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Commentary

No, Strikes Erode Power

November 12, 1998|EDWARD N. LUTTWAK | Edward N. Luttwak is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington

Given that there is no support at home or abroad for a full-scale war, the alternative to another ineffectual one-time attack is not to do nothing, but rather to match Saddam Hussein's continuing violations with an equally persistent response. The seventh or eighth or 18th carefully aimed air strike in as many weeks will not cause much more additional Arab resentment or international opposition than the first.

And while there are no magic targets, there are plenty of very purposeful ones located well away from any civilian population centers: The maintenance and repair facilities for the roughly 500 helicopters (120 armed) that are the indispensable tools of the regime's military intimidation of the Shiite majority; the repair depots and heavy transporters that are essential to keep Iraq's tanks an effective threat against both the Kurds and Kuwait; the barracks and supply stores of the four Special Republican Guard brigades and presidential security units that are crucial to Saddam's political and personal survival. To systematically demolish those highly visible, eminently destroyable targets would achieve much more than the largely symbolic attacks carried out so far.

And by now, nobody should worry about the subsequent Iran-Iraq military balance. Iran is inherently easier to contain, if only because no Arab state would refuse the necessary bases. It is useless to try to educate Saddam by episodic reprisals; even if he gives in momentarily, he will resume his violations soon enough. But each reduction in the physical power of his regime would be useful in itself.

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