Invade Iraq? Yes
Mr. Perle was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy in the Reagan administration and the Chairman of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s High Level Defense Group from 1981 to 1987. He is the author of Hard Line, a political novel.
It was inevitable that an event like September 11 would eventually materialize. A history had developed, particularly over the last decade, of failing to respond to acts of terrorism. In 1993 Iraqi intelligence plotted the assassination of former president George H.W. Bush. That plot was foiled when we uncovered it and the response was a handful of cruise missiles aimed at an intelligence headquarters in Baghdad.
The dust hadn't settled from that attack when various administration officials at pains to announce that the timing of the attack, midnight, had been selected so as to minimize any casualties. It's worth observing that the casualties, had any occurred, would have been to one of the most vicious secret police organizations operating today.
That was followed not long thereafter by the first attempt to bring down the World Trade Center, in 1993. The intention of the individuals who carried it out and their state sponsors was to collapse one of the towers against the other by placing explosives in the underground garage of one of the two towers. They misplaced the explosive by a few feet. The crater that was created by that explosion was six stories deep, and it is a miracle they didn't succeed. Had they done so, the losses would have been even greater, far greater, than on September 11 -- because there would have been no opportunity to escape. There was no response to that except the eventual apprehension of the individuals responsible, and no serious effort to trace the activity back to the source.
This was followed by the Khobar Towers attack, an attack on an American barracks in Saudi Arabia. There was no response at all to this attack, and we never really got to the bottom of it, or at least we never got much support from the Saudis on whose territory it took place in attempting to investigate it.
That was followed by attacks on two American embassies in East Africa.The response there was a small, ineffective cruise missile attack that destroyed a pharmaceutical plant. It was an intelligence failure and we destroyed the wrong target. But even if it had been the right target, it was a single symbolic gesture.
Then there was the attack on the USS Cole and there was no response at all to that.
After each of these attacks I think it is reasonable to assume that the terrorists who planned and carried them out celebrated their success, and the governments that sponsored them, that provided them with the intelligence, the logistics, the money, the access to diplomatic purse, movement of contraband, the false documentation, the logistic support -- those governments understood that no significant cost attached to working with and supporting networks of terror. So September 11 or something like it was inevitable. We were training terrorists and their state sponsors to believe that what they were doing was free of risk to themselves, except for the terrorist themselves who in many cases were prepared to die in the course of committing their acts of terrorism.
After September 11 the first words of President Bush included the statement that"we will not distinguish between terrorists and the states that harbor them." In enunciating that American policy he reversed a decade of not responding against states that sponsor terrorism. He took what I believe is the only effective step to the control of terrorist attacks against the country. There are too many terrorists and they are too easy to recruit. When some die, others will be found. We cannot deal with terrorists one and two and 19 at a time, We must deal effectively with the states that permit them to plan, to organize and to carry out acts of terror on the scale that we saw on September 11. We can't stop acts of terrorism, but we can reduce it to the occasional violent act of an individual or two if we can separate the terrorists from the state sponsorship that provides them with the essential means of carrying out their evil acts.
High on the list of essential means could be as something as simple as sanctuary, a place where terrorists can plan in peace, where they can communicate with one another and organize. If you can imagine -- and I hope this will soon be true in Afghanistan -- if you imagine al-Qaeda hunted down, on the run, hiding out in caves, unable to communicate, unable to dispatch individuals and money and intelligence and the other instruments of terror, you can see the difference between what we are subjected to now and what we could do if we are serious about taking the war to the terrorists themselves. So I think President Bush from the beginning established the right headline policy of the US going forward. But it is a big change.
In January 1997 I debated this very topic -- should we take war to the terrorists, should we use military means against the states sponsoring terrorism -- with the former director of the CIA, Stansfield Turner. The topic was whether the United States should use military force in the war against terrorism, and the former head of the CIA took the negative position. This wasn't an Oxford debate where you could take either side, he took it out of conviction, and he reflected a long-standing policy orientation, and much of what he said on that occasion remained policy until the immediate aftermath of September 11.
So now we are taking the war to the first state on the list of active supporters of terrorism, Afghanistan. We got off to a slow start. I say slow start, but there's still smoke rising from the ruins of the World Trade Center and probably will be for days to come. We got off to a slow start because we had poor intelligence to begin with. We simply didn't know very much about the disposition of the Taliban forces, and we certainly didn't know where Osama bin Laden was hiding. And we didn't have enough of an intelligence presence in Afghanistan to begin to organize the effective integration of American military power with the Northern Alliance, which was soon to become our ally, at least for now. We lost some time because some of our colleagues in the diplomatic service thought that we should start to organize a post-Taliban government for Afghanistan before we started the war. It's a lot easier to get allies and build coalitions when you're taking territory. The idea that we could start to put a government together before we had taken an inch of territory never made much sense to me, and ultimately it didn't make much sense to the president and others, and so we abandoned that approach after about ten days of fruitless political maneuvering with exiles in and around Afghanistan.
