By James S. Robbins, a national-security analyst & NRO contributor
n October 29, Saddam Hussein launched an initiative to rid the world of the burden and danger of weapons of mass destruction, starting with the United States and Israel. Well, nice try. Meanwhile, in a statement last Monday, President Bush made it clear that states such as Iraq that are developing weapons of mass destruction with the intention of using them to terrorize the world would be held accountable. "Terrorism is terrorism," he stated. Nice to have a guy around who does know the meaning of the word is.
The growing discussion over how to engage Iraq is taking on a time-warp quality. It seems like we've been here before. "Moving too forcefully against Iraq may split the alliance." "Attacking an Arab state will unite the Arab world against us." "Intervening will require a massive and costly troop buildup." "The Republican Guard is no pushover." Statements like these are either identical to or variations of arguments from 1990. I have not yet heard but expect soon to encounter the "What if the successor is worse than Saddam?" line. I'm surprised it hasn't yet been made with respect to Mullah Omar or Osama bin Laden although the "we cannot afford to make them martyrs" variant has been voiced by some death penalty foes.
These arguments don't stand up to much scrutiny. For example the Republican Guard fascination redux reminds one of the recent statements about the unbeatable Taliban fighters or about the whole Iraqi army ("4th largest in the world!") in the fall of 1990. Remember, this was a force that did not allow its troops to be issued white underwear for fear they would make surrender flags, and whose men gave up en masse once the fighting started. The Republican Guard gave better account of itself in 1991, but only by comparison objectively they were no match for the allied armies. Why would anyone suspect that after ten years of sanctions they would be any stronger than they were at the peak of their power?
As for Arab unity it was not in evidence during Desert Storm, when Egyptian and Syrian troops advanced into Kuwait a former student of mine led an Egyptian armored brigade and was very proud to recount his experiences. Even the Israeli response to Iraqi SCUD attacks didn't split off the Arab states the Syrians themselves said it was a justifiable act of self-defense. It is difficult to find recent or any examples of the Arab unity the critics claim will one day appear. Yet this myth persists.
With respect to the solidarity of the antiterror alliance, George Bush senior did not even have the United States Congress behind the war effort in the beginning. In fact Congress did not sign on until the president started the air war in January 1991 and his popularity soared. Our allies were brought on board through patient diplomacy. This is true today as well. It will be up to the United States to make its case to the world that Iraq is a threat. True, the French and Russians recently have made rumblings about American intentions in Iraq, but they and others did in 1990 as well. Many states may oppose allied actions against Iraq, at least rhetorically, but over time they may be persuaded to change their minds. The best way to ensure that is to show leadership. The United States should act strongly not rashly, but resolutely and with purpose, making its case each step of the way and others will follow.
Some have argued that the United States requires solid evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks before we can take action in Iraq. For them the attacks are the functional equivalent of the invasion of Kuwait in terms of establishing legitimacy and without the link, striking Iraq would be an act of aggression. (Forget that the United States has flown sorties over Iraq for nearly a decade, and has been bombing the country intermittently for most of that time.) But Iraqi links to the WTC and Pentagon attacks are not a necessary condition for allied action. Iraq fits well the definition of a terrorist state as enunciated by the president on Monday. If it can be proven that Saddam was complicit in the attacks on our country, so much the better but it doesn't make Iraq any more or less a geostrategic threat.
A spokesman for the French foreign ministry said President Bush's comment about the return of the inspectors to Iraq was "an absolutely natural statement which points in the right direction." (C.f. above point about leadership.) So far so good. Our next steps can be taken largely under the U.N. umbrella or U.S. laws already on the books:
1. Resuscitate the U.N. inspection process that had been allowed to lapse in 1998. The U.N. had called for a response to Iraqi intransigence in Security Council Resolutions 1194 and 1205 from September and November 1998 respectively. If Saddam is unwilling to cooperate with whom he refers to as "the dogs of the U.N. Special Commission," what will be the consequences? In the words of the president, "he'll find out."
2. Once Iraq allows inspectors back into their country to fulfill their mission under U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 (under which Iraq must "unconditionally accept" the elimination of its missiles and weapons of mass destruction, among other things), adopt a more aggressive posture in executing the process. The inspectors should not be forced to accept the delaying and stalling tactics the Iraqis employed in the past, which allowed them to shuttle records and evidence around the country one step ahead of discovery. If Iraq denies entrance to a building, bomb it immediately upon the inspectors reaching a safe distance. This action is provided for in paragraph 12 of the resolution which calls for the "destruction, removing or rendering harmless as appropriate" these weapons. Bombing them is as certain as any other method, and it may have the beneficial effect of facilitating future inspections.
3. Enforce other U.N. existing resolutions in creative ways. Take for example Resolution 1360, the latest "oil for food" resolution, which is due to be reviewed at the end of November. The United States suspects that the Iraqis have been using the oil revenues garnered under this and similar resolutions not for their intended purpose, i.e., feeding and giving medical care to women and children, but to support Saddam's regime and his military machine. Paragraph 3 of the resolution calls upon the secretary general to "take the actions necessary" to ensure that "the goods produced in accordance with this resolution are distributed equitably" and that dual-use items are "utilized for the purpose for which they have been authorized." You don't have to be a liberal legal scholar to read all manner of penumbras and emanations therefrom in this language. The international community could claim the power even the duty to take control of both sides of the oil for food equation, to place the Iraqi oil industry under international supervision, and to route all profits derived from it to humanitarian relief distributed by U.N. agencies and NGO's.
4. Pay special attention to Iraqi money trails and their connection to the transnational flows that intertwine with the terror networks. This effort is already being undertaken against the al Qaeda finance system, and it would be useful to cast the net wider. Many Iraqi accounts have already been frozen, but there are probably others yet to be found. The more sources that can be shut down the fewer dollars will be accessible to support our enemies, and the less cash available to prop up the Baghdad regime.
5. Further support and legitimize the Iraqi resistance. The Iraq Liberation Act has been on the books since 1998, and while some steps have been taken, more could be done. It is not impossible to foster domestic resistance to Saddam's rule. Difficult, yes, but certainly worth the investment. The resistance movement may be small, scattered and mostly powerless now, but so was the Northern Alliance a few weeks ago. It's amazing what simple things like air supremacy and the assistance of special-operations forces can achieve.
6. Finally, start a psyop campaign to destabilize Saddam's regime. Engage the natural paranoia of the dictatorship to make it begin to devour itself. After all, Iraq is full of traitors to Saddam. Some of his closest advisers are plotting against him plotting while he sleeps. Most of them, in fact. They see the writing on the wall they know his regime will one day be overthrown. Why should they go down with him? Far better to help him on his way, to curry favor with the allies. So they are poised to strike at any moment even Saddam's bodyguards especially that new guy, the young one with the scar, who always has that odd expression when the supreme leader walks by. Traitors. Traitors everywhere.