USIS Washington 
File

02 March 1998

IRAQ: SECURING AMERICA'S INTERESTS

By Samuel R. Berger  (1240)



(This article by President Clinton's National Security Advisor is in
the public domain. It first appeared in the Washington Post.)


Although it may fail to satisfy those who want to use force against
Iraq regardless of the context, Saddam Hussein's agreement to open all
Iraqi sites to international weapons inspectors advances our strategic
objectives, either in the event he complies with it -- or if he
doesn't. If Iraq follows through on its commitment, the inspectors
will for the first time have unrestricted, unconditional access to all
suspect sites -- including sites the Iraqi government previously had
declared off limits. If Iraq reneges, we will respond powerfully, from
a position of maximum strength internationally.


From the beginning of this crisis, the President has made clear that
the best outcome for the international community was for UNSCOM
inspectors to be given access to all locations in the country,
including presidential sites and other security-related installations
from which they had been blocked in the past. The reason was simple:
Despite continual harassment and deception by the Iraqi regime over
the years, UNSCOM has been remarkably effective in locating and
destroying Saddam Hussein's nuclear, biological, chemical and missile
capabilities and establishing a long-term monitoring system that makes
it far more difficult for the Iraqi regime to rebuild that capacity.


The President also made crystal clear that if Saddam Hussein failed to
let UNSCOM do its work, he would use overwhelming force to seriously
diminish Iraq's weapons of mass destruction threat and its ability to
strike its neighbors. He sent Secretaries Albright and Cohen and
Ambassador Richardson around the world, not to seek approval but to
explain to others our position in unmistakable terms. As a result,
Saddam Hussein knew that he would be hit, and hit hard, if he didn't
comply.


Backed by two American and two British aircraft carriers in the gulf,
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan went to Baghdad. We had made clear
to him our two bottom lines: total, unfettered access for UNSCOM and
the ability of UNSCOM to do its work in a professional and expert
manner.


Saddam unequivocally committed to the first. If he complies -- and I
offer no odds -- it will be a significant step in the long process of
disarming Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capability.


As for the second, clarifications provided in discussions between
Annan and the determined chairman of UNSCOM, Ambassador Richard
Butler, have led Butler to conclude that UNSCOM will have operational
control over all inspections and that the arrangements are "entirely
satisfactory to the organization I lead." The Special Group for the
eight presidential sites will answer to Butler; UNSCOM procedures will
apply; the inspection team leader will come from UNSCOM; the diplomats
who accompany the inspection will be observers only; and for all other
sites, including those previously blocked, existing UNSCOM practices
will apply. Ultimately, however, as the President also made clear,
"the proof is in the testing." In the days and weeks ahead, UNSCOM
will test Iraq's commitment. We will keep our forces in the region at
a high state of readiness. Failure to allow the inspectors to go where
they want, when they want will result in the use of serious force.
After two crises provoked by Iraq in four months, the time for
diplomacy will be over.


The consternation of some that the guns are silent for now in part
reflects an important debate about our strategic objectives in Iraq.
Since 1991, the Bush and Clinton administrations have pursued a policy
of containing Saddam Hussein -- stopping him from threatening a region
of strategic importance to the United States.


This policy has been successful. For example, when Saddam Hussein
moved toward Kuwait again in 1994, we immediately deployed forces to
the region, and warned him to move back. He did. So long as we have
the national will to sustain that policy, it serves our national
interests. It is strategically sound, even if aesthetically
displeasing. Saddam's threat is blocked, even if he still blights the
landscape.


Two alternative approaches have been suggested. Some countries want to
pursue essentially a narrow disarmament strategy -- "inspect and
lift." Let UNSCOM finish its work (and hurry up while you're at it),
then lift sanctions (which deprive Saddam and his military machine of
$15 billion a year) and reintegrate him into the international
community. But given Saddam's track record since the Gulf War, there
is good reason to believe that this approach -- which fails to require
Saddam to demonstrate his "peaceful intentions" by complying with all
U.N. resolutions -- would simply allow him to refinance his
territorial ambitions.


Some here in the United States argue that our strategic objective
should be to remove Saddam Hussein from power. There is no doubt that
the Iraqi people would be better for it. We would gladly work with a
successor regime that respects its neighbors and returns Iraq to its
rightful place in the family of nations. But this also is a course
with substantial risks and costs. A military campaign to remove Saddam
would require a major commitment of ground troops, risk large numbers
of casualties and cost tens of billions of dollars. We would pursue it
alone. Once we fought our way to Baghdad, it is unlikely that Saddam
would be waiting for us at the airport. I am convinced the costs -- in
blood, treasure and political isolation -- are not justified.


Alternatively, we could seek to achieve that result by proxy --
through support of Iraqi opposition groups. We have worked with the
Iraqi opposition in the past and we can do so more effectively in the
future. But before we embrace lofty goals, we must be sure this time
that we are prepared for the ride. From the Bay of Pigs in 1961 to
Budapest in 1956 to post-war Iraq in 1991, we have learned the dangers
of starting something we were not prepared to finish.


This discussion about strategic objectives is healthy. It forces all
of us to challenge our thinking and assumptions. But unless we are
prepared either to invade under current circumstances or to dismiss
the threat Saddam Hussein poses -- two options I reject -- Saddam will
be with us for some time. In the meantime, we must maintain the
resolve, alone if necessary, to prevent him from threatening the
region -- in other words, to contain him.


There are four pillars to this policy. Maintain sanctions. Continue to
enforce a no-fly zone over the north and south of his country to
reduce the threat Saddam Hussein poses to his neighbors and his
people. Insist that UNSCOM be permitted to do its work without
conditions. Be prepared to reinforce each of these undertakings with
military force if necessary.


It also means permitting the Iraqi government to sell some of its oil
to buy food and medicine for the Iraqi people under strict U.N.
supervision. Starvation is not a card we wish to play, nor permit
Saddam to play against us.


That is the policy we are pursuing. For seven years, it has held in
check the Persian Gulf's most disruptive and dangerous threat and
helped maintain stability in a region vital to our national interest.
But, as the President said last week, whether that continues to be our
strategy will be affected in no small measure by whether this
agreement is honored.


(The writer is national security advisor to the President.)