I haven't said anything about Iraq in this blog because I'm not a political expert. I'm, at bottom, a software developer. Who cares what a software developer thinks?
But I am finally moved to write because there is one relevant expertise that any experienced software developer has, and that is the will to think logically. Software is unforgiving; if you fail to be logical, the software doesn't work, and if the error is serious, the software won't be published until the logic is fixed. But an op-ed piece unfortunately can come to be printed whether it is logical or not. The NY Times says:
"By adding hundreds of additional inspectors, using the threat of force to give them a free hand and maintaining the option of attacking Iraq if it tries to shake free of a smothering inspection program, the United States could obtain much of what it was originally hoping to achieve."
Looking at it from the point of view of many years of striving to be logical so that what I type into my computer actually makes sense, I don't know any other way to describe the above op-ed statement but with one word: stupid.
Their reasoning depends on the "threat of force".
But if we don't attack now, when there is a U.N. resolution, 1441, passed unanimously by the Security Council and giving Iraq a "final opportunity to comply" with its obligation to disarm, and Iraq is still not telling inspectors about weapons of mass destruction, and at the same time there are 250,000 troops poised on the border and a U.S. President with his finger on a hairpin trigger, under what circustances would Saddam ever be motivated to make the "strategic decision to disarm" due to a perceived risk of being attacked for not disarming?
The answer is utterly obvious, if one is has the will and integrity to strive to be at all logical: none that is likely to ever occur.
Yes, Saddam would have even more reason to believe he is at risk if the same 250,000 troops were there and the Security Council was backing an immediate attack, but only very, very slightly more reason to believe. The U.S. is making it very clear that they don't need the U.N.'s approval to attack. Recently the U.S. has even stated a requirement for avoiding imminent attack -- Saddam's departure -- that they know the Security Council will not accept in the forseeable future. So it is clear that the U.N.'s concordance would not significantly raise the probability of being attacked; the U.S. has already raised the bar such that it knows it won't get explicit Security Council permission to attack, and yet it is still steadily moving to greater and greater stages of readiness.
Saddam is today in a position where he is very, very likely to be attacked, and he is still not giving inspectors the facts. If he is not doing so now, the trivial added circumstance of the U.S. having the Security Council's permission is obviously not going to make a significant difference to Iraq's choices.
And even if there were to be some point in the future when such extreme unanimous pressure could be mustered, it is quite obvious that it could not continue indefinately. And the evidence is quite clear -- and the NY Times quote above even implies -- that without threat of force, Iraq under Saddam will not feel the need to be a disarmed state. So we will be right back at square one when the pressure is off. Little will have been accomplished since Iraq will probably be in the process of arming once again.
That is, the key is not to get Iraq to disarm once. The key, in Secretary Powell's phrase, is to motivate Iraq to "make the strategic decision to disarm," i.e. to be a country that remains in a disarmed state. Otherwise they can and will arm again. And the overwhelming evidence at this point is that no forseeable threat of force will cause Saddam to make that strategic choice.
This key aspect of the NY Times position (key because the rest of the logic in the op-ed piece depends on this aspect being logically sound) is void of any non-trivial attempt to be rational. The software development world has a time-honored term for such thinking: It's called stupid; this is a case where there is simply no other word.
And while elegantly-stated stupid thinking may be an effective tool for influencing public opinion, it is not a sound basis for United States foreign policy.