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Episodic Reprisals Are Useless

If we are not serious about removing Saddam, let's only get involved when the region seeks help.

November 12, 1998|GRAHAM E. FULLER | Graham E. Fuller is a former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at CIA

Here we are all over again with the same old crisis with Saddam Hussein; nothing changes. We reach for the same failed instruments, reacting tactically to a strategic challenge. We have no strategic plan to match our supposed concerns as Saddam continues to jerk us around like a yo-yo.

While U.S. policy has managed to "keep Saddam in the box" for eight years it has obviously failed to remove him or to solve the longer-range problem. And Saddam is the problem. Congress' Iraq Liberation Bill is well-intended, but it essentially throws money at the problem as an easy way to avoid the harder diplomatic and policy choices that must be made if we are to be successful. Unleashing the CIA is another cop-out; that organization possesses many important professional skills but cannot be asked to do what Saddam's highest placed enemies in Iraq cannot do, unless it comes in the context of a broader declarative political strategy that is currently lacking.

First, we must get real about the ongoing failure of the Arab-Israeli peace process, in which the Wye memorandum was a bandage. The consistent U.S. tilt toward Israel--recognized globally if not at home--has produced immense anger toward the United States in the region and therefore has had a devastating impact on Washington's ability to get any other business done in the Middle East. No one there likes Saddam, but there is hardly a ruler in the region now who will dare to publicly associate with broad U.S. policies, and especially to support routine continuing punishment of Iraq with no end in mind. The Gulf states are Saddam's first potential victims, but even they will no longer even grant routine permissions to the U.S. as bombing platforms.

Second, military strikes against Saddam are next to worthless if they do not destroy his infrastructure of repression and tyranny. We cannot "negotiate" arms inspections via military strikes; hardly one of our allies in Europe or the Middle East will accept this. Strikes must be strategic and part of a comprehensive political commitment designed to bring Saddam down.

What would such a comprehensive program look like? First, Saddam Hussein must be explicitly identified as the problem. War crimes tribunals are needed. The Iraqi elite must understand that all will change once Saddam is gone, since almost any successor will present more manageable options. Then recreate a broad opposition that will include Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds working for a future federal state. Opposition forces must operate from northern Iraq. The Kurds especially need reliable guarantees that Washington truly will protect them when the day comes that Saddam decides to recapture control over northern Iraq. Would any Kurd have that trust today?

We need a regional conference--including Iran--to debate the shape of a future Iraq. All the regional states have a bigger stake in the problem than Washington does, but the U.S. has acted as if these are primarily American strategic interests.

We will gain no support in the region until we are seen to be handling the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations vigorously and in a truly unbiased fashion--the primary touchstone of American good faith across the whole Muslim world. And a provisional Iraqi government needs to be established outside the country, something Washington has consistently shied away from. Nor can we insist that it be a fine-tuned instrument of U.S. policy; its sole credibility will lie in its Iraqiness.

If we cannot do these things, then we are not serious about removing Saddam. No one in the region believes we are; they believe we like Saddam-the-boogeyman in power as a way to keep our troops in the Gulf and sell U.S. arms. Continued U.S. military strikes over procedural details of the inspection commission are a guaranteed loser. Saddam can withstand them and gains more regional sympathy.

If we are not serious about Saddam's removal--and Washington shows few signs of having the vision, will and energy to be so--then we will have to retreat to the bottom line: Let the world community and the Gulf region draw their own red lines and signal their own anxieties to us about when a future Iraqi military threat becomes threatening enough to justify a truly major military response to deter Saddam's ambitions once again.

Regrettably, it may even take an Iraqi chemical strike on some target to convince the region. And perhaps some day, Saddam will die.

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