August 15, 2002
Brent Scowcroft Comes Out Against Attacking Iraq

I don't claim to know enough about military affairs to have an informed view on just what, if anything, the U.S. should do further to draw the fangs of Saddam Hussein.

I cannot help noticing, however, that the right-wingers who have been beating up on those pleading for caution as lily-livered idealists with no sense of how dangerous the world is now have to beat up on... Brent Scowcroft:


WSJ.com - Brent Scowcroft: Don't Attack Saddam: Given Saddam's aggressive regional ambitions, as well as his ruthlessness and unpredictability, it may at some point be wise to remove him from power. Whether and when that point should come ought to depend on overall U.S. national security priorities. Our pre-eminent security priority -- underscored repeatedly by the president -- is the war on terrorism. An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken.

The United States could certainly defeat the Iraqi military and destroy Saddam's regime. But it would not be a cakewalk. On the contrary, it undoubtedly would be very expensive -- with serious consequences for the U.S. and global economy -- and could as well be bloody. In fact, Saddam would be likely to conclude he had nothing left to lose, leading him to unleash whatever weapons of mass destruction he possesses.

Israel would have to expect to be the first casualty, as in 1991 when Saddam sought to bring Israel into the Gulf conflict. This time, using weapons of mass destruction, he might succeed, provoking Israel to respond, perhaps with nuclear weapons, unleashing an Armageddon in the Middle East. Finally, if we are to achieve our strategic objectives in Iraq, a military campaign very likely would have to be followed by a large-scale, long-term military occupation. But the central point is that any campaign against Iraq, whatever the strategy, cost and risks, is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism. Worse, there is a virtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq at this time. So long as that sentiment persists, it would require the U.S. to pursue a virtual go-it-alone strategy against Iraq, making any military operations correspondingly more difficult and expensive. The most serious cost, however, would be to the war on terrorism. Ignoring that clear sentiment would result in a serious degradation in international cooperation with us against terrorism. And make no mistake, we simply cannot win that war without enthusiastic international cooperation, especially on intelligence...

Don't Attack Saddam

By BRENT SCOWCROFT

Our nation is presently engaged in a debate about whether to launch a war against Iraq. Leaks of various strategies for an attack on Iraq appear with regularity. The Bush administration vows regime change, but states that no decision has been made whether, much less when, to launch an invasion.

[Portrait]

It is beyond dispute that Saddam Hussein is a menace. He terrorizes and brutalizes his own people. He has launched war on two of his neighbors. He devotes enormous effort to rebuilding his military forces and equipping them with weapons of mass destruction. We will all be better off when he is gone.

Think Carefully

That said, we need to think through this issue very carefully. We need to analyze the relationship between Iraq and our other pressing priorities -- notably the war on terrorism -- as well as the best strategy and tactics available were we to move to change the regime in Baghdad.

Saddam's strategic objective appears to be to dominate the Persian Gulf, to control oil from the region, or both.

That clearly poses a real threat to key U.S. interests. But there is scant evidence to tie Saddam to terrorist organizations, and even less to the Sept. 11 attacks. Indeed Saddam's goals have little in common with the terrorists who threaten us, and there is little incentive for him to make common cause with them.

He is unlikely to risk his investment in weapons of mass destruction, much less his country, by handing such weapons to terrorists who would use them for their own purposes and leave Baghdad as the return address. Threatening to use these weapons for blackmail -- much less their actual use -- would open him and his entire regime to a devastating response by the U.S. While Saddam is thoroughly evil, he is above all a power-hungry survivor.

Saddam is a familiar dictatorial aggressor, with traditional goals for his aggression. There is little evidence to indicate that the United States itself is an object of his aggression. Rather, Saddam's problem with the U.S. appears to be that we stand in the way of his ambitions. He seeks weapons of mass destruction not to arm terrorists, but to deter us from intervening to block his aggressive designs.

Given Saddam's aggressive regional ambitions, as well as his ruthlessness and unpredictability, it may at some point be wise to remove him from power. Whether and when that point should come ought to depend on overall U.S. national security priorities. Our pre-eminent security priority -- underscored repeatedly by the president -- is the war on terrorism. An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken.

The United States could certainly defeat the Iraqi military and destroy Saddam's regime. But it would not be a cakewalk. On the contrary, it undoubtedly would be very expensive -- with serious consequences for the U.S. and global economy -- and could as well be bloody. In fact, Saddam would be likely to conclude he had nothing left to lose, leading him to unleash whatever weapons of mass destruction he possesses.

Israel would have to expect to be the first casualty, as in 1991 when Saddam sought to bring Israel into the Gulf conflict. This time, using weapons of mass destruction, he might succeed, provoking Israel to respond, perhaps with nuclear weapons, unleashing an Armageddon in the Middle East. Finally, if we are to achieve our strategic objectives in Iraq, a military campaign very likely would have to be followed by a large-scale, long-term military occupation.

But the central point is that any campaign against Iraq, whatever the strategy, cost and risks, is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism. Worse, there is a virtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq at this time. So long as that sentiment persists, it would require the U.S. to pursue a virtual go-it-alone strategy against Iraq, making any military operations correspondingly more difficult and expensive. The most serious cost, however, would be to the war on terrorism. Ignoring that clear sentiment would result in a serious degradation in international cooperation with us against terrorism. And make no mistake, we simply cannot win that war without enthusiastic international cooperation, especially on intelligence.

Possibly the most dire consequences would be the effect in the region. The shared view in the region is that Iraq is principally an obsession of the U.S. The obsession of the region, however, is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If we were seen to be turning our backs on that bitter conflict -- which the region, rightly or wrongly, perceives to be clearly within our power to resolve -- in order to go after Iraq, there would be an explosion of outrage against us. We would be seen as ignoring a key interest of the Muslim world in order to satisfy what is seen to be a narrow American interest.