Having gotten that out of the way, we were then confronted with the problem of bringing essential support to the Northern Alliance and integrating our air power with their force on the ground. This was an extraordinarily difficult thing to do. We were reluctant for understandable reasons to send American units into territory whose control could not be clearly ascertained. We didn't want to send a group of Americans in only to have them slaughtered on the ground.
The Northern Alliance in the beginning was weak. They lacked ammunition, they lacked other resources, they didn't have any money. We wanted to give them money. You may not believe this, but in order to give the Northern Alliance money under the existing laws and regulations, it was necessary for them to make a grant proposal -- I kid you not. A group of people -- dedicated civil servants in the U.S. Department of State -- worked through the night to create a grant proposal, which was then signed by the Northern Alliance leaders and acted upon by the Department of State and ultimately we were able to get them a modest amount of money.
I'm sorry to say I could spend the rest of the time we have together telling stories like that. But suffice it to say that eventually we got our act together, and you see the result: a very rapid, aggressive, successful campaign to remove the Taliban from many of the places where it has been in power, and I have little doubt that eventually we will get the rest of them.
The whole experience can be summed up in Churchill's great comment that the Americans eventually get it right but not until they've exhausted all possible alternatives. And so we're getting it right, we're getting the war against the Taliban right. They've turned out to be much weaker than many people expected. The concerns about a quagmire have proved to be unfounded. In expressing those concerns we were fighting not the last war, but the one before that -- the lingering memories of Vietnam, with which Afghanistan has nothing in common. And quite unlike the Soviet debacle in Afghanistan, we are not there as invaders we are really there as liberators, as you have seen on the evening news. Keep that in mind, because when we get to the other supporters of terrorism in the region, the potential there too is for the US to act not as a conqueror, not as an invading force that will earn the enmity of the Arab world, but as a liberator that will earn the approbation of the people who are liberated and in due course of much the rest of the world as well.
In approaching the war against terror we've been building a coalition. I have some reservations about that. In 1991 in order to expel the armed forces of Iraq from Kuwait we sent 500,000 men to the region, we deployed a fleet of 1600 aircraft and for a military operation on that scale and of that nature it was essential to secure a large number of bases from which we could operate. We needed logistic support, we needed runways and warehouses and stevedores and all the rest. We could not have done Desert Storm as it was done without an alliance. But there was another reason for an alliance in 1991, and that was the deep division in this country about whether to go to war against Saddam. I was much involved in that as co-chair, with the former head of the Democratic National Committee, of the group innocently called the Committee for Peace in the Middle East. They all had titles like that, and it was really the Committee to Launch the War Against Saddam. We had a tough time encouraging the minimum number of votes we needed to have a real mandate. The country -- the legislature -- was deeply divided. So an alliance then was essential.
An alliance today is really not essential, in my opinion. We don't need the bases, or at least we don't need much in the way of bases. And those bases that we do need are in places where individual arrangements can be made -- with Uzbeks, who are interested in what we can do for Uzbekistan and there's a lot we can do and it isn't really very expensive. The term"alliance" confuses the phenomenon that's taking place there. It's good to have the Europeans supporting us to the degree they do, and the British have certainly been enthusiastic in our support, but the enthusiasm drops off substantially when you cross the channel and the price you end up paying for an alliance is collective judgment, collective decision-making. That was a disaster in Kosovo. We had lengthy negotiations over which targets could be struck -- the French had one view, the Germans had another - - the military authorities and the civilians often disagreed, targets were struck from the lists, and you all remember the spectacle of President Chirac proudly proclaiming after Kosovo was over that he had personally spared any number of targets in Serbia. We don't need that in the war against terrorism. I think it is time for us to say to the world if necessary that we have been attacked, a war was initiated against us, and we are going to defend ourselves, and we're not going to let the decisions to do that, the manner in which we do it, the targets we select to be decided by a show of hands by countries whose interests cannot be identical to our own and who haven't suffered what we have suffered.
One of the sources of enthusiasm for the coalition I suspect is a strong desire on the part of those who are promoting the coalition to see the United States restrained -- to submit judgments about what we should do to a larger collective. I think we should reject that. I guess my bottom line on coalitions paraphrases Robert Frost, that coalitions are wonderful salves, but they're something that ought to be done by halves.
There's going to be a Phase 2. If there is no Phase 2, there can be no victory in the war against terrorism. The war against terrorism is not the war against al-Qaeda or the Taliban, worthy though they may be. They're only one of the sources of terror in the United States. You cannot end this war and lay any claim to victory if the other sources of terror are left intact.
So there must be a Phase 2, and there will be lots of debate and room for disagreement over exactly how to go about Phase 2. I have my own ideas about that and have not been hesitant to express them. At the top of the list for Phase 2 is Iraq, and there are several reasons for that. I'm going to offer a couple of them.
