REVIEW: Article

United States Policy on Iraq

I would like to make some general observations on United States Policy on Iraq. First, I am not a stranger to war.  In a sense, I am a child of war. Before I was ten years old, I had lived through the brutal occupation of the country of my birth, the total destruction of my hometown during the 1944 Warsaw uprising, and together with my family, had joined the millions of refugees fleeing westward ahead of the advancing Soviet Armies.

Years later, like so many other young Americans, I participated in a very different kind of war in the rice paddies and jungles of Vietnam.  And still later, when at the end of Desert Storm, Saddam Hussein with unbelievable brutality once again turned against the Kurds—killing thousands and chasing the rest into the mountains of northern Iraq—and in eastern Turkey, where, without food, water, medicine or shelter, the very young and the very old were dying by the hundreds.

And to stop this misery and the dying, I was asked by General Powell and then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney to organize a military operation to rush emergency airdrops to the Kurds, to remove Iraqi forces from the most northern part of Iraq and to establish a safe zone there so some 700,000 Kurds could be returned to what was left of their villages and homes … and [once] there to protect them with a no-fly zone … [that is] still doing its job today.

Since then as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in one form or another, I have been involved in military operations in the Balkans, in Haiti, in Central Africa and in a number of places.

So I know something about war and have seen firsthand Saddam Hussein’s brutality.  And that background has certainly shaped my view about war.  We must be very careful about going to war and do so only when all other attempts to resolve the threat to us have failed, and do so only with the support of Congress and the American people.

But if in the end, war is the only way to deal with the threat, then [we must] go into it united and with all necessary resolve. In the case of Iraq, there are for me three “first order” questions:

  1. Do weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the hands of Saddam Hussein pose a grave danger to us and to our friends and allies particularly those in the Middle East but also to Europe?

To me, the answer is clearly “yes.”

  1. If in the end, we are unable to eliminate these WMD and any and all means to produce more, if we are unable to do so through tough unfettered inspections or other non-military means, would the use of force to accomplish this be the “right thing to do?”

Again, my answer is “yes.”

  1. And question three has to do with timing. Since the threat posed by these weapons in the hands of Saddam Hussein has existed for some time, what has changed to create this new sense of urgency?

I believe that Secretary Rumsfeld has it right: What has changed is September 11 and our new realization of just how vulnerable we are to terrorist attacks and the catastrophic damage terrorists with WMD could inflict on the United States.

Since I believe the urgency to move against Iraq is justified, it is essential that the United States continue the full court press at the United Nations (UN) to get the kind of resolution that would set up the proper inspections and would authorize the use of force to destroy Iraq’s WMD and the means to produce them if inspections continue to be frustrated by Iraq or if they prove unsuccessful in leading to the disarmament of Iraq’s WMD.

While the President must always retain the right to protect the nation with or without a United Nations Security Council Resolution, we must recognize that having the UN with us would be a very powerful message to Iraq and to our friends and allies and would make it much easier for a good number to join us. We are a global nation with global interests, and undermining the credibility of the United Nations does very little to help provide stability and security and safety to the rest of the world, where we have to operate for economic reasons and political reasons.

Thus, we must continue to persuade the other members of the Security Council of the correctness of our position and not to be too quick to take “no” for an answer. 

Clearly, there are a number of issues large and small with using force against Iraq and you have discussed many of them here.

But that is always the case when it comes to war. The question is not whether we have eliminated all—that is seldom if ever possible. Rather, the question is whether we have done the detailed political and military planning…and have insured that our plan is flexible enough to handle the unexpected that invariably is part of all combat operations. 

Should in the end the administration decide that the right thing to do is to use force against Iraq, we must go resolutely and I am confident that our forces will be fully ready to do whatever will be asked of them. But to assure that, we must not try to do this on the cheap.*  We must not put our hope in some silver bullet.

Rather, we must be prepared for the unexpected and so we must go in with sufficient combat power to ensure that under all circumstances, ours is the decisive force.  Our troops deserve it and they deserve as well a clear mission, a straightforward chain of command and robust rules of engagement that allow them to get the job done and to protect themselves at all times.**

* Editor’s Note: General Shalikashvili’s office shed light on this assertion during a telephone conversation with the Council. According to the General, the US must be committed to using the full resources of the military in the event of a conflict with Iraq and must be prepared for the worst case scenario.

** Editor’s Note: This text is based on General Shalikashvili’s remarks before the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 23, 2002.

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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1993-1997;
Supreme Allied Commander Europe, 1992-1993