War With Iraq Is Inevitable: Better To Fight It Now Than Later

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Submitted Testimony by Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.

Director of the Center for Security Policy


the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

13 December 1990

Mr. Chairman, I commend you for taking the time to ensure that the record of this committee’s hearings reflects — at least to a small degree — the views of the many military analysts and other experts who do not share the opinions so much in evidence in earlier testimony before this committee. I am particularly grateful that you have afforded me this opportunity to challenge what might be characterized as the "conventional wisdom" emerging from these hearings and those of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the two counterpart panels in the House of Representatives.

For starters, I believe that the argument over whether economic sanctions against Iraq have been given enough time to work is completely beside the point. It would be like a team of doctors arguing over whether a program of treating a patient afflicted with cancer with nothing stronger than aspirin would be effective if permitted to continue for a six-months or a year. In all likelihood, while the medics were debating, the patient would die — probably without even feeling significant symptomatic relief, to say nothing of obtaining a cure.

Because the sanctions program against Iraq is designed to deal with a symptom of the current problem in the Persian Gulf — not its root cause — there is, in my view, virtually no chance that sanctions will actually produce the needed results, no matter how long we attempt to maintain the international consensus needed to impose and enforce them.

I define the needed results as being nothing less than the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and the neutralizing of his power projection capabilities. Anything short of this outcome will, I believe, simply postpone the day of reckoning, not prevent it.

I recognize, Mr. Chairman, that such an outcome has yet to be explicitly embraced by the Bush Administration. While its spokesmen have in recent weeks come closer to acknowledging that simply restoring the status quo ante in Kuwait would not alleviate the danger of a future conflict with Saddam Hussein, they have shied away from embracing the logical upshot of that fact: There is no chance for lasting peace or stability in the region as long as he remains fully capable — and, arguably, increasingly well prepared — to engage in aggression down the road.

I submit that the liberation of Kuwait under circumstances that preserved Saddam’s capacity for such future aggression — his massive military force, his weapons of mass destruction, his ballistic missiles and the despotic political control of Iraq which gives him a free hand to make use of these assets — would simply ensure that war, when it comes, will be far more costly and devastating than it would be at present.

We should be under no illusions on this point: Saddam Hussein did not build his enormous war machine, at staggering expense to his nation and people, simply to seize Kuwait. Certainly, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel have few misconceptions about this reality. Neither should we.

This is not to say, however, that all of Iraq’s neighbors will say publicly what they believe privately: Saddam Hussein must be eliminated as a threat. Certainly — as we have seen in the aftermath of the Bush Administration’s extraordinarily shortsighted decision to open direct diplomatic contacts with Iraq — at least some of them are so frightened at the prospect of the United States cutting a deal over their heads that would leave Saddam and his weaponry in place that they are scurrying to negotiate their own, separate peaces with Baghdad.

As you know, Mr. Chairman, one of the most worrisome aspects of such a prospect is Iraq’s relentless effort to acquire nuclear weapons technologies. It seems to me perfectly possible that a failure to eliminate Saddam Hussein’s incipient nuclear weapons capabilities and related infrastructure now will simply usher in an era of nuclear warfighting.

Parenthetically, let me state for the record that I am no partisan for the Bush Administration. The Center for Security Policy has the distinction, as William Safire once put it, of being "Against Saddam Before Kuwait." In fact, I believe that the President and some of his advisors have greatly disserved the American people by appearing rather cynically — and very belatedly — to have seized on the possibility of Saddam Hussein getting "the Bomb" as a raison d’etre for the U.S. build-up in the Gulf.

The truth of the matter, however, is — as Dr. William Graham, Science Advisor to President Reagan, and other witnesses have testified — that Saddam Hussein has made no bones about his determination to obtain nuclear weapons. Indeed, he has held press conferences to crow about his technology theft and acquisition programs aimed at just this end. Later, if not sooner, whether by purchasing the necessary components elsewhere or by building them at home, the Iraqi tyrant will be able to threaten credibly nuclear attacks against other states in the region and perhaps beyond.

In my view, Mr. Chairman, this threat poses an unacceptable danger to our interests in the region and those of our friends and allies there. This is even more true if, as I suspect will be the case, Iraq’s entry into the so-called "nuclear club" will compel every country within missile range of Baghdad to seek its own nuclear strike capabilities. Such a situation seems virtually certain to produce conflict — nuclear conflict — eventually, unless Saddam is toppled and disarmed.

Should Saddam Hussein instead survive the present crisis with his despotic political control and his arsenal intact, we should expect yet another, perhaps even more sinister, by-product. If tyrants elsewhere around the world perceive that Saddam Hussein’s possession — or imminent acquisition — of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction enabled him to stand up to the United States and the rest of the world, they presumably will feel a powerful impetus to follow his lead.

On the other hand, if this crisis is resolved with the perpetrator of aggression decisively defeated precisely because his aggression was backed by weapons of mass destruction, this first conflict of what might be called "the Proliferation Age" may well send a highly salutary deterrent message to those considering obtaining such weapons.

Mr. Chairman, I believe it is incumbent upon those demanding American inaction, an open-ended commitment to "letting the sanctions work" or pursuit of a diplomatic "solution" at seemingly any cost to address these tough issues. Unfortunately, in congressional deliberations to date the risks and costs of not engaging in hostilities to deal with these challenges has received but a tiny fraction of the attention given to speculation about the risks of combat.

This is not to say that debate about the uncertainties involved in combat with Iraq is either unwarranted or undesirable. To be sure, there are no guarantees that military action in the near-term will necessarily be either easy, quickly concluded or low-cost. Regrettably, virtually every U.S. military action entails some cost in terms of American lives and casualties. These losses are terrible to contemplate.

I simply fear that the losses we might experience down the road are very likely to be far larger than the losses incurred in terminating Iraq’s aggressive capabilities now. This is especially true if we were to let Saddam Hussein either get away with this aggression or make a tactical retreat that will permit him to preserve those capabilities.

In such a case, we must expect that he will pour still more of his country’s resources into additional preparations for war, including his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Can there be any doubt that, under such circumstances, the costs he will be able to inflict in a future crisis will make those we must face today pale by comparison? For that matter, is there any question that the arguments against resisting his aggression at that time will be even more forcefully advanced than they are now?

In closing, Mr. Chairman, let me just add one observation about the oft-drawn parallels between the present crisis and the Vietnam war. I believe the choices facing the United States in the Persian Gulf today have practically nothing in common with those that confronted us in the earlier conflict.

Iraq is an isolated foe whose international support, claim to legitimacy and access to foreign supplies of war materiel is far different from that of North Vietnam. Moreover, the jungle canopy that gave our enemy a tactical advantage does not exist in Iraq. Air power can be far more decisively employed against strategic targets in Iraq than was the case in Vietnam.

In one respect alone can the two be usefully compared: In the present crisis — as was the case in the Vietnam war — our success or failure ultimately must rely upon the ability of the U.S. government to analyze vital American interests correctly, to define an appropriate strategy for promoting those interests and to provide the public with the necessary, credible and steady leadership.

Mr. Chairman, I very much hope that my testimony will contribute to the task you and your colleagues in the Congress and elsewhere in the U.S. government in fulfilling these responsibilities.

Center for Security Policy

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