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Is war with Iraq inevitable?

By Keith Suter - posted Friday, 7 March 2003


Scenario planning is used in the business world to think about alternatives. Here are four scenarios on how a war with Iraq this year could be avoided.

One scenario is that Saddam Hussein could be assassinated by an Iraqi. This is the US's preferred scenario. It would be a clear route to regime change and would be done by a local (and not an American stooge). It would also fit in with a system of changing political leaders in that part of the world. Saddam Hussein has killed off many of his potential competitors - but he can never be sure that he has killed them all.

A second scenario is that Saddam Hussein could be encouraged by an intermediary government, such as France, to go into exile. A number of political leaders have fled their countries. For example, Idi Amin of Uganda went to Saudi Arabia and disappeared from the public view. In early 1979, the Shah of Iran fled from Khomeini's takeover and went into Egypt, and then New York and Mexico. In 1986, President Ferdinand Marcos fled Manila with US encouragement after he lost the election to Mrs Aquino, and he went to live in Hawaii. In 1997, Marshal Mobutu, who had been president since 1965, fled the Democratic Republic of Congo. Throughout the Spanish-speaking world in Latin America, there has been a tradition of political leaders receiving sanctuary in other countries (as Christopher Skase found to his benefit, the Anglo-Saxon law of extradition is not as important as the Spanish principle of extending hospitality to people on the run).

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This scenario would also have some appeal for the US. President Bush is in a corner: having whipped up an expectation of war by claiming that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, he hopes that such weapons are found by the UN inspection team. If they are not found, then he will be accused of whipping up a war fever unnecessarily and adding to economic instability. The German President, who was recently re-elected partly on the basis of a promise to keep his country out of the war against Iraq, would be particularly gratified by the lack of evidence. Meanwhile, the British and Australian Prime Ministers have gone out on a limb supporting President Bush and they would be embarrassed. The retirement option would get Saddam Hussein off the front pages. It is not a happy ending because he will be escaping justice. But life is not perfect.

The United States in its public comments has not ruled out acceptance of this option. Ironically, the more pressure that the US and its allies exert on Iraq - to demonstrate their determination to get rid of Saddam Hussein - so the more incentive they create for him to exercise this option.

A third scenario is that the UN inspection team could extend its work well into this year. President Bush is planning for a war to begin some time in March. This seems evident from the way in which the US forces are being built up in the region. It also fits the weather patterns. The war has to be fought at this time of year. Military personnel would have to wear chemical and biological warfare suits and these are best worn in cooler temperatures - certainly not in an Iraqi summer. Additionally, in April there are winds whipping up the desert sand, which would get into the hydraulic systems of tanks and aircraft, and reduce visibility for bombing raids.

Weapons inspectors' reports to the UN Security Council do not necessarily accord with this timetable for war. The inspection team could take months to finish its work. However, if the President were to miss his self-imposed deadline, he could blame the UN for this problem. This would get him out of the corner noted above.

A final scenario - and a nightmare one - is that Saddam Hussein has in fact been telling the truth. The weapons of mass destruction have in fact all been destroyed. This would give him a clean bill of health as far as the UN is concerned. The sanctions would end and Iraq, with the Middle East's second-largest oil reserves, could return to the full export of oil. The country can be rebuilt. Then, perhaps, after a few years of economic growth and international respectability, he could secretly start rebuilding reserves of weapons of mass destruction.

It is not the role of scenario planning to pick winners: to select options that we prefer. So it is left to the reader to evaluate the above possibilities. The goal of the technique is not so much to get the future right as to avoid getting it wrong. It helps us to think outside the square, and encourages us to develop contingency plans for possibilities that we had not previously considered. Applied in this case, it shows that, despite what appears to be consensus opinion, war in Iraq is still not inevitable.

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This article was first published in The Canberra Times.



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About the Author

Dr Keith Suter is a futurist, thought leader and media personality in the areas of social policy and foreign affairs. He is a prolific and well-respected writer and social commentator appearing on radio and television most weeks.

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