Bush blamed for failing to solve gulf crisis without arms

November 09, 1990|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Evening Sun Staff

Former Navy Secretary James H. Webb Jr. told a Baltimore audience today that the Bush administration made a grave mistake in sending troops to Saudi Arabia and that Congress should decide whether to go to war.

Webb warned that war may be inevitable, saying, "By sending this number of troops over," President Bush "is placing himself in a situation where he is going to have to use the troops if Saddam Hussein does not back down."

He noted there were no treaties compelling the United States to defend Kuwait from Saddam's Iraqi occupiers and said Bush alone should not decide whether to go to war. "No one man should have the authority to send thousands of people to their deaths," he said.

Bush missed an opportunity to resolve the crisis diplomatically, Webb told an audience of lawyers and business people at the Center Club. He suggested Bush's decision yesterday to send an additional 150,000 troops and raise U.S. forces to nearly 400,000 makes a diplomatic solution more difficult to accomplish.

A graduate of the Naval Academy, Webb was a decorated Marine officer in the Vietnam war and served as navy secretary and assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan lTC administration. He has written four novels, including a best-seller about Vietnam.

Webb said the United States committed "pretty serious mistakes, over a period of about 10 years, underestimating the danger of the Saddam Hussein" regime in Iraq and then "overreacting" to its August invasion of Kuwait.

Based on what he has read and heard since the invasion, Webb said the U.S. ambassador to Iraq implicitly encouraged Saddam to attack Kuwait by not warning him against doing so as he was massing troops on the border.

This is the third time since 1961 that Iraq has moved against Kuwait, Webb noted, and in each previous instance the crisis was resolved diplomatically and with Kuwait's payment of a "ransom." He said that, after the invasion in August, Bush should have "drawn a defense line" at Saudi Arabia and then tried "through a third-party intermediary . . . to have a mutual withdrawal."

Sending troops was a "bad mistake politically, it was a bad mistake militarily," Webb said, because it reduced Bush's ability to maneuver diplomatically unless Saddam withdraws unilaterally.

The United States is "trapped in a waiting game" in the desert with the prospect of diminishing troop morale, Webb said. He added, "We're cannibalizing defensive positions around the world" to the point where now a majority of the Army is based abroad, in Saudi Arabia, Europe and other areas.

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