Punish Saddam's Terrorism with Military Action

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Punish Saddam's Terrorism with Military Action

June 11, 1993 5 min read Download Report
Senior Research Fellow, The Heritage Foundation
James Phillips is a senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at The Heritage Foundation.

(Archived document, may contain errors)

6/11/93 358


Evidence is mounting that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein launched a failed attempt to assassinate former Pkesident George Bush during Bush's April 14-16 visit to Kuwait. Such brazen terrotisin calk for a strong American military reprisal. Yet the Ciinton appears to be equivocating, with some off i cials ad- M r - tins that this Nuorist outrage be handled as a criminal offense that requiries mere legal prosecutim rather than as a national security threat that demands military action. If the U.S. fails to retaliate with a punitive military attack for Saddarn s lstc@t affront, Saddam will be embol- dened to launch further terrorist attacks and aggression. Continued U.S. passiVity would undermine the interna- tional coalition confimiting Iraq, possibly leading Jordm Saudi Arabia, and ltmkey to reassess t he risks, coo, and benefits of mahmumng their opposition to SaddaWs ruthless regime. A soft U.S. response to Sadelam s ter- sormn also would be a dangerous signal to Iran and other sulas that support terrorism. President Bill Clinton needs to craft a firm and consistent policy toward Iraq. He needs to retaliate militarily am-dnst Saddam, for this at terrorism. while increasing American economic and military mippott for dr, opposmon. CMI&MYS l1qui u ratiom mw aintm dm nistradon has adopted a low-key, noncom m ittal approacil to deal- jog with die Bush attempt 71aWbite House initially@ withlield c6mment while it awaited the offi- Ci@lnpWt of a WUUU@6fen==. -adon Wam dispatched to Kuwait in May to evaluate the evidence of the Iraqi ploL Such caution was understa n dable Sim the greve nature of *e charges. Once do preliminary can- clusions Of the bwAm kmown, howem. ft Mom ministration q I e w P rl to want to avoid a direct confimntation with Saddam Despite the fact that counter-terrorism, experts fiom the. Federal B u reau of bi- nd Central Intelligence Agency reportedly have concluded that h%q orchestrated the nn plot, ftWhitc House seem to be in no rush to obtain the final report of the i i team. Ma Administration is divided an the question of whedwr to handle the af f air as a national security matter goV= .... lent demanding a military reptisal open the Iraqi or as a criminal o0nse requiring legal prosecution. Some unnamed officials at ft Justice Department advocate die condition and trial in the U.S. of the sWeen Fly n Ast suspects Prrested in Kuwait in lieu of mflitary retaliation against Baghdad. But Kuwait ruled out e\u175\'f8 fi- don an May 10 and began its own loo proceedings against the conspirators an June 5. Ma Clinton Administra- don then announced an June 7 dud it wil l deftr any decision an the U.S. response to the pka until after Kuwait complem its trial.This, could take months; ft trial already has been adjourned until June 26. Clinton , offmiaisjustify the i of a dacmm as necessary to build public support for milit a ry retaliation against Iraq. 7bey I i that a case for retaliation could only be made by disclosing cVWkmw that could taint the Wal of the sWeen suspects.They also claim that dw Adminixtrationts options 01- could be constrained by how the trial is poranyed in the American press. 7bese rationales for delay mask a timid reluctance to take action. The Administration has lost touch with the America people ff it truly believes dud they will not support military reprisals against Saddam. fbr his ftewberous attemp t an the Hfe of an ex-Presidwkt Moreover, ff theWhite Hom bases its response to Saddam. an the oukunt of the Kuwaid judicial process or American press coverage ofithe bul. it will allow American

national security interests to be undermined by peripheral political considerations. President Bill Clinton needs to respond to Saddam, not to public perceptions of the Kuwaiti trial. The Administration has failed to implement a firm and consistent policy toward Iraq. Although American warplanes patrolling the No Fly Zone in northern Iraq retaliated for hostile Iraqi actions on two occasions in April, in mid-May the U.S. turned a blind eye to three attacks by Iraqi ground-based anti-aircraft guns on American warplanes patrolling southern Iraq. Preoccupied with the Bosnia crisis, Washington failed to respond to these attacks, which an anonymous senior U.S. official dismissed as "nothing more than business as usual." The U.S. cannot afford to accept Saddam's terrorism as business as usual. In formulating the U.S. res p onse to mounting evidence that Iraq was behind-the assassination attempt on Bush, President Clinton should: of Consider the attack as a national security threat, not merely as a criminal matter. The status of an ex-Presi- dent as a national symbol makes a state-sponsored assassination attempt a gravie matter of national security. A narrow legal approach focused on extraditing and prosecuting the terrorist suspects does not punish or deter Sad- dam Hussein, who long has violated international laws with impu n ity. Treating state-supported terrorism as a criminal matter in which evidence must meet strict legal standards also raises the threshold for action so high that a military response could be rendered moot. This undermines U.S. security by eroding deterren c e against state-sponsored terrorism. The Administration should focus on Iraq's actions, not on the legal details surrounding the case. Washington need not be concerned about developing an air-tight legal case against Saddam. Even if former President Bush w as not targeted by the conspirators, the resumption of Iraqi terrorism against Kuwait would itself be grounds for a U.S. military reprisal. Any Iraqi terrorist attack, regardless of its target, is a violation of the cease-fire terms set forth by United Na t ions Security Council Resolution 687 at the end of the Gulf War. w/ Be prepared to use military force against Iraq in a decisive manner. Clinton must drive home to Saddam that he will pay a heavy price for his terrorism. Given Saddam's stubborn resistance to almost three years of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation, Clinton must resort to military force to punish Saddam and deter future terrorist attacks. Rather than undertake incremental pinprick attacks on symbolic targets, the U.S. should system a tically launch air strikes and cruise missile strikes at the assets that Saddam values most-his security forces, the Republican Guard, and Iraq's military industries. The U.S. goal should be to punish Saddam and his closest supporters while undermining hi s ability to maintain himself in power,! repress the opposition, and threaten Iraq's neighbors. */, Increase support for the Iraq! opposition. To its credit, the Clinton Administration has improved relations with the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the oppo s ition umbrella group. A delegation of INC leaders met with Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Vice President Al Gore in late April. The Administration now should follow up its increased diplomatic support for the opposition with economic and milita r y aid, including anti- tank weapons for the Kurdish resistance forces currently under the threat of an Iraqi military attack. In recent weeks Saddain has moved long-range artillery and tanks to reinforce the 100,000 troops that ring the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq. If Saddam does invade the Kurdish enclave, the U.S.'and its allies should launch air at- tacks against the invading forces and redouble economic and military support for the embattled Kurds. The U.S. must maintain relentless pressure on Sad d am Hussein to curb his aggression against his own people, neighboring states, and American citizens and military personnel. Saddam's attempt on former President Bush's life is a heinous act that threatens to undem-fine U.S. efforts to contain Iraq. It sho uld not be relegated to the status of a criminal matter to be adjudicated by Kuwaiti or American courts. The U.S. must respond with a strong military retaliation, which is the most effective way of punishing and deteming Saddam.

James A. Phillips Senior Policy Analyst



James Phillips

Senior Research Fellow, The Heritage Foundation


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