Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Redefine, Reformulate Persian Gulf Policy

THERE is the risk that having won the cold war, we may fritter away the victory, because we're not addressing the post-cold-war dilemmas the way we addressed the post-World War II dilemmas. We simply have not invested intellectual capabilities - we have not engaged ourselves sufficiently in these dilemmas. Consider the Persian Gulf issue. Here I am concerned we may be drifting into a policy that could have the effect of engaging the US into a protracted crisis with potentially very negative consequences. Let me say immediately that our response on the tangible level was absolutely necessary and correct. After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, its outrageous annexation of Kuwait, a military response was required. The deployment of American forces in Saudi Arabia was a necessity, and the administration responded correctly.

It was also important to impose serious costs on Iraq. I do believe that a policy response, which could be defined with the words of ``punitive deterrence'' was absolutely justified. The imposition of sustained sanctions on Iraq for its aggression was needed and has been done, and it is imposing very severe costs in Iraq. On a rate of approximately $100 million a day. And a policy of deterring Iraq from moving, either in reaction to these sanctions or because it may have wished to do so, or in any case to reassure the Saudis, was also desirable. The troop deployment to Saudi Arabia made a great deal of sense.

About these ads

A policy of punitive deterrence, if it had been so defined, would have meant that every day, since Aug. 2, was a success for the US. It would have meant we have deterred them, and we're punishing them. In that context the price of oil probably would have stabilized at somewhere around $25 a barrel. Because the actual supply and demand situation in the world is such that the price wouldn't be any higher than that, in the context of a successful policy of punitive deterrence.

The price of oil goes up, largely because of fears of war. And the uncertainties that exist today are largely due to the fact that, in my judgment, we have not defined clearly what is our national interest. We have permitted our rhetoric to define objectives which can only be achieved either if the other side engages in unconditional surrender, or if we engage in military actions to implement such objectives. Our rhetoric has involved a demand for unconditional surrender by Iraq.

This is not attainable without some conflict. The question that has not been examined sufficiently, in my judgment, is whether these are indeed imperative US national security needs. What has not been examined sufficiently is whether the international community is prepared to participate with the US in the pursuit of these objectives through force of arms. I think it is likely that if hostilities are initiated, they'll have to be pursued largely by the US alone. Thus the cost of the enterprise will be born largely by the US alone. And the costs could be disproportionate to the benefits. A policy of punitive deterrence achieves everything we need. It puts the US in the position of a successful leader of an international coalition that is punishing an aggressor day after day, and in a manner which at some point would have to bring Iraq to bay. There's no way Iraq can sustain $100 million loss a day indefinitely for six months, eight months, nine months.

And let us not forget that we have maintained policy of sanctions in different levels of degree - as in Vietnam for its occupation of Cambodia, which lasted 10 years. Or against the Soviet Union for its invasion of Afghanistan, which also lasted 10 years.

If we pursue a policy of liberation of Kuwait, and of the destruction of Iraq, we'll have to pay substantially. The cost of a military engagement would be roughly $1 billion a day. We'll have to pay quite a bit in blood. We don't know how much, but we know it will be substantial. If I had been the National Security Adviser prior to Panama, I could have walked into the president's office and told the president, after digesting the JCS, the CIA, the State analyses, ``Mr. President, your decision involves a choice within the following parameters. Under optimum circumstances, hostilities will last 24 hours, maybe 20 or 30 American dead, and it's all over. Under worse circumstances, one week, 300 dead, some residual violence in the jungles. But we can contain it.''

In the case of Iraq, there's simply no way an analysis of this sort can be reasonably made. There's no way of giving the best case or the worst case. All we can tell the president is, we can bomb them and maybe their morale will crack. If their morale cracks fairly soon, ground fighting will be more limited. It will still be fairly heavy, but we don't know how heavy. Will their morale crack? We don't know. But the bombing will have to be heavy. We'll have to kill tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Our so-called surgical bombing of North Vietnam killed 52,000 civilians. Is the president ready to do that? Is the American public prepared to sustain that? Will the international community look favorably on this? What will be the Arab reactions?

And it may not be enough to kill 50,000 Iraqis. We did kill 1.1 million Germans in heavy bombing. It would not require that much. But it may mean several hundred thousand. And, we don't know that the morale will crack. We have had complete air supremacy over Germany for three years, over Italy for two years, over Japan for three years, over Korea for three years, over Vietnam for 15 years. In no case was the outcome decided by air power alone.

About these ads

So we'll probably have to go in by land. We'll have to engage in protracted fighting. If their morale does not crack, sustained fighting could last three to four weeks, or as long as four to six months. It's a serious decision for a president to make. It's not an easy decision. His rhetoric, as I see it, only makes sense if he is prepared to make it. If he's not prepared to make it, I don't think he's doing himself or the US any favors. Because he's creating the impression that each passing day is a success for Saddam. Whereas, in fact, what has happened should be interpreted as a success for us. We have deterred him. We're punishing him. We have mounted a surprisingly unanimous international coalition. All of these are positive accomplishments, which could be undone either by a rhetoric that escalates the dilemmas, or by a plunge into military adventure, the costs of which could be substantial.

It would be easy to start the war against Iraq. It is impossible to envision how it will end. Are we going to occupy Kuwait City? Are we going to storm Basra? Are we going to assault Baghdad, a city of 5 million people? The Israelis tried to assault Beirut against a ragtag PLO force, took a beating in the streets and pulled out. Street fighting is terribly expensive for the assaulting force.

Suppose Iraqis don't surrender? Then what happens to the geopolitics of the region? Will the Iranians sit still? Might not the Syrians move? What about the Israelis and Iraqis in Jordan? What about the postwar region? Are we going to police it? In the setting of massive social instability, and maybe burning resentment against Americans for having killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis? When are we going to withdraw? If we're going to withdraw them, why bother with war in the first place?

These are the dilemmas that we need to think about. What I find a source of concern is the absence of an intelligent national discussion of this issue. It happens some people are beating the war drums in the papers. There are some governments that would like us to do it. Mrs. Thatcher has taken the lead in this. In part, which our press has not followed, because the $100 billion that the Kuwaitis have invested abroad just happens to be handled by the city of London.

There are other parties that have an interest in us going to war. But what about the national interest of the US? It is here that, in my judgment, Congress has been inadequate. It is in this area that the president has failed to formulate the issues in a serious and responsible fashion. It is in this area where we could, in fact, undo the success of having won the cold war, so we're facing two major tasks - one positive, one negative. Positive - how do we translate the victory of the cold war into the successful transition from communism to democracy, where we need to be constructively engaged? And a negative task, how do we contain violence in the post-cold-war era - how do we fashion a policy of prudence, restraint, and determination at the same time, that is well calibrated to the specific new circumstances that we face? How we respond to each will determine whether the victory that we have won is translated into an enduring success for the US.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.