In U.S., Calls Grow Louder for Saddam Hussein's Removal
By Thomas W. Lippman
Prominent members of the foreign policy establishment and some leading members of Congress say they are convinced that air attacks aimed at coercing the Iraqis into cooperating with U.N. weapons inspectors would not succeed, and would result in too narrow a victory even if they did.
Instead, they argue, the United States should go beyond the objective of curtailing Iraqi weapons programs and adopt a far-reaching strategy aimed at replacing the Baghdad regime. Although they are far from consensus on what that strategy should be, a few openly advocate the possible use of U.S. ground forces, a much greater commitment than the options being pursued by the administration.
Many supporters of a more forceful strategy are conservative Republicans and longtime defense hard-liners, such as Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and former Pentagon official Richard L. Armitage. But they also include former representative Stephen J. Solarz (N.Y.), a liberal Democrat who with former Pentagon official Richard Perle is circulating a letter in Congress and foreign policy circles seeking bipartisan support for a more ambitious policy.
In addition to a crushing bombing campaign or the possibility of ground troops, some advocates of tougher measures are suggesting seeking Iraq's expulsion from the United Nations, indicting Saddam Hussein as a war criminal, or blockading the port of Basra to halt illicit oil exports -- an action that would infuriate Iran, which shares the Shatt al Arab waterway with Iraq.
Such moves, if made unilaterally, would almost certainly draw the ire of most of the United States's U.N. partners and frame the crisis even more starkly as a conflict between Washington and Baghdad. But public opinion polls may indicate support for such a route. A Los Angeles Times poll published on Monday showed that by 68 percent to 24 percent, Americans favor airstrikes provided they are designed to remove Saddam Hussein from power, not just force him to accept the commands of the U.N. Security Council.
Yesterday, Clinton reiterated that he would prefer a "diplomatic solution" to the standoff with Iraq but added, "One way or the other, we are determined to deny Iraq the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. That is our bottom line." Clinton met with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, just back from a trip to Europe and several Arab countries to outline the U.S. position, and is to discuss Iraq with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who arrived in Washington yesterday.
White House national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, who met this week with Arab Americans opposed to any use of force against Iraq, is also planning to meet with nongovernmental experts who advocate greater use of military power and increased diplomatic and economic pressure, administration officials said.
These analysts agree that the administration faces a quandary in Iraq, one which many said was inevitable after the U.S. decision to end the 1991 Persian Gulf War without deposing Saddam Hussein. They share the administration's view that Iraq's defiance of U.N. weapons inspectors is unacceptable. But they say a campaign of aerial bombardment such as the administration is considering is unlikely to end that defiance.
Some, such as Daniel Pipes, editor of the Middle East Quarterly, have concluded that Washington should take no military action because it would inflict pointless destruction on Iraq and guarantee that weapons inspections would never resume.
But many more are arguing that the administration should strike forcefully and then, whatever the outcome, devise a plan to bring down Saddam Hussein's regime.
"We have to adopt a position that he will either agree to unlimited U.N. inspections or we will have to replace him with a regime that will agree to end this kind of [weapons] program," House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said yesterday.
"Until we get [Saddam Hussein] out of Iraq, we're never going to get this situation under control," Lott said earlier this week. He said there was no point in putting the Iraqi leader "back in his cage and then have him back out in six months."
"There is no way Saddam Hussein will fully accept the U.N. inspection regime," said John Bolton, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. "That means you either leave in place an ineffective inspection regime or you get in new government in Iraq that will accept them. . . . I don't think you can leave him with weapons of mass destruction, so removing him from power is the only alternative."
Bolton was one of 18 signers of a Jan. 26 letter to Clinton calling for "removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power," which they said "will require a full complement of diplomatic, political and military efforts." They did not specify what those efforts might be.
Among the other signers were R. James Woolsey, Clinton's first director of central intelligence; conservative commentators William Kristol and William J. Bennett; Paula Dobriansky, head of the Washington office of the Council on Foreign Relations; former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld; and Robert B. Zoellick, who was a key foreign policy adviser to President George Bush.
Also signing was Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who wrote recently in the Weekly Standard journal that "there is only one way for the United States to get out of its box, and that is to change the goals of American policy in Iraq and to change radically the type of military action we intend to use" -- that is, to commit ground forces.
Perle said Solarz is seeking Democratic signatures on their letter advocating adoption of a plan to eliminate Saddam Hussein, which would include expanded military strikes as well as an effort to resuscitate internal Iraqi political opposition to the regime.
"We're trying to make it bipartisan, but the Democratic tradition of cold feet when it comes to the use of force seems to persist," Perle said. Solarz was traveling to Asia yesterday and could not be reached.
The administration has no intention of using ground troops in Iraq, officials said yesterday, and does not plan to make the ouster of Saddam Hussein a declared goal of its Iraq policy. "Every day we didn't achieve it, he would trumpet as a victory," one official said.
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