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Testimony of Eliot A. Cohen

page 3

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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Testimony of Eliot A. Cohen

page 4

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 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 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 11" 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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