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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iraq: AreSanctions Collapsing?

Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Energy and Natural Resources Committee
joint hearing
May 21, 1998

Prepared Testimony of Dr. Kenneth M. Pollack, 
Research Fellow, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Delivered to the Committee on Foreign Relations and 
the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, U.S. Senate
Subject: U.S. Policy Options Toward Iraq
May 21, 1998
It is an honor to appear before this committee to discuss the future of 
sanctions and U.S. policy toward Iraq. 
Mr. Chairman, the greatest problem that the United States faces today 
with regard to Iraq is that we have no perfect option.  There are 
policies we could adopt that would solve the problem of Saddam Husayn 
forever, but they come at a price we are loathe to pay.  There are 
polices that we could adopt that would come at an acceptable price, but 
they offer no permanent solution-at least not in the short term.  
Unfortunately, there are no policies that would allow us to solve the 
problem of Saddam Husayn in the foreseeable future and do so at a 
reasonable cost in lives and treasure.
Indeed, it is this conundrum that drove us to containment of Iraq after 
the Gulf War, just as similar conundrums drove us to accept containment 
of the Soviet Union, Communist China, North Korea, and Cuba, in their 
time.  Containment is a difficult policy for Americans to stomach.  Not 
only because the United States is the most powerful nation the world has 
ever seen and it is enraging to believe that we cannot rid ourselves of 
this loathesome dictator with the flick of a finger, but because we as 
Americans like to solve our problems.  We are an impatient people and a 
capable people: when we have a problem we solve it and we move on.  
Containment is an admission that we cannot find a quick solution to a 
difficult problem.
I too share popular frustrations with containment.  I too would like to 
find a way to get rid of Saddam Husayn.  But I am forced to accept the 
logic that containment is our best course of action toward Iraq.  
Containment is our only reasonable course of action toward Iraq.  
Indeed, even a more aggressive policy toward Iraq would have to build 
off the base of containment: unless we choose to give up on Iraq or 
invade the country, any policy toward Iraq will simply be a variant of 
   There are essentially two alternatives to some form of containment.  
On the one hand, we could adopt the policy urged on us by our French 
allies and accommodate Saddam-or as they put it, "learn to live with 
Saddam".  We could agree to a lifting of the sanctions, dismantle 
UNSCOM, attempt to use carrots to lure Iraq back into the family of 
nations, and rely on pure deterrence to prevent him from employing his 
conventional and non-conventional military power to threaten U.S. allies 
in the region.
Mr. Chairman, we tried this approach in the 1980s and it failed.  
Miserably.  I would like to believe that we learn from our mistakes, 
rather than repeat them.  Saddam Husayn has demonstrated that his 
aspirations and idiosyncracies make him uniquely threatening to the 
region.  What is more, since the Gulf War, Saddam has concluded-in a way 
he had not before-that the United States is his implacable adversary and 
the greatest obstacle to his ambitions.  No matter how accommodating the 
United States may be, if Saddam is freed from his bondage, he will work 
tirelessly against the U.S. in the Gulf, in the Middle East, and 
wherever he can throughout the world.  As long as Saddam Husayn is in 
power in Iraq, we cannot forgive or forget.
On the other hand, there are those who have argued for an outright 
American invasion of Iraq.   Mr. Chairman, I do not dismiss the notion 
of an American invasion, because this is the only policy option that 
would be guaranteed to rid us of the problem of Saddam.  However, I 
recognize that there are very serious costs which I do not believe the 
United States is yet willing to pay, and very serious risks for which I 
do not believe the United States yet has answers.
There is no question that the United States military could conquer Iraq, 
destroy the Republican Guard, extirpate Iraq's weapons of mass 
destruction, and hunt down Saddam Husayn.  But doing so will cost tens 
of billions of dollars, hundreds (perhaps thousands) of American lives, 
and tens of of thousands of Iraqi lives.  What's more there are several 
very important wild cards in the deck: if the Republican Guard decided 
to fight it out with us in Iraq's cities, casualties-both in terms of 
American servicemen and Iraqi civilians-could increase exponentially.  
