Ballot Box

Should We Invade Syria?

Tom DeLay’s case for war with Iraq—and nine other countries.

Should we send troops to Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein? President Bush says we should, but others say it might fracture the coalition against al-Qaida. Now comes Tom DeLay, the de facto Republican leader in Congress, with a speech—reportedly vetted by Bush’s national security adviser—laying out the case for war. DeLay says Bush has established a new doctrine: “America must preempt threats before they damage our national interests.” Is DeLay right? Should we attack Saddam before he attacks us?

Those questions can’t be answered in isolation. The test of any doctrine of military intervention is whether you can stomach its consequences. On what principles can we justify war with Iraq, and where else would those principles apply? Where would the DeLay Doctrine take us? Let’s examine his criteria for pre-emptive military action.

1. Sponsorship of terrorism. DeLay calls for “the destruction of every terrorist organization and its sponsors.” He interprets this category loosely, saying we shouldn’t “require American standards of criminal evidence in making the case against state sponsors of terror.” What other sponsors must be destroyed under this principle? According to a State Department report released three months ago, six nations other than Iraq “support or tolerate terrorism.” They are Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria.

2. Weapons of mass destruction. DeLay warns that “unless America stops him, Saddam will soon have nuclear weapons. Failure would immensely strengthen a vicious predator and would make the costs of overturning his regime far too high. … Only by taking them out of his hands can we be certain that nuclear, biological or chemical weapons won’t wind up in the hands of terrorists.” What other potentially dangerous regimes should have their weapons programs taken away under this principle? According to a CIA report issued earlier this year, Pakistan and North Korea already have nuclear weapons. Iran and Syria have chemical or biological weapons and are trying to get nukes. Libya and Sudan are trying to get all three. In addition, the report cites Russia, China, India, and even Western Europe as possible sources of WMD proliferation.

3. Violating WMD agreements. DeLay says we must take Iraq’s arsenal by force rather than diplomacy because “Saddam broke every promise” he has made to end his weapons programs. Who else can’t be bargained with under this principle? According to a 1998 State Department report, China, Russia, Egypt, Iran, Libya, and Syria violated the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine, and North Korea violated other weapons agreements.

4. Aggression. DeLay says Saddam must be ousted in part because he “invaded his neighbors.” What other governments have recently invaded their neighbors? Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Armenia have certainly done so. If you count all cross-border conflicts, the list of offenders includes Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh; North and South Korea; Israel, Lebanon, and Syria; Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda; Chad and the Central African Republic; Saudi Arabia and Yemen; Myanmar, the Soviet Union, and various parties in the Balkans.

5. Attacking and threatening Israel. DeLay notes that Saddam “attacked Israel with Scud missiles during the Gulf War and threatens Israel with weapons of mass destruction today.” Who else has attacked and threatened Israel? In 1967, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan went to war with Israel. They were assisted by Algeria, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. More recently, Iran and Syria, both of whom are on the WMD list, have directed violence against Israel.

6. Domestic murder and terror. Saddam “holds power through cunning, cruelty, and constant purges,” observes DeLay. “And it’s only through continuous murder and terror directed against the Iraqi people that this tyrant keeps power.” What other regimes maintain power in this way? The list is too long to count, but the State Department’s March 2002 report on human rights indicates that in Africa alone, 18 regimes, including Libya and Sudan, are guilty of such practices.

7. Religious and ethnic persecution. DeLay points out that in addition to his atrocities against Kurds, Saddam “persecutes and murders religious leaders in Southern Iraq. He represses Iraqi minorities in Southern Iraq by razing villages.” What other regimes persecute such minorities? The State Department’s latest report on religious freedom accuses Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Laos, Myanmar, North Korea, and Vietnam of “totalitarian or authoritarian attempts to control religious belief or practice.” The report also charges Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan with “state hostility toward minority or nonapproved religions.” There is no such list of ethnic persecutors, but a survey of the State Department’s human rights reports indicates that at least 12 African governments, including Sudan, would qualify.

8. Thwarting democracy. “Returning their government to the people of Iraq would signal democratic reformers around the region that the United States is deeply committed to expanding freedom,” says DeLay. “It would demonstrate that we stand ready to help any willing country discover the blessings of self-government.” What other peoples, under this principle, would we be obliged to assist militarily in discovering such blessings? Of the world’s 189 countries, the State Department says 117 are democracies. If we’re truly committed to expanding freedom, we’ve got 72 more to go.

DeLay offers a few other reasons for war. Some apply exclusively to Iraq—Saddam has used chemical weapons against his own people, and he tried to assassinate former President Bush—but these crimes are now a decade old. Other reasons given by DeLay—that Saddam is “ungoverned by reason or morality” and is “evil because of what he intends to do”—could apply to dozens of other tyrants. Sticking with the eight criteria listed above, Ballot Box counts seven that apply to Syria and North Korea, six that apply to Iran, and five that apply to China, Libya, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan.

DeLay says critics who shrink from confronting Iraq lack “moral clarity.” But he, too, must supply moral clarity. Which of the nine other regimes that meet five or more of his criteria does he think we should attack? If he won’t attack those regimes, exactly which of his criteria does he deem sufficient to justify war? Not one of the eight reasons applies to Iraq alone.

This isn’t a trick question. It’s a fundamental task of foreign policy. Maybe Bush or DeLay can convince us to go to war in Iraq. Maybe their critics can convince us not to. But each side must spell out its doctrine of military intervention and where else we’ll have to fight, or not fight, if we accept that doctrine. Let the explanations begin.