A checklist for Bush before Iraq attack

September 18, 2002|By Richard Halloran

HONOLULU -- When Caspar Weinberger was defense secretary in the Reagan administration, he forged a set of guidelines intended to govern the application of U.S. military force as an instrument of national policy.

Among them: Military force should be applied only as a last resort, it should serve a vital national interest and it must have reasonable assurance of public support.

Gauged by those principles, which have been accepted by many American military leaders and strategic thinkers, President Bush's call to arms against Saddam Hussein's Iraq has not yet measured up even though he moved the process forward last week.

"Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and gathering danger," the president told the United Nations on Thursday. "To suggest otherwise is to hope against the evidence. To assume this regime's good faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble. And this is a risk we must not take."

In issuing the guidelines in 1984, Mr. Weinberger endeavored to overcome the legacy of the Vietnam War, which had divided the nation more than at any time since the Civil War, had demoralized the armed forces and had left the nation's political leaders beset with uncertainty about how to use the military forces.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, then an Army major general and military assistant to Mr. Weinberger, had a hand in drafting Mr. Weinberger's principles.

Mr. Powell, who had fought in Vietnam, asserted in his book, My American Journey: "You do not squander courage and lives without clear purpose, without the country's backing, and without full commitment."

Taking Mr. Weinberger's six points, here's an assessment of where the Bush policy on Iraq stands:

Last resort: The president and his chief advisers have shifted in recent weeks from calling for an invasion of Iraq to trying diplomatic means to bring about change in Iraq. The president has challenged the United Nations to enforce its own resolutions against Iraq, which has agreed to permit U.N. weapons inspectors into the country.

U.S. interests: President Bush has claimed that Mr. Hussein has acquired or soon will acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and intends to use them to attack the United States, but he has not yet made the case sufficiently well to be convincing.

Public support: There has been dissent within his administration over how to proceed, notably between Mr. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who advocates charging ahead. Prominent Republicans have disagreed with the administration in public. Members of Congress have been skeptical or opposed. Key allies abroad have expressed disparate views. But polls show that a majority of Americans support using military force against Iraq.

Clearly defined objectives: Mr. Bush has been clear in saying that Mr. Hussein is evil and must be forced from power. Beyond that, however, the administration has evidently not thought through what comes after Mr. Hussein -- what sort of government would replace him and how that would be achieved.

Composition of forces: The variety of war plans that have been leaked from the Pentagon suggests that a strategy for taking out Mr. Hussein has not yet been fashioned and, therefore, what forces would be needed has not been decided. Evidently an argument rages among the military leaders.

Intention of winning: On this point there is little doubt that Mr. Bush would commit sufficient forces to win. The first President Bush sent 500,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines into battle against Mr. Hussein and whipped him in 1991. Surely his son would do the same.

If Mr. Bush is determined to wage war against Iraq, he and his administration still have work to do to get the nation ready, including convincing military commanders that his plan passes Mr. Weinberger's six-point checklist.

A caution from Mr. Powell is pertinent: In his 1995 book, he noted that when the turn came for soldiers of his generation to call the shots, "we would not quietly acquiesce in halfhearted warfare for half-baked reasons that the American people could not understand or support."

Richard Halloran is a journalist and free-lance writer who specializes in U.S. military and Asian affairs. He lives in Honolulu.

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