Middle East Intelligence Bulletin
Jointly published by the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon and the Middle East Forum
  Vol. 3   No. 1 Table of Contents
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January 2001 

Book Review

Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War Against America. By Laurie Mylroie. Washington, D.C.: The AEI Press, 2000. Photographs. Index. Pp. 321. $24.95. ISBN 0-84474127-2

by Mark D. Mandeles

Mark D. Mandeles is president of the J. de Bloch Group, a firm specializing in historical and national security policy analysis. He is the author and co-author of books, book chapters, encyclopedia entries, and journal articles about military acquisition policy, military innovation, military history, command and control, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the future of war.

Study of Revenge
The groundbreaking new book by Laurie Mylroie, Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War Against America, is a "must read" for the U.S. national security community and especially for the new George W. Bush foreign policy and defense team. Over the last eight years, Clinton Administration national security officials argued that loose networks of "non-state actors" (e.g. Muslim groups and extremists, such as Islamic Jihad and Osama bin Laden) were responsible for violent attacks on Americans. Mylroie, an expert in Middle East politics, societies, and culture, and publisher of the online newsletter Iraq News, explodes this argument. She argues that recent horrific acts of terrorism committed against American citizens and interests are more likely to have been ordered by Saddam Hussein and organized by Iraqi intelligence officials. Mylroie acknowledges that some Muslim extremists, particularly bin Laden, may cooperate with Iraq on particular missions. However, the capabilities and resources of a state, which range from diplomatic privileges to the organizational ability to coordinate diverse activities, are much greater than those that may be built and commanded by non-state actors.

Mylroie performs the type of analysis of the World Trade Center bombing and the attempted bombing of the New York City United Nations building that one would have hoped the U.S. government had done. She meticulously examines telephone, passport, and airline records to demonstrate that the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) prosecution of the cases was flawed conceptually. The DoJ prematurely (that is, before evidence was gathered and analyzed) decided that the World Trade Center bombing was a criminal act of individuals. Little DoJ effort was made to examine the evidence in the context of whether there was a state sponsor, nor did the DoJ seek to apply the resources of national security agencies to determine who organized the attack. Hence, the way the prosecution conceived and "bureaucratically compartmented" the case prevented achieving an understanding of who masterminded the terrorist acts. It is ironic that James Steinberg, deputy national security adviser from December 1996 to August 2000, recently lamented the lack of interagency coordination for dealing with problems such as terrorism. He concluded that, "Organization cannot replace strategic thinking. But bad organization can make it difficult to respond imaginatively and effectively to the needs of today."1 Applied to the Clinton Administration's Iraq policy, Mylroie would agree: policy has been plagued by an abundance of bad strategic thinking and bad organization.

This reviewer believes that Mylroie has correctly pinpointed Saddam Hussein as the source of terrorist attacks on Americans, including the World Trade Center bombing and the attempted assassination of former president George H. W. Bush. The Clinton administration, wittingly or unwittingly, has chosen the path of self-delusion: to not investigate the matter seriously. In this way, unpleasant policy options have not been articulated and discussed. Yet, the failure of U.S. officials to address the question of state sponsorship of terrorism will have significant future costs. It encourages future terrorist attacks by eliminating the costs of retribution from the calculations of leaders such as Saddam Hussein.

The decision by President George H. W. Bush and his aides in February 1991 to allow Saddam Hussein to remain in office and not to fully destroy his military forces has bedeviled the foreign policy of President Bill Clinton. Americans may have thought the war was over, but Saddam Hussein does not agree: economic sanctions remain and American and British aircraft attack selected sites. Indeed, Saddam continues his programs to acquire and stockpile nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons (and the means to deliver them), just as he threatens the U.S., its interests, and its allies. A Foreign Broadcast Information Service translation of a 25 November 2000 speech has Saddam Hussein saying: "Had not Iraq stood fast and made sacrifices for eight years during Al-Qadisiyah [the Iran-Iraq War], and for eleven years during the Mother of Battles [Persian Gulf War and its aftermath], it would have been destroyed and we would have been turned into refugees. . . . The Arab people have not so far fulfilled their duties. They are called upon to target U.S. and Zionist interests everywhere and target those who protect these interests." Saddam is telling his listeners, clearly and directly, his intentions.

Mylroie's analysis points to very difficult policy debates for President George W. Bush's aides. How is an American administration to respond to surreptitious acts of war? Do nothing? Issue threats (and do nothing)? Complain to world leaders at the United Nations? Seek to impose new or harsher economic and trade sanctions? Attack selected Iraqi sites with cruise missiles or precision-guided munitions (at night to reduce the likelihood of collateral damage and casualties)? Seek to build another international coalition to permit a naval, ground, and air campaign against Saddam Hussein's regime and military forces? Could the U.S. persuade the regimes of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other Persian Gulf States to offer bases for offensive military action? Would the U.S. occupy Iraq and assume the task of creating a democratic state from the ruins of an authoritarian dictatorship? The policy and military options will not be easy to implement.

In the penultimate paragraph Mylroie concludes: "Given how decisive America's defeat of Iraq seemed in 1991, Saddam has accomplished a significant part of his program. He has secured the critical goal of ending UN weapons inspections, and he is now free to rebuild an arsenal of unconventional armaments. he has also succeeded in thoroughly confusing America as to the nature of the terrorist threat it has faced since the World Trade Center bombing. He is free, it would appear, to carry out more terrorist attacks‹possibly even unconventional terrorism, as long as he can make it appear to be the work of a loose network of Muslim extremists." And thus Laurie Mylroie predicts Saddam Hussein will continue to attack American citizens and interests. At a minimum, we should expect attempted bombings and other attacks in the year 2001 and beyond. And so, the question about Saddam Hussein remains, what is to be done?

The dust jacket of Study of Revenge lists laudatory comments from former Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard N. Perle, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeanne J. Kirkpatrick, former CIA chief of counterterrorism Vincent Cannistraro, and the former director of the New York FBI Office James M. Fox. And these comments are well-earned. Study of Revenge reads well and it sets a new high standard for investigative literature; it is the product of thorough and painstaking research, and its conclusions are sobering.


  1 The Washington Post, 2 January 2001.

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