Union for fifty years until its ultimate collapse, and many figures arguing that we should rely on deterrence to contain dangerous regimes.

The key premise of deterrence is that your enemy wants to survive, and will not run the risk of his own death to achieve political goals. We are told that, surely, Saddam Hussein is not a fool; he would not act in such a way as to bring about his own death. Even if he has biological or chemical weapons, he would not give them to terrorists, since we would destroy him in retaliation. Even if he were to acquire nuclear weapons, he would not use them or threaten to use them, since we would destroy him in and he knows it.

Now let us look at the record. Saddam Hussein, believing that the Islamic revolution made Iran an easy target for quick military glory, invaded Iran in 1980. Instead of a quick victory for Iraq, the result was a ten-year long stalemate and the death of hundreds of thousands. He proved not to be a good judge of risks.

Saddam Hussein first came to the attention of most Americans when his armies invaded Kuwait in 1990. Hussein apparently thought that the world would accept a fait accompli. He proved not to be a good judge of risks.

With his armies in Kuwait, and a US-led coalition assembling to drive him out and destroy his army, many international supporters of Saddam Hussein tried to persuade him to evacuate Kuwait, entirely or in part, to prevent a war in which Iraq would be defeated and its army destroyed. Hussein refused, and the Gulf War was a catastrophic defeat for him. He proved not to be a good judge of risks.

On April 14, 1993, a car bomb was found in Kuwait, part of an Iraqi assassination attempt on former President George H.W. Bush. Suppose this attempt had succeeded. Does anyone believe that America would not have destroyed Saddam Hussein and his regime in retaliation for the assassination of a former U.S. President?

Either Saddam Hussein is not a good judge of risks, or he was deliberately risking his own destruction in the name of revenge upon his enemy.

Today, sages assure us that Saddam Hussein would never give any of his anthrax to terrorists, for fear that he would be immediately blamed for any attack and his regime destroyed.

In September of 2001, America was attacked with anthrax. As of this writing, seventeen months later, the U.S. government still has not identified the culprit.

But surely, Saddam would not give his anthrax to al-Queda. He is too good a judge of risk, and too afraid of discovery and retaliation to do anything like that.

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