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Dealing with Saddam Husayn
R. James Woolsey was director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency during the Clinton administration from 1993-95. He has degrees from Stanford, Oxford, and Yale, and is a prominent analyst on foreign affairs, defense, energy, and intelligence issues. He is a partner at the law firm of Shea & Gardner in Washington, D.C., where he has practiced steadily (except for four stints of government service) since 1973. Mr. Woolsey served as undersecretary of the U.S. Navy and General Counsel to the U.S. Committee on Armed Services. He addressed the Middle East Forum in New York on March 7, 2001.
Understanding This Moment
America has always performed well during times of crisis. The results of World War I, World War II, the Cold War and the Gulf War are excellent examples of how we face a challenge. Our weakness, however, lies in the time between war and peace.
A good example of this is America in the 1920s. After World War I, America was booming. We were filled with self-satisfaction and naiveté to the extent that Henry Stimson, Secretary of War for President Wilson, closed down the code-breaking operations in the State Department, claiming that it was ungentlemanly to eavesdrop. We dropped our guard, since there was no direct threat to national security. Stimson was very unhappy to learn a few years later that the Navy had resumed those "ungentlemanly" code-breaking activities. Fortunately, as a result, the navy's code-breaking strengthened the U.S. position against the Japanese in World War II.
It seems we're now in a similar period in U.S. history. Like the 1920s, our threats to national security are unclear. We must now organize ourselves to deal with this uncertain world in a different manner than our predecessors; their mistakes during the interwar period exacerbated the horrors of the late 1930s and 1940s.
The Challenges of the Middle East
Many of our ambiguous challenges today come from the Middle East. The more daunting threats stem from the possibility of a leak of military technology to Iran and Iraq. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is also a threat. It not only presents a danger to the two parties involved, but it could also be exploited by someone like Saddam Husayn, who seeks to lead the Arab world to a military victory. The future of Iran is also a concern. President Muhammad Khatami is a liberal by Iranian standards, but his country falls far short of Western liberalism. Still, we should be reassured that Iran does have a constitution, a parliament and reformers.
Iraq: The Biggest Threat
The largest threat to the United States in the Middle East comes from Iraq. Currently, Iraq makes a great deal of money from the illegal sale of oil. In fact, Iraq profits more today from black market oil sales than legal sales before the Gulf War. The sanctions designed to contain Iraq have been undercut by this smuggling and from the easing of those sanctions over time. It has been more than two years since a UN weapons inspector set foot on Iraqi soil, and we know that Iraq has chemical and bacteriological weapons capabilities.
We also know, according to reliable intelligence sources, that Iraq has a ballistic missile program. Worse still, Iraq is only months away from achieving nuclear capability.
Amidst the current volatility in the Middle East, Saddam has gained credibility in the Arab street as the new "caliph" to take on the infidel - namely, the United States. He positioned himself skillfully against a flaccid and feckless Clinton administration Iraq policy.
Recently, Richard Butler, former UN weapons inspector, published his recommendation in the Wall Street Journal to step up the efforts against Saddam. The Washington Post reiterated this call by taking the Bush administration to task for not being aggressive enough in removing Saddam's regime. Others in congress have called for a firmer position against Saddam.
These voices, however, are counteracted by America's European allies, not to speak of Russia and China. They criticize the U.S. intensely when it pursues a more active policy against Baghdad.
Will it be possible for Americans to band together for a common purpose, ready to face this hugely serious issue of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction? The answer has yet to be seen.
Reports on Iraqi Nukes
A recent Sunday Times of London report alleged that Iraq detonated a ten-kiloton nuclear device in 1989, with material smuggled from South Africa. The CIA and Israeli intelligence, however, were unable to verify this. For now, I believe these allegations are untrue. If Saddam truly had nuclear weapons, he would have certainly acted very differently during the Gulf War. Still, according to recent intelligence, he is not far from achieving nuclear capability. Once he acquires highly enriched uranium or plutonium from such places as Belarus, Ukraine or Russia, Saddam could have a nuclear weapon in months.
I. Overthrow Saddam
To prevent this, the U.S. government must make efforts to remove Saddam's regime. There are three broad steps we can take.
First, we must support the Iraqi opposition. Getting rid of Saddam may take time - but so did it take time for the Soviet bloc to crumble. We must provide support in a straightforward way, and perhaps prepare to support the opposition militarily by air. It may be a good idea to turn the no-fly zones into no-drive zones as well.
II. Boost Phase Intercept Defense.
A boost-phase intercept system for ballistic missile defense is crucial. Israel is on the front lines for now, but their systems may not be effective against weapons of mass destruction on ballistic warheads. It is imperative that the United States be able to destroy ballistic missiles coming out of rogue states like Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya and Syria. Such a system would destroy ballistic missiles shortly after they are launched when they are large and slow and easily targeted, as opposed to when they are already in space, when they are more difficult to hit, since they become faster, smaller and colder.
III. Alternative Fuel
The Middle East has just two democracies, Turkey and Israel; worse, many regimes in the region are headed by pathological predators like Saddam or vulnerable autocrats like the Persian Gulf leaders. This is not a recipe for long-term stability. The rulers often use the funds from oil for military technology, weapons of mass destruction, and support of terrorism.
It is a therefore matter of national importance to begin to move away from dependence on the Middle East petroleum. This need is all the more urgent as predictions see the vast majority of the world's petroleum coming from the Middle East in fifteen or so years time. We must redouble efforts to develop genetically modified enzymes into constituent sugars to make ethanol. While these efforts, to date, have constituted but a small portion of U.S. agriculture, the technology is closer than many people realize.
What America needs now is a clear policy focusing on the return of weapons inspectors. This will be spurned by Saddam and will not be supported by our allies. This makes it all the more important to craft a policy based on the Iraq Liberation Act, which was signed but never implemented by the Clinton administration.
I don't know that the American people will support such a call today. But the public might change its mind if it is fully aware of the danger Saddam Husayn presents. For example, in Study of Revenge, a recent book, Laurie Mylroie alleges that Saddam may have been behind the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. Should this be true, Americans would have another reason to rally against Saddam.
Did Bush Sr. Fail?
George Bush may well have been able to depose Saddam in 1991, but he opted not to. While militarily feasible, this would have been very difficult to do and keep the coalition together. The president promised the Arab members of the coalition that he would not invade Baghdad and he kept his promise. Additionally, Bush's decision not to depose Saddam stemmed from a fear of the unknown: if the Iraqi regime collapsed, would a greater evil replace it? How would this affect the balance of power in the Gulf? And so on.
These are valid concerns but, in hindsight, I believe Bush placed too much emphasis on holding the coalition together, especially since many participants were at odds with the values of our country.
To its credit, the Bush administration did encourage the revolt among the Shi'ite and Kurdish populations. This resulted in many defections and bloody conflicts as the war came to a close. To its discredit, when the US captured large Iraqi munitions depots, rather than handing them over to the opposition, we simply destroyed them.
Iraq is this country's next big challenge. If Americans begin to apply even a fraction of their capacity to organize and focus, they will be able to deal with this challenge. But if we stay in our current mode, the future is worrisome.
Summary account by Jonathan Schanzer, a research associate at the Middle East Forum.