Testimony of Eliot A. Cohen
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
printed 12/18/02 - 1:10 PM