Some military brass favor no Iraq attack

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Posted by rabbi yitzhak from ( on Sunday, July 28, 2002 at 3:23PM :

Some military brass favor no Iraq attack

Containment seen as less risky

By Thomas E. Ricks

WASHINGTON, July 28 — Despite President Bush’s repeated bellicose
statements about Iraq, many senior U.S. military officers contend
that President Saddam Hussein poses no immediate threat and that the
United States should continue its policy of containment rather than
invade Iraq to force a change of leadership in Baghdad.

THE CONCLUSION, which is based in part on intelligence assessments
of the state of Hussein’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons
programs and his missile delivery capabilities, is increasing tensions in
the administration over Iraqi policy.
The cautious approach — held by some top generals and admirals in
the military establishment, including members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
— is shaping the administration’s consideration of war plans for Iraq,
which are being drafted at the direction of Bush and Defense Secretary
Donald H. Rumsfeld.
The senior officers’ position — that the risks of dropping a
successful containment policy for a more aggressive military campaign are
so great that it would be unwise to do so — was made clear in the course
of several interviews with officials inside and outside the Pentagon.
High-level civilians in the White House and Pentagon vehemently
disagree. They contend that Hussein is still acting aggressively, is
intimidating his neighbors and is eager to pursue weapons of mass
destruction and the means to deliver them.

These officials say time is not on the side of the United States.
“The whole question is, how long do you wait with Saddam Hussein in
possession of the capabilities he has and would like to have?” said
Richard N. Perle, head of the Defense Policy Board, a Pentagon advisory

The uniformed military’s skepticism would not stop Bush if he were
determined to attack Iraq, a White House aide said. “I assume that if the
president decides this is going to happen, they’ll go along with it,” he
But the military leadership’s insistence on airing its concerns
already appears to have had an effect. Despite the administration’s public
rhetoric about Iraq, the view of officials interviewed at the Pentagon in
recent days is that there will be no action against Iraq before next
spring, and perhaps not even then. They argue that the administration’s
goal of regime change may well be achieved by Hussein falling into poor
health or perhaps by CIA covert operations aimed at toppling him.

By making their views known, the top brass also may bolster
congressional Democrats who are counseling a more cautious approach on
Iraq. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Foreign Relations
Committee, has scheduled hearings beginning Wednesday on the
administration’s Iraq policy.
The military’s objections also indicate that while the U.S.
government is united about wanting Hussein out of power, it remains deeply
divided about how to achieve that goal. The military’s support of
containment, and its concern about the possible negative consequences of
attacking Iraq, are shared by senior officials at the State Department and
the CIA, according to people familiar with interagency discussions.
One oddity of the containment policy is that the military at first
was uneasy with its open-ended, indeterminate nature. But over the last
decade, the military grew more comfortable with the policy of restraining
Iraq through “no-fly” zones, naval enforcement of sanctions and the
continuous presence of about 20,000 U.S. military personnel near Iraq’s

Senior officers believe the policy has been more effective than is
generally recognized, officials said. As evidence, the top brass said the
approach has deterred Hussein from threatening his neighbors and from
backing terrorist organizations. They said it also has prevented him from
updating his military equipment.

Also, while Iraq unquestionably possesses chemical and biological
weapons, defense officials said the current U.S. intelligence assessment
is that it has few, if any, operational long-range missiles that could be
used to deliver those weapons to attack Israel or other U.S. allies in the
region. U.S. intelligence has concluded that Iraq possesses perhaps as
many as two dozen Scud “B” missiles — with a range of 400 miles — that it
managed to hide from international inspectors, but that they are not
Officials said the officers contend that continuing a containment
policy is preferable to invading an Iraq that possesses an arsenal of
biological and chemical weapons. Another concern is that Iraq could split
up under a U.S. attack, potentially leading to chaos and the creation of
new anti-American regimes and terrorist sanctuaries in the region.
Active-duty members of the military have not publicly questioned
the direction of Bush’s Iraq policy, but in private some are very doubtful
about it.
“In my assessment, the whole containment-and-sanctions policy has
worked better than it’s given credit for,” said one defense official
sympathetic to the military argument. He noted that since the Gulf War
ended in 1991, Hussein has obtained some spare military parts but has been
unable to import new tanks, aircraft or missiles.
More than one officer interviewed questioned the president’s
motivation for repeatedly calling for the ouster of Hussein. “I’m not
aware of any linkage to al Qaeda or terrorism,” one general involved in
the Afghanistan war said, “so I have to wonder if this has something to do
with his father being targeted by Saddam,” a reference to the U.S.
government’s belief that Iraqi agents plotted to assassinate former
president George H.W. Bush with a car bomb during a 1993 visit to Kuwait.

