Is Saddam Cautious?


The fact that Saddam Hussein so far has refrained from using chemical or biological weapons undermines one of the arguments against this war: that an invasion was the most likely scenario in which Iraq would unleash them. At the same time, speculation about why Saddam is holding back credits him with more caution and rationality than did the hawks who argued that we couldn't count on deterrence. One such hawk, Clinton administration Iraq expert Kenneth M. Pollack, now tells The Washington Times: "Saddam seems to understand that the worst thing he could possibly do is take any action that would hand the high ground to the United States." The Times elaborates:

With an eye clearly on global opinion, the Iraqi military has already passed up an opportunity to use its weapons of mass destruction against massed and vulnerable U.S. and British forces in Kuwait or against coalition forces rapidly advancing on Baghdad and strategic targets throughout the country….

Virtually all experts predict Saddam plans a last-ditch stand in Baghdad and its environs, hoping the urban street fighting will inflict enough casualties and produce enough bloody images on global television screens that the United States will sue for peace. A chemical- or germ-warfare strike does not help that scenario.

If the Iraqi regime is capable of such cool calculation even amid the chaos of an invasion, why were the advocates of war so quick to dismiss the idea that Saddam's survival instinct would prevent him from using weapons of mass destruction? And if the explanation for Saddam's apparent restraint is that Iraq no longer has a substantial WMD capability, that would hurt the case for war even more.

Of course, it would be hard to understand Iraq's foot dragging with the U.N. weapons inspectors if Saddam didn't have something to hide. Then, too, the failure to fully cooperate certainly looks reckless, given the consequences, but perhaps Saddam believed that war was a foregone conclusion.