Getting the Act Together

September 18, 1990

With France sending troops to the Persian Gulf, the need grows for consultation and, if need be, international command. None of the countries with forces in Saudi Arabia wants any of its ad hoc allies to provoke it into action. Each has its own domestic procedure for deciding such things. All forces in Saudi Arabia report to a Saudi general, but that is not enough. Basically, this is a United Nations force, flowing from a decision of the Security Council.

What statesmen and soldiers say needs to be in harness. Two things that happened yesterday can be interpreted as getting into harness.

No one has devised a way to speak just to President Saddam Hussein of Iraq and not the American people, or vice versa. The various media have universal reach. So it makes sense to let the Iraqi dictator think that any action would destroy what he most values. But the American people want reassurance their young people will not be sent mindlessly or frivolously into conflict. And there is no way to speak to one audience but not the other.

What the U.S. Air Force chief of staff, General Michael J. Dugan, had to say is what President Hussein probably already believed: that any action would be primarily in the air and devastate targets in Iraq and seek him out. It is useful to keep the dictator thoughtful. But General Dugan in touting his own service at the expense of others, was too enthusiastic about conflict, and made targeting a matter of political debate. Small wonder that Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney summarily removed him from command. If the U.S. is to coordinate with its allies, it must first coordinate itself.

Similarly, Israel's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Don Shomron, said Israel would not automatically attack if Iraq invaded Jordan. This contradicted warnings by his civilian chief, Defense Minister Moshe Arens. Mr. Arens' motive was to dissuade Iraq. The trouble is that, backed into a corner with the world against him, a desperate Iraqi dictator might wish to provoke war with Israel to break the alliance. Israel must not put Saddam Hussein in charge of its policy, which the Arens threat does. General Shomron was insisting that Israel is not to be manipulated by its foes.

This is war: a war of nerves and words and television tape. It needs a coherent command structure. The statements of General Shomron in Israel and the removal from command of General Dugan in Washington are steps toward imposing coherence and control.

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