fact, nothing could be more contrary to the cool realism of
Thomas Hobbes than the reckless course on which the Bush
administration is set. Its case rests on premises entirely
inconsistent with Hobbes' understanding of human nature; and
its thirst for war is wholly incompatible with the English
philosopher's love of peace -- a love so ardent that he
accepted absolute monarchy as a relief from the spectre of
case for war with Iraq rests on the proposition that Saddam
Hussein cannot be deterred; that once he acquires weapons of
mass destruction he will use them; and that he is
fundamentally irrational. If this portrayal is right, Hobbes
was wrong, for the philosopher believed that all men had
reason and would employ it to assuage their fear of violent
Hussein's career is clearly explicable on a Hobbesian view.
Rather than regarding tyrants as bereft of the psychological
characteristics that Hobbes imputed to men, it makes more
sense to see them as possessing the desire of
self-preservation to an inordinate, even shocking, degree.
Hence the pre-emptive use of violence and terror against
domestic opponents, a process that once begun can never really
end, even when the tyrant achieves complete
pattern, so pronounced in the life of Joseph Stalin, Mr.
Hussein's model, has led to extraordinary cruelty against his
enemies but it also provides the means to hold him in check.
Mr. Hussein's love of power, Hobbes would infer, arises from a
more fundamental urge to self-preservation. In that basic
human desire, we have the means to control
of accepting his obvious motive for wanting to possess
dangerous weapons -- to protect his regime by deterring
potential attackers -- the US administration's hawks say he
believes a few nuclear weapons would give him mastery of the
region. But there is a big gap between deterring others and
compelling them to do what you want. What the U.S. has been
unable to do with its undisputed military superiority, Mr.
Hussein could not do with any arsenal he might
resistance to unfettered access for weapons inspectors is also
rational. The first round of weapons inspections convinced him
that the U.S. would use the information for target selection,
as it reportedly did in the bombing campaign of 1998. Total
access to the crucial centres of his power, reinforced by a
significant U.S. military presence, would ultimately lead to
two things that Americans most deeply fear -- that Mr. Hussein
will use weapons of mass destruction, or turn them over to
others -- are only made more likely by the administration's
course. By attacking him to prevent his future attacks, the
U.S. would remove his motive for restraint. That observation
-- belatedly and weakly advanced by George Tenet, director of
the Central Intelligence Agency, points to a deep
inconsistency in the case for war.
Mr. Hussein is as strong as they say, preventive war risks
fearsome consequences, above all that the war will bring about
massive loss of life -- whether through bombing, poisoning,
civil war, or a determined Sunni defence of Baghdad. But if,
as is more probable, Mr. Hussein is much weaker than he is
portrayed, the case for preventive war
the cold war, the U.S. maintained a deterrent relationship
with characters no less violent and no more stable than Mr.
Hussein. Faced with a presumed choice between "suicide and
surrender", the U.S. found a middle way that preserved the
nuclear peace. Yet what worked then with Stalin, Mao Zedong
and Kim Il Sung -- in the context of power relationships much
less favourable to the U.S. -- is rejected now. Instead, the
administration espouses a doctrine of preventive war, which
largely has a record of failure and
U.S. now inhabits not a Hobbesian world but a Manichean one,
in which its moral fervour prevents a sober assessment of
enemy intentions. In effect, it is assimilating all its
adversaries to the psychological type of an Osama bin Laden.
Yet that kind of ascetic fanaticism is non-existent in
political leaders such as Mr. Hussein, who have maintained
themselves in power over long periods.
and deterrence are a better way to deal with Mr. Hussein, one
that enjoys widespread international support and offers a
superior path to security. Only an irrational quest for
absolute security prevents the administration from seeing that
vital point and it is a misperception for which the U.S. seems
destined to pay a terrible price.
writer is professor of political science at Colorado