Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Iraq Strikes May Carry High Price




It finally happened. After 14 months of cat and mouse between Iraqi officials and UN weapons inspectors, bombs and missiles are falling on Iraq, which has been accused of blocking the search for weapons of mass destruction. Reaction, for and against, is pouring in from all over. But with the decision made and the weapons launched, it's as well to wait - a few hours or days at least - to see what results are achieved. It's hard, however, to keep one's hopes high.


The goals expressed by the United States and Britain are admirable. Diminishing Saddam Hussein's capabilities, potential or actual, to use nuclear, germ or poison gas weapons would safeguard almost everyone in the equation: the Iraqi people, Iraq's Middle East neighbors and the Western powers. Unlike other obnoxious authoritarian leaders with deadly toys, Saddam has used such weapons, deploying chemical weapons against Kurds in Iraq and Iranian troops in the Iran-Iraq war, and launching missiles against Israeli civilians in 1991.


What's not at all clear is that the limited air war launched by the narrow coalition of two Western countries has a creditable chance of achieving this.


Air wars are doubtful enterprises. Even massive bombing campaigns - like the one launched against the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War and the one against Iraq in the Gulf War in 1991 - sometimes have indecisive results, despite the thousands of tons of high explosives dropped. Despite 43 days of bombing, the 1991 operation required a land assault by more than half a million troops to achieve a limited capitulation.


And there is the abandonment of diplomatic means of containing Iraq's weapons programs, based on the agreements that ended the Gulf War. The United Nations' inspection regime may be gone for good, reducing the United States and its now-fractured coalition to using external methods of limited effectiveness, such as embargoes and economic sanctions.


There are also new questions raised about Russia's relationship with the rest of the world. START II, the arms limitation treaty pushed to the verge of passage by the government after six years of foot dragging, is suddenly, once again, a distant prospect. The Communists - or at least the less responsible among them - may find new fodder for their xenophobic, authoritarian and anti-Semitic pronouncements. Russia's cooperation with NATO, attempts to find a solution to the violence in Kosovo, and the prospects for confining Russian help for Iran's nuclear program to civilian purposes only - all these goals are potentially threatened. These are sobering thoughts indeed, and ones we hope figure in the calculations of the political and military leaders in Washington and London.