A Way to Oust Saddam

Robert Kagan
Weekly Standard
September 28, 1998

Seven months after the Clinton administration backed down from its confrontation with Saddam Hussein, the disastrous consequences of that retreat are on full display. Whether or not Saddam makes good on his threat to throw out the U.N. weapons inspectors, he has now enjoyed almost two months without U.N. inspections. What does the administration believe he's been doing with all the free time?

Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter has been warning Congress that the day is not far off -- maybe a matter of a few months -- when Saddam will suddenly present the United States and the world with a horrifying fait accompli: He will have his weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. If that day comes, no sanctions, no threat of sanctions, no angry U.N. resolutions, and no threat of "force" will be of any use. Saddam's new weapons would dramatically shift the strategic balance in the Middle East, putting at severe risk the safety of Israel, of moderate Arab states, and of the energy resources on which the United States and its allies depend.

The Clinton administration clearly has no idea how to handle this imminent and devastating threat to American interests. Clinton officials want Americans to believe that winning votes in the U.N. Security Council constitutes a policy for dealing with the Saddam menace. They dismiss Scott Ritter as "clueless." But this Clintonian charade is a mammoth deception that will cause real damage in the world. The unstated but de facto policy of the administration is now this slender hope: If and when Saddam builds his weapons of mass destruction, the United States will still be able to deter him from aggression against his neighbors. This must be mighty comforting to the folks in Jerusalem, Riyadh, and Kuwait City, as well as to anyone else who cares about American credibility and Middle East peace.

It has long been clear that the only way to rid the world of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction is to rid Iraq of Saddam. Last week, Paul Wolfowitz, a defense official in the Bush administration, laid out in testimony before Congress a thoughtful and coherent strategy to accomplish that goal.

The Wolfowitz plan calls for the establishment of a "liberated zone" in southern Iraq much like the zone the Bush administration created in the north of the country in 1991. The zone would be a safe haven for opponents of Saddam's regime. They could rally and organize, establish a provisional government there, gain international recognition, and set up a credible alternative to Saddam's dictatorship. Control of the southern zone would give Saddam's opponents a staging area to which discontented Iraqi army units could defect, as well as access to the country's largest oil field. Arab officials have told Wolfowitz that the effect on Saddam's regime would be "devastating." Wolfowitz predicts that the creation of such a zone would lead to "the unraveling of the regime."

Unlike some of the ideas circulating on Capitol Hill, which suppose that Saddam will be toppled without any military action, the Wolfowitz plan rests on a guarantee of military support to protect the opposition within the liberated zone. If, as would be likely, Saddam sent his tanks to wipe out this new threat to his regime, the United States would have to be ready to defend the Iraqi opposition with overwhelming force. The United States could not again stand by while an uprising was crushed by Saddam.

Some on the Hill have been looking for an easy way out of the Iraq crisis, hoping that a few million dollars for the Iraqi opposition will by itself take care of the problem. But any serious effort to oust Saddam must also be backed by U.S. military might.

Republicans and Democrats on the Hill should advance the Wolfowitz plan in two ways. They should continue pressing the administration to support the Iraqi opposition -- with money, weapons, and political recognition. And they should now pass a resolution authorizing the president to use force against Iraq as part of a strategy of removing Saddam from power.

The administration has proven itself incapable of carrying out a credible policy against Saddam. There is a real alternative to the present charade. Congress ought to let Americans know that.