Friday, May 16, 2003; Page A28
Michael Schrage [Outlook, May 11] was doubly wrong in depicting the Bush administration's failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as a success -- presumably because it called Saddam Hussein's bluff of trying to stay in power by manipulating "strategic ambiguity" about his intentions.
In calling such manipulation "completely rational," the article invoked Cold War luminaries Thomas Schelling and Herman Kahn, who imputed that sort of rationality to Soviet leaders. Yet historians have since discovered that those leaders never thought the way these "game theorists" posited they did, nor was strategic ambiguity harmful. Instead, they acted rationally by not wanting to play games with nuclear weapons, on the sound assumption that they could never be certain about the Western response. The resulting ambiguity was what kept the Cold War from getting hot.
Saddam Hussein valued pride above prudence: His hero was neither Mr. Schelling nor Mr. Kahn, but the medieval Arab warrior Saladin, who rode into Jerusalem on a white horse. The Iraqi dictator paid a heavy price for provoking war, but the Iraq weapons fiasco will make it more difficult to summon the necessary will to act against states that might in fact possess such deadly weapons. Moreover, by having lured Americans into the costly project of reconstructing the Iraqi state, for which they had not adequately prepared, Saddam Hussein's ghost may have the last laugh by seeing the Bush administration voted out of office by an angry electorate. Along with it would go its ideologues' foolhardy notion that "preemptive ambiguity removal" could provide security in an unpredictable real world.
Michael Schrage says it doesn't matter if Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. In his view, we were justified in spending billions of tax dollars and sacrificing thousands of lives to test the dictator's posturing and call his bluff.
It apparently does not matter to Mr. Schrage that the American people were misled into believing that invasion was justified because stockpiles of these fearful weapons actually were in Iraq. Mr. Schrage also is not bothered by what was either a massive intelligence failure by the United States or, even worse, a phony rationale to justify a political agenda set by the Bush administration.
When the basic reason we invaded Iraq turns out to be nonexistent, it is time for serious inquiry into how this mistake occurred. Mr. Schrage's after-the-fact effort to provide a fig leaf for this fiasco can only be described as pernicious.
ALAN I. BARON
Michael Schrage's cavalier dismissal of the possibility that so many lives were lost or ruined, so much infrastructure was destroyed and so much ancient culture was sacked when there was no threat of nuclear, biological or chemical warfare, was nauseating -- all the more so as the Army and the Bush administration begin to distance themselves from the search for evidence of weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Schrage's theory is that Saddam Hussein was bluffing to enhance "his survivability." But the proper response to this strategy would not be the pursuit of war, but ambiguity of our own: now feint war, now feint peace. Surely, our players are as skilled in this game as the Iraqis, and just as surely, we could have played it for much longer.
Mr. Schrage also depicted Saddam Hussein as a powerful ruler with imperial ambitions. If we have learned anything from the conquest, it is that his people were not devoted to him, that he had impoverished the nation and that he lacked either weapons of mass destruction or the ability to employ them.