Phase II and Iraq

The Washington Post

As military operations in Afghanistan wind down, it is well to keep in mind President Bush's injunction that they are only the first battles of a long war.

An important step has been taken toward the goals of breaking the nexus between governments and the terrorist groups they support or tolerate, discrediting Islamic fundamentalism so that moderates in the Islamic world can reclaim their religion from the fanatics, and placing the fight against terrorism in the context of the geopolitical threat of Saddam Hussein's Iraq to regional stability and to American friends and interests in the region. But much more needs to be done.

Were we to flinch, the success in Afghanistan would be interpreted in time as taking on the weakest and most remote of the terrorist centers while we recoiled from unraveling terrorism in countries more central to the problem.

Sole reliance on diplomacy is the preferred course of some members of the coalition, which claim that the remaining tasks can be accomplished by consultation and the cooperation of intelligence and security services around the world. But to rely solely on diplomacy would be to repeat the mistake with which the United States hamstrung itself in every war of the past half-century. Because it treated military operations and diplomacy as separate and sequential, the United States stopped military operations in Korea as soon as our adversaries moved to the conference table; it ended the bombing of North Vietnam as an entrance price to the Paris talks; it stopped military operations in the Gulf after the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.

In each case, the ending of military pressure produced diplomatic stalemate. The Korean armistice negotiations consumed two years, during which America suffered as many casualties as in the entire combat phase; an even more intractable stalemate developed in the Vietnam negotiations; and in the Persian Gulf, Saddam Hussein used the Republican Guard divisions preserved by the armistice to restore control over his territory and to dismantle systematically the inspection provisions of the armistice agreement.

Anti-terrorism policy is empty if it is not backed by the threat of force. Intellectual opponents of military action as well as its likely targets will procrastinate or agree to token or symbolic remedies only. Ironically, governments on whose territory terrorists are tolerated will find it especially difficult to cooperate unless the consequences of failing to do so are made more risky than their tacit bargain with the terrorists.

Phase II of the anti-terrorism campaign must therefore involve a specific set of demands geared to a precise timetable supported by credible coercive power. These should be put forward as soon as possible as a framework. And time is of the essence. Phase II must begin while the memory of the attack on the United States is still vivid and American-deployed forces are available to back up the diplomacy.

Nor should Phase II be confused with the pacification of Afghanistan. The American strategic objective was to destroy the terrorist network; that has been largely accomplished. Pacification of the entire country of Afghanistan has never been achieved by foreigners and cannot be the objective of the American military effort. The United States should be generous with economic and development assistance. But the strategic goal of Phase II should be the destruction of the global terrorist network, to prevent its reappearance in Afghanistan, but not to be drawn into Afghan civil strife.

Somalia and Yemen are often mentioned as possible targets for a Phase II campaign. That decision should depend on the ability to identify targets against which local governments are able to act and on the suitability of American forces to accomplish this task if the local governments can't or won't. And given these limitations, the United States will have to decide whether action against them is strategically productive.

All this raises the unavoidable challenge Iraq poses. The issue is not whether Iraq was involved in the terrorist attack on the United States. The challenge of Iraq is essentially geopolitical. Iraq's policy is implacably hostile to the United States and to certain neighboring countries. It possesses growing stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons, which Saddam Hussein has used in the war against Iran and on his own population. It is working to develop a nuclear capability. Hussein breached his commitment to the United Nations by evicting the international inspectors he had accepted on his territory as part of the armistice agreement ending the Gulf War. There is no possibility of a negotiation between Washington and Baghdad and no basis for trusting Iraq's promises to the international community.

If these capabilities remain intact, they could in time be used for terrorist goals or by Saddam Hussein in the midst of some new regional or international upheaval. And if his regime survives both the Gulf War and the anti-terrorism campaign, this fact alone will elevate him to a potentially overwhelming menace.

