DEALING WITH SADDAM HUSSEIN
March 2, 1998
Despite our present agreement with Iraq, it is the belief of many that Saddam Hussein cannot be trusted. Phil Ponce and guests discuss whether the United States should contain or remove Saddam Hussein and what the consequences of either action would be.
PHIL PONCE: U.S. policy on Iraq was the subject of a Senate hearing today in Washington. Among the witnesses were a leader of the Iraqi opposition movement and a former CIA chief. Here are some excerpts.
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK, (R) Kansas: The problem is truly quite simple, if not very--if also very difficult to resolve. Despite Mr. Annan's statements that Saddam can be trusted, the truth is that he cannot. Why? Because he does not want to give up his weapons of mas destruction an desire for regional domination. So unless we're prepared to keep sanctions on Iraq forever, we must be prepared to do something about the root cause of the problem, and that is Saddam Hussein, himself.
AHMED CHALABI, President, Iraqi National Congress: The Iraqi National Congress asks your help in removing the threat of Saddam's doomsday weapons from our people, from the region, and from the world. Helping the Iraqi people regain their country is the only solution. Saddam cannot be trusted; Saddam cannot be negotiated with; Saddam has prove that he will starve and murder every Iraqi and every person with the misfortune to fall under his control until he has enough horror weapons to dominate the Middle East and threaten the world. It is time to help the Iraqi people remove Saddam from power.
JAMES WOOLSEY, Former CIA Director: In my judgment, beginning almost in the closing hours of the Gulf War, at the end of the Bush administration and for the first five plus years of this administration, our policy with regard to Iraq has been both flaccid and feckless. I believe it would be wise for us to recognize a government in exile. Probably the Iraqi National Congress is the only realistic place to start. We should use sea power to stop Saddam's smuggling of oil from which he gained substantial resources today. Insofar as it is possible, we should provide any frozen assets or loans based on such assets to such a government in exile, either to make it possible for it to arm itself, or to assist with arms, particularly some specialized arms, such as anti-tank weapons. I believe we should remove the sanctions from the liberated areas of Iraq and if those areas expand, continue to remove sanctions from areas that are not under Saddam's control. I think it is wise and important to bring charges against Saddam for war crimes and others senior in his government before international tribunals. I believe broadcasting into Iraq is an excellent idea. Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel both said that Radio Free Europe was the single most important thing that the United States did during the Cold War. What should we not do? I believe, first of all, we should not deceive ourselves that this agreement of the last few days is going to last. I believe that we should also not--at least at the present time--consider invading Iraq with ground forces. I don't believe that is necessary, and also, I don't believe there is the support here or in the Congress, or among our allies to do it. I also do not believe that we should attempt to assassinate Saddam or even arrange a coup against him. The United States has dealt with terrible dictators before over the course of many years, and we have triumphed. We are still here, and most of them are not.
PHIL PONCE: Now, among those testifying at today's hearing was Richard Haass, who served on President Bush's National Security Council staff. He's now director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. Also here is Robert Kagan, senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former State Department official in the Reagan administration. Gentlemen, welcome. Mr. Kagan, you've been writing lately on the question of removal of Saddam Hussein versus containment of Iraq. Those writings have been getting some attention. What do you advocate exactly?
ROBERT KAGAN, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Well, I think the first thing we need to do is get rid of the illusion that we can successfully maintain a containment strategy against Saddam. After all, what we've been seeing for the last few months has been the breakdown of containment strategy. To do containment you need two things: You need solidarity among your coalition partners to carry out all the necessary measures to contain Saddam Hussein. That's broken down over the last few months and shows no sign of being repaired now. The second thing is you need a military deterrent that is effective enough to coerce Saddam into behaving the way you want him to behave on weapons of mass destruction. I think it's clear the administration's practically acknowledged that their air strike option cannot do that. So you really have a breakdown of containment. And I think, therefore, you need to think seriously about developing a comprehensive political, military strategy aimed at removing Saddam Hussein.
PHIL PONCE: And by removal, what do you mean? Do you mean assassination?
ROBERT KAGAN: No, I don't think we should engage in assassination for a variety of reasons. I would argue that we should be supporting the political opposition that exists in Iraq, that has existed in Iraq, but I would say honestly that if you really are going to aim at getting rid of Saddam, as I think we should, we must be prepared to use American military force, including both air power and ground troops, to finish the job that was not finished in 1991.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Haass, unfinished business?
