MATTERS OF DEFENSE
SEPTEMBER 3, 1996
President Clinton has struck against targets in Iraq; now he must face the inevitable scrutiny of his decision. Margaret Warner talks with two members of Congress involved in foreign policy.
MARGARET WARNER: Joining us are Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican from Indiana and a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Lee Hamilton, also from Indiana, the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee. Welcome, gentlemen. Congressman Hamilton, your assessment of the President's move, was it the right move?
REP. LEE HAMILTON, (D) Indiana: I support the move the President made. I think the actions that Saddam Hussein has taken are just unacceptable. We've warned him many times not to go across that 36th Parallel. We've warned him that under the U.N. resolutions he has to treat his people decently and not attack them. He went across the boundary. He attacked his own people. His conduct is reprehensible. You do have to make him pay a price for that, and strong military action, it seems to me, was entirely appropriate.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Congressman, as you know, Saddam Hussein said today and his foreign minister said the same thing, but really there's no legal basis for this attack, that the U.N. resolution does not preclude him from moving ground forces over that 36th Parallel, as it does preclude him from moving South into that other zone. What about that argument?
REP. HAMILTON: I don't accept that argument. I think you cannot look at a single U.N. resolution and indicate what the obligations are under the resolution. You have to look at all of the U.N. resolutions, those passed before the war, those passed after the war. Those resolutions make it very clear that he must treat his people fairly and decently, that he must not be repressive, that he must respect their human rights. And he has acted, as Sec. Perry said, as a bully with his own people. We can't accept that, and that's in very clear violation of those U.N. obligations taken as a whole.
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Lugar, your assessment of the President's move today.
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR, (R) Indiana: Well, I support what the President did, but I'm surprised to hear that it was a measured move, that it was deliberately small. I would have thought after five years that when Saddam Hussein once again commits aggression that the President of the United States would, in fact, attempt to destroy effectively the military authority of Saddam Hussein. And we've not gone that far. And the President may go farther. I would advise him to do so because I believe we're going to be tested again and again. And it's very expensive for the United States to keep mobilizing, to keep rebuffing Saddam.
Furthermore, I believe Saddam decided in a diabolical way to have aggression now because he figured that he was going to be able to split us off from the Turks, the Jordanians, others in the Middle East, gain mild response that we've seen from other allies. In short, we're losing ground with the Desert Storm alliance, and that is a dangerous predicament for the United States in looking after our own strategic interest, and it appears to me that we ought to move decisively to bond, i.e., through the aircraft attacks, a whole assortment of weapon situations, military installations, so that Saddam lacks power to commit aggression again.
MARGARET WARNER: And are you--would you include in that actual strikes on Baghdad, itself?
SEN. LUGAR: I would include strikes in the Baghdad area on military installations that are of value in terms of communication, intelligence, quite apart from all aircraft and the ability that Saddam would have to resist us.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman, your reaction to that.
REP. HAMILTON: There isn't any doubt that Saddam Hussein has been a difficult man for us to deal with over a period of time, and he's done a lot of things we don't like that are reprehensible. We have to be very clear here in what our objectives are. And if our objective is to destroy Saddam Hussein and his regime, then I think we have to think in terms of what resources are necessary to do that. I certainly do not rule out the possibility of more vigorous military action. That may very well become appropriate. But I do think Sec. Perry was on the mark.
Our vital national interests here are what we have to focus on. And the President did state very limited objectives. Those objectives were to make Saddam Hussein pay a price. They are to restrain him or constrain him so that he cannot be an aggressor and move southward where our vital interests are, and our objectives are to strengthen our own ability to deal with Saddam Hussein. Now what we have done meets those objectives. If you're going to broaden that objective, then I want to see precisely what kind of resources on our part are going to be necessary to achieve those broader objectives.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator, what about that argument, that this--that this move does at least further constrain Saddam Hussein and that the rest is if, I can paraphrase the congressman, kind of a slippery slope?
SEN. LUGAR: Well, I'm not certain that Saddam's been constrained at all. As a matter of fact, he was on the air pretty quickly after President Clinton was to indicate he hadn't been hurt at all. My guess is that is his perception of the situation. It's a dangerous perception, and this is why, if we're going to use military power, we had better make sure Saddam understands he's been hit. I'm not sure that's gotten through. Now until it does, we've just simply wasted our time.
And I would just say respectfully that it appears to me the 27 Cruise missiles fired at 14 situations that were very remote did not make a whole lot of difference, and I'm hopeful the President is planning to follow up once again to make sure that he does make a difference. And when we come into military authority, we give the world signals of who we are, we are decisive and effective.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you both, starting with you, Congressman, what about the other acts the President took today, which was, of course, to expand the no-fly zone in the South, another 60 miles North, right to the edge of Baghdad? Do you support that, and do you think that's sustainable?
