The Magazine

War Sooner Rather Than Later

From the February 21, 2003 issue: Delay can sometimes be immoral

Mar 3, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 24 • By FREDERICK W. KAGAN
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This is not to say that whenever there is a chance of war, we should attack at the most militarily propitious moment. There are occasions when demonstrations of force or limited build-ups can create the conditions for successful diplomacy. We must never lock ourselves into military action or exclude the possibility of a peaceful settlement simply in order to ensure the best military conditions for an attack.

Some conflicts, however, are irreducible. Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, was defeated and driven out in 1991, and committed itself in that year to a series of binding international agreements to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction and allow international agencies unfettered access to verify its compliance. That it has not complied with those agreements over the intervening 12 years is beyond doubt. No responsible person can claim that Iraq has disarmed.

Iraq has defied the international community, moreover, in the face of crippling economic sanctions and even the limited use of military force. The possibility that Saddam will see reason, or that someone in his carefully purged and watched inner circle will decide to remove him and then comply with the agreements he made, is minuscule.

Unless a miracle occurs or we lose our will, this war will come. Fighting it without surprise, at the enemy's convenience, may prolong it and cost the lives of many more Americans and allies and Iraqis. In this situation, the time to strike should be determined in accord with military expediency and on no other timetable. Only that course of action is ethically defensible.

Frederick W. Kagan is a military historian and the co-author, with Donald Kagan, of "While America Sleeps."