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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)



September 16, 1998

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the invitation to testify before this distinguished committee on the important subject of U.S. policy toward Iraq. It is always an honor to appear before this committee, but it is particularly an honor to appear as part of a hearing in which Scott Ritter testifies.

Scott Ritter is a public servant of exceptional integrity and moral courage, one of those individuals who is not afraid to speak the truth, even if powerful people are offended. As an intelligence officer at CENTCOM during the Gulf War, he refused to submit reports that would have substantiated claims made by senior officers in briefings, even though he was pressured to do so, because he knew those claims to be untrue.

Now he is speaking the truth about the failures of the U.N. inspection regime in Iraq, even though those truths are embarrassing to senior officials in the Clinton Administration. And the pressures he is being subjected to are far worse. After first trying to smear his character with anonymous leaks, the Administration then took to charging that Mr. Ritter doesn't "have a clue" about U.S. policy toward Iraq and saying that his criticisms were playing into Saddam Hussein's hands by impugning UNSCOM's independence.

In fact, it is hard to know what U.S. policy is toward Iraq because it is such a muddle of confusion and pretense. Apparently, the Administration makes a distinction between telling Ambassador Butler not to conduct an inspection and telling him that the time is inopportune for a confrontation with Iraq and that the United States is not in a position to back up UNSCOM. That kind of hair-splitting only further convinces both our friends and adversaries in the Middle East that we are not serious and that our policy is collapsing. It is only reinforced when they see us going through semantic contortions to explain that North Korea is not in violation of the Framework Agreement or when they see us failing to act on the warnings that we have given to North Korea or to Milosevic or to Saddam Hussein.

The problem with American policy toward Iraq is not that Scott Ritter has made clear what everyone knew all along, that UNSCOM could not function without strong American backing, but that the Administration is engaged in a game of pretending that everything is fine, that Saddam Hussein remains within a "strategic box" and if he tries to break out "our response will be swift and strong." The fact is that it has now been 42 days since there have been any weapons inspections in Iraq and the swift and strong response that the Administration threatened at the time of the Kofi Annan agreement earlier this year is nowhere to be seen.

Recently a senior official in a friendly Arab government complained to me that the United States attaches great store to symbolic votes by the Non-Aligned Movement on the "no fly zone" in Southern Iraq, while doing nothing at all to deal with the heart of the problem which is Saddam Hussein himself. To be fair, the best opportunity to deal with Saddam Hussein was in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. victory in the Gulf War. As an official in the Bush Administration, I believed then and I believe now that it was a mistake not to have paid more attention to the Saudis and other friends in the region who told us at the time that it was important to deal with Saddam Hussein.

However, to be fair to President Bush, he had enormous difficulty convincing Congress to go to war for the more limited goal of forcing Iraqi forces out of Kuwait and it is difficult, and sometimes dangerous, to hastily change your military goals in the wake of an unexpected success. Moreover, it was wrong but not unreasonable to suppose that Saddam Hussein would not last long after a military defeat of the magnitude that Iraq suffered.

To President Bush's credit, American policy stiffened substantially within a month after the end of the war. Major opportunities were lost during that month, during which Saddam crushed the uprisings in Northern and Southern Iraq. But wihtin a few weeks the United States did undertake Operation Provide Comfort, which drove Iraqi forces out of Northern Iraq and kept them out for five years until the collapse of Clinton Administration policy in 1996. And President Bush undertook to support UNSCOM inspections with the threat of U.S. force, including the deployment of U.S. aircraft to the Gulf, a policy which has now collapsed also. To pretend in the midst of all of this that the decision of the Security Council to suspend periodic review of the sanctions on Iraq constitutes a serious setback for Saddam Hussein, who now finds himself free to reconstitute his prohibited weapons capabilities without fear of intrusive inspections, simply exposes US policy to further contempt and ridicule.

The heart of the problem is that the United States is unable or unwilling to pursue a serious policy in Iraq, one that would aim at liberating the Iraqi people from Saddam's tyrannical grasp and free Iraq's neighbors from Saddam's murderous threats. Such a policy, but only such a policy, would gain real support from our friends in the region. And it might eventually even gain the respect of many of our critics who are able to see that Saddam inflicts horrendous suffering on the Iraqi people, but who see U.S. policy making that suffering worse through sanctions while doing nothing about Saddam.

Administration officials continue to claim, as Assistant Secretary Martin Indyk did in testimony to the Senate last week, that the only alternative to maintaining the unity of the UN Security Council is to send U.S. forces to Baghdad. This is wrong. As has been said repeatedly in letters and testimony to the President and the Congress by myself and other former defense officials, including two former Secretaries of Defense, and a former Director of Central Intelligence, the key lies not in marching U.S. soldiers to Baghdad, but in helping the Iraqi people to liberate themselves from Saddam.

Saddam's main strength - his ability to control his people through extreme terror - is also his greatest vulnerability. The overwhelming majority of his people, including some of his closest associates, would like to be free of his grasp if only they could safely do so. As the recent account of a defector from Saddam's nuclear program makes clear, even Iraqis who help Saddam build nuclear weapons can't escape from the constant threat of torture and death, for their families as well as themselves.

A strategy for supporting this enormous latent opposition to Saddam requires political and economic as well as military components. It is admittedly more complicated than launching a few cruise missile attacks. Perhaps it is more complicated than this Administration can manage, but it is eminently possible for a country that possesses the overwhelming power that the United States has in the Gulf. The heart of such action would be to create a liberated zone in Southern Iraq comparable to what the United States and its partners did so successfully in the North in Operation Provide Comfort in 1991. Establishing a safe protected zone in the South where opposition to Saddam could rally and organize, would make it possible:

  • For a provisional government of free Iraq to organize, begin to gain international recognition and begin to publicize a political program for the future of Iraq;
  • For that provisional government to control the largest oil field in Iraq and make available to it, under some kind of appropriate international supervision, enormous financial resources for political, humanitarian and eventually military purposes;
  • Provide a safe area to which Iraqi army units could rally in opposition to Saddam, leading to the liberation of more and more of the country and the unraveling of the regime.

This would be a formidable undertaking, and certainly not one which will work if we insist on maintaining the unity of the U.N. Security Council. But once it began it would begin to change the calculations of Saddam's opponents and supporters - both inside and outside the country - in decisive ways. One Arab official in the Gulf told me that the effect inside Iraq of such a strategy would be "devastating" to Saddam. But the effect outside would be powerful as well. Our friends in the Gulf, who fear Saddam but who also fear ineffective American action against him, would see that this is a very different American policy, one that can rid them of the danger that Saddam poses. And Saddam's supporters in the Security Council - in particular France and Russia - would suddenly see a different prospect before them. Instead of lucrative oil production contracts with the Saddam Hussein regime, they would now have to calculate the economic and commercial opportunities that would come from ingratiating themselves with the future government of Iraq.

The Administration repeatedly makes excuses for its own weakness by arguing that the coalition against Saddam is not what it was seven years ago. But in fact, that coalition didn't exist at all when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The United States, under George Bush's leadership, put that coalition together by demonstrating that we had the strength and the seriousness of purpose to carry through to an effective conclusion. President Bush made good on those commitments despite powerful opposition in the United States Congress. The situation today is easier in many respects: Iraq is far weaker; American strength is much more evident to everyone, including ourselves; and the Congress would be far more supportive of decisive action. If this Adminstration could muster the necessary strength of purpose, it would be possible to liberate ourselves, our friends and allies in the region, and the Iraqi people themselves, from the menace of Saddam Hussein.

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