Iraq: AreSanctions Collapsing?Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Energy and Natural Resources Committee
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 containment. THE EXTREME OPTIONS ARE TOO EXTREME 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 policy. SUPPORTING THE IRAQI OPPOSITION 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. REFORMING CONTAINMENT 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 together. 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 consequences. · 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. CONCLUSIONS 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 sanctions. 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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