By Dick Morris
February 17, 2003
If Saddam were to leave Iraq with 200,000 U.S. troops breathing down his neck, many Iraqi and American lives might be spared. It is an outcome devoutly to be wished, whether you are for or against the war.
Displacing Saddam is, of course, only the beginning of what we must seek in Iraq. The United States must occupy the country with its massive armed force and scour the land for weapons of mass destruction, labs, atomic scientists, and the rest of the apparatus Hussein has used to terrify the world. Then we must gradually yield to an international peace keeping force that will oversee Iraq's transition to democracy.
All this can be done peacefully once Saddam is on his way to retirement.
But will Saddam quit? Can he afford to do so? In our modern era, it's not that simple. At the Hague waits an international court able, eager, and willing to put him on trial for crimes against humanity and to usher him to the prison cell he so richly deserves. The one right next to Milosovec.
Which brings up a key question: should we offer Saddam a plea bargain - resignation in return for no prosecution?
Supporters of this approach argue that it will save many, many lives and avoid subjecting American troops to the hazards of chemical or biological attack once the shooting starts. We cannot be confident that our pre-emptive bombing and threats of prosecution of enemy commanders who use such weapons will succeed in stopping them from endangering our men and women. We really don't know if our counter measures will work because we can't be sure what goodies Saddam has hidden in his vaults. The equipment our troops carry and wear has, of course, never been tested against a real biological or chemical attack. Even after the Gulf War, many argue that we have experienced tens of thousands of delayed casualties in disease or altered genetics as a result of weapons that may have been used without our knowledge.
Opponents point out that if ever someone deserved to be tried and imprisoned for war crimes it is Saddam Hussein who has used poison gas, biological and chemical weapons as well as torture and secret police to keep power. If we let him go, won't it render enforcement of human rights laws impotent? Will the good that has been done by arresting Pinochet and Milosovec be undone by the example of a Saddam Hussein going free? Isn't part of the point of invading Iraq to deter other rogue states from following its path? How do we send that message and let Saddam go free? Can the world handle both Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Ladin hiding out in adjoining caves?
It's a tough question. I think I come down on the side of those who back a plea bargain. I'm worried about our troops and the risks they will face on the other side of the Kuwati-Iraq border. But the time for this debate is now, not after the war is over. We should have discussed whether to leave Saddam in power before the last Gulf War started. Now its time to figure out whether to lock him up or let him go if he tries to surrender before the shooting starts.