Now that the UN inspection teams are in Iraq, and as the December 8 deadline approaches for Iraq to declare all its weapons of mass destruction and the facilities for producing them, the world must reckon with a hard question: what is to be done if Saddam Hussein does not obey the Security Council resolution on his weapons of mass destruction? There is a chance that the Iraqi president will comply, but the Council promised "serious consequences" if he does not. What should these be? We know from experience that neither political pressures nor economic sanctions hurt Saddam enough. Only military action will do.
But the only military option so far put before us is invasion to change the regime - that is, full-scale war. Starting a war is always a grave step, and the effects are never neatly calculable. In this instance five key areas of uncertainty and risk exist.
First, the fighting itself may not be the cakewalk that some assert. Churchill once wrote: "Never, never, never assume that any war will be smooth and easy." Brainwashed Iraqi forces, and a regime complicit at every level in Saddam's crimes, would be fighting not to hang on to a conquest (as in the Gulf War of 1991) but to defend their homeland. This raises the spectre of street fighting through Baghdad, desperate use of biological or chemical weapons, an attack to draw in Israel, numerous military and civilian deaths and the further destruction of a ravaged society.
Second, Iraq is a diverse country, distorted by over thirty years of Saddam's tyranny, and with no plausible and coherent alternative government in sight. How would it be run? WWII's victors had to rule Germany for four years and Japan for longer. According to the New York Times, Pentagon officials have said, "thousands of military specialists in civil affairs familiar with the linguistic and cultural differences within Iraq would probably be deployed throughout the country". Where is this remarkable cohort to come from?