Ms. Aydinyasbas Makes Case For War Against Saddam Hussein, The Poisoner of Wells
Clinton's top Iraq adviser makes the case. By ASLA AYDINTASBAS
It is safe to say that when the Gulf War ended in 1991, the U.S. did not plan on playing a decade-long cat-and-mouse game involving some of the deadliest weapons of the century. It was no doubt hoped that a fearless Iraqi general would solve the problem of Saddam Hussein--by doing away with him.
When that didn't happen, and Saddam seemed to be gaining strength in the mid-1990s, the Central Intelligence Agency tried its hand at a palace coup--six times, to be exact. The regime turned out to be coup-proof, however. Meanwhile the Clinton administration convinced itself that a policy of containment would keep Saddam "in a box." In the end, it was Washington that found itself boxed in: Saddam kicked out the arms inspectors, bought off the loyalties of the United Nations Security Council, divided the international coalition, starved his population and fed more and more resources to his toxic weapons programs.
That's where we are now--and why regime change is seen as the final way to "contain" Iraq. Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst and a member of the Clinton administration's National Security Council team, reluctantly reaches this conclusion after tracing the gradual breakdown of U.S. policy toward Iraq since the Gulf War. "The Threatening Storm" is both a primer on Iraq and a fascinating insider's view of American attempts to meet the threat it poses.
The blame for a wayward Iraq policy, notes Mr. Pollack, may be widely shared. In 1982, desperate to curb the revolutionary fervor emanating from fundamentalist Iran, the Reagan administration removed Iraq from the list of terrorism-sponsoring states ("where it had been a charter member," writes Mr. Pollack). The U.S. backed Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war and started passing on military intelligence, technology and financial assistance to Saddam's war machine. Once the war ended, the first Bush administration did not take seriously enough the mounting evidence of Saddam's regional ambitions, which ultimately led to the surprise invasion of Kuwait and, a few months later, the Gulf War.
The Clinton White House--"it's the economy, stupid"--started out by wishing that Saddam would just go away, or so it seemed. Soon, though, it formed an Iraq policy based on the idea of containment and appeared to support the goal of the Iraqi opposition to topple Saddam. But when it came to actual efforts to do so, like the 1995 military offensive by the Iraqi National Congress and the Kurds in Northern Iraq, "doves" within the administration (Anthony Lake, Warren Christopher) blocked any U.S. help.
The CIA, by contrast, continued to pursue the perfect coup, but badly. "We used to say," Mr. Pollack concedes, "that any coup plot we knew, Saddam knew about." He recounts the agency's embarrassment when the Iraqis foiled a coup in 1996, seized CIA-provided equipment and broadcast pro-Saddam messages to Washington.
Throughout this period, Mr. Pollack remained a closet hardliner surrounded by a see-no-evil government that desperately hoped to "manage" the problem rather than openly confront Iraq's rebellion against international law. He still defends containment in theory--and thus inspections--as a way of curbing Iraq's ambitions, but he admits that, at this point, such a policy is "eroding," largely because "many of our allies proved perfidious, feckless, or outright duplicitous."
In any case he now believes that the only winning strategy is indeed regime change. "Invading Iraq might not just be our least bad alternative, it potentially could be the best course of action," writes Mr. Pollack. "If we are willing to accept the challenge and pay the price, we could end up creating a much better future for ourselves and all of the peoples of the Middle East."
Such a statement is all the more forceful coming from an analyst who was once a lightning rod for Bill Clinton's Iraq policy--seen by its opponents as mere appeasement. Thus "The Threatening Storm" often reads as a mea culpa, if not for the actions of the author per se then for the policies he helped to carry out.
Still, the book concludes by echoing some of Washington's past positions on Iraq. Mr. Pollack believes that regime change will be possible only if the U.S. commits between 200,000 and 300,000 troops for an unforeseeable future, to invade Iraq and rebuild it. Such an astonishing claim implies a doubt about the capacity of the Iraqi people to liberate themselves and establish a democratic regime.
Such a doubt has echoes too. In a piece for Foreign Affairs in 1999 titled "The Rollback Fantasy," Mr. Pollack warned that any attempt at regime change, especially if it were based on mobilizing the Iraqi opposition, would result in a fiasco akin to the Bay of Pigs. "For the United States to try moving from containment to rollback in Iraq," he wrote, "would be a terrible mistake that could easily lead to thousands of unnecessary deaths."
Obviously, Mr. Pollack's position has changed, although not entirely. Today's "hawks" still have greater confidence than he does in Iraqi society. And for good reason. Despite the brutality of the current regime, Iraqis are among the most sophisticated and well-educated people of the Mideast and have joined the opposition in soaring numbers. (One out of every six Iraqis today lives in exile.) In a session with Iraqi opposition groups last month, Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly stated: "We do not intend to put American lives at risk to replace one dictator with another." There is every reason to hope that the threatening storm, when it breaks, will leave behind not an occupation force but a democracy.
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