From a long-range point of view, the greatest opportunity of Phase II is to return Iraq to a responsible role in the region. Were Iraq governed by a group representing no threat to its neighbors and willing to abandon its weapons of mass destruction, the stability of the region would be immeasurably enhanced. The remaining regimes flirting with terrorist fundamentalism or acquiescing in its exactions would be driven to shut down their support of terrorism.

At a minimum, we should insist on a U.N. inspection system to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, with an unlimited right of inspection and freedom of movement for the inspectors. But no such system exists on paper, and the effort to install it might be identical with that required to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Above all, given the ease of producing biological and chemical weapons, inspection must be extremely intrusive, and experience shows that no inspection can withstand indefinitely the opposition of a determined host government.

But if the overthrow of Saddam Hussein is to be seriously considered, three prerequisites must be met: (a) development of a military plan that is quick and decisive, (b) some prior agreement on what kind of structure is to replace Hussein and (c) the support or acquiescence of key countries needed for implementation of the military plan.

A military operation against Saddam Hussein cannot be long and drawn out. If it is, the battle may turn into a struggle of Islam against the West. It would also enable Hussein to try to involve Israel by launching attacks on it — perhaps using chemical and biological weapons — in the process sowing confusion within the Muslim world. A long war extending to six months and beyond would also make it more difficult to keep allies and countries such as Russia and China from dissociating formally from what they are unlikely to join but even more unlikely to oppose.

Before proceeding to confrontation with Iraq, the Bush administration will therefore wish to examine with great care the military strategy implied. Forces of the magnitude of the Gulf War of a decade ago are unlikely to be needed. At the same time, it would be dangerous to rely on a combination of U.S. air power and indigenous opposition forces alone. To be sure, the contemporary precision weaponry was not available in the existing quantities during the Gulf War. And the no-fly zones will make Iraqi reinforcements difficult. They could be strengthened by being turned into no- movement zones proscribing the movement of particular categories of weapons.

Still, we cannot stake American national security entirely, or even largely, on local opposition forces that do not yet exist and whose combat capabilities are untested. Perhaps Iraqi forces would collapse at the first confrontation, as some argue. But the likelihood of this happening is greatly increased if it is clear American military power stands in overwhelming force immediately behind the local forces.

A second prerequisite for a military campaign against Iraq is to define the political outcome. Local opposition would in all likelihood be sustained by the Kurdish minority in the north and the Shiite majority in the south. But if we are to enlist the Sunni minority, which now dominates Iraq, in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, we need to make clear that Iraq's disintegration is not the goal of American policy. This is all the more important because a military operation in Iraq would require the support of Turkey and the acquiescence of Saudi Arabia. Neither is likely to cooperate if they foresee an independent Kurdish state in the north and a Shiite republic in the south as the probable outcome. A Kurdish state would inflame the Kurdish minority in Turkey and a Shiite state in the south would threaten the Dhahran region in Saudi Arabia, and might give Iran a new base to seek to dominate the gulf region. A federal structure for a unified Iraq would be a way to deal with this issue.

Creating an appropriate coalition for such an effort and finding bases for the necessary American deployment will be difficult. Phase II is likely to separate those members of the coalition that joined so as to have veto over American actions from those that are willing to pursue an implacable strategy. Nevertheless, the skillful diplomacy that shaped the first phase of the anti-terrorism campaign would have much to build on. Saddam Hussein has no friends in the gulf region. Britain will not easily abandon the pivotal role, based on its special relationship with the United States, that it has earned for itself in the evolution of the crisis. Nor will Germany move into active opposition to the United States — especially in an election year. The same is true of Russia, China and Japan. A determined American policy thus has more latitude than is generally assumed.

But it will be far more difficult than Phase I. Local resistance — especially in Iraq — will be more determined and ruthless. Domestic opposition will mount in many countries. American public opinion will be crucial in sustaining such a course. It will need to be shaped by the same kind of decisive and subtle leadership by which President Bush unified the country for the first phase of the crisis.

The writer, a former secretary of state, is chairman of Kissinger Associates, an international consulting firm.

© 2002, Los Angeles Times Syndicate International

© 2002 The Washington Post Company