WASHINGTON, Nov. 5 — As American soldiers massed on the Iraqi border in March and diplomats argued about war, an influential adviser to the Pentagon received a secret message from a Lebanese-American businessman: Saddam Hussein wanted to make a deal.Some may find it troubling that we decided not to deal with Saddam Hussein at this late date, with our troops massed on the borders. In some ways, it may appear that we should have taken advantage of any opportunity to avoid war, and some may criticise the Bush Administration for apparently ignoring this contact. However, such critics would be mistaken.
Iraqi officials, including the chief of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, had told the businessman that they wanted Washington to know that Iraq no longer had weapons of mass destruction, and they offered to allow American troops and experts to conduct a search. The businessman said in an interview that the Iraqis also offered to hand over a man accused of being involved in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 who was being held in Baghdad. At one point, he said, the Iraqis pledged to hold elections.
In interviews in Beirut, Mr. Hage said the Iraqis appeared intimidated by the American military threat. "The Iraqis were finally taking it seriously," he said, "and they wanted to talk, and they offered things they never would have offered if the build-up hadn't occurred."This is the crux of the matter. Because it is very expensive in lives, money, and time to build up a military presence as we did for the Iraq invasion, our military needs to be an effective threat, not merely an effective weapon. Our enemies need to realize that once our boots are on the ground, it's too late for anything other than complete capitulation, which the Iraqis were not willing to accept.
He said that when he told Mr. Obeidi that the United States seemed adamant that Saddam Hussein give up power, Mr. Obeidi bristled, saying that would be capitulation. But later, Mr. Hage recounted, Mr. Obeidi said Iraq could agree to hold elections within the next two years.Once we were positioned, we were committed to achieving complete victory. The only concession we could have accepted would have been if Saddam had surrendered himself to the United States and Iraq had opened itself up to immediate US military occupation (including disbanding its own armed forces). That was our standard for victory, and that's what we obtained through combat; no lesser outcome could have been accepted.
Why not? Well, as Grand Moff Tarkin famously observed in Star Wars in reference to the Death Star, "Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battlestation." He formulated what is known as the Tarkin Doctrine: Rule through the fear of force, rather than force itself. Sure, he was working for the evil Emperor Palpatine, but his logic is sound. Using force is simply too expensive to be done lightly, and an army (or a Death Star) can only be one place at a time. But an army can threaten a great many places at once, if it has forces in reserve that are ready to be deployed.
Furthermore, we can't be predictable and allow our enemies to manipulate us. If we allowed Saddam to talk us into withdrawing short of total victory once we were in place, what would prevent him from simply changing his mind again as soon as our troops were gone? Then we'd have to build up for another 6 months, only for him to perhaps give in a bit more later. Our other enemies would see that the line of real danger was very away from our verbal threat, and thus the power of our threat would be greatly diminished. The next time we threatened to use our military, our opponent would know that he could avoid giving in to us until we were actually on his doorstep aiming our kick.
That would be a completely untenable foreign policy. Once a threat is made, and our opponent refuses to surrender, we must then follow through on the threat. That's the only way to ensure that our verbal threats are taken seriously; anything less would hamstring our diplomats and tie up our military in endless for-show deployments, costing lives and money.
It's not at all surprising to me that Saddam and his cronies saw they were doomed and wanted to talk their way out of it at the last moment. But I'm very glad we didn't let them, because if we had we would have returned to the status quo of 1999, and left ourselves in a far weaker diplomatic position.