REP. HAMILTON: Oh, I do support it. I think it's a pretty tough action, provided we implement it personally. What it means, in effect, is that Saddam Hussein cannot fly any airplanes South of Baghdad. That means he has really no ability to launch any aggressive action in the South. So that's a tough action, and it should be strongly, rigorously enforced, and I think it clearly meets the objective stated by the President to restrain Saddam Hussein's ability to be an aggressor.
MARGARET WARNER: As you heard, Saddam Hussein say today that, in fact, that action is what triggered him to order his, his troops on the ground to go ahead and just shoot planes down, U.S. planes, allied planes anywhere in any no-fly zone. I mean, has the President greatly increased the risk, or do you not think that's much of a threat?
REP. HAMILTON: Well, there are clearly threats if you begin to try to enforce that no-fly zone. That's not a risk-free operation. Striking the targets that we did today reduced that risk, but there's going to be some risk there without any doubt. But we must make very clear to Saddam Hussein here--and here I agree with Sen. Lugar--we're going to stop his ability to be an aggressor. Whatever it takes to do that, we should be prepared to do. This step--extending the no-fly zone in the South--is a very important step in that direction and will severely hamper an action by Saddam Hussein that goes to our national security interests and our vital interests.
MARGARET WARNER: As Secretary Perry said. Sen. Lugar, what's your take on that expansion and whether we can sustain it, expanding the no-fly zone?
SEN. LUGAR: Well, of course, we can sustain it, but we'd better make certain we take out the Iraqi air force, that we take out defense situations that might shoot down our aircraft. Our ability to sustain it and to be effective is to make certain we know what's up against us and to take it out. My own view is we've not yet achieved that, so as Lee Hamilton has pointed out, there are risks that we've extended, but it's important that we do that and that we have that Southern territory fully controlled.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator, let me ask you about something that “Washington Post” columnist James Hoagland wrote about today, and also that Bob Dole over the weekend suggested, which was that the administration bore some responsibility for this situation having gotten to this point. Is there something to that, do you think?
SEN. LUGAR: Well, the administration, whoever is in power, always bears responsibility when things don't go well. In this particular instance, it appears to me that our diplomacy has been faulty, or if it was conducted, it was at such a low level of intensity that people didn't get the idea. We've had a problem with the Kurds for a long time. This rivalry that has sprung up now is not unknown. Sec. Christopher apparently gave a warning, but we've not really moved to make certain that there would not be military action, or even the hint of it by Saddam, and we came too late on the scene with our warnings.
He didn't believe us, and as a matter of fact, I think was fully prepared to test us and to split us off from those who allowed us to use air fields last time, the Jordanians and the Turks, in particular. We are going to have to have air fields. We're going to have to have the ability to conduct full scale operations if Saddam is to be constrained, so the current situation is unacceptable, and Saddam has found out a great deal.
MARGARET WARNER: And there were reports today in the “Los Angeles Times” and elsewhere that, in fact, Saudis and Jordanians refused to let us use their air fields for these strikes. Do you understand that to be correct?
SEN. LUGAR: That's my understanding, and that is precisely what I think Saddam had discovered or wanted to make certain he understood. It is a very serious predicament for countries who are being protected by us. And let's not make any bones about that. We are in that area to try to protect our own strategic interests, but those include the protection of the wise, friendly countries who we believe share our ethos and our parts at least of our world.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman, your response to that point about what this has shown about the alliance.
REP. HAMILTON: We're disappointed. I think we're disappointed because the countries, particularly the Arab countries, have not strongly supported us. We're very pleased that from Japan and Germany and Great Britain we have their strong support and from NATO as well. We would like to see stronger action by our Arab friends. We think they have a strong interest in this because we think Saddam Hussein is an aggressor. My guess is, as Sec. Perry said, is that privately they are more supportive than they are publicly.
MARGARET WARNER: And very briefly, Congressman, we only have a few seconds--what about Sen. Lugar's point that the administration's own actions in the diplomatic realm may have helped contribute to this?
REP. HAMILTON: First of all, I was very pleased to see Sen. Dole unequivocally strongly say he supported the military action. I think that's very helpful in this situation. Secondly, we've worked very hard to try to bring those Kurdish factions together. We didn't succeed. We failed at that. There isn't any doubt about it.
We're going to have a big debate over a period of time about was there a problem or not in American diplomacy, and that is an appropriate debate. But right now we've got forces in the field--Sen. Dole and President Clinton are together--it's important that we stand together now in this moment of crisis, and we're doing that, and I'm very pleased about it.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, thank you very much, both of you.
SEN. LUGAR: Thank you, Margaret.