Likewise, we would have to expect that with his back to the wall, Saddam 
would have little incentive to refrain from using his remaining arsenal 
of weapons of mass destruction either against U.S. forces or regional 
allies.  Finally, perhaps the greatest problem we would face would be 
what to do with Iraq once we had conquered it.  All of Iraq's neighbors 
have very different ideas about what a future Iraqi state should look 
like.  Most of these ideas are in conflict with one another, few would 
accord with American desires to establish a representative democracy in 
Iraq, and all of Iraq's neighbors have demonstrated a capability and a 
willingness to meddle in Iraqi affairs and undermine U.S. efforts there. 
 In short, we would undoubtedly win the war but we could easily lose the 
peace if we were to invade.
At least for the moment, these are both bad options.  Everything we are 
left with is a variant of containment in some way or another.  But this 
does not mean that we are already doing the best we can.  There are 
different versions of containment and important ways to reform the 
First, let me say a few words about supporting the Iraqi opposition.
Many of the Iraq experts around town simply dismiss this idea 
altogether.  I do not.  I think there could be real benefits from such 
an approach.  I firmly believe that a real opposition with real support 
from the United States would put real pressure on Saddam's regime.
However, I also think we have to be realistic about the current 
limitations of the Iraqi opposition and the limits these failings place 
upon our policy.  The Iraqi opposition is currently moribund.  Whether 
you blame the Bush Administration, the Clinton administration, or the 
opposition leaders themselves for this state of affairs, the fact 
remains that the Iraqi opposition today is impotent.  Its leadership is 
divided, it has no support inside Iraq-especially in the Sunni 
heartland, it has not displayed any ability to organize resistance to 
Saddam, and during its four years in northern Iraq it demonstrated 
neither military skill nor an ability to cajole meaningful numbers of 
Iraqi military personnel to defect to their cause.  It would take a 
tremendous effort on the part of the United States, including hundreds 
of millions of dollars and several years, to reform, reorganize, rearm 
and retrain the Iraqi opposition to the point where it could return to 
Iraq as a credible opposition.  
This would hold true even with a massive commitment of U.S. airpower to 
support the Iraqi opposition.  There is simply no way around the 
necessary time and effort to get the Iraqi opposition to the point where 
it could be effective enough even to walk in and occupy charred fields 
cleared by American air power.  To do otherwise would be to invite 
another Bay of Pigs.
Consequently, even supporting the Iraqi opposition can only be seen, 
ultimately, as an adjunct to containment and not an alternative to it.  
During the years it would require to recruit, train and equip an Iraqi 
opposition capable of effective operations inside Iraq the United States 
will still have to keep Saddam weak and isolated through continued 
containment.  Morever, we must recognize that even after a viable 
opposition is up and running, the probability that Saddam will actually 
fall as a result of such an effort is low.  Thus, the United States will 
still have to ensure an effective containment regime to guard against 
the very real risk, indeed the likelihood, that even a well-supported 
opposition will fail to remove him from power.
Thus, Mr. Chairman, we return inevitably to the policy of containment.  
Not because it is the best policy, but because it is the "least-worst" 
option available to us given what we hope to achieve and what we are 
willing to pay.  Nevertheless, while it is clear that the United States 
will have to rely on some form of containment for the forseeable future, 
it is equally clear that we cannot continue with business as usual.
Containment is under attack from a variety of directions.  What's more, 
these attacks are doing real damage.  Over the last three years, the 
United States has been forced to give ground on a number of issues in 
the face of such pressure.  The United States supported Resolutions 986, 
and 1153 simply because we recognized that it was impossible to do 
otherwise.  Although, one must give credit to the Administration for the 
ingenious approach embodied in the resolutions which make concessions on 
Iraqi exports while retaining control over Iraqi imports, we must still 
recognize that both resolutions entailed sacrificing part of the 
sanctions regime in the face of pressure from the international 
community.  Similarly, our limited response to Saddam's attack on Irbil 
in 1996 and our willingness to accept Kofi Annan's compromise deal with 
Saddam in 1998 both speak to the great difficulty we now have finding 
states willing to support us on those occasions when it is necessary to 
use force to prevent or punish Iraqi defiance.
