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Jim Leach: Smart Doubts from Washington

How could a U.S. attack on Iraq be damaging to the geo-strategic balance of the Middle East?

October 8, 2002

How could a U.S. attack on Iraq be damaging to the geo-strategic balance of the Middle East?

One of the most senior members of Congress, Jim Leach (R-Iowa) is a long-time student of international affairs. He is a member of the House Committee on International Relations and the Chairman Emeritus of the House Committee on Financial Services. Our Read My Lips explores his thoughts on a possible U.S. strike on Iraq — and the potential danger such a strike could pose to Israel.

What are you most concerned about?

"Today, for the first time in human history, we have a doctrine of mutually assured destruction between two smaller countries — Iraq and Israel — one with biological weapons, the other nuclear."

Are there historical precedents for this situation?

"We used to have a doctrine of M.A.D. — mutually assured destruction — between the United States and the USSR. But no one seriously contemplated aggression because of the consequences."

How has Iraq become more dangerous since its defeat in the Gulf War?

"In the Gulf War, Saddam launched some 40 Scud missiles against Israel — none with biological agents. Today, he has mobile labs, tons of such agents — and an assortment of means to deliver them."

Is preemption a reasonable strategy for the United States?

"Given the events of September 11, 2001, a doctrine of preemption has a certain legitimacy. But the greater our power, the more important it is to use it with restraint. Otherwise, it will be seen as hubris, with a strong prospect of counter-productive ramifications."

How could a U.S. strike destabilize the precarious balance between Israel and Iraq?

"The problem is that British and American intervention could easily trigger an Iraqi biological attack on Israel — which, in turn, could be met by a nuclear response. Not only would we be the potential precipitating actor, but our troops could be caught in crosswinds and crossfire."

Why do proponents of an attack against Iraq appear to be in such a hurry?

"It is true that Saddam's stockpiles could be larger in years to come. But we must understand that the difference between a few and a few hundred tons of anthrax or plague may not be quantum. These are living organisms that can multiply. They endanger the region — and potentially the planet."

Is President Bush acting wisely?

"What is underestimated is the volume and the danger of the biological agents Saddam possesses — and the nature of his likely response to outside intervention."

How would Saddam Hussein react to an actual invasion?

"When a cornered tyrant is confronted with a 'use or lose' option with weapons of mass destruction — and when he is isolated in the Arab world, it is not hard to imagine what he will choose. All he can do is to launch a 'jihad' against Israel."

What dangers would Israel face as the result of such a "jihad"?

"Israel has never faced a graver challenge to its survival. The likelihood is that weapons of mass destruction — including biological agents — will be immediately unleashed in the event of Western intervention."

Why should the Bush Administration think twice about an attack?

"There are many so-called "end game" elements that have not been adequately addressed. They range from the dilemma of street combat to problems of post-war governance — to world-wide Muslim reaction."

Finally, what is your own take on a U.S. led preemptive strike against Iraq?

"This is a circumstance we should step back from."

(Editor’s note: Mr. Leach's comments are all based on his statement before the House Committee on International Relations, on October 2, 2002)