Global Policy Forum

What Now? Doubts About US and UN


By Steven Erlanger

New York Times
December 21 1998

While American officials went on television today to assert the military achievements of four nights of air attacks against Iraq, there is considerably less clarity about American strategy now.

There is no question that President Saddam Hussein's military capacity has been "degraded," to use the Clinton Administration's word of choice, but it is not clear how degraded, or for how long.

Mr. Hussein retains the capacity and the scientists to produce biological and chemical weapons, which do not need to be delivered by sophisticated missiles and cannot be eliminated by air strikes.

And it is abundantly clear that Mr. Hussein has emerged from the rubble like a jack-in-the-box, alive and shouting defiance, his position strengthened in Arab public opinion simply by his survival against the high-tech onslaught of the United States, Israel's prime ally.

If Mr. Hussein's Government and his grip on power have been "shaken" by these air strikes, as senior American officials privately hoped, there was no immediate indication that he is about to fall, and the diplomatic consensus on Iraq in the United Nations Security Council has again been shattered.

President Jacques Chirac of France called today for a "fundamental review" of the entire United Nations policy toward Iraq, including the replacement of the weapons inspection regime. Even Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, the only ally to join the bombing campaign against Iraq, said, "We need a future strategy."

The gap between policy goals (getting rid of Mr. Hussein and eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction) and policy tools (with weapons inspection probably finished, air power imperfect and the Security Council split) seems wider than ever.

Confusion about what to do next was evident in new calls by Mr. Blair, President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright for Mr. Hussein to let United Nations weapons inspectors back into Iraq, under undefined but somehow more enforceable rules.

Given that neither the United States nor Britain believes Mr. Hussein ever intends to cooperate fully with weapons inspections, those calls seemed a bit disingenuous. But officials of both countries know that working within the United Nations, and specific Security Council resolutions passed during and after the Persian Gulf war in 1991, is the only way to justify military action against Iraq. They both say more air strikes are possible early next year.

They also insist that sanctions remain in place. That means they must also support, at least rhetorically, the weapons inspections that are Iraq's only way of getting the sanctions lifted.

The Administration has recently begun describing its Iraq policy as what Ms. Albright terms "containment plus regime change." Last week, she defined that policy as having short, medium and long-term goals.

Military strikes now - after nearly one year of threatening them because of the United Nations inspectors' inability to do their job - are not a sign of the failure of American policy, she insists, but a "short-term goal." The assaults can be repeated or applied as necessary to try to defang Mr. Hussein and buy more time.

Such strikes, combined with sanctions and warnings to Mr. Hussein not to use any terror weapons, constitute "containment."

But there are considerable doubts, even among America's closest allies in NATO countries, that the Administration is willing to withstand the diplomatic damage of regular unilateral air strikes against Iraq. Even last week's long-delayed attacks were held to only four days out of concern for Arab, Russian and Chinese reaction.

In the medium term, Ms. Albright said, the goal is to get Iraq to comply with United Nations resolutions, including a functioning regime of weapons inspection. Privately, American officials not only do not believe that Mr. Hussein's Iraq will ever comply, but they also do not really want him to try.

Because if he does, the rest of the world - and certainly Russia, China and France on the Security Council - will rush to give him the benefit of the doubt. And that would make Ms. Albright's longer-term goal - the overthrow of Mr. Hussein - even less plausibly attainable than it now seems.

For there is severe doubt, both within the American Government and outside it, that Mr. Clinton is prepared to pay the price to rid the world of Mr. Hussein. Most officials regard the new emphasis on "regime change" as a way to answer those critics who felt that, American policy had no long-term goal at all. And they note that it was Congress that pushed the $97-million Iraq Liberation Act onto the White House, which could not veto it. The act provides money and used American military equipment for the Iraqi opposition.

In fact, those officials say, the Administration and the C.I.A. had largely given up on new efforts to overthrow Mr. Hussein, given embarrassing failures in the past. While Cabinet members assert publicly that there is a new seriousness to the effort to bring him down, senior officials joke that the money will provide the Iraqi opposition, whose leaders live in London, with American armored personnel carriers in which to ride through Mayfair.

"The basic problem is that we don't have a larger strategic policy for Iraq," said Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser to President Carter and an Albright mentor. "Our policy is either strike them or starve them, and neither accomplishes our objectives."

More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq

More Information on the Iraq Crisis


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.