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Statement to the House Armed Services Committee

Eliot A. Cohen, Professor of Strategic Studies

Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies

October 3, 2002

Thank you for inviting me to testify today before you on the question of American policy towards Iraq. The argument that I can put to you is easily summarized: it is that the choice before the United States is a stark one, either to acquiesce in a situation which permits the regime of Saddam Hussein to restore his economy, acquire weapons of mass destruction, and pose a lethal threat to his neighbors and to us, or to take action to overthrow him. In my view, the latter course, with all of its risks, is the correct one. Indeed, the dangers of failing to act in the near future are unacceptable. To that end Congress should authorize the President to initiate large scale military action against Iraq, and give him the widest possible latitude in acting - even in the absence of additional UN authorization to do so. Let me describe the nature of our conflict with Iraq, outline the two strategic options open to us, and briefly consider the implications of that choice. A famous saying has it that war is a continuation of policy by other means. In the case of Saddam Hussein, however, “policy is a continuation of war by other means." Saddam Hussein has waged war against the United States and the community of civilized states since 1991. After the successful conduct of air and ground operations in January and February of that year, many Americans thought that the war had ended. We cleaned up the equipment, brought back most of the troops, held victory parades, and congratulated ourselves. The government believed, as did many observers, that Saddam would surely fall. At worst, UN inspections would finish the job bombing had begun: the United States would neuter the regime even if we did not destroy it.

How wrong we were. Under the eyes of American soldiers, Saddam's soldiers massacred Iraqi citizens hoping for liberation. The UN inspections, backed as they were by American and foreign intelligence, and imposed upon an Iraq still reeling from a battlefield debacle, uncovered dismaying facts: that the Iraqi nuclear program, for example, was far more extensive and advanced than we had known - and that most of it had escaped destruction. We learned too that Iraqi research on and production of chemical and biological weapons were well in advance of anything suspected before the war. Unlike the case of nuclear weapons, moreover, even the brave and dedicated professionals working for the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) could not stay ahead of a cunning opponent who intended to retain these weapons at all costs. Indeed, by 1999 the Iraqi regime had outmaneuvered us, and negotiated the replacement of UNSCOM by the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) a far weaker organization working at arms' length from the United States and her allies. And UNMOVIC has, of course, been a dead letter for some time.

To these undisputed facts add the Iraqi attempt on the life of the first President Bush, Iraq's sponsorship of suicide-bombing in Israel, its ceaseless torrent of hatred and incitement directed against Americans and the United States, its hosting of terrorists (to include the late, unlamented Abu Nidal), and its training relationship with al-Qaeda. Let us remember above all that on a daily basis, the Iraqi military does its best to kill

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American and British pilots maintaining the southern and northern no-fly zones, put in place with UN support. If repeated and brazen attempts to shoot down American aircraft are not acts of war, I do not know what is. If we have escaped without loss it is a tribute to our skill, and his bad luck.

The United States has been at war with Iraq since 1991. Only the level of violence has changed, not the substance of the relationship or the intentions of the Iraqi regime. Since the middle of the 1990's Iraq has been winning this phase of the war. It has done so despite the best efforts of American diplomats and soldiers, to include short campaigns such as operation DESERT FOX in 1998. Iraq has violated numerous Security Council resolutions and injunctions with impunity; it has successfully dismantled the UN inspections regime, which, unfortunately, was only partly effective in the best of times. It has slipped out from under sanctions as well. Today Iraq produces something on the order of 2.4 million barrels of oil a day, up from a postwar low of 300,000 barrels, and not far short of pre-1991 rates.

The stark facts are that inspections are dead, and sanctions are dead. They cannot be resurrected. There are too many countries that will assist Saddam in preventing us from bringing them back to life. They have multiple motives: greed, desire to curry favor with Baghdad, anxiety about domestic opinion, a principled horror of war, a desire to take the United States down a peg or two, fear of the precedent set by the overthrow of this kind of regime or the consequences that could flow from it. The international argument about inspections is therefore a sham, a mask for other concerns and intentions. There can be no question of Iraqi good faith. It does not exist. Everything – everything – that a decade's worth of experience can teach us is that we have only two choices: deterrence of the regime or its overthrow.

But is Saddam Hussein, in the long run, deterrable? He has twice launched ruinous, unprovoked wars of aggression against his neighbors; he has attempted to assassinate a former American president; he has evinced an unshakeable determination to acquire the most lethal weapons devised by man; he has shown a willingness to use them, on civilians first and foremost, beginning with his countrymen. He is a man who swam to power in a pool of blood, and who has exercised power not merely with brutality, but with a sadism notable even by the standards of the last century. His daily discourse is that of slaughter, and his deeds match his words.

An argument from deterrence is a declaration of faith in the rationality of Saddam Hussein. It is an argument that he will not fulfill his repeated, specific, and bloody threats directed against us, his neighbors, and Israel. It is an assertion that he will refrain from the use of biological weapons that have no "return address." It is a contention that he understands power, justice, prestige, and above all revenge more or less as we do. It is a belief that is contradicted by his career, which is one of ferocity, miscalculation, and destruction.

That leaves us the choice of war, as problematic as that may be. What are our prospects in such a case?

