stops in five minutes
By Helle Bering
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Operation Desert Fox? Could someone please explain why we chose
to name December's bombing raid on Iraq after the Erwin Rommel,
the German Wehrmacht's most famous field-marshal? Brilliant. What
will be next? Operation von Manteuffel? Operation von Rundstedt?
Why not indeed.
Well, the Pentagon of course insists
it did not name the operation after Rommel, but if the code name
was approved by everybody up to and including Secretary of Defense
William Cohen, and not a single one picked up on the reference
to Nazi Germany's most celebrated military hero, you have to wonder.
Maybe it's not so strange that our policy and our aims in Iraq
are shrouded in murky confusion.
What is clear is that a lot of explosive
power was sent Saddam's way -- almost 400 cruise missiles and
over 600 bombs. Three hundred aircraft flew 600 sorties. Forty
ships were involved. The entire extravaganza is said to have cost
a cool billion. And what did we accomplish? According to the man
in charge, U.S. Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, we hit 85 percent of
our targets, which seem to have been mostly barracks belonging
to the Revolutionary Guard and the security services, killing
all of 62 members of the military. We also hit missile facilities,
allegedly setting back Saddam's delivery system for weapons of
mass destruction a whole year. And as for Saddam's political base,
said Gen. Zinny at Monday's press conference, "I guarantee you
nobody is working this morning at Baath Party headquarters." They
will have find somewhere else to meet, then, won't they?
True, the attack does have the
virtue of demonstrating to Saddam and his powerbase in the military
and Iraq's ruling elite that we are still capable of repaying
intransigence with violence. It sounds like we have produced a
lot of rubble, but does this really amount to anything more that
a convenient distraction for President Clinton on the eve of the
impeachment debate in the House of Representatives?
Back in November, when the punitive
raid was planned and then aborted, the Clinton administration
was said to have conceived a new policy, "strike and pivot," presumably
named to signal a change in our intentions. Our goal, from now
on, so Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was told by the White
House, was to chase Saddam from office. Soon after Assistant Secretary
of State Martin Indyk was dispatched to London to meet with Iraqi
opposition groups, who had been promised U.S. aid in accordance
with the Iraq Liberation Act. This time, so he told them, the
change is for real.
It had better be. We have not in
the past done well by the people we are now nominating to be the
liberators of Iraq. They might have been exactly that had we not
abandoned them in 1991 and again in 1996. Nor did Mr. Indyk's
visit have the desired effect of uniting the various exile groups
-- or sorting those with a real following from those who can best
be described as "three men and a fax machine." Instead, rivalries
instantly broke out for the $95 million in U.S. funding authorized
by Congress for next year. A certain lack of seriousness in the
administration's new policy is also evidenced in the fact that
while $13 million was appropriated for these folks in 1998, a
mere smidgeon of that money was spent, $5,800 all told, according
to congressional sources. That bought us a conference.
If we were really serious about
fostering internal uprisings against Saddam, says Paul Wolfowitz,
former undersecretary of defense for policy in the Bush administration,
we could -- and should -- have done a lot more, and bombed a lot
more. "The rhetoric has improved, but I don't see any serious
policy to go with it," he says. Among the targets we could have
hit to encourage an uprising among the persecuted Shiite Muslims
in the South were military units (we dropped leaflets on them
instead), or even the dams built by Saddam to dry out the marshlands
that used to be the homes of the Shiites. One could also enforce
a "no drive" zone for Saddam's troops, keeping them pinned down.
Still, there appears to be some
small progress, driven by congressional pressure; Ahmed Challaby,
head of the Iraqi National Congress, has now been asked to set
a date for a meeting to hash out plans.
Every scenario, however, has to
focus on the long term, says Amatzia Baram, author of "Building
Toward Crisis: Saddam Hussein's Strategy for Survival." Keeping
a steady course is not something the United States has exactly
been famous for in the past. It is obviously made difficult by
Security Council opposition and the furious Arab reaction to the
use of force. Such a long-term course should involve military
training and equipment for the opposition, as well as internal
erosion of Saddam's powerbase -- to be achieved in part by more
airstrikes, in part by shutting down his oil smuggling operation
through Jordan currently worth $500-750 million a year for his
own purposes. "What America needs to do is encourage both a coup
d'etat at the center as well as insurrection by the opposition."
says Mr. Baram.
All of which sounds eminently reasonable
-- and long overdue.
Helle Bering is editorial page editor of The Washington Times.
Her column appears on Wednesdays.