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Testimony of Eliot A. Cohen
the government. To forecast war plans is even more misguided: if one is wrong one is
printed 12/18/02 - 1:10 PM
Testimony of Eliot A. Cohen
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.