The Washington Times Opinion

Published in Washington, D.C.          5am -- December 28, 1998 

Bombing stops in five minutes

By Helle Bering
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.

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