RICHARD HAASS, Brookings Institution: Well, I think Mr. Kagan has given the intellectually honest response. The only way I know for sure to get rid of Saddam Hussein--and we all would be better off if he were to go--would be to invade the country, occupy it, arrest them, get rid of him politically, and install a better government. It's the sort of thing we did in Japan and Germany, after World War II, the sort of thing say we did more recently in Panama. But we shouldn't kid ourselves. It would take a long time to do that, a lot of Americans would die in the process, and I don't think we have a lot of support in the region. What would begin as a liberation would very quickly begin to look like an occupation. There would be retaliation against those forces. We could expect terrorism there and here, so I would simply say while it's certainly desirable to get rid of Saddam Hussein, I would say that right now, that is simply not a doable option.
PHIL PONCE: How about that, the things he listed, are those--is that kind of a price worth paying, in your opinion?
ROBERT KAGAN: Well, you have to ask yourself, what is the threat we face? The threat we face right now is a Saddam Hussein, who's arguably the most dangerous man in the world, armed with weapons of mass destruction, which will be used to intimidate his neighbors in the region who are our allies and can be used in a crisis against our troops. So if you think that's a serious threat--and I do--then I think you do have to be willing to take risks in order to deal with that threat. And I'm--you know, Richard points out that we have done this in the past. We did it in Japan and Germany. There are always risks attendant to taking serious action like this, but I think those risks are worth taking if, as the President says, this threat is going to affect us on into the 21st century. I think he's right.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Haass, how long can a country be contained?
RICHARD HAASS: Well, we've got two pretty good examples. One is the Soviet Union. Containment lasted for 50 years, not only ultimately kept them in a box but ultimately created conditions which led to the demise of the Soviet Union and to most of Communism. Secondly, we're seeing containment in action now on the Korean Peninsula. Containment there has worked again for nearly half a century. And we've seen containment in place for seven years in the Gulf. And during that time we've seen an extraordinary development. Most of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction have, in fact, been located and eliminated. Iraq has not yet been again [able] to reconstitute a military threat to the region. So containment doesn't offer you a solution but it does offer you a way to protect your core interests and a manageable price. I think it has done that for the United States. The fact that containment, as Bob Kagan says, has deteriorated is true but that's not inevitable. That's the result of bad policy making. I think the choice for the administration right now is to really ask: Are they prepared to institute a serious policy of containment? And that'll take two things above all. One is if we are to use military force, it's got to be severe; we've got to aim at the basis of Saddam Hussein's power. We've got to hurt him. The only thing he cares about--he doesn't care about the Iraqi people but he does care about his Republican Guards and their equipment. Secondly, on weapons of mass destruction, I think we should be telling him this: If you should ever use your weapons of mass destruction--nuclear, chemical, or biological--then we will make your ouster an explicit goal of American foreign policy. We will then bring about your removal. But until he uses them, I don't think we have either the domestic or international support to do it. What I'm hoping--and one of the reasons I support containment--is by threatening his ouster and linking it to any use of weapons of mass destruction, I think we can deter their use.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Kagan, do you think that kind of a threat would be effective?
ROBERT KAGAN: Well, I thought it interesting that a containment strategy needs to include a threat of his ouster, but if I ask you whether you want to support the ouster, you say, no. So the question is how credible is a threat of ouster as part of the containment strategy if we're not willing to carry out the necessary steps to do--to oust Saddam Hussein?
RICHARD HAASS: All I'm trying to say is at some point I would be. I don't think right now we have had the domestic or the regional support that would be necessary. We can't oust Saddam by ourselves. We need local states to support us. We need them as launching platforms. We need their political support. I don't think we have it yet. If, however, he ever were to use weapons of mass destruction--and I'm hoping the sort of threat I'm saying will deter him--but if he were, then we would have the domestic and regional willingness to run the extra costs.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Kagan, how about that, can--if the United States decided it wanted to remove Saddam Hussein from power, could it realistically do it?
