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Let me summarize my argument briefly. It is that the choice before the United States is a stark one, either to acquiesce in a situation in which the regime of Saddam Hussein can restore his economy, acquire weapons of mass destruction and pose a lethal threat to his neighbors and to us, or we 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 U.N. authorization to do so.
Let me describe the nature of our conflict with Iraq, outline what I think are the two strategic choices that we have, and briefly consider the implication 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 conclusion of ground and air operations in February of that year, most Americans thought the war had ended. We cleaned up the equipment, we brought back most of the troops, we held victory parades, and we congratulated ourselves.
The government believed, as did many observers, that Saddam would surely fall, and at worst, U.N. inspections would finish the job that bombing had begun. The United States would be able to neuter the regime, even if it didn't destroy it. How wrong we were.
Under the eyes of Americans soldiers, Saddam's soldiers massacred Iraqi citizens hoping for liberation. The U.N. inspections, backed as they were by American and foreign intelligence, and imposed upon an Iraq that was still reeling from a battlefield debacle, uncovered some dismaying facts: that the Iraqi nuclear program, for example, is far more extensive and more advanced than we have 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 that we had suspected before the war. Unlike the case of nuclear weapons, furthermore, even the very competent and, I would add, brave professionals working for the United Nation's Special Commission on Iraq, UNSCOM, could not stay ahead of a very cunning opponent who intended to retain these weapons at all costs. Indeed, by 1999, we were outmaneuvered by the Iraqis who had negotiated the replacement of UNSCOM by the United Nation's Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), which is a far weaker organization, working at arm's length from the United States and her allies, and UNMOVIC has been a dead letter until recently.
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 relationship with al Qaeda.
Let us remember above all that on a daily basis the Iraqi military does its best to kill American and British pilots maintaining the southern and northern no-fly zones put in place with U.N. support. If repeated and brazen attempts to shoot down American aircraft and kill American pilots are not acts of war, I don't know what is. If we have escaped without loss, it is a tribute to our skill and his bad luck.
The United States then 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 1990s, moreover, Iraq has been winning the war. It has done so despite the best efforts of American diplomats and soldiers to include short campaigns such as Desert Fox in 1998.
Iraq has violated Security Council resolutions and injunctions with impunity. It has dismantled the U.N. inspections regime, which was only partly effective at the best of times. It has slipped out from under sanctions as well. Today Iraq produces something like 2.4 million barrels of oil a day, up from a postwar low of 300,000 barrel a day, and not far short of its pre-1991 production rates.
The stark facts are that inspections are dead, and sanctions are dead, and they cannot be resurrected. There are too many countries that will assist Saddam in preventing us from really bringing them back to life. They have many motives: greed, desire to curry favor with Bagdad, 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 would 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's 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.
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 unshakable 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 has exercised power not merely with brutality, but with a sadism that is notable even by the standards of the last century. His daily discourse is that of slaughter, and his deeds match his words.
An argument in favor of 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 in 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?
Mr. WELDON. If you don't mind, Dr. Cohen, we have to go over for these votes. So if that is a good point for you to stop, we will come back as soon as we are finished. And, my colleagues, if you would like to say hello to Chairman Margelov before you leave, I would appreciate you stopping down at the front and have a chance to say hello to him before he has to leave.
The committee stands in recess until these votes are over. [Recess.]
Mr. WELDON. The committee will resume now that we have finished our votes and our witnesses have replenished their bodies. We will begin—continue our testimony.
Dr. Cohen, the floor is yours, and you may continue with your statement, and then we will move on to Dr. O'Hanlon.
Dr. COHEN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Just to recap very briefly. I had made the case that really there are only two policy options before us. One is to attempt to deter Saddam Hussein; the second one is war. And I made the case as well that it seems to me that deterrence was, as I put it, a declara
I tion of faith in the rationality of Saddam Hussein, and that I thought that was both implausible and dangerous.
That leaves us the choice of war, as problematic as that surely is. What are our prospects in such a case? I think it is unwise to try to forecast costs and casualties. I recall very well the debate before the Gulf War of 1991, and how completely wrong such estimates turned out to be, even those made by the government. And I am even more reluctant to try to forecast war plans, because it seems to me if one is wrong in doing that, one is foolish, and if one is right, one is something considerably worse than foolish.
Nonetheless, there are four important points to note: First, that the Iraqi military today is a shadow of its former self, a third the size it was in 1991, poorly equipped, demoralized, perhaps most importantly of all haunted by memories of its last encounter with the United States. It simply cannot be a machine like the one we faced in 1991, and that, of course, crumbled under our attack.
Second, in recent times the American military has consistently surprised both observers and indeed itself. Before the Gulf, Yugoslav, and Afghan Wars, we were told that our 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 more creatively and with greater economy in the expenditure of blood than anyone could have imagined. In the future resumption of outright hostilities with Iraq, the same is likely to be true, and in ways that no outside observer can, I hope, predict.
Thirdly, the lesson of recent wars is that coalitions are not ends, but means, and that a fixation on international consensus leads to a feeble strategy. In the current context the United States would certainly like the support of many countries, but it 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 Hussein 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 motives, some more and some less worthy.
Fourth, the Baathist regime is 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, there is a good chance that they will cease to operate on its behalf. As the American military confronts the challenges of chemical and biological weapons and urban warfare, which are surely 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 American 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 of 1998, President Clinton said that he had given Saddam Hussein his last chance. Some may persuade themselves that Saddam Hussein 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 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, one who knows the consequences 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 the kind of colonial administration, or at least certainly not for long periods of time, in the Arab World, and 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 authoritarian perhaps, but moderate; a regime that would safeguard basic civil and religious rights, that would free the Iraqi people from fear, and would maintain the unity of the country without threatening its neighbors, and that might pave the way in the long-run 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 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, if not entirely free, governments. In this indirect but crucial way, the overthrow of Saddam will contribute to the larger 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 there is more that the intelligence community either 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 passed, 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 they 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 U.N. 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 to help him achieve some measure of operational surprise, which will contribute to our forces' chances of early and complete success, you will also, more importantly, reduce the casualties that our young men and women in uniform are likely to suffer.
Let me conclude with one last thought. It is in the nature of partisan politics to sharpen 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 to the present. Both Democratic and Republican administrations put a wary reliance on containment and deterrence. That policy has finally failed, but throughout, American leaders have shared an understanding of the ultimate issues. Again, let me quote 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, it seems to me that President Clinton had the assessment right, and that the time has come to act on his words.
Mr. WELDON. Thank you, Dr. Cohen.
[The prepared statement of Dr. Cohen can be found in the Appendix on page 409.]
Mr. WELDON. Dr. O'Hanlon, welcome. Your statement will be entered in the record. And you may take whatever time you would like for your public comments.
STATEMENT OF DR. MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW,
THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION Dr. O'HANLON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is a great honor to be here before the committee and to be appearing with Eliot Cohen, who has made a lot of excellent points. I would like to agree with some of what he said, much of what he said, but also emphasize the possibility that I think a strategy of containment can work if we get rigorous inspections and disarmament going again inside of Iraq. And in that spirit I would like to support strongly the September 12th U.N. speech, which I think had the tone and the strat