Mr. Chairman, we are reaching a point where we must act to restore 
containment, to bolster it so that it can last over the long-term.  We 
are already being forced to make concessions in some areas of the 
containment regime in order to hold the line on others.  In the future, 
to make containment last, we will have to make additional trade-offs.  
The question that the United States must answer is what kind of a 
containment regime do we want to have and what trade-offs are we willing 
to make.  
Essentially, there are two different sets of trade-offs we could make to 
bolster containment.  On the one hand, we could make trade-offs among 
our various foreign policy agendas: we could make concessions on other 
foreign policy issues in order to secure greater cooperation from our 
allies on Iraq.  On the other hand, we could make trade-offs within our 
Iraq policy: we could make concessions on some aspects of the sanctions 
and inspections regimes in order to lock-in other, more important, 
mechanisms for the long-term.
Broad Containment.  The former option I call "broad containment."  The 
goal of this approach would be to preserve the current sanctions against 
Iraq intact and in toto.  There is real reason to try to preserve 
containment as it currently exists.  Simply put, the containment of Iraq 
we have held in place for the last seven years is the most far-reaching 
and effective the modern world has seen.  Bad mouth it though we may, 
fret over Saddam's non-compliance though we may, the sanctions and 
inspections regimes established after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait have 
been remarkably successful: Iraq's military continues to whither, UNSCOM 
has obliterated vast quantities of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, 
and ultimately, Bagdad remains diplomatically isolated.  If we can find 
a way to keep this regime intact and hold it together over the long 
term, we should do so.
Unfortunately, it is the very strength and comprehensiveness of broad 
containment that has created our problem.  It is the effectiveness of 
this containment regime that causes Baghdad to fight it so ferociously 
and causes France, Russia, China, and so many other states to 
increasingly oppose it.  Consequently, if we are going to keep 
containment this strong and this comprehensive, we will have to be 
willing to make very significant sacrifices on other issues to hold it 
Ultimately, Iraq is not a primary foreign policy concern for France.  
Nor is it for Russia, nor for China, or Egypt or most other countries.  
For most of the world, Iraq is less important to them than it is to the 
United States.  On the other hand, there are policy issues that matter 
far more to these other countries than does Iraq.  Consequently, if the 
United States is going to hold on to broad containment of Iraq it will 
have to be willing to make concessions to other states on foreign policy 
issues more important to them than Iraq.  This could mean making 
concessions to Russia on NATO expansion, to China over trade issues, to 
France over Iran, and so on.  
Narrow Containment.  If we are unwilling to make sacrifices on other 
foreign policy issues to try to persuade other nations to be more 
cooperative on Iraq, the alternative is to make concessions within the 
containment regime itself.  The option I will call "narrow containment" 
would trade-off the more comprehensive aspects of the sanctions 
currently in existence in return for a new set of international 
agreements locking in the most important aspects of containment over the 
long term.
There are four areas that are crucial to the continued containment of 
Iraq over the long-term:
 Limiting Iraq's conventional military forces.  Although Iraq's WMD 
capability grabs the headlines, in the end, it has been Iraq's ability 
to project conventional military power that has proven the greatest 
destabilizing force in the Gulf region.
 Preventing Iraq from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.  In 
particular, Iraqi possession of a nuclear weapon could have catastrophic 
 Maintaining Iraq's diplomatic isolation.  It is crucial that even 
under a narrow containment regime, there be no illusion that Saddam is 
free to act as he wants.  Iraq and its neighbors must always know that 
Iraq will live under the constant scrutiny of the United States and the 
international community as long as it is ruled by Saddam Husayn.
 Monitoring Iraqi spending.  Ultimately, the only way to be sure that 
Saddam cannot rebuild a large conventional or WMD arsenal is to continue 
to oversee Iraqi spending.
