Cartoon villains have no need of complex personalities or even motives; they are just evil, that is all. From Joker in the old Batman comics down to Evil the Cat in Earthworm Jim, they seek to destroy our hero and conquer the universe simply because evil is their vocation. Saddam Hussein’s image in Western propaganda is a lot like that.
The 50-page dossier entitled “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction”, published by the British government on September 24, is a major attempt led by the prime minister, Tony Blair, himself to persuade the sceptical British public (and the even more sceptical governments of the other allies of the United States of America) that there is an urgent need to overthrow Hussein. The document avoids most of the tricks of language and blatant manipulation of facts that contaminate comparable efforts in the US, trades on the reputation of British intelligence — and still fails to convince.
Nowhere, for example, is there any mention of al Qaida. (But if there are no known links between Iraq and al Qaida, then why is dealing with Hussein a more urgent issue this year than last') It warns that Iraq could build nuclear weapons within a couple of years if it got its hands on fissile material (but fails to mention that so could any other country bigger than Costa Rica, or that there are already elaborate and effective controls to stop fissile materials from reaching Iraq).
British intelligence analysts did their best to come up with alarming facts to please Blair and George W. Bush, but they refused to compromise their basic integrity, so the report is quite reassuring. For example, on nuclear weapons: “In early 2002 the Joint Intelligence Committee judged that...while UN sanctions on Iraq remain effective Iraq would not be able to produce a nuclear weapon. If they were removed or proved ineffective, it would take Iraq at least five years to produce sufficient fissile material for a weapon indigenously....”
What the report evades entirely is any analysis of Iraq’s strategy: why has Hussein pursued weapons of mass destruction at all costs for over 20 years' By not addressing the question of what rational reasons Hussein might have for wanting nuclear weapons, the war party in Washington and London hopes to leave the impression that he is like Evil the Cat in the cartoons: pure, unmotivated, boundless malevolence.
Hussein is indeed a cruel dictator who crushes all opposition, but there is no evidence that he seeks to overrun the region, let alone “destroy civilization”. His attacks on Iran and Kuwait, criminal and stupid though they were, grew out of border disputes that dated back to long before his seizure of power. As for his quest for nuclear weapons, it makes perfectly good sense in terms of the region’s politics.
Nukes is good news
In his clumsy, brutal way, Hussein has always aspired to lead the Arab world both against Israel and towards unity. The Arabs’ biggest perceived problem for the last two decades has been their total, hopeless military inferiority to Israel, and the biggest single reason for that inferiority is the fact that Israel has over 200 nuclear weapons while no Arab country has any.
A handful of Iraqi nuclear weapons would transform the strategic balance in the region. Given the certainty of massive Israeli retaliation, they would not only give Hussein the ability to carry out a first strike against Israel, but they might also deter an Israeli nuclear attack in a crisis, and they would make Hussein the most popular man in the Arab world.
This might come to pass five or ten years from now if United Nations sanctions were lifted with no further controls, and if Hussein lived that long. But the controls are in place, and a low-risk containment strategy has worked reasonably well for over a decade now. Americans and their allies are being asked to go to war to fix what is not broken, and the mind inevitably starts to wonder what other agendas are running here.