Kissinger Advocates Attack on Iraq
Strategic setback for America
By Henry Kissinger
THE third crisis with Iraq within a year has ended like all the others. Iraq has reinstated the inspections system, Washington has backed off from military action (this time recalling forces already underway), and both sides have claimed victory. In a sense both sides are right. We win the battles, but Saddam Hussein is winning the war.
True, after each crisis the inspectors have returned to Iraq. But, equally, each time there has been a hiatus - the last one of three months - without any inspections, enabling Saddam to shuffle equipment and material from sites on which the inspectors were closing in. When inspections resume, months are consumed developing a new data base, and by the time it is completed, Saddam has come up with new harassing tactics to degrade it.
In his statement of Nov. 15, President Clinton laid down specific criteria by which compliance with U.N. resolutions will henceforth be measured, and he implied that he would retaliate without warning if these are not met. Similar threats were uttered after each previous crisis, and the administration will not find it any easier to implement them this time. If Saddam reverts to his earlier tactics of raising narrow objections to the composition or specific demands of the inspections team (as indeed he is already doing), the international consensus in favour of retaliation - and even within our own government - is likely to turn brittle.
The US administration spokesmen have talked as if the international support that existed at the time of the aborted raid can be recycled indefinitely. This is a dangerous illusion. The consensus that acquiesced in the aborted military action resulted from a highly evanescent constellation of circumstances: Saddam's brazen wholesale shutdown of the entire U.N. inspections process, the administration's unexpected electoral performance, the success of the Wye negotiations, the global financial crisis (especially Russia's) and France's temporary preoccupation with European issues rather than American Middle East policy.
The cumulative impact of the various Iraqi crises amounts to a strategic setback:
Each crisis has reinforced a pattern in which Saddam, not we, controls the timing and subject matter of the confrontation.
With each successive crisis, American policy has become more captive to a fragile U.N. consensus. It is symptomatic that, in his Nov. 15 statement, the president invoked the world community 10 times and the U.S. national interest exactly once.
Each crisis has eroded our support among the Gulf and other Arab states.
Having seen us go the brink and back down three times, they will be reluctant to believe that we are in for the long haul.
Each aborted military action has weakened the readiness and morale of America's armed forces.
In each crisis, nations opposed to military action (and the U.N. Secretary General) held out the end of sanctions as a carrot for Saddam to return to inspections. Saddam's argument - that the sanctions are the main issue - gains ground.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has described our policy as keeping Saddam in his box. But that goal is unachievable as the issues are currently defined. UNSCOM (the U.N. Special Commission, the inspection group is a weak instrument. After years of the world's most intrusive inspections system, the team still does not know whether Saddam has remaining weapons of mass destruction. And for the last year, the inspections system has worked only intermittently.
But should UNSCOM work perfectly and were it in a position to certify that Saddam was disarmed, sanctions would then be reviewed, the euphemism for being lifted, and the inspections system reduced to caretaker status. We thus find ourselves in a Catch-22 situation. The better the inspections system works, the more rapidly restrictions on Iraq will be ended - and Saddam will be in a position to start rearming.
The administration has not been willing to face the fact that the issue is not UNSCOM but the continued rule of Saddam. While the president on Nov. 15 paid lip service to a policy of bringing down Saddam, he offered no plan for accomplishing this. He surely seems to have no confidence in a military solution. He justified aborting the military strike on the ground that if we take military action we can significantly degrade the capability of Saddam Hussein to develop weapons of mass destruction and to deliver them, but that would also mark the end of UNSCOM. So we would delay it, but we would then have no oversight, no insight, no involvement in what is going on within Iraq.
This statement reflects three assumptions: that Saddam is likely to remain in office for the foreseeable future; that our military capacity to degrade Iraq's strategic capability is less useful than inspections; and that Saddam's regime is bound to survive American retaliation. In its military plans, the administration seems wedded to the kind of limited escalation that has been discredited wherever it was tried, most notably in Vietnam.
Unwillingness to face head-on the problem of Saddam's continued rule dates back to the endgame of the Gulf War. President Bush deserves enormous credit for mobilizing a global coalition against Saddam's occupation of Kuwait (based, by the way, on the world's knowledge that he was prepared to act alone). But we stopped short of overthrowing Saddam because it was believed that, with the freeing of Kuwait, we had outrun the U.N. authorization, that further warfare would risk the break-up of the country and additional casualties and that, in any case, Saddam would fall as a result of his disaster.
When Saddam survived, the United States was left with three policy options:
(1) to reconcile with a hopefully chastened Saddam, (2) to keep Saddam in his box, (3) to make it a national policy to overthrow him.