Even without Israeli involvement, the results could well destabilize Arab regimes in the region, ironically facilitating one of Saddam's strategic objectives. At a minimum, it would stifle any cooperation on terrorism, and could even swell the ranks of the terrorists. Conversely, the more progress we make in the war on terrorism, and the more we are seen to be committed to resolving the Israel-Palestinian issue, the greater will be the international support for going after Saddam.

If we are truly serious about the war on terrorism, it must remain our top priority. However, should Saddam Hussein be found to be clearly implicated in the events of Sept. 11, that could make him a key counterterrorist target, rather than a competing priority, and significantly shift world opinion toward support for regime change.

No-Notice Inspections

In any event, we should be pressing the United Nations Security Council to insist on an effective no-notice inspection regime for Iraq -- any time, anywhere, no permission required. On this point, senior administration officials have opined that Saddam Hussein would never agree to such an inspection regime. But if he did, inspections would serve to keep him off balance and under close observation, even if all his weapons of mass destruction capabilities were not uncovered. And if he refused, his rejection could provide the persuasive casus belli which many claim we do not now have. Compelling evidence that Saddam had acquired nuclear-weapons capability could have a similar effect.

In sum, if we will act in full awareness of the intimate interrelationship of the key issues in the region, keeping counterterrorism as our foremost priority, there is much potential for success across the entire range of our security interests -- including Iraq. If we reject a comprehensive perspective, however, we put at risk our campaign against terrorism as well as stability and security in a vital region of the world.

Mr. Scowcroft, national security adviser under Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, is founder and president of the Forum for International Policy.

Posted by DeLong at August 15, 2002 09:23 AM | Trackback

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After the end of the cold war, there was a sense of relief that was not much limited even with the war against Iraq. Sam Huntington warned about a clash of "civilizations" or "cultures," but the possibility in a rapidly modernizing world seemed remote. Little more than a decade has passed and we may be as insecure as we were in the early 1950's.

Posted by: on August 15, 2002 10:19 AM

The question then is how to ward off the danger from Iraq if technology continues to be used to develop the most dangerous weapons. There is no chance of an Iraq left alone changing leadership and becoming democratic. How dangerous is Iraq?

Posted by: JD on August 15, 2002 12:25 PM

I do not believe Iraq is a threat to the U.S. Iraq was ineffective against Isreal in 1991 Desert Storm and it has to be much weaker today.

This is about oil and the politics of securing the oil supply for the US. Granted US policy over the last10 years has made itimpossible for the US or Iraq to give in, but the US can not solely rely on Saudi Arabia for the majority of the world's oil supply. (North Sea fields are tapping out, Venezuela is unstable, Russia undeveloped).

To invade Iraq allows us to claim victory( people will disagree but I believe it will be an easy win), and immediatley resurrect the infrastructure to deliver oil. The proceeds of oil revenue would be supervised to develop the country to win the hearst and minds of Iraqis.

Posted by: Jon A. on August 16, 2002 10:37 AM

One shouldn't talk about Iraq without giving a serious thought to the Kurdish issue. In the past, the U.S. seemed to be of two minds on that issue; everything depended on whether the Kurds in question happened to be in Iraq or in Turkey. Both Iraq and Turkey treat Kurds with great hostility, but the U.S. government seems to have a great ability to apply double standards in its foreign policy (human rights violations are going to be noted and duly condemned, provided, however, that the violating government is not a designated "friendly regime"). So Iraq gets busted for its violence against the Kurds, while Turkey doesn't even get a honorable mention. Any large-scale military action against Iraq would immediately give a boost to Kurdish separatists in both Iraq and Turkey. I tend to believe it was this consideration that stopped the U.S. from toppling Saddam during the Gulf War.

Another part of the puzzle is the Armenian community, which is politically well-connected in some Western nations (in particular, in the U.S. and France). The Armenians remember quite well that some Kurds were willing and eager participants in the Armenian genocide. In addidion, there are Kurdish pockets in Armenia itself, so any movement toward an independent Kurdistan would be threatening to Armenia and, hence, to the Armenian diaspora. Armenia, after years of bitter fighting with neighboring Azerbaijan, can't afford another war... The U.S. could offer to station troops in Armenia, but that would make Russia nervous... Things really start happening, don't they?

Anyway, what's the point? Reducing the situation in Iraq and neighboring nations to the issue of Saddam Hussein is a dangerous oversimplification. The world is much more complicated than the Ministry of Truth would like us to believe... I am not suggesting I know all the answers (I am not even suggesting I know all the questions), but someone needs to identify those questions and get at least some of the answers before committing the U.S. to a certain course of action, otherwise the U.S. intervention is going to be a net loss for both the U.S. and the world.

Posted by: Nikolai Chuvakhin on August 16, 2002 12:49 PM

Re: Attacking Scowcroft, apparently the right is ready to dig in. Here are two links to the NRO's corner:

http://www.nationalreview.com/thecorner/2002_08_11_corner-archive.asp#85349272

http://www.nationalreview.com/thecorner/corner.asp

The gist: Scowcroft opposed military action agaisnt the Taliban last fall, and thought we ought to reach out to the communists leading the coup against Yeltsin in '92.

Other sites are muttering darkly about Tianenmen Square. No love lost on the right?

regards,

Posted by: Tom on August 16, 2002 03:28 PM

Those of us who take the conservative hard line that is pro-Israel, pro-democracy, and supportive of military steps against Islamic states that sponsor terror are indeed embarassed by Skowcroft. By whom are the liberals embarrassed? Liberal icons who share our hard-line position against terrorism, or liberal icons who take up a hard-line position against the United States?

Posted by: Arnold Kling on August 17, 2002 05:12 PM
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