- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2001

Almost exactly 10 years ago former President George Bush instructed Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf to stop the war against Saddam Hussein. Since then, and up to this moment, our Iraqi policy has been a series of partially successful, but limited, restraining efforts against him.
His military forces have been kept at half pre-war strength. So far he has been deterred by our policies and our 25,000 troops in theater from again invading his neighbors. And, the Clinton Defense Department put in motion various improved chemical and biological war-fighting capabilities. We have improved our ability to detect such weapons on the battlefield, vaccinated our soldiers against anthrax, improved our soldiers chemical protective gear and increased our fast sealift and airlift capabilities to the Persian Gulf.
However, the central objective of ending his capacity to threaten the world with weapons of mass destruction has not only failed, but virtually has been written-off as a plausible objective.
Now, it is the turn of President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell to come in for the same harsh criticism from hawkish Republicans and editorial writers that candidate Bush and the Republicans have been leveling at Bill Clinton for the past three years. Specifically, Mr. Powell's recent call for reducing and focusing economic sanctions has been condemned as a retreat, just as Mr. Clinton's decision to acquiesce to Saddam's ending of the inspections regime was so condemned.
While the allegations of failure are fair, the possibly successful alternative policies are shockingly difficult to implement.
To give Mr. Powell his due, if he is able to rebuild the currently collapsed Gulf War alliance to support limited sanctions, he may be able to maintain the 10-year policy success of limiting Saddam's conventional war-fighting capability. But neither the sanctions regime, nor the no-fly zone enforcement are capable of addressing Saddam's nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities.
Those capacities are judged to have increased over the last 10 years. Specifically, Saddam is believed to have three nuclear weapons, possibly lacking only the nuclear fissile material. Moreover, according to the Brookings Institution, late last year he recalled many of his nuclear scientists back to the nuclear project and informed them that their work was "integral to the struggle against the enemy."
Over the last 10 years, our policy on Saddam's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons has shifted from disarming him to deterring him. Reversing this potentially catastrophic policy shift may have to become the primary foreign policy objective of the Bush administration. Recent intelligence findings ambiguously provide both hope and despair on this front.
According to both British and American intelligence sources, last December in a secret ceremony Saddam is believed to have informed his family and top aides that he is dying of cancer perhaps within the year. He designated his youngest son Qusay Hussein as his successor. British intelligence describes Qusay as being "mercurial." One American intelligence source bluntly called him a manic depressive.
Whether out of concern for Qusay's mental stability, or because of simple power-lust, Saddam's three half-brothers Barzan, Watban and Sabawi and his older son, Uday, are believed to be prepared to challenge the succession even at the price of an overt power struggle.
While some intelligence sources characterize this analysis as wishful thinking, Mr. Powell is reputed to give this intelligence assessment credibility. Thus the hope at the State Department is that this impending succession crisis will provide the long-awaited opportunity for opposition forces supported by the United States to seize power and end the threat of Saddam's Iraq.
Given this possibility, it is reasonable for Mr. Powell to continue with his cautious, minimalist sanctions policy, while using all available resources to prepare the Iraqi opposition for its ultimate moment.
But if this hoped-for event does not materialize and the Hussein policies survive his death (and particularly if the new leader is mentally unstable) the policy of deterrence, rather than disarmament, may be judged an unacceptably risky policy.
Then, Mr. Bush must face the grim challenge of disarming a possibly nuclear (and definitely chemical and biological) Iraq, which has provocatively positioned itself as the champion of Palestinian irredentism. One cringes at the thought of such American military action in the murderous Mideast cauldron with few if any Arab allies. It is easy to understand why the feckless Bill Clinton shrunk from such an appalling military challenge, preferring to temporize and hope for the best.
Current critics of Mr. Powell should either explain how they can realize the disarming of Iraq without such military action, or forthrightly describe the dimensions of the military solution. The time for casual complaining is coming to a close. The president and the public may soon have to decide whether the risk from Iraq justifies the cost and danger of the solution.
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