Clinton may have to decide quickly on Iraq policy

January 20, 1993|By Newsday

WASHINGTON -- While Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has moved to defuse the current confrontation with the United States and its coalition partners, President Bill Clinton still may have to decide quickly what military response he favors if the Iraqi provocations resume, according to military analysts.

The options include escalation of the air strikes on buildings, radar installations and missile sites during the last days of the Bush administration or a broader attack on Iraqi military command centers and troop concentrations.

But such broader attacks would raise serious political and diplomatic issues, analysts said, and might not achieve the military goals intended. After all, the United States and its coalition partners heavily damaged Iraq during the Persian Gulf War and Mr. Hussein managed to survive and retain popular support. Moreover, his military, which suffered an estimated 75,000 deaths during the war, has remained loyal.

"It's a political problem, and it will take a political solution," said Ronald Hatchett, a military analyst and director of Texas A&M University's Mosher Institute for International Policy Studies. "There's not going to be another buildup like Desert Storm. There's not going to be an invasion of Iraq."

Arab partners are nervous about further tension. Russia is asking for more explicit U.N. authority to enforce the no-fly zones over Iraq. Short of war-scale operations, Mr. Hatchett said, the recent tit-for-tat military action against Iraq will be ineffective in ousting Mr. Hussein.

"The basic problem here is that the Bush administration was essentially reactive," said a source close to the Clinton defense team. "You will see a difference [under Clinton]. He will not be just in a position of responding to Saddam." He declined to discuss specifics, however, and Mr. Hussein has taken the initiative by offering a unilateral cease-fire as Mr. Clinton assumes office.

The first signs of division within Mr. Clinton's own ranks stirred yesterday, with sources close to Secretary of Defense-designate Les Aspin quoted as urging Mr. Clinton to sharply escalate air strikes against Iraq, and sources close to national security adviser-designate Anthony Lake quoted as denying that any such plan was in the works.

The new administration will have to decide how to respond to the Iraqi overture, analysts said. "U.S. policy in the long term cannot be to get rid of Saddam Hussein," said William Arkin, a military analyst for Greenpeace who has visited Iraq. "We've demonstrated that's a difficult task to achieve. Our policy has to be the restoration of peaceful relations and doing what's best for the Iraqi people."

Mr. Arkin opposes military solutions in Iraq. He said the recent Bush administration approach was ill-advised. "Gradualism and unclear objectives and limited military options and escalations -- that's Vietnam," Mr. Arkin said, "that's not the gulf war."

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