It is unwise to forecast costs and casualties: I recall the debate before the Gulf War of 1991, and how completely wrong such estimates turned out to be - even those made by

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the government. To forecast war plans is even more misguided: if one is wrong one is foolish; if one is right, one is something considerably worse than foolish. Nonetheless, there are some relevant points to be note.

First, the Iraqi military is today a shadow of its former self. A third the size it was in 1991, poorly equipped, demoralized, haunted by memories of its last encounter with the United States, it cannot be anything like the machine we faced in 1991 - which, of course, crumbled under our attack.

Second, in recent times, the United States military has consistently surprised observers and indeed itself. Before the Gulf, Yugoslav, and Afghan wars we were told that our armed forces faced unprecedented challenges that they could meet only at great cost if at all. In each case, they achieved their objectives more effectively and and creatively, and with greater economy in the expenditure of blood than anyone could have imagined. In a future resumption of intense hostilities with Iraq, the same is likely to be true, in ways in that no outside obsserver can predict.

Third, the lesson of recent wars is that coalitions are not ends but means, and a fixation with international consensus leads to feeble strategy. In the current context, the United States would like the support of many countries, but needs the active cooperation of a handful - Kuwait, some of the Gulf States, and one would hope Turkey, Jordan, and possibly Saudi Arabia. Our British and Australian allies provide valuable military assistance, and confirmation of the view that Saddam is indeed an implacable menace. Beyond this, the chances are very good that once our intention to act becomes clear, other states will find ways of signing on with us, for a variety of more and less worthy motives. Fourth, the Ba'athist state is a regime held together solely by fear. When the time comes that Iraqi officers and soldiers, secret police and functionaries no longer anticipate retribution by the regime, they will cease to operate on its behalf. As the American military confronts the threat of chemical and biological weapons and urban warfare - the most difficult challenges in such a campaign - we must remember that fact. If individual Iraqi officers know that they will suffer harm only if they obey Saddam's orders, they are unlikely to do so. Surely, military planners know this fact and will make use of it. Saddam Hussein has been given many last chances. Indeed, announcing the beginning of operation DESERT FOX in December 1998 President Clinton said that he had given Saddam his "last chance." Some may persuade themselves that Saddam should have more "last chances." Some will even suggest that the United States should defer action until next year - and the year after that, and the year after that. And if we follow such a course, one day it will be too late, and as a regional nuclear war erupts, or as plague rages in our cities, we will wonder why we did not act. The real question is not "why now?" but "why not years ago?"

Almost as important as regime change is what follows. Almost as important, because the truth is that even if Saddam is succeeded by a brute, we can expect him to be a chastened brute, who knows the consequence of confronting the United States. But America can and should aspire to more. To be sure, we are not by temperament or preparation well suited to exercise a kind of colonial administration for long periods of time in the Arab world. It would be absurd to expect transition in Iraq from totalitarian rule to Jeffersonian democracy. But it should be possible to establish a regime that would be

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authoritarian, perhaps, but moderate, a regime that would safeguard basic civil and religious rights, that would free the Iraqi people from fear, that would maintain the unity of the country without threatening its neighbors, and that might pave the way, in the long for a modern, limited state. Such an achievement would have beneficial consequences well beyond Iraq, including in our war against Islamic extremism. By itself, the United States cannot remake the Middle East; but it can do much to help the peoples of that part of the world to do so. It cannot force Arab societies to come to terms with modernity, but it can aid those embarked on that enterprise. The United States can support with its prestige and power liberals of all stripes, secular and religious alike, and foster decent, even if not entirely free governments. In this indirect but crucial way the overthrow of Saddam will contribute to the larger American contest against Islamic extremist violence.

There are other connections between September 11th and our war with Iraq. There are some ties between Baghdad and al-Qaeda that have become more apparent in recent days, and in all likelihood more that the intelligence community does not yet understand or that it has buried in secrecy. There is a deeper link as well. After September 11th Americans now have a visceral, rather than a theoretical understanding of what a massive assault on American civilians in the heart of our great cities feels like. We know what it smells like. The horrors of that day have made Americans more realistic than others around the world who - like so many well-meaning people in the century just past - would prefer to close their eyes and pretend that a mortal threat does not exist. Americans have paid a terrible price for seeing things more clearly than once we did.

I therefore urge you to support a resolution giving the President the authority to conduct a campaign aimed at the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime; that you not tie it to UN resolutions; and that you not condition our action on the acquiescence of countries that may wish to prevent us from acting. We have lost strategic surprise: at this point Saddam has to know that we are coming. By granting the President discretion you may help him to retain some measure of operational surprise, which will contribute to our forces' chances of early and complete success. You will, most importantly, thereby reduce the casualties these young men and women may suffer.

Let me conclude with one last thought. It is the nature of partisan politics to sharpen the differences between parties, even on matters of foreign policy. Yet for a variety of reasons, there has been a common policy on Iraq for a full decade from the end of the first Gulf War. Both Republican and Democratic administrations put a wary reliance on containment. That policy has, finally, failed. But throughout, American leaders have shared an understanding of the ultimate issues. Again, in the words of President Clinton: "The hard fact is that so long as Saddam remains in power, he threatens the well-being of his people, the peace of his region, the security of the world. The best way to end that threat once and for all is with a new Iraqi government, a government ready to live in peace with its neighbors, a government that respects the rights of its people." However one judges the success of his administration's policies, President Clinton had the assessment right. The time has come to act on his words.

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