WASHINGTON -- Two former U.S. military chiefs warned yesterday that the United States risks losing significant Arab support and any real hope for stability in the Middle East if it rushes into a war against Iraq.
At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, retired Air Force Gen. David C. Jones and retired Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., both former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added their voices to those calling for 12 to 18 months of trade sanctions against Iraq.
They also expressed concern that a "deployment juggernaut" triggered by President Bush's decision this month to send more than 150,000 combat reinforcements to the Persian Gulf might lead to war without a domestic and international consensus on military and political objectives.
"I counsel patience," said Admiral Crowe, 65. "War is not neat, it's not tidy. It's a mess. You have to be sure the stakes justify what you're doing."
"No matter how emotionally satisfying it might be to launch a punitive campaign against [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein, it is difficult to balance the presumed gains against the risks of unilateral action," added the 69-year-old General Jones.
"We must do whatever is necessary to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait, but should do everything in our power to ensure common ends and means, especially among the leading Arab and non-Arab states."
The strong anti-war message from men who once led all U.S. military forces, combined with a similar statement from former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger the day before, delighted all the committee Democrats, who stepped up their rhetoric in opposition to U.S.-initiated military action in the near future.
"We would be very well-advised to wait a year if it takes a year," said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. "Of course, the networks on the evening news are going to be counting the days, but that's better than counting the bodies, which they will also do."
The former military chiefs touched off verbal sparring with a few Republicans who suggested that a trade embargo alone would do little to eliminate the Iraqi military's pursuit of sophisticated nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, or Mr. Hussein.
And former Secretary of State Henry A.Kissinger, testifying later, questioned the wisdom of waiting for sanctions to wear down Iraqi forces. Sanctions and the possible use of military force "will prove mutually exclusive because, by the time it is evident that sanctions alone cannot succeed, a credible military option will probably no longer exist," he said.
Sen. Daniel R. Coats, R-Ind., challenged the military men by suggesting that they expected too much from sanctions. "Aren't we deceiving ourselves that this is an easy, painless alternative?" he asked.
"The case for sanctions is not a no-lose case," replied Admiral Crowe, joint-chiefs chairman from 1985 to 1989. "I just think we're going to be better off if we don't go to war. A lot of Americans are willing to put up with a lot if it will avoid war.
"It would be a sad commentary if Saddam Hussein, a two-bit tyrant who sits on 17 million people and possesses a gross national product of $40 billion, proved to be more patient than the United States, the world's most affluent and powerful nation."
A U.S. attack would create a deep rift in U.S.-Arab relations, aggravate anti-American sentiment and damage the ability of the United States to manage postwar reconstruction and future Middle East security arrangements, Admiral Crowe said.
"Certainly many Arabs would deeply resent a campaign which would necessarily kill large numbers of their Moslem brothers and force them to choose sides," he said.
General Jones, head of the joint chiefs from 1978 to 1982, warned that if President Bush were to declare explicitly he wanted to dismantle Iraq's weapons programs or to try Mr. Hussein as a war criminal, "we run the very real risk of exceeding the tolerance of some members of the [allied] coalition."