The trouble with administration policy is that it - or factions within it -
are pursuing all three policies simultaneously. Thus in his Nov. 15 statement President Clinton, after calling off the attack, asked for no more than: we can keep UNSCOM in there working and one more time give him a chance to
become honourably reconciled by simply observing U.N. resolutions, we see that results can be obtained.
None of our allies in the Gulf or in the area believe in the prospect of an honourable reconciliation based on observing U.N. resolutions for a few months. All are convinced that Iraq will bend every effort to rearm as soon as sanctions are lifted and that the United Nations is straining to find pretexts for lifting the sanctions. The countries in the region that rely on us will judge America's relevance by our ability either to depose Saddam or to weaken him to a point where he can no longer represent a potential threat.
Throughout, American military measures in the Gulf have signalled an
overriding reluctance to use force. In response to an alleged Iraqi plot
against President Bush's life in 1993, a few cruise missiles were fired into
a single building that we reassuringly announced had stood empty. In 1996,
when Saddam crushed an American-sponsored resistance movement in northern
Iraq, the administration responded again with cruise missiles against radar stations hundreds of miles to the south. And it has recoiled before the use of force in each of Saddam's three challenges of the last year.
This irresolution handicaps even our relations with Iran, the largest country in the region. Whatever one's theory regarding Iran's likely evolution, an Iraqi government with which we can work would facilitate our options. Necessary as it is under present circumstances, we will not be able to maintain stability in the Gulf indefinitely against the two strongest states, Iraq and Iran. We cannot discourage an aggressive Iran if we cannot handle even a defeated Iraq. And we will not be able to elicit moderation in Iran if Tehran's leaders see across their border how easy and effective it is to defy the United States.
A more decisive policy against Saddam is blocked by the arguments that we must take our lead from the so-called world community, that we should design our actions in relation to specific Iraqi provocations and that, militarily, unless we can achieve everything, it is better to do nothing. All these schools of thought are represented within the administration.
The result is intellectual confusion and greater concern with placating domestic opinion than developing a coherent long-range strategy. The reluctance to use force progressively erodes our credibility. Each time we fail to fulfil our threats, we are forced to make a more formidable threat in the next round and a larger mobilization of effort. At the end of this vicious circle we will be left with the choice of abdication or a massive assault that, if Saddam is skillful, may then appear unprovoked.
The argument that unless we march on Baghdad we will be unable decisively to weaken Saddam is poor testimony to the strategic foresight, political will and military capacity of a superpower.
To argue that we are unable to destroy Iraq's capacity to threaten its neighbours and to prevent significant deployments constituting such a threat is an alibi for abdication.
Our tentativeness makes us lose on all fronts: radical adversaries do not fear our posturing, or believe that they can manipulate it to their own ends.
Potential friends lose heart at the decline of American credibility.
Those on the sidelines see no reason for restraint.
We should beware of the siren song that a painless (to us) covert operation can enable us to sidestep the complexities of military confrontation.
I favour supporting the Iraqi resistance in principle, but, having seen such enterprises from the inside, I would put forward three cautions: such operations must be run by professionals, not adventurers; they must take into account the interests of neighbouring countries, especially Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iran; and they require an American willingness to back the resistance movement when it gets into trouble, with American forces if necessary - or else we will repeat the debacle of the Bay of Pigs and of northern Iraq in 1975 and 1996, when most of those we supported were wiped out or exiled.
This is a tougher job than Afghanistan. All this suggests the following principles:
The ultimate issue in the Gulf is not inspections but the government in Baghdad.
Saddam's next provocation must be viewed not from the point of view of the particular offence but of advancing our broader strategy. Our military response should lead to destroying Saddam's command and control sites, suspected locations of weapons of mass destruction and the Republican Guard (the basis of his rule). On the whole, I consider this a better option than relying largely on the internal resistance.
If we are serious about backing the Iraqi resistance, we should set about equipping and training it and organizing its command structure, and be prepared to protect it with our own forces. We must avoid half-measures to appeal to domestic constituencies.
As part of a serious effort to bring Saddam down, restraints should be placed on Iraq's capacity to conduct significant military operations, either within the two no-fly zones or against any of its neighbours, by restricting the movement of Iraqi units beyond a certain size.
The Iraqi people must be given to understand that the principal obstacle to normalization is Saddam and his immediate entourage, and that the Iraqi people are our ally, not our target.
If we are not willing to muster the discipline and determination for such a
course, the present policy will collapse, undermining the stability of the
Gulf and the entire region.
-Dawn/Los Angeles Times Syndicate
(Late November, 1998)