July 6, 2001


FROM: TOM DONNELLY, Deputy Executive Director


George W. Bush came to office declaring he would “defend America’s interests in the Persian Gulf” by reviving “the vision” of his father’s “Gulf War coalition.” But more was promised. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz were signatories to a May 1998 letter, sponsored by the Project for the New American Century, calling for the establishment of a provisional, free government in those areas of northern and southern Iraq not under Saddam’s control. The letter also argued that U.S. and allied military forces should be prepared to support the Iraqi opposition and “be prepared…to help remove Saddam from power.” Likewise, the Republican Party platform demanded “a comprehensive plan for the removal of Saddam Hussein from power.”

It now appears that those campaign promises aren’t likely to be fulfilled. Although the Bush Administration is in the midst of what is supposed to be a thoroughgoing review of policy toward Iraq, the outcome is close to a foregone conclusion. The sanctions imposed upon Iraq after Operation Desert Storm are in shreds, and the UN this week would not even allow the fiction of an orderly American retreat under the flag of “smart sanctions.” Saddam already is earning enough to revive his missile and weapons of mass destruction programs and UN inspectors were ejected from Iraq years ago.
Further, Secretary Rumsfeld’s defense review may wipe out 20 percent of Army combat units. This would make any American support to the Iraqi opposition a highly conditional, airpower-only affair. Assembling a heavy, armored force of even four divisions that could, if necessary, defeat Saddam’s army and then occupy Iraq would involve not only every unit based in the United States, but in Korea and Europe as well. The difficulties of deploying and employing such a force would raise a risk that undoubtedly would be a deterrent to any American president inclined to action against Iraq.

In the wake of the failure of the “smart sanctions” policy, it is increasingly difficult to countenance the fiction that Saddam Hussein remains safely “in his box.” If the Bush Administration compounds the problem by embracing a defense review that takes a regime-changing “ground option” off the table, Saddam will not only be free of the threat of removal from power, but will have little to deter him from renewed trouble-making and oppression in the region.