U.S. Strikes Also Would Aim at Iraqi Sites Holding Threat to Neighbors, Cohen Says
By Edward Walsh and David Brown
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said yesterday that the targets of U.S. airstrikes against Iraq would include not only sites thought to contain Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's suspected nonconventional weapons of mass destruction but also those housing conventional military forces that he could use to threaten his neighbors.
Continuing the drumbeat of Clinton administration warnings about the stalemate with Iraq, Cohen and national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger appeared on Sunday morning television interview programs to reiterate U.S. willingness to mount a military assault soon unless Saddam Hussein grants full access to suspected weapons production sites for inspection teams from the United Nations.
"Our national interest is in preventing him from threatening his neighbors once again, trying to take control and dominate that region," Berger said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "And as long as he pops up and we stand firm the international community has the will to knock him back we will prevent him from being that kind of threat to his region."
In recent days, President Clinton and his senior foreign policy and military advisers have said the objectives of U.S. military action against Iraq would be to significantly diminish and delay Saddam Hussein's capacity to produce chemical and biological weapons and his ability to threaten neighbors. Appearing yesterday on ABC's "This Week," Cohen emphasized that the threat posed by the Iraqi leader to the Persian Gulf region extended beyond the issue of nonconventional weapons.
Asked if it would be "a major aim of an air attack on Iraq to degrade his [Saddam Hussein's] conventional forces," Cohen replied, "It is to degrade his ability to threaten his neighbors, either through weapons of mass destruction or through a conventional method."
He did not elaborate, but one likely conventional force target would be Iraq's Republican Guard, the most elite and loyal force in the Iraqi military. Such a course of action was urged yesterday by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as part of what he said should be a longer-range plan to "destabilize and eventually overthrow" Saddam Hussein.
Interviewed on "Fox News Sunday," McCain said: "One of his main pillars of support is the Republican Guard. . . . So that's why it's so important that we not only take out the other facilities that you've heard about, but punish this Republican Guard."
McCain and other senators said Congress would support military action against Iraq, although several urged Clinton to delay ordering airstrikes until after lawmakers return to Washington on Feb. 23 so legislators can debate the issue and enact a formal resolution of support. Several lawmakers also said the administration had not adequately prepared the public for the consequences of military action, including U.S. and civilian casualties on the ground in Iraq.
Clinton is scheduled to deliver a televised address to the nation on the Iraqi situation on Tuesday. The following day, Cohen, Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright will go to Columbus, Ohio, to explain U.S. policy at Ohio State University.
As U.S. warnings continued, a technical team dispatched by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was in Baghdad yesterday to survey "presidential sites" that Saddam Hussein has made off-limits to U.N. inspectors. Richard Butler, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, said on CNN's "Late Edition" that the survey teams were sent to determine "whether there can be some few places in Iraq namely about eight palaces which will be inspected in a special way.
"That doesn't mean an ineffective inspection, but a special way that shows sensitivity to Iraq," Butler said. "And if a solution on that basis is agreeable to the [U.N. Security] Council, maybe we've got a diplomatic solution."
But Cohen dismissed the survey idea as "another indication of the dust that is raised by Saddam Hussein." He said he had seen "no proposal" for a diplomatic solution that would satisfy U.S. demands for "full, unrestricted access" for the U.N. inspectors.
Cohen appeared on the interview program with a photograph of a dead mother and child who he said were Iraqi Kurds killed by chemical weapons. "This is Madonna and child, Saddam Hussein-style," he said.
The defense secretary did not confirm a report in this week's U.S. News & World Report that quotes a House task force on terrorism as saying that Iraq has smuggled Scud missiles and chemical and biological weapons components to sympathetic Arab countries, including Sudan, Libya and Algeria. "To the extent that this report is accurate," Cohen said, "that contradicts the bald-faced lie that [Saddam Hussein] has been telling."
During his television appearance, McCain said he is skeptical that the Clinton administration is committed to the goal of substantially weakening Saddam Hussein's conventional ground forces.
"I have great concerns whether the president of the United States will launch the kind of air attacks that are necessary to really punish the Republican Guard, especially because innocent people will die, and that will have an impact, of course, on American and world opinion," McCain said. "We're talking about hundreds of sorties for a few days, and frankly I don't think that's enough."
McCain and other lawmakers said they believe a military campaign must be followed by a program to discredit and weaken the Iraqi leader, but McCain acknowledged that "it's not easy and it may take years." He also acknowledged that Congress had shown little interest in the longer-range goal of toppling Saddam Hussein until the current showdown.
On the same program, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said that Congress "spoke very loudly by not speaking at all" when it recessed for the Presidents Day holiday without passing a resolution supporting military action. He said an attack on Iraq "would be an act of war and only Congress has the authority to authorize that."
On CBS's "Face the Nation," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) said, "We all want to support the president . . . but when we asked questions, it didn't seem that the administration had a clear goal and a mission, and there didn't seem to be a thought of an entire strategy. Yes, there would be bombing up front, but then what? And I think Congress is saying to the president: We want to support you. Come and let us consult with you."
However, Hutchison's colleague, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), said there is little doubt that Congress will back Clinton if he orders an attack.
"Look at the very bipartisan, very strong statements of the Republican leader of the United States Senate, the Democrat leader, and their counterparts in the House of Representatives" last week, Warner said. "There was no equivocation that Congress will be prepared to support the president. . . . What's the alternative?"
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company