Buying Out Thugs – A View In Retrospect


Juan Cole has picked up stories from Reuters and Harpers on a transcript of President Bush’s conversation with Spanish President Aznar that confirms that he had no intention of seriously pursuing UN Security Council support and was exceedingly optimistic over the outcomes of Iraq.
But here’s the kicker — the President was offered a deal by the Egyptians but passed on an opportunity to buy Saddam out, have him exiled to Saudi Arabia, and avoid a US occupation that has come at such a high cost.
Cole suggests these are impeachable offenses but I’m less concerned with that angle than as a lesson to current and future leaders who are grappling with a number of present security dilemmas, especially in light of the Senate vote yesterday that pushed us a step closer to conflict with Iran.
The counter-factual account — what if we had bought Saddam out instead of invading Iraq — should be pondered and instructive for our dealings with North Korea and Iran, who have at many points indicated their compliance could also be bought with security guarantees and economic incentives. Of course there are risks and a “buy-out” package, which would need to complemented by some credible sticks. But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that the use of force comes without risks of failure or blowback as we are witnessing now in Iraq.
And the moral repugnance of buying out thugs like Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il like as some might invoke has to be balanced against the loss of our troops and global influence as well as expected but unintended consequences (let’s call them “known unknowns”) that ought to weigh on our moral conscience — like 600,000 Iraqi civilian deaths and over five million refugees.
–Sameer Lalwani


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