WASHINGTON -- The United States must go to war if it wants to dismantle Iraq's military machine and nuclear weapons program but need only continue international trade sanctions for a year to get Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger told Congress yesterday.
Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr. Schlesinger said Iraq's economy was "bleeding" and getting worse, even though an unpublicized "official estimate" by the Bush administration said a year would be needed for sanctions to achieve their full effect.
"If one avoids . . . additional demands and is satisfied with the original objectives [to restore Kuwaiti sovereignty], the probability that the economic sanctions will result in a satisfactory outcome is very high," he said.
"One should note that, since the original estimate was that the sanctions route would require a year, it seems rather illogical to express impatience with them because they will not have produced the hoped-for results in six months' time."
His views seemed reassuring to committee Democrats, who reiterated demands that President Bush give a fuller explanation for the U.S. military buildup in the region and its increasingly offensive nature.
Members from both political parties expressed a desire to give the United Nations-imposed trade embargo more time to pressure an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. And there was a strong bipartisan call for Mr. Bush to obtain a congressional declaration of war before deciding on any offensive military action.
"We can never again get into a war that's not fully understood by the American people," said Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, citing what he called a key lesson of the Vietnam War. "We're talking about war, and we must have more than a sound-bite justification. It's not whether the president says, 'I've had it,' but whether the American people say they've had it."
Mr. Schlesinger opened five days of hearings by the Senate committee, which was snubbed by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both of whom declined to appear yesterday.
Chairman Sam Nunn, D-Ga., said they now planned to testify Monday, after anticipated U.N. Security Council action on a resolution authorizing military force against Iraq if it does not withdraw from Kuwait.
The committee will seek answers to such questions as what "vital" U.S. interests are at stake in the Persian Gulf, whether the "ultimate military objectives" include eliminating Iraq's nuclear weapons program, whether sanctions against Iraq will work to free Kuwait and how long that will take, Mr. Nunn said.
Mr. Schlesinger warned that if U.S. objectives included getting rid of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, his military capabilities and the potential nuclear threat, "you're sure as hell are not going to achieve that through economic sanctions."
"To achieve these objectives, there is really no alternative but to resort to war," he said. "Saddam Hussein's inclination to dig in will be stiffened, and in all likelihood the willingness of Iraqi forces to resist will be strengthened."
Representative Lee H. Hamilton, D-Ind., who chairs a House foreign affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and who did not take part in the Senate hearing, said later that the administration did not intend to topple Mr. Hussein or to destroy his weapons of mass destruction, provided Iraq withdrew from Kuwait.
But Mr. Hamilton said that recent Bush rhetoric had obscured this and that the president should "make very clear exactly what our purposes are."
He called on Mr. Bush to open talks between the United States and Iraq to explain the U.S. position.
Mr. Schlesinger, expressing confidence in the success of the embargo, said Mr. Hussein already "is being punished and punished severely," forfeiting $20 billion of foreign exchange earnings a year and losing credit and hard currency reserves.
R. Richard Newcomb, who directs the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, told the House Banking Committee yesterday that efforts to block possible leaks in the embargo were "most striking in the financial area, where Iraq has been denied access to its own funds abroad and, more importantly, to the considerable financial assets of Kuwait."