R. James Woolsey
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, it is an honor to be asked to testify before you on this important subject.
Over a year ago I testified before Congress that I believed it was urgent to move toward a strategy -- an overt, not a covert one -- to replace the Ba'ath regime in Iraq. Not just Saddam, the regime. I did not, and do not, urge the deployment of American ground troops to bring this about, but rather a concerted effort over time that would include the following elements:
-- maintain the existing no-fly zones in the North and South for all Iraqi aircraft, including helicopters, and expand the zones' restrictions to create "no drive" zones for Iraqi military vehicles;
-- recognize an Iraqi government-in-exile, probably centered in the first instance on the Iraqi National Congress, and arm it with light weapons, including anti-armor;
-- when areas in the North and South of Iraq can be adequately protected from Iraqi ground force encroachments by a combination of indigenous (including defecting) forces and our use of air power, permit those areas to be free of the trade restrictions imposed on Iraq -- for example, let such regions pump and sell oil;
-- bring charges against Saddam in international tribunals and do everything possible to hinder his use of offshore assets;
-- broadcast into Iraq in the style and manner of Radio Free Europe;
-- utilize any opportunities to conduct air strikes, such as Saddam's current efforts to attack our aircraft maintaining the no-fly zones, to damage as severely as possible the instruments whereby Saddam maintains power: the Special Republican Guard, the Special Security Organization, Iraqi Intelligence, etc.
Over the last year we have instead done something quite different, rather reversing Teddy Roosevelt's dictum about speaking softly and carrying a big stick. On several occasions, beginning in the autumn of 1997, we have made bold threats to try to encourage Saddam to cooperate with UNSCOM or otherwise live up to his obligations under the Security Council resolutions, and then backed down -- most dramatically last October.
Finally, in December we did conduct several days of apparently rather effective air strikes against targets in Iraq and recently we have also expanded the way we retaliate for Saddam's actions violating the no-fly zones, by executing retaliatory strikes against air defense targets separated in distance and time from the Iraqi air defense units that have engaged our aircraft.
But confusion has been introduced by the fact that the President's belatedly-stated policy of working to replace the Iraqi regime does not seem to be supported either by his military commander in the field, General Zinni, or by his new appointee to the National Security Council staff, Mr. Pollack, who is apparently to be in charge of the Iraqi account. Perhaps the Administration needs, in order to stay focused, to post a sign on the wall of the White House Situation Room: "It's the Regime, Stupid."
The concerns of General Zinni, Mr. Pollack, and others about the probable failure of an effort to replace the Iraqi regime seem to be rooted in four views.
First, they seem to want to dash any optimism that there will likely be a quick and easy replacement of Saddam's regime by a coherent and fully democratic opposition. Point taken. No one should expect any of this to be quick or easy, simply that it is a better policy than the alternatives.
Second, they emphasize the fissiparous character of the Iraqi opposition. Point taken again, but David Wurmser in his recently-published Tyranny's Ally demonstrates clearly I believe, to any objective observer, that a major share of that divisiveness can be laid to American actions in 1995 and thereafter.
Third, they seem to me to underemphasize the practical importance of the Iraqi opposition's being able to hoist the standard of democracy as a rallying point, either because they undervalue the role of belief and ideology in conflict or because they despair of a movement toward democracy in this part of the world.
I would only say that I once undervalued such factors myself, having been principally a student of throw-weight, Circular Errors Probable, and other such matters for a number of years in the strategic nuclear business. But I learned in November of 1989 and thereafter, while on a diplomatic assignment in Europe, how important it had been for us to raise the standard of democracy during the Cold War.
Our role as a symbol of democracy is a powerful tool, if we will but use it. For example, both Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel have said that Radio Free Europe was the most important thing the United States did during the Cold War. Getting to know members of Solidarity and the Czech Civic Forum ten years ago in Europe confirmed in my mind the practical importance of taking a clear stand for democratic values. Yes, culture and experience with democracy are both different in the Mid-East than they are in the West, but Asian democracies were also rare to non-existent until after World War II. Now we have India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Mongolia. And until rather recently Latin America was a dark forest of dictatorships, relieved by only a few flowering democracies such as Costa Rica; now change across the entire continent has left Fidel Castro virtually alone as the remaining dictator. Democracy is not a hot-house plant that can grow only in fifth century B.C. Athens or eighteenth century Virginia. Where are those experts who told us yesterday that democracy was incompatible with Asian culture or with Latin American culture? Telling us today that democracy won't work in the Middle East?