ROBERT KAGAN: Well, first of all, I would just like to say I don't want to wait for him to drop a weapon of mass destruction on an ally before I decide to get rid of him. I'd rather get rid of him before he drops his weapons of mass destruction. But the answer to whether we can get rid of him is, of course, we can get rid of him. At the end of the Gulf War we could have gotten rid of him. There were uprisings throughout his country in March of 1991. American forces were certainly prepared, if necessary, to go into Baghdad and get rid of Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration decided not to do that for a variety of reasons. Today Saddam Hussein's army is much weaker than it was seven years ago. I don't think, frankly, Iraqi soldiers are--would look forward to an opportunity to fight American soldiers again after the beating they took the last time. And so I do believe that, of course, we could do it. It's a question of having the will to do it. And I think Richard's right to question whether at least our political leadership has the will to do it. I'm not so sure about the American people. Polls that I've been reading suggest much more support for the idea of getting rid of Saddam Hussein than many of us might have expected.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Kagan, part of the scenario you just painted presupposes that the existing Iraqi opposition can be tapped into, that it's effective, that it's viable. Is it, in your opinion?
ROBERT KAGAN: Well, actually, my option doesn't presuppose that. I'd like to hope that it can. I think there is a great deal we can do with the opposition. And one of the criticisms that's made of the opposition, that they're divided; some have argued that they're corrupt. The only thing I would say about that is that's true of all opposition groups in history. It's endemic to being an opposition group that there are divisions and conflicts and even some shady dealings. That was true of the Nicaraguan opposition. It was true of oppositions in many countries. I think they could be united if the United States stood behind them in a serious way. But I just want to say, I don't want to put all my chits on a successful opposition overthrow of Saddam Hussein. I think to be serious in a policy like this, the United States has to be willing at the end of the day to go in with our own military force.
PHIL PONCE: How do you assess the strength of the existing Iraqi opposition?
RICHARD HAASS: I think it's even wrong to use the word "opposition" as though it were a singular entity. What you really have are multiple oppositions in Iraq, and to a large extent they're ethnically based and they're geographically based. And I think we have to understand that if we were going to get involved seriously on their behalf, it would cause all sorts of problems between us and their neighbors, particularly Turkey, which is very worried that this could lead to a separate Kurdish state. But I also think we have to be realistic. They are not very strong. They are not united. At some point, once again, we would either be leaving them in the lurch, which I think is morally indefensible, or we would have to end up with Bob's option. I just don't think there's somehow a cheap, easy route, somehow that between containment that I'm advocating and a serious use of ground forces and air forces that he's advocating, that there's cheap and easy option that simply by helping these people we can somehow empower them to do it by themselves. If it were true, I'd say great, I don't think it's realistic. So I think we have to really limit ourselves to the more serious choices, or we could get them, and we could get us in a whole lot of trouble.
PHIL PONCE: Expand on something you just said. And that has to do with the possible consequences or the possible ramifications of a replacement of Saddam Hussein. What are the concerns in the region, as far as the stability of Iraq?
RICHARD HAASS: Well, I think it's good you raised the question. Simply getting rid of Saddam is not the answer or the panacea. We have to make sure we put something better in his place. Afghanistan is a painful lesson. It's simply getting rid of the old. It should never be confused with installing the new. What I think worries most the Arabs in the area is that it would lead to a civil war in Iraq; it would lead to the breakup of the country so they would no longer have Iraq somehow as a shield against Iran. And I think the real threat to us is you could have a major civil and even regional war. I don't think it takes a big leap of imagination to imagine not simply Iraqis fighting Iraqis but Turks, Syrians, Iranians all fighting as well. So what began as a local problem very quickly could expand into an enormous regional problem.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Kagan, do you see that as a reasonable scenario?
ROBERT KAGAN: Well, there are lots of bad things that could happen. The law of unintended consequences would certainly be a play. And if our present situation were a good one, I would say these risks were not worth taking. The question is: Compared to what? There are some bad scenarios that Richard has painted. I can paint you a very bad scenario about trying to contain Saddam Hussein, failing, letting him essentially get out of the box in the Middle East and with weapons of mass destruction and a rebuilding of his military being able in a sense to get back to where he was before the Gulf War able to call the shots and cause us quite a severe amount of harm. And so I guess what I'd say is that I think the United States can go in and try to set up a free Iraq and maybe even make it a model for the Middle East. But, in any case, I don't think the alternative, which is to leave Saddam Hussein in power and let him do--work his will on the region--is an acceptable alternative.
PHIL PONCE: Gentlemen, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you both very much.