The Magazine

Who Really Won the Gulf War?

With the collapse of our Iraq policy, Saddam Hussein is up to his old tricks

Dec 27, 1999, Vol. 5, No. 15 • By JOHN R. BOLTON
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The embarrassments and setbacks continue unabated. Last month the Iraqi resistance met in New York to coordinate its efforts; President Clinton had to be dragged into the effort, kicking and screaming, by Congress -- which appropriated funds for the resistance over administration objections. This month, the American U.N. delegation just barely eked out a Security Council extension of the oil-for-food program: France simply refused to vote, and Russia, China, and Malaysia abstained.

Who, then, if not our incumbent president and his aides, can finally refocus national attention on this crucial and dangerous corner of the world -- and thus help force new energy into a faltering and flaccid policy? The men who want to be our next president might do so if they choose. Few things reorder American political priorities like the high-profile debate of a presidential campaign. The current crop of candidates has a major opportunity to reinvigorate the U.S. response to Saddam Hussein. These candidates should make three clear and interrelated points.

First, instead of simply whispering hopefully about a post-Saddam Iraq, the United States must state publicly and unequivocally that his removal is our paramount objective. In the process, we must encourage resistance not only by the Iraqi diaspora, but also by whatever dissident elements exist within the military and Saddam's governing structures. Right now, no other country believes that we are serious about removing Saddam from Baghdad. The world must be made to believe it. Indeed, Saddam's fate should be the catalyst for a larger debate about the legitimate uses of American military force: Should force be employed not only to solve an immediate strategic problem, but also to eliminate the regime which has precipitated it?

Second, Saddam's elimination must become an international priority, not just an American one. Secretary Albright has now achieved passage of the Helms-Albright legislation on U.N. arrearages, one result of which, the bill's proponents suppose, will be revived American influence in U.N. circles. We should make Iraq the first test of their theory and insist that the oil-for-food program be run principally by U.N. Secretariat officials in New York, under the close supervision of the Security Council. Moreover, we should insist that economic sanctions against Iraq be restored to full effectiveness -- including armed enforcement by the members of a recreated Persian Gulf coalition. If we cannot have weapons inspectors operating effectively inside Iraq, we must do a far better job of ensuring that critical materials do not enter the country.

Third, we need a coherent policy on the use of force against Iraq, one that also has domestic American and international support. Estimates differ widely over the effect of the quiet bombing campaign we have been conducting for the past year, but few believe it really threatens Saddam. One thing is certain: The administration's failure to make a strong public case for the bombing leaves us diplomatically vulnerable should there be a mishap.

If, in fact, the air campaign is achieving important objectives, we should say so, and step it up. More boldly, we should say that, along with his immediate coterie of advisers, Saddam himself, as commander in chief of the Iraqi military, remains a legitimate target. And we should deal with him accordingly.

Iraq is an unhappy subject for the United States, which is one reason it has lately faded from both media and executive branch attention. Still, we cannot afford to continue on our current path, all but ignoring Saddam Hussein. He represents a serious and growing security threat which, left unchecked by American resolve, may soon make even the worst of our past frustrations and failures in Iraq seem very small indeed. Time is not our friend. The United States has an excellent chance, during the next year's presidential campaign, to actively reconsider its policy toward Iraq. If we miss the opportunity, there is little hope that we will ever get another.

John R. Bolton is senior vice president of the American Enterprise Institute. He served as assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs during the Bush administration.