At War Against a Man, Not a Country or -ism

January 25, 1991|By ERNEST B. FURGURSON | ERNEST B. FURGURSON,Ernest B. Furgurson is associate editor of The Sun.

WASHINGTON — Washington. Saddam Hussein is ''immoral,'' says British Prime Minister John Major. ''Whatever his fate may be . . . I for one will not weep for him.''

''Saddam has sickened the world with his use of Scud missiles,'' says President Bush. The parading of captured pilots on television was ''one more proof of the savagery of Hussein . . . No one should weep for this tyrant when he is brought to justice.''

Mr. Hussein ''doesn't know how badly he's been hit,'' says Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. Despite the air offensive, ''Saddam has not blinked,'' says a key U.S. official.

Saddam, Saddam, Saddam -- not since World War II has this country seen itself at war against a man, rather than a country or an -ism. Not even then, not even when schoolchildren drew cartoons of a maniacal Hitler and a grinning Tojo, was war so personalized.

Other wars were cast as Us vs. Them. Until the shooting started, this dispute was strictly Bush vs. Hussein. Now it is Us vs. Hussein; the million Iraqi soldiers and the rest of the Iraqi nation are faceless, seemingly uninvolved.

Why? Saddam Hussein is a dictator, seen as a one-man force for evil. He has been cruel, even to his own people. Emphasizing that we are fighting him, not his people, may separate the ruler from his population and even from his army, convincing them they don't want to die in his personal war.

So far, the war has been antiseptic, strictly in the air, high-tech weapons against high-tech defenses. The only victims visible to the world have been casualties of the Scud missiles and brutalized airmen displayed on Iraqi television. We could not see the Scud launching crews or the people who mistreated the fliers. Thus, rightly, we blame their boss.

There is talk now of broadening the war's objectives beyond liberating Kuwait -- to dismantling Iraq's military might, to ousting Mr. Hussein from power, to trying him as a war criminal. Yet, while uncounted soldiers and civilians are killed and many more will die in the near future, it is impermissible to talk about killing Mr. Hussein.

Asked often about whether any of the thousands of bombing missions are aimed at the man who personifies the enemy, our politicians and generals repeat, ''We do not target individuals.''

Why? Gen. Colin Powell makes it seem a strictly tactical decision -- he remembers trying to find Manuel Noriega in Panama, and doesn't want to waste his resources again chasing one man around the countryside.

Some have said Mr. Hussein is moving about in civilian neighborhoods, knowing only war-making facilities are targeted. Others have described a deep, bomb-proof, German-built, Hitler-style bunker where he presumably is safe while his subjects endure air attack. If anybody on our side knows where he is, he is not talking.

Sen. Dick Lugar, ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, has heard many classified discussions of such policy. I asked him why, under today's circumstances, our side still does not target individuals. He thinks that as alleged war crimes mount, there will be changes in our approach. U.S. thinking has been straitjacketed by disclosures and debate about earlier covert actions, coups and assassination attempts. But now we are at war, he says.

So far, Mr. Hussein has sent Scuds indiscriminately against non-combatant Israel and obviously has abused prisoners of war. If he goes beyond those offenses to use of chemical weapons, says the senator, then ''constraints are likely to be removed.''

Yet, he reminds that ''anyone in authority'' here is most cautious in remarks about going after any head of state. Without saying so, he is referring to the lingering controversy over alleged CIA attempts against such troublesome foreign leaders as Fidel Castro. Within months after efforts to get Castro, John Kennedy was killed. ''Anyone in authority'' does not like to speculate publicly about a connection, but that possible link has influenced U.S. policy for years.

Thus the official four-star attitude toward targeting Mr. Hussein is that it would be a tactical inconvenience, and the even loftier political attitude is that we don't do business that way any more -- at least not yet.

As usual, the front-line infantryman's attitude has not been solicited. If he were asked, he might want to know why thousands of Americans like him must prepare to kill thousands of Iraqi troops, when the president and the generals finger one man as the enemy.

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