One is that we know that Saddam hates the United States. He says so on every occasion. In that particular Middle Eastern way, there's even something of a blood feud between Saddam Hussein and the Bush family. We know that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction: we know he has anthrax, we know he has nerve agents, we believe he has other biological weapons. And he has used chemical weapons/nerve agents against civilians, and killed many tens of thousands including 5,000 in a single village in his own country. So he has motive and he has means, and the question is whether he will he have an opportunity to do grievous damage to this country. Those who believe he will not have contented themselves until now with the view that he would not be so foolish as to attack the United States directly with instruments of mass destruction because we would retaliate with such ferocity that he would be deterred. And you even hear the story told of how former Secretary of State Baker warned Tariq Aziz that if the Iraqis used chemical weapons in Desert Storm, we would respond with nuclear weapons. I don't know if that story is true, but the general idea was that Saddam would be deterred by the threat of retaliation. But we now know as we observe anthrax arriving in the letter box that it is possible to deliver weapons of mass destruction, even though in this case not on a mass scale, anonymously. And if you can deliver an envelope with anthrax spores anonymously, you can deliver a larger quantity of anthrax spores anonymously. Without wishing to alarm anyone, I think it is reasonably well known that a five-pound bag of anthrax spores released over an urban area would potentially kill many thousands of people. So the question in my mind is do we wait for Saddam and hope for the best, do we wait and hope he doesn't do what we know he is capable of, which is distributing weapons of mass destruction to anonymous terrorists, or do we take some preemptive action. In 1981 the Israelis faced a similar question. The Iraqis were about to complete the construction of a French nuclear reactor at Osirak and they decided that the risk of waiting was just too great and so they destroyed that reactor in a breathtaking effective bombing run. I was working for Ronald Reagan at the time and it's just a footnote to history but the State Department of course got out the obligatory condemnation of Israel's unilateral action; the president thought it was a terrific piece of bombing.
By the way, for those who are not sufficiently concerned about the possibility of the anonymous delivery of biological weapons from Saddam's arsenal of those weapons, he is busily at work on a nuclear weapon. One of the people who ran the nuclear weapons program for Saddam defected to the US in 1996, a man named Khidhir Hamza,. He has written a book that I recommend called"Saddam's Bombmaker." I met with him in Washington. Until I started taking him around, the senior-most person Hamza had met with was a GS15 at the State Department. We've now gotten him in to see some pretty senior officials. Hamza described the reaction to the bombing of the Osirak reactor as follows: We knew then that we should never again put so much of our program in a single location where it would be vulnerable, so we began to build uranium enrichment facilities, many facilities, and we built 400 of them and they're all over the country. Some of them look like farmhouses, some of them look like classrooms, some of them look like warehouses. You'll never find them. They don't turn out much but every day they turn out a little bit of nuclear materials.
So it's simply a matter of time before he acquires nuclear weapons.
Those who think Iraq should not be next may want to think about Syria or Iran or Sudan or Yemen or Somalia or North Korea or Lebanon or the Palestinian Authority. These are all institutions, governments for the most part, that permit acts of terror to take place, that sponsor terrorists, that give them refuge, give them sanctuary, and very often much more help than that. When I recite this list, people typically say"Well, are we going to go to war against a dozen countries?" And I think the answer to that is that, if we do it right with respect to one or two, we've got a reasonable chance of persuading the others that they should get out of the business of supporting terrorism. If we destroy the Taliban in Afghanistan, and I'm confident we will, and we then go on to destroy the regime of Saddam Hussein, and we certainly could if we chose to do so, I think we would have an impressive case to make to the Syrians, the Somalis and others. We could deliver a short message, a two-word message:"You're next. You're next unless you stop the practice of supporting terrorism." Given the fact that until now there has been no cost attached to supporting terror, I think there's a reasonable prospect that looking at the costs on the one side -- that is, that those regimes will be brought to an end -- and the benefits on the other -- they will decide to get out of the terrorist business. It seems to me a reasonable gamble in any event.
Let me just say before concluding this that when you propose Iraq as the next phase in the war against terrorism many people have in mind the enormousness of the effort it took to remove Saddam from Kuwait. They think, can we do that again? I think it would be an entirely different proposition this time. Saddam is despised in his own country, as anyone who rules the way he has would be. He is hated in the north by the Kurds, in the south by the Shi'a, in the west even by many Sunnis -- and organizing a resistance to Saddam would not be difficult. Now a lot of people look at the Iraqi opposition today, some of it in exile, some of it in the north and the south, and they say it's weak, it's divided, it's fragmented, and that's certainly true, although it's not nearly as fragmented as is sometimes said. But what is essential here is not to look at the opposition to Saddam as it is today, without any external support, without any realistic hope of removing that awful regime, but to look at what could be created, what could be organized, what could be made cohesive with the power and authority of the United States, especially the power and authority of the United States fresh from a successful campaign to destroy the Taliban in Afghanistan. So my plea to my colleagues in government is to start the planning now for the removal of Saddam Hussein, work with the opposition now so we won't be in the situation we were in when we went into Afghanistan where we had no one on the ground, because we could put Iraqi opposition on the ground tomorrow in Iraq.
This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) Founded in 1955, FRPI is an independent, nonprofit organization devoted to advanced research and public education on international affairs. The article may be republished provided that it is published in its entirety and attributed to the Foreign Policy Research Institute.