A policy of narrow containment would envision trading off other aspects 
of the current containment regime in return for locking in regulations 
that will allow containment of Iraq to proceed long into the future in 
these four areas.  It would envision new international agreements 
re-affirming the prohibition on Iraqi possession of WMD, banning the 
sale of offensive conventional weaponry to Iraq (offensive weaponry here 
defined as tanks, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, long-range 
artillery, and a number of other categories of weapons), and reaffirming 
the inviolability of Iraq's international borders.  To see these 
enforced, the United States would seek, among other measures, a clear 
reaffirmation of: UNSCOM's charter-and particularly its long-term 
monitoring mission; the UN escrow account for Iraqi revenues, as well as 
UN supervision of Iraqi imports; and Baghdad's renunciation of any use 
of force beyond Iraq's borders under any circumstances.
Depending on what the international community would be willing to agree 
to, under a policy of narrow containment the United States would be 
prepared to make concessions on Iraqi imports and exports other than 
arms and dual-use technology, frozen Iraqi assets, the no-fly zones, the 
no-drive zone, the flight bans, Iraqi compensation to victims of its 
aggression, and even on the return of Kuwaiti property stolen during the 
Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.  
One of the problems we have today is that it is very hard to convince 
the average American, let alone the average Saudi or Egyptian, to 
support military action over the composition of UN inspection teams.  A 
virtue of the narrow containment approach is that it would draw firm 
"red lines" around those things which the entire international community 
recognizes as dangerous.  Thus there would be fewer restrictions on 
Iraqi behavior, but those that remain would be much clearer and more 
defensible.  After all, even the French and Russians agree both publicly 
and privately that Iraq cannot be allowed to rearm.  
The strength of narrow containment is that it uses as leverage those 
elements of the current containment regime which we are unlikely to be 
able to hold on to forever in order to strengthen our ability to hold on 
to that which really constrains Iraq.  This last is a very important 
point: narrow containment is not a fall-back position from broad 
containment.  If we allow broad containment to continue to deteriorate, 
we will lose the leverage we still possess to lock-in the most important 
restrictions on Iraq for the long-term.  To be successful, narrow 
containment must be implemented in the near term, while we still have 
things to trade-off and still have time to secure international 
cooperation to lock-in revamped restrictions on Iraq for the long term.
Mr. Chairman, although we do not have any perfect options toward Iraq, 
we cannot afford not to choose among those we have.  Because of the 
pressures on the current containment regime, and because of the 
compromises we have been forced to make in response to those pressures, 
simply "muddling through" - of which I am often a proponent-will not do.
The United States has no choice but to employ some variant of 
containment, either as a stand alone policy, or in conjunction with an 
effort to pressure the regime by supporting the Iraqi opposition.  But 
we must decide which variant we will employ.  We must develop a cohesive 
strategy to implement it.  And we must devote all necessary attention 
and resources toward executing it. 
If we choose to support the Iraqi opposition, we must move quickly to 
halt the continued disintegration of its organization and the further 
erosion of its meager support inside Iraq.  We must also begin to work 
with our allies to find ways to aid the opposition without undermining 
the underlying containment policy.
If we choose to re-invigorate broad containment then we must decide 
which other aspects of American foreign policy we will be willing to 
sacrifice for the sake of cooperation on Iraq.  We must also begin to 
work with our allies to craft compromises, close loopholes in the 
existing sanctions regime, and take decisive action-either diplomatic 
or, if necessary, military-to compel Iraq to cease its provocations and 
comply in full with the UN resolutions. 
Finally, if we choose to move toward a narrow containment regime we must 
formulate our position and begin negotiations with the other members of 
the Security Council while we still have the leverage of comprehensive 
Our Iraq policy faces considerable challenges, but it is hardly dead.  
If we do not give it the attention and resources it requires, 
containment will continue to erode and one day we could wake up with no 
choice but to invade Iraq or accommodate Saddam.  However, there is 
every reason to believe that containment can be reformed and made to 
last over the long term.  Americans don't like containment but we happen 
to be very good at it.  We contained the Soviet Union for 45 years until 
it collapsed.  We continue to contain both Cuba and North Korea with 
relatively little effort.  All of these states were far more formidable 
adversaries than Iraq will ever be.  Mr. Chairman, there is no reason we 
cannot continue to contain Iraq as we contained these other rogue 
states, so long as we make the effort to do so.

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