The US Should Do Better than Retalliation
September 21, 2001
by Max Singer
While there is so far no direct evidence that Iraq is responsible for the attacks against NYC and Washington there are several reasons to look in Iraq's direction - even if Osama Bin Ladin played a major role in the attacks. First there is strong evidence that Ramzi Youssef the mastermind of the first attempt to destroy the WTC in 1993 is an Iraqi intelligence agent who came to the U.S. shortly after a series of phone calls to Iraq from one of the plotters, and who left the U.S. on a passport forged with the help of Iraqi intelligence. Youssef was caught in the process of planning multiple simultaneous aircraft attacks. This evidence is reported in detail in Laurie Mylroie's recent book, Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War Against America, which has been endorsed by such knowledgeable people as former CIA Director James Woolsey and Dep. Sec. Of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Saddam's desire for revenge was also expressed by his attempt to assassinate George Bush in Kuwait shortly after he left office.
If a state, such as Iraq, turns out to be responsible for directing Tuesday's attack against the U.S., our job would be not to retaliate but to defeat and destroy the government of Iraq.
No one who is familiar with Saddam believes that his desire for revenge is satisfied. And he is likely to have been encouraged by the failure of the U.S. to respond to the first WTC bombing, and by our apparent belief that the terror networks in the U.S. are only "loose associations" of individual fanatics without connections to states.
Saddam, who has megalomaniac visions of himself as a new Saladin leading the Arab world in battle with a West, is sufficiently isolated from reality and ignorant of the world to believe that the US is so decadent and morally weak that we will not fight back. He may also believe that the U.S. has decided to support the Iraqi opposition movement, and that attacking us is his best chance to head off that danger to his regime.
Iraq is an absolute totalitarian dictatorship completely controlled by one man and his immediate and extended family and a few close associates who use murder, torture, and blackmail to suppress all opposition and disagreement. This will have two critical implications for the U.S. if and when we become convinced that Saddam was behind Tuesday's attacks, and others that may come.
First the U.S. objective must be the removal and punishment of Saddam and his government - not retaliation against the Iraqi people, for whom Saddam has demonstrated that he has no concern. Second the U.S. should not assume that Saddam's large but largely ineffective military force will fight to protect Saddam's oppressive regime which has already led more than one out of every ten Iraqis to death or exile.
If Saddam's army were willing and able to fight, the U.S. would need a large force to invade Iraq and seize Saddam. But before we decide to wait months to assemble such a large force we should give the Iraqi people and the Iraqi military a chance to separate themselves from Saddam's government. If, as is likely, they take that chance, the U.S. forces that are already in and near the theatre will be sufficient to take control of Iraq with little serious combat and without large casualties, although we might have to put Baghdad under siege for a while to avoid requiring US forces to undertake extended house to house fighting.
If Saddam is able to keep the loyalty of enough troops to require street fighting in Baghdad before he can be seized, the U.S. might let Iraqis demonstrate which side they are on by doing that part of the job themselves under the leadership of Iraq's democratic civilian opposition movement, the Iraqi National Congress.
The way to go to war with Saddam is for the U.S. to start by announcing that it has no quarrel with the Iraqi people and no designs against the independence and integrity of the State of Iraq and by calling on the Iraqi people and the Iraqi army to stand clear of Saddam and not to support him.
Second, while we will need to bomb Saddam's military headquarters and airports and air defenses, we should not bomb Iraqi army units that have not had a chance to surrender to our forces. We should approach these units in a way that enables them to surrender - although obviously if they begin serious fighting we should use overwhelming firepower against them.
The Iraqi National Congress is likely to join in calling on the Iraqi public and the Iraqi army to support U.S. forces and to rise up against Saddam – as the people did when Pres. George Bush called for such an uprising in 1991. Small U.S. forces combined with a popular uprising by the Iraqi people can take Iraq away from Saddam in a matter of days.
Against an enemy like Saddam, who is actively working to obtain nuclear and biological weapons and ways of using them against enemies or hostages, any delay is dangerous. A month of unnecessary waiting could multiply deaths in the U.S. or elsewhere.
If the U.S. decides that Saddam is responsible, and he does not produce evidence to the contrary, the U.S. should move ground forces into Iraq almost immediately. The path of caution is to move quickly, not to wait to ensure that we have amply large forces for worst case scenarios. The Iraqi people were victims of Saddam Hussein before we were; we should not respond to Saddam's evil deeds against us by bombing our fellow victims – although unfortunately some of them, who are unable to get clear of Saddam, will inevitably be killed in the process of removing Saddam from power.
Max Singer is a Senior Fellow and Trustee Emeritus at Hudson Institute. He founded Hudson with Herman Kahn in 1961.