BAKER ON THE ATTACK
SEPTEMBER 12, 1996
Saddam Hussein is still in power. Did the U.S. miss its chance in the Gulf War? James Baker defended U.S. policy before the Senate today, and took some shots at Bill Clinton's Iraq policy. Elizabeth Farnsworth reports.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: One of the principal architects of American foreign policy during the Gulf War, former Secretary of State James Baker, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee today. Baker testified that while he supports the Clinton administration's military actions in Iraq, he believes they didn't go far enough.
JAMES BAKER, Former Secretary of State: I want to say that I think the administration was fully justified in responding militarily to Saddam Hussein's provocation in Northern Iraq, although I think one could question the nature and the sufficiency of that military response. Iraq under Saddam Hussein only understands force. And more to the point, it seems only to understand overwhelming force. When we respond in a situation like this, I do not believe that it needs to be limited so as to be proportionate to the provocation. Rather than stopping at air defense sites in the South, we could have and probably should have bombed military targets in and around Baghdad, as well as Republican Guard forces above the 36th Parallel. The fact that Iraq has announced it will no longer respect our no-fly zones, is rebuilding its damaged air defense sites in the South, and has, in fact, now fired at our aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone strengthens my view in this regard. And this brings me to my second point. For six years we've been operating in the Persian Gulf region with the legitimacy of an unprecedented international coalition supporting us. And I find it, Mr. Chairman, extremely regrettable that no member states of that coalition, with the exception only of the United Kingdom, initially supported us in these actions. Why was that the case? What happened, or what didn't happen? Was it a lack of consultation? Was it simply an inability to persuade and convince, or was it simply that our relations with our coalition partners have deteriorated this much over the last few years? When the President was asked this question at his press briefing after the strikes, he really had no real answer.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Democrat John Glenn of Ohio criticized Baker's assertion that inaction on the part of President Clinton led to the disintegration of the once powerful allied coalition in the Gulf.
SEN. JOHN GLENN, (D) Ohio: To look at it, as your statement said, as a defeat for U.S. policy that like the demise of the coalition is attributable in part to a failure of leadership, uh, I just don't--the President has tried to--as I understand it--tried to cut our losses. I can think what we'd be doing today if we had Americans with ropes around their necks being trotted down through Baghdad. We tried to avoid that.
JAMES BAKER: I know that my criticism of the fact that the coalition is no longer there is fair. It isn't there. We kept it there. We created it, we kept it, and the Clinton administration kept it alive for a number of years but it isn't there anymore. There is a power vacuum in Northern Iraq into which he has moved. That--what we intended to do there has failed.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Sen. Richard Bryan, Democrat of Nevada, questioned Baker as to whether or not the Bush administration had shown its own failure of leadership by not removing Saddam Hussein from power during the 1991 Gulf War.
SEN. RICHARD BRYAN, (D) Nevada: Looking back on it, wasn't it a mistake not to have taken Saddam Hussein out when we had that great victory in Operation Desert Storm?
JAMES BAKER: I couldn't disagree with you more on whether it was a mistake, even with 20-20 hindsight, to take Saddam out because there wouldn't have been any way to do it, Senator, without going to Baghdad. Make no mistake about that. People who argue that we should have done that were--some of them were among those who most felt that we should bring the boys home because we shouldn't incur the loss of life that would have been involved in trying to go to Baghdad, and it would have been, in my view, quite substantial. So I think to, to argue that is frankly 20-20 hindsight that is erroneous. I mean, I think you can say today every bit as forcefully as we said at the time that this was the right decision for the President to make. Our authority were UN resolutions that authorized us to kick Iraq out of Kuwait, not to occupy Iraq. And we would have gone beyond that authority, and I don't think there's any question but what it was the right thing to do.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Republican Senator William Cohen of Maine expressed his wish that political concerns not become the primary force behind formulation of the President's Iraq strategy.
SEN. WILLIAM COHEN, (R) Maine: Clearly, I'm not one to be critical here, but clearly, President Clinton is concerned about the political factors involved on the eve of an election 90--90 days or less away. He's well ahead in the polls. He does not want to face a situation where we have blindfolded Americans being paraded around as President Carter faced in Iran. He does not want to see American pilots shot down, and their bodies dragged through the streets of Baghdad. That's something that he wants to avoid. And that's understandable. The problem, of course, is that being commander-in-chief, is not a risk-free job. And those are some of the calculations that he may have to take into account in the coming days and weeks if we're going to have an effective response.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Republican Senators concerned about the lack of consultation with the Clinton administration on Iraq policy will get their chance next week when the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testify before the Armed Services Committee.