Retired officers and experts who stay in touch with the top brass,
and are free to say what those on active duty cannot, are more outspoken
in supporting the containment policy and questioning the administration’s
apparent determination to abandon it.
“I’d argue that containment is certainly a better approach than
either marching on Baghdad or destabilizing the Iraqi government by
killing Saddam,” said retired Col. Richard Dunn III, a former Army
strategist. “It only has to work until something happens to him — he’s
either killed or dies.”
Added Jim Cornette, a former Air Force biological warfare expert
who participated in Gulf War targeting of Iraqi weapons bunkers, “We’ve
bottled him up for 11 years, so we’re doing okay. I don’t know the reason
the administration is so focused on Iraq. I’m very puzzled by it.”

Supporters of containment said they expect the United States would
prevail quickly in any war, but in the course of the conflict would face
several challenges. The Joint Chiefs have used their discussions of the
war plan developed this spring, which calls for invading Iraq from the
south, north and west with about 225,000 troops, to put before the
administration their concerns about three major risks they see:
What to do about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, especially its
arsenal of biological weapons.
How to engage in urban warfare in Baghdad, especially with the large
numbers of military and civilian casualties that such a battle likely
would cause.
How to predict the costs of a post-victory occupation, which presumably
would require tens of thousands of U.S. troops, not only to keep the peace
and support the successor regime, but also to prevent Iraq from breaking
Senior officers believe the policy has been more effective than is
generally recognized, officials said.

A major goal of U.S. policy in a post-Hussein Iraq would be to
prevent the creation of an independent state in the heavily Shiite south,
or an independent Kurdish state in the north. To fulfill U.S. promises to
Turkey and Arab states that Iraq would remain whole, a defense official
said, “I think it is almost a certainty that we’d wind up doing a campaign
against the Kurds and Shiites.” That would represent a striking reversal
of administration policy of supporting the Kurds against Baghdad.
Also, officials worry, a large U.S. presence might antagonize Arab
public opinion as well as impose heavy financial and human costs on the
U.S. military, which already feels stretched by the war on terrorism and
peacekeeping commitments in the Balkans.
Advocates of an invasion of Iraq said they have several problems
with the military’s outlook.
They said Hussein’s potential for acquiring long-range missile
systems is greater than advocates of containment outline. Retired Air
Force Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney said, for example, that Hussein may be
able to smuggle in missiles from sympathetic Islamic extremists in
‘The whole question is, how long do you wait with Saddam Hussein in
possession of the capabilities he has and would like to have?’
Defense Policy Board Others contend Hussein could carry out a
chemical or biological weapons attack without missiles. “You don’t have to
have a long-range missile necessarily to deliver a deadly weapon,
especially if it’s powdered anthrax,” Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D.
Wolfowitz said recently.
Perle said it is foolish to believe that Hussein would use only the
conventional approaches he has used in the past. “Saddam could decide at
any time to hand anthrax to terrorists,” he said.
As for the military’s view that there is no evidence of an Iraqi
intent to work with terrorists to attack the United States, Perle said,
“That’s the type of thinking that brought us to September 11th.” It is
“flat-out wrong” to think that there are no links between Iraq and
terrorist organizations, he said.
Perle said that, ultimately, U.S. policy on Iraq will be set by
civilians, and that it will be based on a different set of assumptions
than those of the uniformed armed services. “Whether he is contained or
not, that’s a political question,” Perle said. What to do about Iraq
essentially boils down to how much risk the U.S. government is willing to
take, he said, and “that’s a political judgment that these guys aren’t
competent to make.”

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