When we stand for a people's right to govern themselves and to defeat tyranny, we add a lot of arrows to our quiver. Stalin once asked cynically "how many divisions does the Pope have?" John Paul II showed Stalin's heirs that he had quite a few in the struggle over Eastern Europe in the 1980's. If a more military reference is needed, skeptics might look up what Napoleon said about the relative importance of the moral and the physical in war.
Finally, those who do not support moving to replace the Ba'athist regime with democracy stress that if the regime were overthrown, Iraq might come apart -- with Iraqi Kurds joining others from Turkey, Iran, and Syria to try to establish a Kurdish state, and with Iraqi Shia either falling under the sway of Iran or encouraging revolt among the Shia of Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf.
Those whose judgment I value the most in these matters suggest that the Iraqi Kurds would highly prize local autonomy with regard to language and education, within some sort of federal structure, but that they will likely prove willing to work within the structure of an Iraqi state. A little of the same approach that Spain has used with regard to its Basque minority would go a long way toward accommodating the Kurds in a post-Ba'athist Iraq or in democratic Turkey. Spain has granted a great deal of autonomy with respect to Basque culture and language and has thereby been able to split the majority of the Basque people away from the violent ETA. The capture of Ocalan by Turkey gives it the opportunity to do the same. If Turkey, our democratic ally, and a post-Ba'athist Iraq can both be persuaded to adopt a Spanish-type model to deal with their Kurdish regions, it is not our problem to save either Syria or Iran from the consequences of their oppression of their Kurdish minorities.
Concerning the role of the Shia, both Iraqi and Iranian Shia have been unfairly tarred by the behavior of a powerful but small, and declining, faction within their division of Islam: those who support Khamenei and the rest of the Iranian wilayat al-faqih, often translated "rule of the jurisprudential", i.e. the theocratic and dictatorial portion of the Iranian government under first Khomeini and now Khamenei. As Judith Miller makes clear in her fine book on Islamic extremism, God Has Ninety-Nine Names, the wilayat is a marked departure from Shia tradition. There are many courageous Shia clerics even in Iran who speak for the mainstream view of the proper relationship between the Shia clergy and the state, a relationship like that of the clergy in most other religions, and who urge the clerics who are involved with the wilayat to "come home to Qom," i.e. Iran's holy city, and to reassume Shia clerics' traditional role of serving as moral guides outside the government, not theocratic managers of terror.
It is a major mistake to blame Islam, or Shia Islam, for the state of affairs in Iran today. The problem is rather that a few men, in the government and among Iranian clerics, have chosen terror to be a major tool of the Iranian State. Just as it would be unfair to tar the entire Catholic Church of the time with the outrages of the fifteenth century Spanish Inquisition under Tomas de Torquemada and some of his fellow Dominicans (whose close partnership with Ferdinand and Isabella has some parallel to the collaboration today between the hard-liners in the Iranian government and a portion of Iran's clerics), so it would be most unfair to blame the majority of Iran's Shia clerics for the outrages of those who have brought about and who implement the policy of terror. As Iran's last presidential election and very recent local elections have also shown, it would also be a major mistake to exaggerate the current popularity of the wilayat in Iran, although it does still control the elements of state power.
David Wurmser briefly but expertly surveys the history of Shi'ism in Iraq in Tyranny's Ally. He outlines why the Iraqi Shia are far more a threat to Iran's wilayat than they are to Saudi Arabia. This was demonstrated in the spring of 1991, when the Iraqi Shia revolted, Saudi Arabia urged us to assist them (as then-Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz has recently set forth), and Iran abandoned them. We, sadly, took a path parallel to Iran, with, to this point, eight years of tragic consequences. Wurmser concludes, I believe correctly, that a "free Iraqi Shi'ite community would be a nightmare to the theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran."
I do not pretend that these issues are free from doubt, and I know there are also experts who support General Zinni's and Mr. Pollack's views. But it is far from the case that the only clear-eyed, intellectually sound approach is to spurn the effort to establish democracy in Iraq and to instead fiddle around with doomed coup attempts by other Ba'athists or merely to contain Saddam and thereby give him time to perfect his weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. In my judgment the far sounder approach under current circumstances is to declare solidly for democracy in Iraq and to give it all support short of actual invasion by American ground forces. We should also, I believe, take steps to reduce our, and the rest of the world's, long-term dependence on Mid-East oil. But that may be a subject for another day.